What is Steven Spielberg's weakness

Tribute to film director Steven Spielberg

Address by the Federal President in Berlin

On the occasion of the award of the Great Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to the American film director Steven Spielberg on September 10, 1998 in the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Federal President Roman Herzog gave the following address:

Dear Mr. Spielberg,

You bear one of the really big names in the firmament of the film. With your art you have entertained millions, if not billions of people, excited them and brought them joy. You are an artist who conjures up images that get stuck in people's minds and become part of their thinking and worldview. I greet you today in Berlin and I know that this city is a special place for you. A place that involuntarily evokes memories of the past and yet is important for the future at the same time.

Germany owes you a work that has given us more than you might even suspect. Your film "Schindler's List" shows only a tiny excerpt from the pandemonium of the Holocaust, and you didn't even try to explain the inexplicable. In return, they succeeded in doing something completely different: they brought people to life in their pictures, people who became victims, but also people who became perpetrators. And you also showed us a person who, as if by chance and despite all personal weakness, became a righteous man.

More than fifty years have passed since what happened, and yet this time is before our eyes every day. In the years after the war Germany tried to face the past. "Never again" became unwritten Article 1 of our constitution. And over fifty years we have done everything in our power to alleviate what cannot be made up for with material goods alone. That it was possible for future generations to develop a good, close relationship with Israel, and that President Weizman was able to call Germany a friend of Israel during his visit a year ago, remains of central importance to us.

More than fifty years have passed since then. Anyone who was young then sees the end of their life span ahead of them today. Soon no one will be able to tell from their own experience of the extent of human suffering and terror. That is why we need the images of art more than ever, so that we can also remember. Because understanding does not grow through columns of numbers and historical seminars. It is the images that memorize us and that keep us awake. It is the distorted face of the desperate, it is the child's tears, it is the gentle smile of the hopeful, the petrified face of man in the face of death. Anyone who has ever watched whole school classes burst into tears and tremors at the sight of piled up human hair and mountains of suitcases of killed concentration camp inmates, knows what I mean by that.

You, Mr. Spielberg, have collected statements from almost fifty thousand Holocaust survivors all over the world and recorded them on videos. This material will not end up in the archives. The faces of the last survivors and their stories will be with us in the next century.

And the more we lose the presence of living contemporary witnesses, the more important it becomes to find other forms that let us experience our history through the senses. With your film "Schindler's List" you gave faces to horror and hope. And your film has shown that the personal responsibility of the individual never expires, not even in a dictatorship. We don't have to be perfect heroes, but we have a duty to act even if we seem to be scooping up the ocean with a spoon. "If you only save one person's life, you save the whole world." That is the message of the end of the 20th century to the generations to come.


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