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June 2, 2023

AMB Addressing Annual RIAS Berlin Commission Award Ceremony 

Thursday, June 1, 2023  


RIAS Berlin was the free voice of the free world during the Cold War.  

When the Wall fell, some visionary leaders recognized when it comes to defending democracy and the values of a free world, RIAS still had a very important, even if somewhat different, role to play.  

Now we are living at a time when there is no greater challenge than the defense of democracy and the values of a free world. 

Basic truths are increasingly both ruthlessly attacked and systematically disregarded. Fact-based reporting, open and honest conversations, and public accountability are absolutely essential. A free press is democracy’s essential ally.  

And this is why I stand here today, once again, to salute what the RIAS Berlin Commission stands for.  


Around the world, a free and robust press is under assault.  Journalists face jail time, or worse.  Online forums are censored.  News organizations are dubbed “enemies of the people” and fact-based reporting is smeared as fake news.  In too many places, a free press is under attack by governments doing their utmost to avoid accountability and to disregard the truth.  

When individual journalists are threatened, attacked, imprisoned, the effects reach far beyond their targets.  Some in the media start to self-censor.  Others flee.  Some stop reporting altogether.  When repressive governments come after journalists, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and others are not far behind.  When any of these voices are silenced, democracies suffer. When many are silenced, democracies die. We must not and we will not let that happen.  

Every day, I am grateful for the journalists who go to work to champion open inquiry, the rule of law, and democracy. On behalf of our entire Embassy, I stand unconditionally with you in defending the very foundations of individual freedom and democracy.  

And as the honorary chair of RIAS Berlin Commission, I am delighted to congratulate this year’s prize-winners and all those who continue to reward us with their reporting.  And I say that, as both Ambassador and a lifelong student of democracy.   

Over the years, RIAS award-winners and exchange participants have covered a remarkable range of the transatlantic agenda from diverse, oftentimes opposed perspectives. Diverse perspectives coupled with robust dialogupromotes accountability and sparks debate.  


Today, as antisemitism, racism, and hate crimes are rising worldwide, we must stand up early and often against every instance of antisemitism, hatred, and bigotry.  

This year’s Grand Prize winner, Wolf Blitzer, one of America’s iconic journalists, has done just this with his CNN special: “Never Again: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.”  Wolf, I salute you. And I salute CNN for its commitment to this project.   

As a broadcast news journalist, Wolf has covered war zones, interviewed presidents, and monitored election results – as they happen – for a waiting America and a curious world.  

But this story was special. It was up close and personal.  Because Wolf’s family, like mine, were Holocaust survivors.  

My father, Kurt Gutmann, escaped Nazi Germany to India at age 23, and saved the lives of his parents and four older siblings. After the war, he became a U.S. citizen. When I was a child, my father was sparing in what he told me about his family’s trauma. He died, suddenly, when I was sixteen.  He clearly did not want me as a child to carry forward his emotional trauma, but he just as certainly wanted me to carry the lessons of ‘never again’ forward.  He taught me volumes about the Holocaust through his words and his deeds. He instilled in me the importance of standing up, early and often, against antisemitism and all forms of hatred and bigotry.  

Earlier this week, my daughter Abigail, my husband and I placed a set of Stolpersteine in front of the house where my father, aunt and uncles lived as children with my grandparents in Feuchtwangen, a small city in Bavaria. These dignified brass markers raise up the once-buried past into the light-of-day present. 100,000 of them across Europe constitute the single largest Holocaust memorial in the world. Every year, we shine them anew. They are among the many important reminders that Never Again means that we must always and often publicly counter hate, bigotry, and antisemitism.    

Over the past year, I have learned more about what my family experienced during those years than I ever had the opportunity to hear from them. I have learned from investigative journalists, the local museum director and curator, and multiple media sources. Like millions of other victims of the Nazis, my immediate family members were subject to arrests, Kristallnacht, Buchenwald, a brutality that resulted in lifelong disabilities, the total loss of property, humiliation, and fear. And they were  among those who survived Naziism while six million other Jews were exterminated.   


Wolf, while you were working on the documentary, you discovered a video survivor testimony that your father, David Blitzer, had recorded in the 1990s at a Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Florida.  Your father described growing up in a Polish city that was later “Germanized” into Auschwitz, where his parents were murdered.  You knew what had happened, but watching your father’s oral testimony took you on a journey of reflection and discovery.  

In our own personal journeys to learn more, you and I both have discovered mountains of evidence, extensive survivor testimonies, and eyewitness accounts from those who liberated the concentration and death camps.  


Yet, we live in a world where people still deny and distort the facts of the genocide, one of the best-documented mass atrocities in human history.  Shockingly, some of these distortions have gone viral.  Among the latest, most grotesque examples are  

Putin’s accusations of neo-Nazism in Ukraine, which he uses to justify his brutal, illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.  

We all must work actively to counter Putin with the truth.  This is why, in the lead up to the re-invasion, we rapidly declassified key information to share with our allies.  After the Russians massacred innocent civilians in Bucha, we publicly exposed the truth, so the world could see it.   

We in the United States strengthen our own democracy when we reflect on our own history and openly discuss our own missteps. Last year, the Embassy premiered the European opening in Berlin of Ken Burns’ “U.S. and the Holocaust” to a full cinema of over 400 including over 200 high school and college students. Wolf’s documentary is another shining example.   

So much of the good work of journalists serves to counter bigotry and discrimination.  

We must all do more.  In the United States, the counter to bad speech is not censorship, it is more and better speech; speech that promotes tolerance, that counters lies and that dispels dangerous myths. 


I thank RIAS as an institution and all of you as individuals for joining in this urgent and important cause. You open constructive lines of communication across our societies, communication that is vital to our ongoing defense of democracy.  

Congratulations again to the prize winners. Bravo to all!