Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Über die Universität | Geschichte | Rektoren und Präsidenten | Christoph Markschies | Reden des Präsidenten | Inaugural Opening of the Leo Baeck Summer University in Jewish Studies

Inaugural Opening of the Leo Baeck Summer University in Jewish Studies

Grußwort am 16. Juli 2007<br /> Greeting on July 16th 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to welcome you to the Leo Baeck Summer University in Jewish Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. According to the programme, you will be examining the topic „Studying and Representing Jewish Identities in Today’s Germany“. If you leave the main building of our university and direct your steps towards Oranienburger Straße, then you will appreciate the incredible and undeserved blessing that has befallen this particular city after the great catastrophe of the 20th century: We are witnessing a restoration of the colourful variety of Jewish life in Berlin – a variety that had been destroyed by German crimes and through German guilt. Expressions that were long since forgotten in Germany are suddenly familiar to many people in this city once again – who would have been able to say only a few years ago what an “Austrittsgemeinde” is (please excuse me for not attempting to translate this term) and who would have known the name Adas Jisroel? Who would have dared to hope that in a little side alley off Oranienburgerstraße, there would one day be a bakery where you can buy not only kosher, but also extremely tasty pastries? All these developments are more than mere external symbols: to give one prominent example, it would not do the importance of the occasion justice to call the re-inauguration of the Synagoge in Rykestraße on 31st August an external sign. In many different locations, we can gratefully observe how discussions about Jewish identity in Germany, which were for a long time only conducted in private living rooms and in closely observed Jewish parish halls, have now infiltrated the feature pages of newspapers, talkshows and cultural events of this city. I am thinking, for example, about the initiative “H-Atelier” – the attempt to reinvigorate the tradition of the Jewish saloons of the nineteenth century for Berlin’s cultural life – and I am alluding to the intriguing discussions about Jewish identity, which can of course only be conducted as a discussion about the German – and now European identity.

How is all of this connected with a university? And what does it all have to do with Humboldt-Universität, where the Leo Baeck Summer University will take place? A number of Jewish scholars taught and researched at this university in the nineteenth and twentieth century, some of whom consciously regarded themselves as Jewish. But already before 1933, the university did not treat them all too kindly. I am thinking, for example, of Hugo Preuß, an expert in Constitutional Law, whom this country owes its second great constitution after 1848. The Weimar constitution may have been short-lived and is often considered to have been overshadowed by the ensuing dictatorship, but it determined the constitutional order of the Basic Law. Some formulations in the Basic Law – the articles regarding the relationship between the state and the church, for example – were, in fact, literally adopted from the forerunner of the 1920s. Yet, because Hugo Preuß was Jewish, he did not become a full professor at this university, even though he was never actively involved in any of the Berlin synagogue communities. In this light, it is of primary importance that Humboldt-Universität does not just learn from its past now by remembering its Jewish scholars and retrospectively granting them a place in the centre of its own memory, even though it didn’t want to give them a place in the institution at the time. I consider it to be much more important that the Jewish discourse about Jewish identity in Germany is not just conducted outside the gates of this university, in the Organienburger Straße, in the Fasanenstraße, in the Rykestraße, but also directly in the centre of this higher education institution. Otherwise, our perspective on the contemporary debates on this country we would be one-sided and impoverished.

You may already suspect that the historian, who has temporarily taken over the role of University President, would also like to speak about Leo Baeck and his attempts to conserve Jewish identity during terrible times. The discussion about Jewish identity in contemporary Germany and all concepts of Jewish identity are for ever coined, of course, by the awful events of the past century. But in order to ensure that this certainty will not succumb to a mere and therewith highly endangered formula, it is necessary to recall great figures like Leo Baeck and the different rabbis of his environment, who tried to protect the multitude of Jewish life from the destruction of National-Socialism in the difficult times of the Third Reich – I am just going to name Max Nussbaum, Joachim Prinz and Julius Galliner, but there are many others. As President of this university, it is my hope that a reflection about Jewish identity in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries will complement the reflection about contemporary Jewish identity and I have great faith in our partnership with the Leo Baeck-Institute. I wish you and your Summer University all possible success.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christoph Markschies
President of Humboldt-Universität


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