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Brigadier General Dr. Klaus Wittmann, Director of Faculty

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Brigadier General Dr. Klaus Wittmann, Director of Faculty

May 4, 2004 - 

The American Jewish Committee - A Partner of the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr

Brigadier General Dr. Klaus Wittmann, Director of Faculty

Presentation to the Opening Session of the AJC Annual Convention

Washington, 4 May 2004

You may have followed the OSCE conference in Berlin where Germany was again seen facing up to the dark side of her history and the collective, not guilt, but responsibility stemming from the abominable Nazi crimes.

Let me tell you, however: the same exercise of remembering is going on at regional and local levels as well. In Hamburg, during the first fortnight of last month alone, I participated in three very moving events:

  • a presentation of his memoirs by former Israel Ambassador to Bonn and Paris Asher Ben-Natan;

  • the award ceremony, in Hamburg's St. Michael's Church, for an initiative that sets in the pavement in front of houses formerly inhabited by Jewish citizens what they deliberately call "stumbling stones": square stones with a brass top presenting the dates of their life, deportation, death - to honour the victims, and for passers-by to become aware and remember;

  • and, thirdly, in our Hamburg-Blankenese westend church, the opening of an exhibition titled "Four lives" - about four respected local Jewish citizens, all of whom where driven into suicide during the fourties. Ralph Giordano, the famous German-Jewish author who survived and after the war decided to stay in his country in spite of his and his family's suffer-ing, gave a very moving opening address that ended "never forget Auschwitz - but praise life!"

This well describes what impressed - and challenged - me about the AJC's philosophy from the first contact: a combination of the determination to keep the memory awake with deep trust in the new Germany. And we are still grateful for the support this organisation gave to Germany's reunification.

Giordano's motto also characterises the basis of political and historical educa-tion within the Bundeswehr at all levels, where human dignity is the foremost value of all. The AJC's basic operational premise that "no group can be secure in its rights and freedoms unless the rights and freedoms of all groups, large and small, are respected" is also in the minds and hearts of the approx. 8000 Bundeswehr soldiers now employed in peace missions in 8 theatres on 3 continents: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa and other places. They are dedicated not only to assisting in the rebuilding of states, but also to the protection of minorities, the promotion of intercultural understanding and tolerance.

It was only natural that the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr would become part of the contacts that David Harris and Col Burgemeister inaugurated - the Führungsakademie being our Command and Staff College in Hamburg's West, where all staff officers (i.e. field grade officers, from major upwards) are trained and educated.

Of the many courses and seminars we conduct, each Higher Command Course (full colonel level) and General Staff Course (majors) visit the United States. And since 1999, a visit to the American Jewish Committee at the Blaustein Building in New York has become an integral part of those trips, often combined with a visit to the Holocaust Museum at Washington. In my statistics this amounts to 17 course visits so far, several of which I accompanied myself, and which always included very frank and substantial discussions with the Executive Director and his collaborators - meetings from which one always walks away enriched, impressed, and with a better understanding of some quite difficult and controversial topics.

These visits also entailed the tremendous honour for myself and the Higher Command Seminar to be invited to the AJC Annual Convention Dinners in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, when Federal President Rau was your guest of honour, the first invitation was a rather spontaneous one. And I'll never forget how German authorities wanted us to attend in civilian attire and David Harris insisted on us coming in uniform - as visible representatives of the new, democratic, trust-worthy Germany.

Let me also mention that memory is still fresh of Mr. Harris' very impressive lectures at the Führungsakademie in 2001 and 2003. We are also keeping close contact with the AJC's Berlin office, and, like Col Burgemeister I went to Brussels to attend the inauguration of your Transatlantic Institute there on 12 February.

The transatlantic note is the one on which I want to end. The ceremony and the speeches at Brussels, as well as David's lectures at Hamburg, made clear again that the American Jewish Committee is not a parochial, self-centred organisa-tion, but one with a cause that we all should make our own.

A few days after our visit to the AJC in September 2001 we flew out of New York on Sunday 9th, and I took, from the cockpit of our Transall plane, a snap-shot of Manhattan. On it, the twin towers are still there! And only fourty hours later we lived through the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon amidst our American colleagues at Leavenworth, Kansas - unfor-gettable and still horrifying!

This is a threat to us all, and it is fuelled by a hatred that cannot be solely explained by the injustices existing in today's world. Together we must tackle the sources and fight the terrorists, non-state actors and organised criminals. And Europe, whose enlargement to now include 25 members, but also whose reunification we celebrated 4 days ago, is aware of the responsibility it carries in that respect.

And in spite of all controversies, it is also aware what, in now being able to close for good the former East-West divide, it owes to this country. I, for one, notwithstanding all criticism, continue to be happy that the only remaining superpower is called US, and not SU, United States and not Soviet Union!

But, of course, a much more intense strategic dialogue across the Atlantic is needed on the threats, the strategies, the development of international law, the role of military force, the multilateral institutions, UN reform, what it takes to rebuild nations. The transatlantic convictions that the American Jewish Committee embodies, the readiness to learn from the past and look ahead, its confidence in today's Germany, make it our ideal partner in the preparation of Bundeswehr staff officers for the challenges of the 21st century - challenges which can only be coped with if human life and dignity and the rights of every single person on earth are actively respected.

It is a constant enrichment for our students and staff to be part of this dialogue and common understanding, and it is an outstanding honour for Colonel Burgemeister and myself to have been invited to participate in your Annual Convention and to speak at its opening.

Ten years of dialogue and cooperation are just a beginning. I look forward to the continuation and wish the American Jewish Committee success, support, response and God's blessing.