The Federal Republic of Germany honored American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris with the prestigious Stern/Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit. It is the highest tribute Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation.

German Ambassador to the United States Emily Haber presented the award to Harris as “a worthy recognition of your lifelong commitment to the Jewish community and the relationship between Jews and Germany.” The ceremony took place this evening at the residence of German Consul General David Gill in New York.

Harris, the son of Holocaust survivors, has spearheaded the positive evolution of the special relationship between AJC and Germany since he became AJC CEO in 1990. In doing so, he has built on the groundbreaking achievements of his predecessors at the helm of AJC. The global Jewish advocacy organization was founded in 1906 by Jews of German descent.

The excruciatingly difficult decision of AJC leaders in the late 1940s, very soon after the Holocaust, to reengage Germany set AJC, uniquely among international Jewish organizations, on a journey that has yielded a range of productive partnerships with the German government and civil society. AJC was the first global Jewish organization to commit itself to Germany’s renewed sovereignty, as well as to the reestablishment of Jewish life in Germany.

Under Harris’s leadership, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, AJC was the first major Jewish organization to support German unification. In 1994, he helped conceive and launch the unique partnership between AJC and the German armed forces. And in 1998, AJC became the first international Jewish organization to establish a permanent presence in Germany, the AJC Berlin Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations.

AJC and Germany: History in the Making 1945 – 2020 details the special relationship between Germany and AJC, and Harris’s role at pivotal moments over the past 32 years.

Harris has been honored more than 20 times by foreign governments for his international work. Indeed, he is the most decorated Jewish organizational leader in American history. 

He previously received two major German awards. In 2004, German Defense Minister Peter Struck presented Harris with the Gold Cross of the German Armed Forces, for “ten years of partnership between the German Armed Forces and the American Jewish Committee.” In 2000, German Federal President Johannes Rau presented the Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz (Grand Cross of Merit) to Harris for “contributions to German-American and German-Jewish relations.”

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