Arthur Obermayer Speech
January 24, 2011
It has been gratifying for me to see these awards grow into such an important event to honor individuals who have done such outstanding work to preserve the Jewish history of their local communities. This is the eleventh year in which we have given these awards, but it is with a new approach. We are going to hear from each awardee about their work, with visuals projected on the screen so that we can be fully aware of their accomplishment. This was the idea of the Berlin Parliament, and they are to be commended for their role in making this a more meaningful evening. I particularly want to thank the Parliament's Protokoll office headed by Stefanie Pruschansky and her assistant Karin Brandes, and of course, the President of the Parliament, Walter Momper whose leadership role has made this event possible. I also want to thank the jury who reviewed all of the nominations - and we had many excellent ones, which made our task more difficult but resulted in some outstanding awardees. With us tonight are two other jurors (please stand up when I call your name) - Sarah Nachama, the executive director and vice president of Touro College Berlin, who played a major role in the original implementation of these awards, and Karen Franklin, the board co-chair of JewishGen and a leader in many other Jewish museum and genealogical organizations, who reviewed and evaluated all of the supplemental materials. .I would also like to thank Betty Solbjor, our U.S. Coordinator, who has made all of the other arrangements for all of the visitor activities, and finally Judith Obermayer, my wife for the past 47 years, who has been my continual advisor and supporter.
I would also like to recognize visitors from far away who have come to this event specifically to recognize the contributions of the awardees. (Please stand as I call your name, and remain standing until I have completed the names.)
I will make my comments here very brief so that there is sufficient time for us to hear about the great work of the awardees. The idea for these awards arose in 1997 during a trip I took through Germany to discover my roots. In every community visited, there were marvelous, caring individuals who had devoted significant parts of their lives to uncovering and preserving their local Jewish history. I subsequently learned that other individuals were doing similar things throughout Germany. I felt that these individuals deserved recognition for their outstanding efforts. Although some of my relatives were killed in the Holocaust, all four of my grandparents emigrated from Germany to the U.S. in the 19th century, but my German roots go much, much further back. Recently I have been able to trace them back for 1000 years in Germany to the cities of Speyer and Mainz.
At the end of today, we will have given awards to 61 people. This year's awardees are more diverse in their professions than any previous year: a documentary film producer, a journalist, a teacher, a book publisher, and a business executive. When we started in the year 2000, we were afraid that we might be "skimming the cream off the top," and the future work to be honored would drop off in quality and significance. This has not happened! Every year, we are surprised to learn about many new individuals who have done exceptional work and who had never come to our attention before. To foreigners like myself, I am amazed at the German determination to recognize, understand and deal with its past. Germany, as represented by our awardees today, has learned from its history and has set an example for the whole world of how a terrible period in a country's history can be dealt with in a positive, constructive manner so that future generations will have a new kind of pride in how it values all human relationships as it says "never again"..