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Together for Human Rights, in Freedom and Solidarity

Dr. Martin Salm delivers welcome remarks at the Fourth Annual Humanity in Action International Conference at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland, on June 27, 2013. Dr Salm is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future." 

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!

"German-Polish relations are one of the miracles of Europeanisation of people after 1990," said Wladystaw Bartoszewski recently in an interview in Deutschlandfunk. (1)

"One of the miracles." Yes, it is by no means a matter of course that Poles and Germans talk to each other again, visit each other, work together, make friends with each other, live together. We are all part of this miracle, of which Professor Bartoszewski was one of the pioneers.

In May 1940 the Polish writer Antoni Slonimski wrote: "I curse the Germans for the fact that I now only bear hatred in my heart [...], for defiling humanity [.. .]." (2)

It is not a matter of course that I can be a guest and speak to you today, here, where the German occupiers crammed 500,000 Jews together in the Ghetto and in 1943 cruelly quashed the Ghetto uprising. When I walk through these streets, through this museum, I am deeply moved. I wish to thank you very much for inviting me.

And I am pleased that in the meantime such friendly relations have become a matter of course. We experience this too in the projects that the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" funds: Polish and German young people with leaming difficulties acquire work experience in placements together in both countries; associations that support victims of hate crime collaborate across borders, and German volunteers help look after survivors of National Socialist persecution in Poland.

In his talk from which I have just quoted, Wiadystaw Bartoszewski placed the approach between Poland and Germany against the horizon of Europeanisation. And we must not forget that in our return to a common Europe we have a great deal to thank Poland for. The national Solidarnosc movement effectively drew open the iron curtain that was dividing our continent. This division has been history now for a whole generation - and that too is a miracle. We are now shaping Europe together, enjoying freedom to travel and to share ideas and experiences.

The Foundation EVZ as an international project would not have evolved without these changes. Representatives of different countries work together on the Foundation's Board of Trustees, for instance from the USA and Poland. This would not have been possible before 1989, Nor would it have been possible to fund and promote projects across frontiers, as our Foundation now does. In the Europeans for Peace funding programme young people from at least two countries come together and jointly develop projects on historical injustice and human rights today. In the International Youth Debate programme, school students from many countries compete to put forward the most convincing arguments on current political issues. And at the Model International Criminal Court in Krzyzowa young people not only from Europe re-enact the roles of various actors at the International Criminal Court based on actual cases.

Different as the projects may be, they are united by a common concem - the departure from a painful past into a peaceful and democratic togethemess. Against this background, togethemess often means cautious approaches, that can lead via increasing understanding to genuine Cooperation and friendship.

Humanity in Action too pursues this impulse of linking learning about history with teaching human rights and active commitment to the disadvantaged. Together with your Organisation, the Foundation EVZ shares the conviction that we cannot overcome past injustice unless we stand up to it. And we also share the hope that we can leam from history. What can we learn from the history of injustice? That human rights are inalienable, universal and indivisible. And that we must stand up for them if we wish to uphold them.

Nine years ago Humanity in Action Deutschland requested funding from the Foundation EVZ. Together we then developed the idea of expanding this wonderful transatlantic programme to Poland. In the meantime Humanity in Action Polska has developed so splendidly that it is hosting this conference. We can truly say here that a dream has come true.

I have just talked about what links Humanity in Action and our Foundation. When Fellows from Humanity in Action from several countries presented their work to the international Board of Trustees of the Foundation in Berlin a week ago, I noticed a special feature -the extraordinary diversity of the initiatives that the Fellows grasp after five weeks of input and project work. A young New Yorker told me that he came to Poland to interview members of widely differing minorities. Some Fellows work to teach human rights in companies, others advise refugees free of charge in their capacity as lawyers. They do this in groups or individually, but they repeatedly meet to share experiences and opinions and to inspire each other. "We are more a movement than an Organisation," said one alumna from Frankfurt/Main, getting right to the heart of the matter. And, she went on: "I understand diversity not as a threat but as an enrichment." The spirit of these young people deeply impressed me. Humanity in Action assumes the individuality of each participant, their interests, their talents, and encourages them to apply their own ideas to stand up for others. What liberalism, what solidarity, what humanity!

With Humanity in Action Polska, Humanity in Action and the Foundation EVZ have realised a joint dream - bringing committed young people from Europe and the USA to Poland, and committed young Poles to other countries. Poland, with its long tradition of spirited self-will and self-organisation simply needed access to the programme to contribute this experience and at the same time be able to profit from the programme's networks.

Miracles become possible if we dare to dream and pursue our dreams. Human rights are no longer a dream - they are legally guaranteed and institutionally mainstreamed. Let us trust together in the power of dreams and work for human rights so that they are realised, everywhere and over and over again.


1. http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/idw dlf/2073158, last retrieved on 3 June 2013 21.

2. September 1939-2009. Ein deutsch-polnischer Erinnerungsort? Published by the Zentrum für Historische Forschung Berlin der Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin 2009, p. 22

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Poland Poland 2013


    Dr. Martin Salm
    Dr. Martin Salm

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