BERLIN — Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of Jews and others during World War II in Nazi-occupied Hungary. A foundation named after the humanitarian, who was detained and disappeared in January 1945, promotes educational programs and organizes public awareness campaigns focused on the values of solidarity and civic courage embodied in the activities of Wallenburg and other Saviors of the Holocaust.
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) presents an award to outstanding individuals who exemplify the values and goals it represents. On June 16, the medal was presented to Cem Özdemir, a national leader of the Bundnis 90/Die Grünen party and member of the Bundestag (Parliament). He received the honor for his role in “building bridges between Armenians and Turks and his pivotal contribution” in leading the campaign to have the Armenian genocide recognized by the Bundestag in June 2016.
The award ceremony took place in Berlin at the Gedächtniskirche, a church that was bombed during the war and stands as a symbol of remembrance in the capital. IRWF representative Pastor Annemarie Werner, head of the Vaterunser Church, and Martin Gremer, pastor of the host chapel, presided over the ceremony, which included remarks and a song by Turkish-Armenian musician Marc Sinan. Dr. Amill Gorgis of the Society for the Promotion of an Ecumenical Monument for Genocide Victims in the Ottoman Empire (FÖGG) presented the award.
In rendering thanks for having been so honored, Özdemir referred to the historic chapel as “an impressive monument to the horror of the Second World War.” Though one might understand the desire of some to erase “the wounds of conflict from the cityscape,” he was glad it had been preserved; he pointed also to the fact that the square where the church is located was the scene of a terrorist attack two and a half years ago, which killed 12 persons. “We cannot forget the victims of war and terror,” he said. “An open society needs remembrance as much as every individual needs air to breathe.”
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“I am often asked what success I am most proud of,” he continued. “There have been several highpoints and I am grateful for all of them. But there is one event that stands out and concerns me particularly: as you all know, three years ago the Bundestag passed a resolution recognizing the genocide against the Aramaeans, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Pontic Greeks. It filled me with pride to have contributed to this recognition.” He expressed his thanks to all those who helped in the effort, saying the award was also going to them.