German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Thursday, beginning and ending his speech by reciting the Hebrew blessing thanking the God of Israel for sustaining life.
The Shehecheyanu blessing is a Jewish prayer said to celebrate special occasions. The blessing is recorded in the Talmud, indicating that it has been recited for over 1500 years.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe,who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
He then continued in Hebrew, “It is a gift and an act of kindness to allow me to appear before you at Yad Vashem on this day.”
In his speech, Steinmeier acknowledged that his country was guilty of the Holocaust.
“The industrial mass murder of six million Jews, the worst crime in humanity, was committed by my country. The terrible war, which cost over 50 million lives, originated in my country,” Steinmeier said to the gathering which included Holocaust survivors and more than 50 world leaders. “The Eternal Flame at Yad Vashem does not go out. Germany’s responsibility does not expire. We want to live up to our responsibility. By this, you should measure us. Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand here as the president of Germany, laden with guilt.”
Steinmeier noted that the evil specter of anti-Semitism was once again appearing in the world.
“I wish I could say that we Germans have learnt from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading,” he said. “I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard. I cannot say that when crude anti-Semitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy. I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”
Israeli correspondent Amit Segal noted that the arrival of the German president and the other European leaders to Jerusalem “unintentionally fulfilled the words of the ancient prophecy.” Sgal then quoted the prophet, Isaiah.
Bowing before you, shall come The children of those who tormented you; Prostrate at the soles of your feet Shall be all those who reviled you; And you shall be called “City of Hashem, Tzion of the Holy One of Yisrael.” Isaiah 60:14
German news service Deutsche Welle noted that Steinmeier’s visit was criticized by far-right parties “who say it is time for the country to put its past behind it.”
Despite his claim that he objects to acts that threaten the lives of Jews, Steinmeier supports the creation of a Palestinian state inside the borders of Israel and has been highly critical of the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu. He is also a staunch proponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, that effectively will allow Iran to have nuclear weapons after an initial period of developing a non-weapons nuclear program.