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September 29, 2022

Ambassador Gutmann's Remarks for Burns/Novick/Botstein Premiere

Thank you, Cherrie. Good evening, everyone! Welcome to the historic Kino International theater in the heart of Berlin! It is my great honor to welcome here co-directors Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein for the European premiere of the pathbreaking film they co-directed with Ken Burns, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” Embassy Berlin is proud to be hosting this historic premiere. My friend Ken Burns had planned to be here with us tonight but tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days ago. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

We are honored by luminaries joining us tonight in the audience, too many for me to mention each by name. Ambassador Michèle Taylor has traveled here from Geneva to shine a spotlight on human rights. Thank you!

Also gracing us here tonight is one of the most courageous and inspiring woman I know. She is our neighbor in Berlin—author, educator, and Holocaust survivor, Margot Friedlander. With over a century of wisdom, Margot, yours is a story for all ages that will be even more completely told tonight.

As a lifelong teacher and scholar of democracy and education, I am especially pleased to welcome from across Berlin over 250 high school and college students, and their teachers and professors. This film is above all made for you, our future.

Ken and his co-directors are unsurpassed in making American history and culture come alive for millions. Whether it be the Civil War or Country Music, Baseball or Benjamin Franklin, Jazz or Jackie Robinson, many millions worldwide are enlightened by the Burns effect.

Today we gather here in Berlin to witness the Burns effect—more precisely the Burns-Novick-Botstein Effect—that bears the utmost historic importance today.

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the start of our New Year. Next week is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For life to continue, we begin every year by recognizing the moral mistakes of our past, our sins, for short. Recognition of our sins is a necessary prologue to atonement.

The historical evidence is overwhelming that recognition by every nation of its past sins is a necessary prologue to atonement, to Never Again. This is why the “U.S. and the Holocaust” is pathbreaking and so very important at this moment.

For the first time in history, millions of people of all ages—here in Germany, in the U.S., and worldwide—will come face-to-face not only with all that the United States did to defeat Nazism, but also with what my country did not do for thousands of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust whose lives would otherwise have been saved, Anne Frank and her family included. We will never be able to account for all the rest.

This film means so much to me because of my family’s history, and because of my mission as U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Germany’s robust remembrance culture plays a crucial role in learning from the past. We must look backward with eyes wide open in order that we move forward and take actions that will lead to a better future.

We have no greater goal today than to Defend Democracy. We do so in unity with Germany and our other allies by combating Anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and human rights abuses, and by aiding Ukrainians in their courageous struggle against Putin’s brutal assault on their freedom and their lives. Saying “Never Again” means acting now by defending democracy and saving lives.

As Americans, we are proud of our role in defeating Nazism and liberating the concentration camps. But in many ways, as a nation, we failed to live up to our identity as a land of opportunity for all.

America has accepted large numbers of Jewish refugees who found a safe haven and a new home there. Yet, from 1933 to 1943, more than a million legal immigration slots went willfully unfilled by government officials, as everyday thousands of Jews were murdered.

Some prominent American officials pushed back. One in particular, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., was so avidly committed to rescuing Jewish refugees from Europe that he played a key role with President Roosevelt in creating the War Refugee Board. We are joined today by his granddaughter Sarah Morgenthau. Tens of thousands of Jews were rescued, and help was provided to hundreds of thousands more.  Horrifically, by then, more than four million Jews had been murdered.

My fervent plea is this film’s timely and timeless message to everyone. Let us never, ever say: That was history, and things are different now. Today we are witnessing rising anti-Semitism and acts of anti-Semitic violence in Germany, the United States, and all around the world. Antisemitism goes hand in hand with hatred of LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities, Roma and Sinti, people of color, people with disabilities, and refugees.

When hate flourishes, violence is never far behind. As my father’s early escape from Nazi Germany and the extermination of millions reminds me daily, the hell of the Holocaust did not happen suddenly.

“Never again” is the world’s pledge—and the overriding message of this great film. We must never forget, especially when we face domestic hate crimes and what is currently happening in Ukraine. When our children and grandchildren look back at this moment in history, will they say that we did all we can to fight Antisemitism, to combat all forms of extremist violence in our countries, and to support Ukraine?

I want to again thank Lynn and Sarah for traveling to Berlin to share their potentially life-saving work with us. Please join me also in thanking everyone in our two countries and worldwide who are doing their utmost to welcome refugees, to save lives, and to defend our democracies.

Now, please join me in welcoming Lynn Novick to the stage.

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