Ambassador Rolf Pauls of Germany presents his credentials to Israeli president Zalman Shazar on Aug. 19, 1965. (photo from picture-alliance/dpa via CIJA)
On Aug. 19, 1965, Ambassador Rolf Pauls of Germany presented his credentials to Israel’s president Zalman Shazar. The tension and solemnity of the occasion were evident in everyone’s faces. Formal intergovernmental relations were being launched between Israel and Germany in the dreadful shadow of the Shoah.
Three milestones paved the way for this historic rapprochement.
- The Luxembourg Agreement of 1952, which constituted the Federal Republic of Germany’s assumption of responsibility for the consequences of the Holocaust.
- The meeting in March 1960 between David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, and Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor.
- The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
The Luxembourg Agreement formed the foundation for opening dialogue, which after long years of deliberate, mutual and courageous effort culminated in the meeting between Ben-Gurion and Adenauer. The Eichmann trial helped change the two countries’ perception of each other, making it possible to look forward to a different future.
This spring, we marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Germany and Israel on May 12, 1965, a landmark day in the history of both countries. These 50 years have been marked by the rapid development of relationships and contacts in all fields and the burgeoning of a friendship that has become part of the bedrock of international affairs.
Initiated by the pioneering efforts of the scientific community in both countries, German-Israeli ties now cover every possible field of human endeavor and achievement, from scientific research and technological innovation, to youth exchange programs, civic partnerships, municipal exchanges, cultural collaborations, sport, tourism, and so much more.
Today, a quarter of all Israelis have visited Germany, while more than 700,000 young people have participated in bilateral exchange projects. Meanwhile, a trade relationship worth a mere $100 million in 1960 has grown to $7.4 billion in 2013, making Germany Israel’s third most important trading partner, after the United States and China. Israel, in turn, is Germany’s second most important trading partner in the Near and Middle East.
At the governmental level, building upon the deep desire of both peoples, our countries have worked consistently to expand and deepen mutual trust and understanding, as well as the platforms for exchange and interaction that make it possible for these to flourish. Visits at the highest political levels – laden with meaning and symbolism – have developed into regular exchanges, including annual government-to-government consultations and close coordination between trusted partners.
At the core of Adenauer’s and Ben-Gurion’s efforts was the recognition on the German side of the need to demonstrate in the most concrete terms – to itself, to Israel and the Jewish world, and to the broader international community – that the country had detached from its Nazi past and was committed to the responsibility for that past. For Israel, close relations with Germany were a geopolitical imperative for the young state, a matter of securing its future in the family of nations, without forgetting the past.
The unique relationship built by our two nations in the five decades of our ties has helped both countries normalize our international standing, entrench our security and economic well-being and make meaningful contributions to global society. This success is founded upon three key principles: Germany’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel, for which every Israeli is grateful; our mutual commitment to remembrance and education of the next generation; and our mutual understanding that the well-being of our people requires that we work together to build a safe and prosperous future for all.
German-Israeli relations are built on this dual commitment to the past and the future. A unique trust and a real friendship have been courageously fashioned out of the abyss created by the horrors of the Nazi era. We are proud of what our two countries have achieved together and full of optimism for what lies ahead.
D.J. Schneeweiss is consul general of Israel to Toronto and Western Canada, and Josef Beck is consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany to Vancouver and Western Canada. This article was first published in the Canadian Jewish News and Das Journal. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region, and the German Consulate General in Vancouver are hosting a concert on Oct. 29 in celebration of the 50th anniversary year.