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The way ahead: Return to Berlin
Michael Blumenthal: "Time to turn the page"
Return to Berlin

Michael Blumenthal is a former Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who went on to serve as US Secretary of the Treasury under President Jimmy Carter. His face still appears on dollar bills. Here he describes for BBC News Online why he decided to return to Germany to direct the new Jewish museum in Berlin.

In 1945, I was among the millions of people who had fled the Nazi holocaust. I was one of the lucky ones. In the first post-war years, the United States assumed its historical role as a haven for immigrants and opened its doors to people like us. The population generally welcomed us and we were quickly integrated into American society and culture.

More than a half century later, I have returned to Berlin and am once again a part-time resident of the city from which I fled with my family. I came here because, though an American citizen since long ago, I accepted a government invitation to lead the development of what will be Europe's largest Jewish Museum.

In the 21st century, no country can shut itself off or seal its borders.

I am often asked why I agreed to do this job, and why I consented to return to this place where family members and close friends were murdered while some Germans actively collaborated in this atrocity and most others looked away. The reason is simply that it is time to turn the page, to face the challenges of the present and the future, rather than to allow the disasters of the past to rule us.

In the 21st century, no country can shut itself off or seal its borders. In Germany, the presence of significant Turkish, Slavic and other ethnic and religious minorities is already a fact, and the influx continues. The same is true throughout Europe, in England, France, Italy and on the other side of the Atlantic.

The challenge is to promote tolerance and understanding towards these minority groups, so that all can live together in peace. As the excesses of the small groups of right-wing extremists, and the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia shows, the alternative is a threat to peace and tranquility.

However, we must also not forget the past. Today's young Germans were not alive in the 1930s, and even their parents were either unborn or too young to be involved in the holocaust. Yet they do have a national responsibility to remember. That is what the German government has in mind in creating the Jewish museum, and other "institutions of memory".

The lessons of history

The history of the relations between Jews and non-Jews in Germany over 2000 years shows how a society can benefit when religious, ethnic or racial minorities are allowed to live harmoniously in its midst and how terribly high the cost is when prejudice and intolerance are allowed to rule, and where they can lead.

The Jewish museum in Berlin
To remember means to learn the lessons of history and to apply them not merely to avoid the errors of the past, but also to help meet the challenges confronting us all today and tomorrow. That is the relevance of the mission of the Berlin Jewish Museum.

Here we are showing what the history of Germany's Jews was, and we hope that our visitors will draw their own conclusion that the benefits of tolerance are high and the effects of failure disastrous. We plan particularly to focus on the younger visitors and we hope to attract a broad-based audience from all levels of society.

That is why I have chosen to help in this work. That is why I decided to return to Berlin and to support my many like-minded German friends determined to make sure that the lessons of history will not be forgotten.

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