For the first time ever, a delegation of German parliamentarians was present at the annual "Every Person Has a Name" Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Knesset Tuesday morning.
"This is a big step and a great honor," said a member of the delegation.
Motivated to rekindle the connection between aging members of the German parliament and Israel, a public German foundation, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, chose to host a delegation of young German parliamentarians of the Social Democratic Party to "build new bridges" with Israeli politicians, said Joel Tsafrir, the foundation's public relations manager.
The four-strong delegation arrived Monday, hours before Holocaust Remembrance Day, during which they attended national ceremonies at both the Knesset and Yad Vashem. The politicians will remain in Israel throughout the week, during which time they will meet with Israeli politicians to discuss security, education, social and economic issues.
On Monday night, in a meeting with members of the Israeli Scouts youth movement in Tel Aviv, the delegation was bombarded with questions about responsibility and feelings with regard to the Holocaust.
"We were all surprised that the Shoah is still very deeply part of their memory and feelings, which was important for us to see," said delegation head Christian Lange. "We feel that as the third generation in Germany after the Second World War, we have both the chance and responsibility for remembrance in a different way - a better way - than our parents and grandparents."
Lange noted that his experience of Israel differed vastly from perceptions in Germany. "The media in Germany are always painting a picture of suicide bombings and violence. There's never anything about the growing economy, night life in Tel Aviv or startup enterprises," he said. "All over the world, the media are focused only on suicide bombings, not on the development of the country."
Herman Bunz, director of the Herzliya-based Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, said the goal of the project is to foster German-Israeli relations by bringing delegations from each country to begin to understand one another in terms of "all of the spectrums of politics."
Though there has not been a recent delegation of Israelis in Germany, Bunz said members of the 17th Knesset would restart the project this year, and added that he hoped these visits would become an annual event for both German and Israeli delegations.
It is extremely important to connect to Israel beyond foreign affairs issues, Lange said. The project allows German visitors the opportunity to "discuss other topics like youth, economics and education" with their Israeli counterparts, not only "questions related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Israel is a "young and hopeful" place, Lange added, and said he was enjoying his time in this "wonderful country" very much.