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Mayor Thomas Nitzsche commemorates May 8, 1945


On the occasion of the commemoration of the liberation from National Socialist tyranny 78 years ago commemorated in front of the Jena City Church Lord Mayor Thomas Nitzsche together with members of the City Council and citizens of the city.

Speech of the Lord Mayor on the occasion of the Liberation Day

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to our commemorative event on the occasion of the day of liberation from National Socialist tyranny.

On the night of May 8-9, 1945, 78 years ago, the High Command of the German Wehrmacht surrendered unconditionally. Thus, all forces under German command surrendered to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and the Red Army High Command. On the European theater of war the weapons were silent.

It had been preceded by six years of the worst war the world had experienced up to that time and to this day. An estimated 55 million people died in this war.

By far, the Soviet Union suffered the most casualties with about 24 million people, almost 10 million soldiers and about 14 million civilian victims. These are hardly imaginable numbers, more people than live in the new German states and Berlin together.

The Ukrainian people, as part of the Soviet Union, had to pay by far the largest blood toll. Ukraine had to mourn at least eight million war victims, including more than five million civilians, women and children who were murdered by the SS or the Wehrmacht in the German war of extermination. These horrific numbers also include 1.6 million Jews killed by Nazi shootings in the often under-reported Holocaust on the territory of Ukraine.

Ukraine lost a quarter (!) of its population in the German war of extermination. Out of about 40 million war dead in Europe, every fifth victim was a Ukrainian.

Today's Remembrance Day cannot be celebrated without raising awareness of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which has been going on for almost 15 months. Even if the end of World War II in Germany cannot be commemorated today in isolation from the current war in Ukraine, we commemorate today all victims and all achievements and merits, in particular also of the Soviet Union, which led to the defeat of Nazi Germany 78 years ago.

Since the speech of Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker in 1985 in the Bundestag on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of the war, May 8 has been regarded in Western Germany and today throughout Germany as "the day of liberation from the inhuman system of Nazi tyranny." Weizäcker's speech was the expression and culmination of a development process in Germany's critical examination of its own National Socialist past. Coming to terms with this own past, accepting one's own history and deriving a special reflection of one's own political actions in the present and for the future, internally and externally - let us call it Germany's special responsibility - was a stony and long road.

What is important is that history was not swept under the carpet, not hushed up. The process of coming to terms with one's own history has taken place. However, it will not be finally concluded at some point. In view of right-wing extremist currents in our present, this confrontation with the terrible past of National Socialism must not end.

On January 30, 1933, the National Socialists had seized power in Germany with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor. The assault on the Weimar Republic, which lasted more than 10 years, finally culminated in the "success" of the National Socialists.

The aggressive dismantling of Weimar democracy and the establishment of the National Socialist dictatorship then lasted only a frightening few weeks. On February 1, 1933, the German Reichstag was dissolved, and political and democratic rights were restricted by emergency presidential decrees. Public political life was quickly characterized by National Socialist terror.

At the latest after the Reichstag fire on February 28 and the Enabling Act of March 24, 1933, the Reichstag had lost virtually all decision-making authority. Parliamentarians were now also imprisoned without trial in prisons and concentration camps, tortured, and many murdered.

The pogroms on the night of November 9-10 and on the following days in 1938 were a further step into the abyss. The pogroms marked the transition from discrimination against German Jews since 1933 to systematic expulsion as a precursor to the systematic extermination that began three years later, the Holocaust. 1,400 synagogues and prayer rooms were destroyed in the pogroms, thousands of stores, homes and cemeteries were looted, some 30,000 Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps, hundreds died, even then.

Shortly before the start of the war on September 1, 1939, almost 2,200 Jena citizens belonged to the Wehrmacht and the Reich Labor Service. The first obituaries for fallen soldiers soon appeared in the newspapers, some borne of the grief of loss, others of National Socialist phrases.

The number of war dead increased significantly after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is unknown how many Jena residents perished during the war as members of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS and police, or the infamous Police Battalion 311. Presumably, there were more than 2,000 people.

Jena's civilian population increased considerably during the war years, first due to the influx of workers and later due to bombed-out families and refugees seeking shelter in the city. The war became visible in the more than 14,000 forced laborers who had to work in Jena for about 320 employers, including the city administration.

More than three quarters of them were employed in the foundation companies Carl Zeiss and Schott. People from 26 nations had to work under partly inhumane conditions; the largest groups were Belgians and Soviet citizens, French and Italians. Approximately 50 camps were set up in the city area, and others were added in the surrounding towns.

Mistreatment and poor care were the order of the day. Especially towards the end of the war, violence and terror increased. Several forced laborers were deliberately murdered in the last days of the war in Jena. During the war years, 342 deaths were registered, but the actual number of victims is probably much higher.

More than 100 Jena citizens became victims of the Shoa. The planned deportation of the Jews remaining in Jena to ghettos and extermination camps in the occupied Eastern European territories began in 1942. Many put an end to their lives themselves in order to escape this fate.

Since the 1930s, Carl Zeiss Jena in particular had been known as a major producer of military-grade instruments for arming and equipping the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht, respectively, and thus became a prime target for Allied attack. Between 1940 and 1945, there were a total of 330 air raid alarms in Jena. During the bombing campaign from 1943 to 1945, Jena's city center was hit hard several times, especially between February and April 1945.

A total of almost 800 people died in the bombing raids, including more than 100 forced laborers and prisoners of war. The war, which had also started in Jena, had returned with full force.

As the last military contingent of the Nazi regime, hundreds of Jena residents were mobilized for the Volkssturm in the spring of 1945. They murdered at least two dozen concentration camp prisoners who were driven through the city on the death march two days before the Americans invaded. More than 4,000 prisoners were still being driven through Jena on April 11, 1945, shortly before the American troops began to advance. At 3:07 p.m., the SS blew up the Camsdorf Bridge, the last intact Saale crossing in the region.

I am glad that with the stele in Wenigenjena to the train of the death march, which we inaugurated four weeks ago, another place of remembrance was created in Jena.

Jena did not surrender voluntarily, it took almost three days, from April 11 to 13, until Jena including its village districts was completely taken. Again and again there were smaller and larger battles and skirmishes. An ultimatum from the Americans to surrender the city to the acting mayor, Hans Dittmer, expired; the SS arrested Dittmar to prevent negotiations from the outset.

The war in Jena ended on April 13, 1945, barely four weeks before the surrender, the complete occupation of the city by American troops. The time of National Socialism and the war were over in Jena.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The National Socialist penetration of the city was multi-layered and deep, beginning with the city administration, in Jena University, in business and industry as well as in clubs and associations and extending into the private family sphere. The majority of Jena's population had supported the National Socialist system, sometimes actively, sometimes passively.

The end of the war in Jena was not a day of jubilation. Apathy and uncertainty about the future were widespread. This feeling was intensified by the fact that the inhabitants did not know which occupation zone Thuringia would belong to in the future.

Awareness of what had happened during the years of National Socialism and especially during the war years had to mature gradually. Thus, it also took time to understand the significance and scope of May 8, 1945, as the day of the German surrender.

The guilt and shame of being jointly responsible for genocide and the horrors of war were too deep-seated, even if it was through passivity and looking the other way. The phenomenon of repression, which many of the victims and perpetrators experienced after the end of the war, took hold of large sections of society, even though the GDR countered it with its commemorative culture and commemorative policy.

The liberation from National Socialist tyranny, which took place with the collapse of the Nazi regime in the spring of 1945, is not the same as liberation from National Socialist ideas. This struggle remains with us as a permanent task.

The fight against contempt for humanity, against anti-Semitism, against racism and discrimination and for our democracy is an ongoing process. We, the democrats, must stand up for the fundamental values of our society, starting from the dignity of every human being.

With this awareness and intention, let us keep alive the day of liberation from Nazi tyranny and in commemoration of the end of the Second World War.

I now invite you to join me in a minute's silence to remember the victims of National Socialism and those who fought for the liberation of Germany and Europe.