the net of people deeply affected by political violence
To the President of the United States of America on the occasion of his visit to Dresden
Thursday 4 June 2009
US President Obama visits Dresden
Dresden, June 4th, 2009. US President Barack Obama today begins an official visit to Germany in June 2009 in Dresden, before travelling on to Buchenwald and, finally, the 1944 Allied landing beaches in Normandy. This route links three places of great symbolic significance for 20th-century European history. It is as if it is seeking to retrace the foundations of American commitment in Europe. But when Barack Obama chose to stop off in Landshut to visit American soldiers wounded in Iraq, it became clear that this journey was not merely reviewing the past, but was at the same time examining history also in its present and future contexts.
This is yet another of those occasions which enable us to sense the meaning of Dresden as a place of historical symbolism. What stands out so vividly from the contrast Buchenwald – Dresden, is also inherent to the symbol Dresden: Our city shares the responsibility for genocide and war in the German name. At the same time, Dresden serves as an example of the consequences of military violence. We view this as a double obligation on our part to spare no efforts on behalf of peace, democracy and human rights.
Against this background, we have formulated an open letter to Barack Obama.
An open letter to the President of the United States of America on the occasion of his visit to Dresden
Dear Mr. President,
Welcome to Dresden! We are especially pleased that our city has been chosen as the starting point for your first visit to Germany as President of the United States of America. Our association brings together people from several generations, united by a commitment to peace and human rights against the background of the historical experiences of our city.
Among our number, there are also older citizens of Dresden who themselves lived through the Second World War and the arduous years of post-war reconstruction. Amidst a landscape of ruins in the destroyed city, burdened with the German guilt for genocide and war, and with their experience of suffering and sacrifice, they formulated the conviction which still guides our group today: "Most important: Never again war!"
The history of our city has taught us vividly that every person bears responsibility – and that long before actual wars break out. Many citizens of Dresden had accepted or even supported the National Socialist dictatorship before the German war struck back at our city. We know today, that peace can only prevail if human rights and democracy are defended.
At the same time, we have experienced how far-reaching the consequences of war can be. Even in our relatively affluent society, decades passed before vital infrastructures had been restored, before even a few of the architectural symbols of the city had been rebuilt, and before the people had come to terms with the irretrievable losses. But war is even now still among us. In the biographies of all those affected, the experiences are still as present as ever. And it remains imperative to promote reconciliation – above all in the relationships with those who suffered under the German wrongs. War and violence thus cast long shadows, reaching far into subsequent generations.
We have met and discussed our experiences and convictions with people from other places around the world which similarly bear the scars of war and violence. We have discovered impressive examples of how suffered grief can seed a commitment to peace – whether in New York, in Israel and Palestine, or in Poland and Spain. In an "International Network for Peace" we are seeking ways to strengthen this commitment.
Mr. President, your visit to Dresden is also an encounter with the history of our city. When we report on our experiences, we do so in the hope that you will take an impulse of peace with you from Dresden. It is so much more difficult to establish peace than to conduct war. We hope, for all our sakes, that you will find the courage to withstand war and to venture peace. If the United States of America were here to invest its democratic ideals, its rich resources and its broad political influence in place of military power, then this would represent an outstanding contribution to a better world.
The members of the association "13th February 1945", Dresden
Dresden, June 4th, 2009