Speech at the reception for the descendants of Moses Mendelssohn at Rotes Rathaus (Berlin City Hall) on June 22 nd, 2012

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1 1 Speech at the reception for the descendants of Moses Mendelssohn at Rotes Rathaus (Berlin City Hall) on June 22 nd, 2012 Dear descendants of Moses Mendelssohn, honorable Mr. Vice President, respected guests and supporters of the family reunion, dear employees of the Mendelssohn Remise and members of the Mendelssohn Society. I am grateful and moved to be the one welcoming you today at the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin on the 250 th wedding anniversary of Fromet and Moses Mendelssohn. What a family! And where else in the world would an entire city celebrate a marriage that took place 250 years ago, along with all the progeny of that union? This shows that Berlin is well aware of all that it owes to Moses Mendelssohn and his family. I welcome you on behalf of the Governing Mayor and the Senate of Berlin, and I am also addressing you in my capacity as the chairman of the Mendelssohn Society, which has called you all to Berlin for this unique anniversary celebration. It is fantastic that you have traveled from as far as Canada, the United States, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and many German cities to Berlin, the city of your ancestors. Of course, we must not forget that there are also many Berliners among you. Of course, you are all Berliners by heritage, and thus we extend a hearty "welcome home" to all of you. "The devil may take all second times," was supposedly a favorite saying of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and it befits a romantic like him. It calls on us to experience each incomparable moment as intensely as possible once past, they are irretrievable. Many of you were in Berlin five years ago, when the graves of the Mendelssohns in the Jewish cemetery on Schönhauser Allee were finally restored to their rightful dignity. That October weekend left a strong, lasting impression on us, and, since in fact the devil does take all repetitions, no one would have thought such an idea could ever be recycled. However, the historic date we are celebrating today has a dynamic all its own. When we reflect on what Fromet Gugenheim and Moses Mendelssohn undertook 250 years ago, and what came of their union, we are impressed and encouraged. Theirs was a time of war, a failing economy, and discrimination

2 2 against Jews. Whether they would retain the right to reside in Berlin was uncertain. Mausche Mi Dessau was physically handicapped, and later he became ill for many years. His father in law was broke, and while the marriage contract stipulated that his bride had a dowry, this was a fiction. It served to bolster the father in law's creditworthiness, but it also bumped the indignant groom into a higher tax bracket. A nightmare scenario for wedding planners and financial advisers, and yet they managed it all without any child care subsidies, I might add! Moses and Fromet made the leap, fell in love, and followed the logic of their hearts, despite everything. The rest is history your history. 250 Years of the Mendelssohn Family. That s impressive, not just because of today's focus on sustainability, but especially in the context of the history of Berlin and Germany. Steadfastness, dependability, loyalty, respect for tradition, optimism, and accepting responsibility for the general good: these are all virtues. They are great concepts, but in political reality and in life, sometimes they are just empty slogans. They are quite hard to live by. And yet, a society, or a family, can hardly exist without such shared values. Your family's history offers so many powerful examples of how to live these ideals, how to transform them into a social philosophy, how art and life, economic and social responsibility can intersect to reinforce and inspire each other. We all owe a lot to Moses and Fromet and their children and children's children, even 250 years after their wedding ceremony. You as a family, and we as Berliners and as Germans, have much to thank them for. Therefore, right here and now, we say to the Mendelssohn family, in light of our history: Thank you. We are a diverse gathering in many respects this evening. There are Mendelssohn specialists among us, and many who are very interested in the family history and know their way around all the twisted branches of the family tree. However, a number of us have come to this meeting and this city with little more than a basic sense of openness and curiosity, without having passed an exam on the history of the Mendelssohns. Many of us do not know one another, while some of us undoubtedly look forward to a reunion with old friends, and I have the inkling that perhaps a few of us might even prefer to avoid one or the other. As we all know, that's how it goes in the best of families. It is much like differences we see within our respective societies, but one has even less power to choose one's family. Nevertheless, you have

3 3 courageously chosen to be here! Many of you have made the trip from abroad considerably more than five years ago. Permit me to especially welcome Mr. Ulrich von Heinz, who represents the descendants of Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt, a family that maintained close friendships with many Mendelssohns over generations. I also welcome the sculptor and laureate of the Moses Mendelssohn Award Micha Ullman, who designed a monument for the house of Moses Mendelssohn, and his wife Mira. I also welcome the descendants of Simon Veit, who traveled from the United States to be here. Veit was a friend of Moses Mendelssohn and was married to his favorite daughter Brendel, later Dorothea. She divorced him, but he always stood by her. Dorothea never returned to Berlin, but her descendants from Sigmaringen and Berlin are also here this evening, giving the word reunion a literal meaning after about 200 years. I would also like to remember three people who "belong" here tonight, but who unfortunately died in recent months: Vita Petersen, a painter from New York and a descendant of Moses Mendelssohn from the Oppenheim von Simson line, Rudolf Elvers, the tireless, passionate Mendelssohn researcher, and of course Cecile Lowenthal Hensel, the founder of the Mendelssohn Society. We reflect with gratitude on everything that they, as an artist and as historians, contributed to making "250 Years of the Mendelssohn Family" into an inspirational and vital story of discovery. Thus, along with Fromet and Moses Mendelssohn, we also welcome Vita Petersen, Rudolf Elvers, and Cécile Lowenthal in spirit this evening. In a similar vein, I would like to welcome another line of descendants that could not be present this evening. One of the pleasures of organizing a family reunion is that one makes contact with many new people. Many of you are familiar with the fate of the Westphal family and more particularly the Westphal siblings during the "Third Reich." Marie Westphal married Franz Mendelssohn II, the banker. After paying an outrageous ransom to the SS, she was able to emigrate to Sweden in Her unmarried sister,

4 4 called "Aunt Liz" by the family, took her own life the night before she was to be deported. Their brother, Ernst, who was a judge in Potsdam, was married to a daughter of the great philanthropist James Simon. On a circulating internal court memo, Ernst had made a note expressing his distaste for the display of flags bearing the swastika. In combination with his heritage, this quickly became a liability for him. Some of his children emigrated, but Ernst and Helene Westphal survived the war in Berlin, where they lived on the run, illegal and underground, moving from apartment to apartment and one air raid shelter to the next. After the war, Ernst Westphal committed suicide in South Africa. In the course of our preparations for this reunion, it became clear to us that his daughter Leni, who emigrated to Palestine, is none other than the historian Leni Yahil, who has worked a great deal with Yad Vashem and wrote a weighty historical treatise about the Holocaust. She was married to an Israeli diplomat and died in Her son, Amos Yahil, is a respected professor of astronomy and now lives in the United States. Thus, we were able to establish contact to him and to his relatives living in Germany. Amos Yahil wrote to us, Thank you so much for taking the trouble to locate me and bring me into the Mendelssohn loop. I apologize for the belated reply, while we were trying to figure out who could go. Unfortunately, none of us can come to this reunion. But we are eager to come to future meetings and would be very grateful if you could kindly add us to the distribution list of announcements and other Mendelssohn communications. Dear descendants of Moses Mendelssohn, Ladies and gentlemen, I've been told that Moses Mendelssohn once exchanged thoughts with a correspondent about the project of a Jewish state in Palestine, and that he took a skeptical view. It could only work, he thought, if the great powers of Europe were somehow distracted by other concerns, and besides, it would cost way too much money. Accordingly, we are all the more pleased that Jewish branches of the Mendelssohn family are now established in Israel and the United States. Welcome to the Mendelssohn Loop! I thank all those who helped make this family reunion possible for their generous contributions, including: The State Parliament of Berlin (Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin) and the Senate Chancellery of Berlin (Senatskanzlei von Berlin), the Moses Mendelssohn Foundation,

5 5 the companies Samson Übersetzungen and Brähler Kommunikationstechnik, and the Mendelssohn Trio from Fort Collins, Colorado and more particularly the cellist Barbara Thiem. We extend special thanks to the many volunteers at the Mendelssohn Remise and the members of the Mendelssohn Society for their tireless work in preparation of this event. We also thank the over 50 organizations that participated in the year long project "250 Years of the Mendelssohn Family." Of course, we also thank the project s financial sponsors: First and foremost, this includes the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, the Deutscher Sparkassenund Giroverband (Association of German Savings Banks) and the Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Capital Cultural Fund of Berlin). Finally, none of us would be here today if it weren't for our Thomas Lackmann! The evening has only just begun, but it will be over quickly. Please do not forget to register at the reception desk, update your contact address if necessary, and perhaps even fill in some gaps on the family tree to which you alone hold the answers. There, you can also browse through and order one of our brochures about the Mendelssohn family graves that are spread across the globe, which was assembled by employees of the Mendelssohn Remise. You can even apply for membership in the Mendelssohn Society or at least pick up a membership form to bring home. I hope that you will join the society! If you have further organizational questions about our weekend together, you will probably find the answers in your welcome package, at the reception, or by asking employees of the Remise, whom you will recognize by their name tags. We have also provided name tags for you. Please wear them; it will make it easier for you to get to know one another. When you leave the Rathaus later this evening, you might want to take a little detour: follow the building around to the left after you exit the door and look up at the façade facing Spandauer Strasse. Although it might be too dark to make out the details, there is a frieze there that depicts, among other luminaries from Berlin's past, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Alexander von Humboldt. On the wall there, together, they survived the Nazi regime. I did not know until recently, a fate I share with many, I am sure: That is the only public image of Mendelssohn that survived the "Third Reich" in Berlin! I tell you this because it's an interesting discovery, and because it shows how, in our city and in our history, no matter how familiar it seems, there are always new and exciting things to discover.

6 In that spirit, I wish us all a very interesting evening. The words family and familiar, of course, have the same etymological root. Sometimes, however, it takes courage to face your family. And starting a family takes even more courage, but it's worth it. Moses Mendelssohn and Fromet Gugenheim showed us that. Thank you for joining us in congratulating them on 250 years! 6

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