SACHSENHAUSEN, Germany (Jul. 18)
On the first official visit to Germany by an Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak paid a visit last week to the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Accompanied by his German counterpart, Gen. Klaus Naumann, Barak laid a wreath at the site where 100,000 Jews and other prisoners were led to their deaths in the gas chambers.
“We are the last generation with a living memory of the Holocaust,” Barak said in his July 13 speech here. “For the next generation, and the generations to follow, the extermination will only be a fading memory.
“Only a strong, developing and blooming Israel is the answer to the crimes that were committed against Jews. This generation of Germans bears no personal guilt for the Holocaust, but the German people bears the historical responsibility for the destruction of a greater part of the Jewish people,” Barak said.
Barak was in Germany at the invitation of Naumann, who visited Israel two years ago. While at the concentration camp last week, Naumann laid a wreath beside the one placed by Barak.
Two years ago, 10 days after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the site, neo-Nazis set fire to the barracks that had served as a museum of Jewish resistance at the camp.
Authorities at the Sachsenhausen Memorial Center kept the burned barracks untouched, to serve as a warning about the recent rise of neo-Nazism in Europe.
Two days before visiting the concentration camp, Barak held meetings with Naumann and other German officials to discuss military issues of mutual interest to the two countries.
During those meetings, Barak expressed concern over Germany’s strong ties with Iran and Iraq.
The Germans replied that it was important for them to maintain contacts with the two countries, adding that it would serve Israeli interests as well.
During Barak’s visit, Germany’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling enabling German troops to participate in peacekeeping missions launched by the United Nations or NATO.
Germany’s postwar constitution, called the Basic Law, had been interpreted until now as allowing German forces to be deployed only in cases of self-defense.
Naumann said Germany would be willing to partake in peacekeeping operations. But he thought it unlikely that German troops would become involved in peacekeeping operations in the Middle East, especially the Golan Heights, where international peacekeepers may be placed as part of an envisioned Israel-Syria peace arrangement.