In order to understand the diverse and challenging life realities of Israeli citizens, we went on tours through Jerusalem and Abu Gosh to talk about different narratives on several issues on the ground. Later on in the Knesset we met with MK Hilik Bar (Avoda). In the discussion he outlined his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as on issues of domestic policy.
We collected some remarkable statements so you can catch a glimpse on what has happened today in the panel on Holocaust education and German-Israeli youth exchange in past, present and future.
Everyone who is interested in the whole discussion can find an audio file of the plenum here.
… on German-Israeli relations and the rise of radical political movements
Mr. Opher Aviran has recently been appointed ambassador and coordinator for German affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel. We talked with him about the German-Israeli relations and challenges in both countries such as migration and the rise of radical political movements.
Mr. Aviran, you have been appointed the responsible person for German-Israeli relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel. What were you thinking the moment you have been offered that Job?
Ambassador Opher Aviran: It meant a lot to me. I just returned from the US where I was Consul General of Israel to the Southeast, not knowing what task would be next. Then this offer came and I was like “wow”. I felt very honoured – after the US, I am now dealing with Germany, the two most important partners of Israel.
In your speech you said: „A lot has to be done, a lot has already been done“. What are your plans regarding German-Israeli relations?
The sky is the limit. Youth exchange is really important. Generally, education is a major issue. Also, I see that right now migration from Middle Eastern countries is a topic in Germany. We were and are dealing with a major wave of immigration in the past. In the 90s, one million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived to Israel and our population grew by 20 percent. The people then were coming in positive mood, but still, the challenge of integrating them was an effort due to the size of this wave of immigration. I believe we can share our experience with Germany. Also we started professional and vocational training programmes which fostered the integration of the Jewish ultra-orthodox and especially the Muslim Bedouin’s communities into our society. This is also something where we can share our experiences about with Germany.
Recently “Pegida” – populist right-wing movement, to say the least, became a phenomenon in Germany. Does this worry you?
As the journalist Nadav Eyal pointed out, I think it is more than this. We are facing a tripartite problem. There are radical Islamists who are mainly killing their own brothers in faith in the Middle East, but now also attacking our western civlization in Europe and especially in Paris just a few days ago and killing hundreds of innocent people in France. Then, there is the extreme radical right and, confusingly, also the radical left. There is this strange coalition between those who claim to hold liberal ideas, but support countries and organizations like Iran and the Hamas, Iran’s terror arm, where gays and lesbians are persecuted.
Is there something you particularly liked when being in Germany?
I am mainly looking forward to the next time I will be there. This will be in the beginning of next year. I will travel to Berlin and Munich to visit our Embassy and Consulate General, and then, at the end of a long day of meetings, I‘ll change my business suit to something more casual and enjoy a bit of Berlin, or Munich’s nightlife.
Yad Vashem is built around the stories of people. Henry Foner is one of them. Born June 12th, 1932 as Heinz Lichtwitz in Berlin, he left Germany in the winter of 1938/39 as one of 10,000 children saved from the Nazi terror through Kindertransporte.
At the intersection of Georgenstraße and Friedrichstraße, Berlin, there’s an almost life-size sculpture of children depicted in bronze – five cast in dark metal, two in light. Seven boys and girls gaze in different directions, facing different fates. More than two million children lost their lives in the Holocaust. 10,000 were saved by the Kindertransport to England.
“It started with the Kristallnacht”, he remembers. On the night of November 9th, 1938, SA paramilitary forces destroyed Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues. Hundreds of Jews were murdered, thousands incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. “After that night everybody realized that there was no future in Germany for Jews.” Foner’s family had lived in Germany since 1560 and gained Prussian citizenship in 1736. From Kantstraße 30, Berlin-Charlottenburg, the family ran a printing house. There are still books out there produced in Max Lichtwitz printing.
Foner’s father arranged for his son to be part of the Kinderstransport. Originally the children were to be brought to then British Mandate of Palestine, but several groups opposed. In the end Great Britain agreed to grant 10,000 Jewish children permission to stay in their country for two years – assuming, hoping that after two years time there would be no more need for their protection. It was mostly Jewish families all over the country who offered to take children in.
Falling into Another World
Foner doesn’t remember the last time he saw his father. He has no memory of the parting. “The older children always drew pictures of the goodbye, but I don’t remember”, Foner says. The train journey, however, he portrays in much detail. How they were sitting in the compartments, scared and unsure what was about to come. How the train stopped at the border to the Netherlands and men in uniforms searched their luggage. And how the train stopped again after the Dutch border, how ladies with white hats entered and passed around rolls and sausages. “It felt like we had fallen into another world.”
After their arrival in Hoek van Holland they took the fairy boat to England. From Liverpool Street Station he took the train to meet his new family. A family that he couldn’t speak with. They didn’t speak German, he didn’t know any English yet. With a few words of Yiddish they managed to communicate. In this new world the name Heinz Lichtwitz attracted attention. Attention, that may be dangerous. So Heinz Lichtwitz became Henry Foner.
Postcards to a Little Boy
Six year old Henry went to school, got adjusted to his new life. The only means of contact with his father were postcards. Almost every other day Max Lichtwitz sent them, asking about his son’s life, health, sending greetings, kisses and prayers. On Henry’s seventh birthday father and son talked for the first and only time. Scheduled days before they were to talk in the evening. The phone rang. When Henry answered he recognized the voice, but he couldn’t understand what the man on the end of line was saying. “I had lost all my German”, Foner explains. So the postcards continued in English.
The last of them was written on August 31st, 1939. One day before Nazi Germany invaded Poland, before World War II began. From this point on there were no more postcards. They continued to communicate via Red Cross telegrams, limited to 25 words. Eventually those stopped, too. Max Lichtwitz died in Auschwitz in 1942.
A New Home
Henry Foner never became Heinz Lichtwitz again. “He died a long time ago”, says the 83 year old. Foner visited Germany after the war. His uncle who was trying to rebuild the family home and business invited him. Sometimes he went for business. But he never thought about moving back. Studying chemistry he came in touch with his original mother tongue again. But his German stayed lost, too.
When Foner visited Israel for the first time, he met his wife Judy on a train. “It was the best train ride of my life. Life is all about luck”, he smiles. The Foners have been married for over 50 years and moved to Israel in the 1960s. Maybe it was just luck that Henry Foner’s life was saved through the Kindertransport. Luck that his life’s story is symbolized by the light bronze figures at Friedrichstraße, that he took the train to life. There were so many trains to death.
On May 12, 1965 West Germany and Israel established diplomatic relations. Down to the present day 14 German representatives have been sent to Israel to serve the state of Germany as ambassadors. Since July 2015 Dr. Clemens von Goetze is new to the office. We spoke with him about the past, present and future of German-Israeli relations and youth exchange.
Ambassador Dr. von Goetze, you have been the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Tel Aviv since July 2015, from your diplomatic perspective: what is special about German-Israeli relations? What makes them different from those between other countries?
First of all it is the history that makes it special. Germany is the country of perpetrators and Israel of victims of the Shoa. And it is very amazing that 70 years after the end of the Shoa and 50 years after establishing diplomatic relations we have reached these excellent relations between the countries. I think it is mainly due to the fact that the Israelis had the strength and generosity to stretch out their hand to us.
We are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations and even 60 years of youth exchange. How are these very different forms of interaction related?
It is not by chance that the youth exchange came before the diplomatic relations. The young people were the ones who wanted to bring future to our relations despite the very, very difficult past. And the past will never be forgotten, it will always be an essential part of our relations. But it is again the youngsters who will have to revive the relations for the next 50 years of diplomatic relations between our countries.
What can politics, can politicians learn from youth exchange?
Young people have a very good sense for the actual problems that are moving a society and it is always good when we know exactly what moves our societies and what young people – the future of our societies – are interested in, what their expectations for the future are.
Coming from the past, to the present to the future: where do you see the chances and challenges in German-Israeli relations today and tomorrow?
When we always remember the past and continue with our common efforts, for sure we will be able to develop our relations in the same positive way they have been moving forward up to now. Our relations have enormous potential for the young generation, not only in politics and business, but also in education, science and culture. Together, Germans and Israelis can achieve a lot and overcome challenges. Your youth conference with so many participants from both countries offers the chance to build a long lasting network for this endeavor.
Being back in Israel and continuing the German-Israeli Youth Congress, how do the German and Israeli participants feel meeting up again and what are their expectations for the upcoming days? Check out the latest comments from and pictures of youth congress participants just having arrived in Israel. Read more…