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Opening speech for the commemoration on 2 March 2023 at the "Old Leipzig" Railway Station in Dresden

We have gathered here with you today to commemorate those Jews who were brought to the Old Leipzig Railway Station 80 years ago after the forced evacuation of the "Judenlager Hellerberg". From here, where more than 1,000 Jews from all over the Reich were already waiting in concealed freight cars, they went directly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. A cruel fate awaited them there. Only 10 of the 293 deported Jews from the then "Judenlager Hellerberg" survived.

Like many other testimonies to the persecution and extermination of Dresden's Jews, the story of the deportation of 2 and 3 March 1943 has been largely suppressed from the city's memory. This is symbolised by the dilapidated condition of the Old Leipzig Railway Station, whose central role in the extermination of the Jews is known only to a few in our city.

At the commemoration ceremony a year ago now, we therefore demanded of the Lord Mayor and the Mayor of Culture (I quote verbatim from my speech at the time):

"Dresden needs a permanent memorial and meeting place for the victims of the Shoa at the Old Leipzig Station. Not sometime - now!

We call on you to begin with the conceptual work immediately and to start with the necessary construction measures in 2023.

Let us inaugurate together the then completed memorial and meeting place at the Old Leipzig Railway Station in 2025 at the latest - 80 years after Germany's liberation from Hitler's fascism." (end of quote).

And today, what have we achieved together, what is now urgently needed?

  • In April 2022, we founded the Förderkreis Gedenk-, Begegnungs- und Lernort Alter Leipziger Bahnhof, whose members include the leaders of the city administration and the Jewish communities of Dresden.

  • The Lord Mayor has committed himself to the realisation of the project and has included the necessary financial means in the next double budget.

  • In the first half of last year, the Department for Culture, Science and Tourism conducted an extensive discussion process with the Jewish communities, initiatives and associations as well as with us as a support group about the possible contents of the centre to be created.

  • The possible future owner of the land, Sachsenenergie, has positively promoted the discussion process with an initial planning study on the structural design of the current ruin.

  • The Museum of Transport has developed initial conceptual ideas for the exterior design of the square.

  • As a result of these discussions, there is now a submission for the city council to decide on 23 March 2023.

  • This is not quite the pace we called for a year ago, but at least it has progressed.

From our point of view, it is now necessary to:

  • the adoption of the bill by the Dresden City Council on 27 March.

  • the commissioning of a group of experts on the content of the centre to be created, which will be appointed by the mayor in April and present us with the results of their work for discussion by July.

  • Once the city council has made its decision, the administration must immediately deal with the question of who will operate the centre after its completion; this should be clarified by October of this year - after a call for tenders, which will certainly be necessary.

  • Parallel to these activities, an architectural competition should be launched and conducted by the city administration together with the future property owner, initially for the reconstruction of the station ruins and the second head building. The first results of such a competition could then - in our view - be available for review and discussion in September of this year.

  • The ownership of the site must be clarified quickly under the leadership of the city administration with the current owner GLOBUS and a possible future owner such as SACHSENENERGIE or another municipal company.

We make the following request to those responsible in the city administration - in particular to the Mayor of Culture, Ms Klepsch, and the Mayor of Construction, Mr Kühn:

And - please do not answer me with "Yes, that is all correct, Mr Lang, but ... the administrative procedures do not allow for such a pace - as you demand...". I answer clearly and unequivocally: No, if we all really, really want it (and there is the word WILLE in it), then we should gather together on the 80th anniversary of the liberation here at this place, at least at the memorial, meeting and learning place that has been completed in its shell.

Then we can look optimistically to the year 2026, when we want to celebrate the opening together.

Let me quote again from my speech last year, which is still valid today:

"We from Herz statt Hetze are ready to actively support you (the city administration) in this within the scope of our possibilities. However, we will not measure you and your staff primarily by your speeches on official commemoration days - as necessary as these are. Rather, we will look at your concrete actions to create this "Alter Leipziger Bahnhof" memorial and meeting place that we - and also the elected city councillors - have been calling for.

And we would like to make a supplementary, current proposal this evening:

We want to make this centre of remembrance and encounter a tangible experience for the people of Dresden today. That is why we propose to launch a series of events that will take place annually from May to September until its completion under the title "Remembering - Educating - Encountering at the Old Leipzig Station".

We want to win over artists, students, the Jewish communities, civil society initiatives, the democratic parties and foundations for these events.

We are convinced that we will receive the active - also financial - support of the city administration. We would be very pleased if the Saxon state government could also support our project as a whole, as well as this series of events proposed today - which is also an educational project for pupils.

Please allow me, dear guests, to make a very personal comment:

Standing here today at the Old Leipzig Station, one tries to imagine what was going on inside these people, Jews of all ages from Dresden and the Reich area, when they were herded into the freight cars.

Even 80 years later, it is unimaginable that - organised by the Gestapo, the SS and the police, supported by the Dresden city administration of the time and the Deutsche Reichsbahn - these people had to take the road to death.

It was also the majority of Dresden's population that stood idly by and watched the ever escalating persecution of the Jews. This fact, too, belongs to the memory of this terrible time. Most of us gathered here today are lucky enough to have been born after the liberation of Germany from Hitler's fascism. But that does not absolve any of us of the responsibility, today and in the future, to remember again and again what happened then.

Let us remember briefly:

In the electoral district of Dresden - Bautzen, 43.6% of Saxons voted for the NSDAP in the 1933 Reichstag election (with a turnout of 90.3%).

And today?

In the last federal election in 2021, the AfD achieved a 24.6% share of the vote in Saxony. For the 2024 state election, voter surveys already see the AfD ahead of the CDU. PEGIDA is now marching through Dresden for the eighth year, neo-Nazis and their supporters are still walking through Dresden on 13 February with their unspeakable victim myth and together with Holocaust deniers. The neo-Nazi Höcke, classified by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as an extreme right-wing extremist, can spread his agitation on Dresden's Theatre Square, abusing the solidarity for war victims and refugees from Ukraine.

Yes, we also know that not everyone who votes for the AfD is a Nazi. But to run after these brown pied pipers and to vote for them is to have learned nothing, nothing at all, from the history of the Third Reich.

We of HERZ STATT HETZE, together with our friends, do not want to and will not leave the streets and squares of our city to these people.

And if civil disobedience is necessary, then we will be there peacefully and without violence.

That's why I, as an old Dresden Jew and anti-fascist, sat with my friends on Pirnaischer Platz on 13 February this year and successfully prevented the right-wing march through the centre of Dresden with our sit-in.

My politically and racially persecuted parents and grandparents were still able to emigrate to England in 1937 thanks to the solidarity of the people who supported them. After the liberation of Germany by the Allies, they believed in a better Germany and returned to Dresden with me and my sister in 1946. It was unimaginable for my parents that they would still have to experience how an extreme right-wing party was once again elected by so many people in Germany. 80 years ago, the people we commemorate today had no way out. They had to take the path to the Nazi extermination camps. And that is why we repeat our demand: Dresden finally needs - 80 years later - a dignified place of remembrance for the victims of the Shoa!

As a member of the second generation of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, I would like the fate of the millions of political and racist persecutees and murdered people - including my family - never to be forgotten.

Above all, so that the younger generations can learn again and again what fascism, anti-Semitism and racism meant to those affected, we need - 80 years after the terrible acts - this memorial and meeting place at the Old Leipzig Railway Station.

The fate of my family and many fellow sufferers obliges me to actively work on this together with my friends.

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