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12 June 2002

Rector: University of Heidelberg Alarmed at Recent Controversies

Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff welcomed a large number of guests to the opening of the exhibition on "Jews at the University of Heidelberg" — The University has a special responsibility for the quality of the relationship between Germans and Jews, Germany and Israel

In the framework of the partnership between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Heidelberg dating back to 1983, the exhibition "Jews at the University of Heidelberg — Documents from Seven Centuries" opened on 12 June 2002. It traces the significance of Jewish professors and students for the University in its over 600-year history and can be viewed at the University Library until 30 August. At the opening of the exhibition, Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff emphasised the special responsibility of the University for the quality of the relationship between Germans and Jews.

"At first glance it may not seem all that unusual to contemplate and reflect on Jewish teaching and learning at the University of Heidelberg at an exhibition of documents covering seven centuries," the Rector began his welcoming address. But a brief look at the excellent exhibition brochure is enough to correct that impression. Jews in Germany have always responded with a high degree of sensitivity to events taking place in Germany. And they have every reason to do so. "This is a territory in which Jews have repeatedly been at risk, economically, mentally, even physically." The University microcosm bears out the fact. Ten years after its foundation in 1380 the University occupied the houses and the synagogue of the Jewish community that had recently been banished from the city and surrounding areas.

Hommelhoff: "More than half a millennium later, Jewish professors and students were deprived of their rights and hounded out of the University, banished from Germany and in some cases murdered. It is small consolation that the professors did not take an active part in this witch-hunt. They stood by and let it happen. This must never be the case again and fortunately we can say that today it really has become unthinkable.

But what has remained of that period in which the liberal spirit of the Weimar Republic attracted so many Jewish professors and students to Heidelberg who contributed so significantly to the reputation of the University? One thing that has become clear is that there can never be a genuinely normal state of affairs between Germans and Jews, Germany and Israel, but only cooperation against the grim background of German history, a relationship based on a very specific sense of responsibility. This responsibility is something that we professors must never tire in impressing upon our students.

It is from this sense of responsibility that the partnership agreement was concluded with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with its exchange of students and its academic contacts, be it in the form of personal encounters between scientists and scholars, be it at workshops in Jerusalem or here in Heidelberg.

Action born of responsibility is also the root from which the cooperation between the Institute of Jewish Studies and the University initially sprang. This Institute is indispensable to the overall complexion of Heidelberg as a seat of learning, as is indicated by the large number of University students who pursue part of their studies at the Institute. The fact that the Central Council of Jews in Germany has authorised the Institute to provide the basic training for budding rabbis is also highly gratifying. We see this as the expression of trust in the responsible behaviour of the University, the city of Heidelberg and Germany as a whole. And we profoundly hope that in future the training of rabbis and other Jewish function-bearers can be extended to other fields. For this reason the University is extremely alarmed at the prospect of that trust being seriously jeopardised or even destroyed by recent unguarded statements by public figures and the subsequent controversies they have triggered.

Both now and in the future, the 'living spirit' that the University refers to in its motto must remain a profoundly liberal spirit. In this conviction we concur with Israel's former ambassador to Germany, whose commitment to the University is reflected in the fact that he is a member of the University Council. We can only hope that he will continue to be able to report back to Israel that the trust existing between the two countries is genuine and worthy of support. All of us are called upon to ensure that this will be the case." (Rector Prof. Dr. Hommelhoff)

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 24.06.2002


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