The Honorable Dr. Horst Freitag presents the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit to ACF President Rabbi Arthur Schneier on behalf of President Christian Wulff of the Federal Republic of Germany.
This honor highlights Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s dedication to help foster and actively stand for inter-religious cooperation and to better relations between Germany and the United States. On behalf of the German government. Dr. Freitag cited Rabbi Arthur Schneier as “a very special friend who trusts modern Germany, its democratic government and its people”.
The award was originally instituted in 1951 and is the sole general state decoration and the highest tribute of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is generally bestowed to those who have made successful achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual field and for outstanding services to Germany in charitable or philanthropic endeavors.
The ceremony took place at the residence of Consul General Freitag and falls coincidentally on the 6th night of Chanukkah as well as the festival of one of the most beloved Catholic Saints: Saint Nicholas, and New Year’s Eve for the Muslim Community.
The following is the full text of Dr. Freitag’s remarks:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan,
Commissioner Raymond Kelly,
I will not be able to name all of the representatives, all the countries here, the ones already here and still coming, but let me at least acknowledge if you will, and understand, the Austrian Consulate General, because for obvious reasons, and the representative from Israel, but you all work under obviously, honorable guests and dear friends. Chantal and I warmly welcome you in our residence for this very special event. We’re honored and pleased to have you. And I speak for both of us obviously. But also for Ambassador Peter Riddick and his wife, when saying that tonight we have the honor and the privilege, on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Christian Wulff, to award Rabbi Arthur Schneier with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
And I think it’s fair to say that there could hardly be a more appropriate and a more symbolic occasion to present this award to Rabbi Schneier than tonight. This is the 6th night of Chanukkah, bringing light into the somewhat darker season of winter, and we have a Menorah, in fact, behind you. Today is also the festival of one of the most beloved Catholic Saints, Saint Nicholas. And today, also happens to be New Year’s Eve for the Muslim Community. Making this December 6th a unique day for interfaith understanding. And if there’s one single leitmotif for the mission and the many activities Rabbi Schneier is committed to, it is exactly this. To foster and to actively stand up for inter-religious cooperation, even and precisely when the going gets tough.
So in simple but humble words, today we pay tribute to a leader devoted to overcoming forces of hatred and intolerance. Time is too short to even attempt to list Rabbi Schneier’s achievements during the last decades. You all know him well. His commitment and dedication devoted to tolerance, justice and humanity. To fully appreciate his extraordinary engagement, it is work. Recalling the Rabbi Schneier was born in Vienna, that in 1938, the fateful year of Kristallnacht, his family took refuge in Hungary. The Jewish ghetto of Budapest. Constant suffering and persecution became the every day environment of his childhood. Arthur Schneier survived the Shoah. Many members of his family did not. They were murdered in the Auschwitz and Terezin concentration camps.
After the war, Rabbi Schneier began life anew in the United States of America. And there were millions of reasons for him to completely turn his back on Europe, on German speaking countries, once and for all. And instead … and this may be one of his most admirable characteristics … he reaches out for dialogue to rebuild broken bridges and build new ones. Rabbi Schneier doesn’t even hesitate to speak German, preferably well, with a charming Viennese twist.
As the Founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, initiating healing and mutual understanding in Catholic/Jewish relations, as well as with the Orthodox Church, this is one of your key missions. The world vividly recalls the visits in Park East Synagogue by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople in 2009, just last year. And these encounters made headlines. And they were perhaps the visible fruits of his long work and dedication, and yet for Rabbi Schneier they were only the beginning, albeit a most successful and promising one, one he continues to build on today.
His advice is sought in national, as well as in international affairs. And in 2001, for example, he initiated a successful United Nations General Assembly resolution for the protection of religious sites and religious minorities. In 2005 Secretary General Kofi Anan named him member of the high level group of the Alliance of Civilizations. He was the sole Jewish representative. And when Chancellor Angela Merkel(?) received the ACF World Statesman Award in 2007, she called attention to Rabbi Schneier’s help to counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism, such as his essential contribution to the reconciliation process in former Yugoslavia.
Many of you will recall the concert that a joint German/Israeli choir performed at the UN General Assembly on January 27, in commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a couple of months ago. It was Rabbi Schneier who generously opened the doors of Park East Synagogue for a performance by this choir to pay musical tribute to the Holocaust survivors. This was anything but obvious, and yet Rabbi Schneier did not even hesitate to do so. And he gave the concert a distinct motto: Remembrance and Beyond. Not to be paralyzed by the past or by terror. This was also your credo when condemning the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, as we all deplored and commemorated the many victims in an international, interfaith memorial event in Park East Synagogue.
And indeed, this … as other terrorist attacks … show us that we are facing not clashes of civilizations, but rather a clash within one shared civilization. And what makes our joint conviction of “Never Again” meaningful, is that we are united in active, assertive and public remembrance. United to educate, examine and explore the history of the Shoah with authenticity, dignity and compassion, so that all old and young alike may learn the lessons of the Holocaust and create a society of mutual respect and understanding, devoid of the hatreds of the past. We fully share and support the noble mission of taking timely and effective action against anti-Semitism, racism, and any form of xenophobia.
In this context, Rabbi Schneier has also voiced criticism and concern to its developments in Europe whenever he deems it necessary. But even then he did so as a very special friend, as someone who trusts modern Germany, its democratic government, and its people, for which we are immensely thankful. L’Chaim. To life.
And to our shared responsibility for a more just, tolerant, and humane future. It is in this sense that you are in the best sense of the word, a real mensch. I knew my pronunciation on that word was pretty good. And our highest respect and deep gratitude also goes to your charming wife, Elisabeth Nordmann Schneier, for her generosity and strength that she gives you and you both give us. It is with respect and admiration that I now have the honor to award you with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of the Merit on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.