Peres remembers past and looks to the future in Berlin

President to give historic speech in Hebrew at German parliament.

Peres Koehler  (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Peres Koehler
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Shimon Peres's second day in Berlin began with remembrance of the past and ended with a vision of the future. Peres arrived in the German capital on Monday for a three-day state visit in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is on Wednesday.
Peres began his day with a meeting with German President Horst Koehler. Peres was greeted at the German President's residence in a full military ceremony and the two leaders exchanged gifts. According to the president's spokeswoman, the two discussed ways in which to promote Holocaust education and remembrance among German youth, and Koehler said that he was currently working on a wide-scale educational program that would introduce a large number of German teenagers to the study of the tragedies of 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 six 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 six million and the extermination camps."
Following their meeting, the two presidents arrived by motorcade to a memorial ceremony at Platform 17. The place where the ceremony took place is the spot from where 50,000 of Berlin's Jewish population were loaded onto the infamous stock carts and sent to death camps across Europe. The tracks, though covered in snow, were still in the same spot, a lasting reminder of the horrors that took place. Along the platform 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 minus 16 degree temperatures meant the ceremony had to be held indoors and a special tent was set up on the platform.
The ceremony included prayers and the orphans' Kaddish 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 together with Israeli youth. The two presidents lit the sixth one together, in memory of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.
Among the Holocaust survivors accompanying Peres to Berlin were Simcha Rotem, a 85-year-old survivor of the 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 immigrated to Israel on board 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 it was for a meeting focused on the future. The two met with a group of a hundred Israeli and German youth 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. German President Koehler was one of the founders of the organization, which was founded 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 Israeli 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 accompanied by unprecedented security measures. 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 president's state visit.
On Wednesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Peres will be giving a historic speech in Hebrew at the German parliament, where he will eulogize the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, among whom were his own grandparents.