The understanding that reconciliation heals memory is crucial to the achievement of true peace between peoples.
We must rise above stereotypical patterns of thought, strip away prejudice and combat idealologization, tragic hostility and lamentable co-existence.
A genuine unity must blossom where simple co-existence once reigned. Hostility must yield to redeeming mutual goodwill and kindness.
To achieve this end, we must recognize one another’s innate dignity as human beings. Our mission must be first and foremost to respect, heal and liberate human beings.
An individual must be allowed to develop as a person. But our success depends upon our ability to break down formulaic patterns of thought – never an easy task.
And yet, without forgiveness, there can be no justice. Justice must also have a soul, and above all a heart. This is merciful love. For this reason, we must truly want to pardon and to forgive.
But this does not mean that we should forget the past. Nobody has the right to make us forget. The will to forgive and forget is an ethical concern. But man simply cannot forget. This power lies with God alone. The desire to forgive and the desire to forget should not be placed on the same level.
We must give other people a chance, for in this way we can discover powers within ourselves of which we were previously unaware, become better human beings and inspire others to act humanely. We must not only tolerate our fellow men, but go one step further towards acceptance. We must accept one another with all our differences.
In my home in Upper Silesia, we have successfully pursued this course. The Opole region of Silesia changed hands every 200 years or so. First part of Bohemia, then part of Moravia, it eventually came under Austrian rule. In 1742 the Prussian King Friedrich II claimed the land from the Austrian Empress and the region became Prussian and German. From a historical point of view, we in the Opole region are thus the offspring of three different cultures: Bohemian-Moravian, German and Polish. These three cultures overlap in our region and this is a wonderful thing. In this sense, we Silesians can long count ourselves Europeans. We have always resided in the heart of Europe, and three hearts have long been beating in our Silesian breasts: a Bohemian-Moravian one, a German one and a Polish one. These three hearts complement one another.
Ethnic cleansing and expulsions are the greatest crimes against humanity. People have a right to their home. If you rob a Silesian of his home, you uproot him.
Today, the unity and mutual goodwill of the three cultures in Silesia are a great enrichment. The call by an eminent Silesian poet: “Awake, my heart, and think!” is as relevant now as ever. Josef von Eichendorff spoke of a “loving mind”. This combination of “the thoughtful heart and the loving mind” are deeply Silesian – a wonderful thing – two aspects that complement one another.
This does not mean that we should throw patriotism overboard. Patriotism is a product of love and not of hate. Pure nationalism, however, which can degenerate into chauvinism, is inhumane. Sooner or later, it leads to war.
The three-dimensional nature of Silesia has enabled us to overcome nationalism. The region currently has a German and a Ukrainian minority, a Roma minority and a Polish majority. We support and promote these minorities. Each year, for example, there is a pilgrimage to St. Annaberg for each minority in its own language, whether German, Ukrainian, Czech, Roma or, of course, Polish.
One factor that greatly contributed to the alleviation of tension between Germans and Poles in Silesia was the generous aid packages sent by the Germans during the proclamation of the state of martial war in Poland 1981-1983. Up to 36 trucks pulling trailers of goods from Germany could gather at any one time on the square called the Domplatz in Opole at that time. Many of the new inhabitants had come from Eastern Poland. A number of them had borne a great deal of suffering and cruelty at the hands of the occupying German army in the Second World War. A young doctor once said to me: “To me, a German isn’t a human being and that’s that!” I walked with him over the Domplatz, where all the German aid packages were. He became very thoughtful. This clearly showed that the Germans were also ordinary, helpful people.
It was also important that the funds sent from Germany for the German minority should not cause a new rift, but bring about a reconciliation. That is why I asked the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to support the hospitals in Upper Silesia in particular, providing much-needed but expensive new examination equipment – something from which all Silesians could benefit. Bilingual signs were erected in the entrance halls in German and Polish, stating that it had been possible to obtain certain expensive medical devices as gifts from Germany, thanks to the German minority. Infirm elderly people who owed their lives to this very expensive new equipment said to me: “The Germans can’t really be all that bad after all!” And thus began the slow and gradual mental transition within the region, the healing of memory. The church also contributed to this process. In this way, even those who had been filled with hate could be persuaded to set aside their old set views and prejudices.
Hate between peoples – such as that which exists in Palestine and Israel and other parts on our globe- can only be conquered in the long run if terrorism is first stamped out. The bloodshed on both sides is the fruit of ideology. Wherever life is ideologized, the fires of hate and violence are sure to flare up at some point.
Israelis and Palestinians must make a new start. The process that has now begun has a future. The attempts by certain hateful individuals to sabotage the peace process are only to be expected. These people are sick and are not normal human beings. Israelis and Palestinians should not allow such incidents to sway them from their course of reconciliation, in spite of everything. Both peoples must take the plunge and attempt a new start. By only thinking in categories of retaliation, fuelled by a desire for revenge, a person also dehumanizes himself, failing to give others a chance.
The fundamental principle is the idea of reconciliation as a balm with the power to heal memory. To achieve this end, a number of different individuals – historians, teachers, journalists, politicians – must embark upon and pursue a new path towards peace and reconciliation between peoples. They must tread this path courageously, and often alone.
It is paramount that children are not brought up to hate. German/Polish committees – like their Franco-German counterparts – have successfully eliminated ideology, hate and chauvinism from school text books, for example.
Christian peace policy: “We must embark upon and pursue a new path toward peace and reconciliation between people”
In many cases, generosity can truly change the views of people with a different outlook, opening their minds for a new start. This is the right course. It is based on humanity.
Antagonism is not in the nature of Islam, but is only inherent in that form of the religion which is blinkered by ideology. Where ideology takes precedence, only hate can reign and this in turn fuels the fires of hate and violence. It is even claimed that these tragic ideological killings will be rewarded in paradise. This is misguided and is not in keeping with the Koran.
In the same way, the burning of witches at the stake was not an expression of Christian faith, but a degeneration of that faith, that is to say, pure ideology.
A strong tendency towards fundamentalism can be observed in all countries which did not experience the Enlightenment. In this respect, the Enlightenment can also be seen as something positive.
The more humane a person becomes, the more divine his thoughts, feelings and actions. In Silesia, we refer to this as “the thoughtful heart and the loving mind”.
Working together as Christians and Muslims, we must put hate and ideology behind us and endeavor to achieve unity and mutual goodwill.
The peoples of Palestine should learn to complement one another and see each other as neighbors – like the peoples of Silesia.
Then there will be enough room for us all to live and peace will be a real possibility.