President Shimon Peres..
(photo credit: ap)
President Shimon Peres's second day in Berlin began with remembrance of the past and ended with a vision of the future.
Peres arrived on Monday for a three-day state visit in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Wednesday.
He began his day with a meeting with German President Horst Koehler at the latter's official residence. According to the Peres's spokeswoman, the two men discussed ways to promote Holocaust education and remembrance among German youth. Koehler said he was working on a wide-scale educational program that would encourage a large number of German teenagers to further study the Holocaust.
"The friendship between Germany and Israel is indisputable and unflagging and the memory of the Holocaust is part of the German identity, which includes full awareness to the tragedy and travesty of the murder of 6 million Jews," said Koehler. As president of Germany I will never surrender on the issue of Holocaust remembrance education. Our teenagers must learn about the 6 million and the extermination camps."
Following their meeting, the two presidents arrived by motorcade to a memorial ceremony at the Grunewald train station's Platform 17, from where 50,000 of Berlin's Jews were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to death and concentration camps across Europe. The tracks, though covered in snow, were still in the same spot, a lasting reminder of the horrors. Along the platform the numbers, dates and destinations of the trains are inscribed on metal plaques placed between the bricks.
The two presidents placed wreaths of flowers on the platform and held a moment of silence remembering the victims.
The -16º temperatures meant the ceremony had to be held indoors and a tent was set up on the platform.
Prayers were read at the ceremony, including the kaddish mourning prayer recited by the chief rabbis of Berlin and a haunting performance of El Male Rachamim performed by the community's cantor.
Holocaust survivors accompanying Peres on his trip lit five remembrance candles along with Israeli youth. The two presidents lit the sixth one together, in memory of the 6 million Jews who were killed.
Among the survivors accompanying Peres to Berlin were Simcha Rotem, a 85-year-old veteran of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Yona Laks, who together with her twin sister was subject to the cruel experiments of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz, and Alexander Orly, who hid in the underground bunkers of the Zhovkva Ghetto for 20 months and later sailed to Israel on the Exodus
After the ceremony, the president's motorcade made its way to the chancellor's building for a lunch meeting and a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the afternoon, the two presidents met again, but this time they focused on the future. The two men met with 100 Israeli and German youths in an event hosted by the Stiftung Deutsch-Israelisches Zukunftsforum, the German-Israeli Future Forum Foundation, which seeks to promote forward looking projects in the fields of science, culture, business, academia and the media.
Koehler was one of the founders of the organization, which was started in 2005 as part of the 40-year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.
Peres attended a state dinner at the German president's house where he gave a speech about Israel's accomplishments, the challenges it faces in its war on terror, the Iranian nuclear threat, Palestinian state-building and the peace process, Holocaust remembrance and bilateral cooperation for a better future.
Peres's visit is getting receiving security protection. Whole streets are blocked when his 30-vehicle motorcade is on the move and helicopters, armored vehicles and sharpshooters accompany his every motion. It is estimated that more than 3,000 security personnel are dedicated to the state visit.
On Wednesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Peres will deliver a speech in Hebrew at the Bundestag, where he will eulogize the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, who included his grandparents.