What do Israelis think of Golda Meir

Reinhold Robbe
President of the German-Israeli Society

Unique instead of normal

Much has been said and written about the relationship between Germany and Israel this year. We look back on five decades of official diplomatic relations between the two countries. Of course, the focus is on the important political events and the great personalities who shaped and promoted these events. And all other aspects also play a major role in this anniversary year: cultural, economic, scientific, military connections through to sport. However, if one asks soberly why the relations between Israel and Germany today can actually be described as “unique” and in many ways go beyond a “normal” interstate relationship, then there is a simple answer. It is people from both countries who have developed a network of friendships over a distance and across all borders. People from all strata of the respective population. Young people and retirees. Workers and university professors. Religious and non-religious. A network as colorful and diverse as society itself. And this network is strong and resilient today. It produced great things. Small and large initiatives that ensured that encounters were possible again after the Holocaust.

But the most valuable “product” of this network is the friendship between Germans and Israelis. Only on this basis could, for example, the German-Israeli Society - incidentally, a year after diplomatic relations began - or the many associations and institutions that take care of town twinning. Behind these initiatives there are personalities, well-known and lesser-known people, who have one thing in common: a strong driving force that makes it possible to develop and cultivate this cross-border friendship.

For us as a German-Israeli society it was then obvious to give these actors from the middle of the population, with their exemplary motivation and energy for German-Israeli friendship, a central role in the exhibition "Israelis and Germans." Felix Burian, the first VW dealer in Tel Aviv, stands next to Marlene Dietrich, the world star. And the first Holocaust survivors to immigrate to Haifa can be seen alongside pictures of demonstrators in front of burning barricades in the streets of Jerusalem when diplomatic relations were sealed.

For me, too, who has been dealing intensively with Israel and its mutual relations for several decades, many of the stories presented are new or appear in a completely new light because the exhibition presents previously unknown images or statements by contemporary witnesses. However, what appeals to me most and touches me personally are the images of young Israelis and Germans who represent their generation and reflect their very special experiences with the other country.

On one of my recent visits to Israel, I had another opportunity to speak to Holocaust survivors. At the end of this encounter, an elderly lady - well into the nineties - took me aside and made an almost pleading appeal to me to do everything possible to win young people over to the friendship work between Israelis and Germans. Literally she meant: "We old people will soon no longer be, and then it will be up to our children and grandchildren to pass on the now so wonderful friendship to future generations!" Seeing volunteers photographed in the exhibition who, for example, look after handicapped children in Haifa, or the Israeli young people who oversee a cultural project in a German city. These young people form the basis for the friendship work for the next 50 years.

I am infinitely grateful to the curator Alexandra Nocke and all those involved in this exhibition for the result of their research, research and considerations. We would particularly like to thank this wonderful team for the exemplary commitment with which they pushed this project forward. The exhibition deserves a lot of public attention and a lot of curious visitors.