Half a year ago at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, we commemorated 80 years of the mass shooting of Ukrainian Jews by German soldiers in Babyn Yar. I had the honor to speak after three heads of state, among others, the President of Germany.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom I respect very much for his commitment to European values, named the lessons Germany had learned from its Nazi past.
The Federal President said: "We Germans know about our responsibility. It is a responsibility that does not end." He spoke about "the joint basis (of) international law and human dignity, freedom of people to choose their way and to live in territorial integrity, a peaceful and secure Europe. (T)his basis we must protect – this is also part of our responsibility related to our history." If „the evil demons of the past show themselves today in new clothes," he said, then "for us Germans, there can be only one answer to this: Never again! The fight must continue."
But – I don’t see that Germany is today the country of "Never again!" unfortunately. Today, Russia attacked a peaceful country, bombs and kills thousands of peaceful civilians, starves inhabitants of cities it blocks and lets them die of diseases. Russian troops commit mass executions of Ukrainians, even visually reminding of the shootings in Babyn Yar.
For over a month, Germans see it on the news in real time.
Yes, Germany implements sanctions, gives humanitarian aid and also weapons, which was unimaginable not long ago.
But today, half a year after President Steinmeier’s powerful and confident: "For us Germans, there can be only one answer: ‘Never again!’" - it is exactly Germany that blocks full implementation of sanctions to exclude Russian banks from SWIFT. It is exactly Germany, that does not want to put an immediate embargo on Russian oil, coal and gas because the German economy will suffer (and Germany slows down EU decisions). Germany drags their feet with delivering the heavy weapons Ukraine needs.
I understand that to be able tomorrow to do the right thing, Germany must remain economically alive. I am a realist.
But "Never Again!" means not only to speak out against Swastikas. It means to fight with all you have against mass killings, genocides, war crimes and atrocities. Today, I believe Germany must do everything it can. And – Germany must risk. There is no easy way to without risks and sacrifices defeat the evil and stop the atrocities happening in Ukraine.
You have let the evil become too strong. You have earned a lot of money on the way, and I assume in completely good faith. But therefore today, because of your history, the Nazi history and your recent earnings, I think it will be right if you step up and acknowledge that your good faith was misplaced and costs today the lives of people, and from this comes a special responsibility to sacrifice, and risk.
Or, again, what do you need? Chemical attacks in a country 700 km from Germany? Further thousands and tens of thousands more bombed to death in besieged cities or starving or dying of thirst? Attacks with nuclear weapons?
While you determine what would be needed to really commit, I suggest a new template for future Germany senior politicians’ speeches:
Don’t say anymore, "There can be only one answer for us Germans: ‘Never again!’
Say: "There can be only one answer for us Germans: ‘Hopefully not too soon again! Or if something happens, we will for sure discuss ways to help, if we can do so without losing too much ourselves."
Germans have done a unique job of acknowledging the horrible crimes of their past.
What I don’t see is that Germans acknowledge the truth of your present.
I am aware that I am emotional, because I am a Ukrainian Jew, and I used to believe in the new Germany. I am aware I don’t have the perfect way forward. But still, let me depict the truth as I see it today about Germany:
Then, Germans were perpetrators. Germans committed the Holocaust.
Today – you are responsible. You let war crimes happen. 80 years after the Nazi genocide in Ukraine, you do NOT do everything you can to stop the genocide by Russians.
This is not "Never Again!" And this is not enough.
I can only ask you very much – to act with the necessary urgency, to do everything to stop the Russian war machinery. And thus show: It is NOT so that Germans find other things more important than defending freedom and life against oppression and death.
"Never Again!" IS real in Germany.
Victor Pinchuk, a leading Ukrainian businessman and patron of the arts,
founder of the Yalta European Strategy