My speech that was read at today’s public gathering in Cottbus:
They say that history is our greatest teacher. Right now, and right here – today, on this important 81st commemoration of Pogromnacht, and on the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, will we fail to remember the lessons of history?
On October 28, 1938, the life of Cäcilie, an eight-year old who used to visit Cottbus’ New Synagogue, was abruptly disrupted. Cäcelie was the youngest of three children, born in 1930 to a Jewish family who lived a short walk from here. She had two brothers: Alfred was the oldest; my father Max was the middle child. On this same fateful day while attending school, my father was visited by two officers of the Nazi secret police. They took him from his classroom, marched him through town and threw him in jail. He was only nine years old. Their family was forced onto a train for Poland later that day.
12-days later on November 9, people filled with hate came with lit torches to this very spot and burned Cottbus’ New Synagogue to the ground. Jewish owned businesses throughout the town were destroyed. In a way, my father was fortunate – he didn’t witness Pogromnacht. He didn’t see his friends turn on him. His memory of his Cottbus childhood remained a happy one.
Cäcilie however, never made it home after the war. Her memory was silenced. She was murdered, along with her mother at concentration camp Stutthof. My father and his brother survived. Their father died of typhus just days after liberation at Theresienstadt.
When the butterflies took wing at Bewegte Grundschule in January, the outpouring of love in Cottbus and around Germany was overwhelming. 30 brave schoolchildren, under the guidance of their valiant and resolute teachers, peered into Germany’s past through a lens of art and exploration. They used the lessons of those experiences to explore their social responsibility to stand up for all human beings and each painted a ceramic butterfly to honor, remember and memorialize a child lost in the Holocaust. Including one for the Aunt I would never meet, Cäcelie.
From the ashes of Pogromnacht to the experience of Reunification 30 years ago, I have also reconnected with Cottbus in a way I could not have imagined. Today, I rest easier knowing that our Butterfly Project will grow in Germany as GenerationE, an empathy education initiative of Nicole’s and mine, inspiring today’s generation of schoolchildren to fill the world with connectedness and love. To all of you here today and all of those who have joined us on this journey, I am honored to be with you!