Herzog has dual reasons for being in Germany this week

The first Israeli president to visit Germany was Isaac Herzog’s late father.

President Isaac Herzog on his visit to Germany. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog on his visit to Germany.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Although most of the publicity surrounding the visit to Germany this week by President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, has centered on the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Munich Olympic Massacre, Herzog is also on a state visit to Germany.

He is the sixth Israeli president to be invited to speak to the German Bundestag. The first was his late father, president Chaim Herzog, who had previously been in Germany as an officer in the British Army and had helped to liberate Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.

The Jewish prisoners were initially suspicious of a man in uniform, but he spoke to them in Yiddish and allayed their fears.

When Chaim Herzog went back in April 1987, as the first president of Israel to officially set foot in Germany, he made a point of returning to Bergen-Belsen, reciting the kaddish mourner’s prayer and laying a wreath to honor the memory of 50,000 Jews who were murdered there.

At the time he said, “The only ones who can forgive are the dead. The living have no right to forget. Thus, I will surely remember with a heavy heart.”

 CHAIM HERZOG. (credit: NATI HARNIK) CHAIM HERZOG. (credit: NATI HARNIK)

This week, his son will also visit Bergen-Belsen and will become the sixth president of Israel to address the Bundestag.

Mr. Herzog goes to Germany

Herzog’s state visit is at the invitation of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who previously hosted former president Reuven Rivlin in March 2021. Rivlin reciprocated in July 2021, just a week prior to concluding his term of office. At the time, he lauded Germany as being a strong partner in the uncompromising fight against antisemitism and terrorism.

Rivlin and Steinmeier forged a strong personal friendship as well. When Steinmeier came to Israel in 2017, Rivlin took him and his wife on a tour of Jerusalem’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market, where they had a beer together. Steinmeier was also in Israel for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He and Rivlin then traveled to Poland together and on to Germany for further commemorations.

Herzog has also met with Steinmeier in the past. The two were active in trying to resolve the problem of adequate compensation to the families of the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Last week they issued a joint statement after the matter had been settled.

Herzog was officially welcomed on Sunday at the Schloss Bellevue, the presidential palace in Berlin, where a state dinner was held in his honor. Prior to attending the Munich memorial event on Monday, Herzog will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

At his meeting with Steinmeier, Herzog thanked his German counterpart for his true friendship and personal commitment to the Israel-German relationship. He also thanked him for his efforts and tireless moral commitment to historic justice with regard to the German government taking responsibility for the security and rescue failures at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972, for pledging to conduct an exhaustive historical enquiry, and for paying compensation to the bereaved families of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes.

Moving forward from the even more distant past, Herzog characterized this particularly unique bilateral relationship as “complicated, challenging and at times painful, but with a deep connection and an important alliance.

“We have been fated to be forever linked by the past and no less so by the future and by hope,” he said. “Today we know that the relationship between Israel and Germany is correct, critical and indispensable for both Israel and Germany.”

Herzog is due to address the Bundestag on Tuesday morning and will present his views on the Iranian nuclear program as well as other important global and bilateral issues.

Afterward, Herzog and his wife will accompany Steinmeier and his wife in a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of the murdered Jews of Germany. This will be followed by a visit to Bergen-Belsen, where Herzog will meet with Holocaust survivors and local youths to discuss the importance of remembrance.