Speech by Consul General Horst Freitag, Presentation of the Erwin Piscator Award to Carol Kahn Strauss

Mar 2, 2010

Gregorij von Leïtis,

Martina Arroyo,

Carol Kahn Strauss,

Nimet Habachy,

Distinguished guests, 

As you may know, giving a laudation is part of the more pleasant duties of a Consul General. But this one is a particular pleasure - it is special to me. Not only because Carol Kahn Strauss is such an exceptional person. To be sure, I cannot think of anyone who deserves this Piscator Award more than Carol Kahn Strauss. It is also because I must admit that today I may not be a good Laudator. Because I know by experience that to be a good Laudator requires a certain kind of objectivity. And I simply have grown to know and appreciate Carol Kahn Strauss too much in order to be a truly objective Laudator. 

Then again, I wouldn’t trade my excellent professional relationship or my personal friendship with Carol just to be an objective Laudator today.

Dear Mr. von Leïtis: you have given me but a few minutes for presenting our respect towards Carol. So, in five sentences or less, this is what I would say: “Let’s toast to a tremendous personality who turned the Leo Baeck Institute into the heart and soul of preserving the past of German-speaking Jewry who emigrated to the United States. She is the nucleus of an eminently important organization in building a transatlantic bridge from past personal experience to collective memory and one who continues to deserve our full and wholehearted support.”

I know, Carol wants me to stop here. But let me elaborate a bit.

I need not introduce Carol Kahn Strauss, nor do I need to introduce the Leo Baeck Institute. It is largely due to Carol that the mention of one name invokes the other. And that is so not only because Carol has been reappointed as Executive Director for over 15 years - that in itself is worth an award. But because she has performed such a demanding job with such unique dedication and met its challenges with such immense skills, patience, and dynamic.

Her mission is indeed one that covers generations. Simply put, Carol’s work proves that the history of Jews in Germany is in point of fact the history of Germans. This is a message that Carol has championed: that “Jewish life” is not a marginal or distant segment of German society. Rather, it has formed a crucial part of German life and contributed in such great measure to German Enlightenment, to democracy and to liberal society in modern Germany.

As simple as it may sound, it is a tremendous challenge. For Germans, to fully comprehend the complete breakdown of civilisation during the Nazi-period, they need to understand and accept Jewish life as an integral part of German history going further back than the last century. This kind of identification goes way beyond an intellectual comprehension of the Shoa- it includes a much more emotional approach that exemplifies a loss of our very own identity.

And that is the kind of person Carol is: she herself is the child of German Jews fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust. And yet she is a vivid example that Jewish life has again become an integral part of our society in Germany.

Erwin Piscator explained his theory of theatre in his book: ”The Political Theatre.” Carol is perhaps the most unpolitical political person I have ever known. She is unpolitical in that she is absolutely determined to safeguard her main objective of her Institute: to keep the LBI free of any political influence . That takes character and sometimes a lot of courage. It is essential in order to fulfil the LBI’s mid- and long-term mission.

But she is certainly no stranger to the political stage. Carol is as political as she needs to be in order to carry out her mission. As Erwin Piscator said himself: “It is impossible to stir up a bit of dust without causing some people to cough.” It is not only about education, speaking engagements and fundraising. Her many personal encounters with Bundespresidents, Chancellors and German Ministers – encounters that she herself would never mention – are testimony to the immense political character of her work.

Allow me to conclude on a personal note, because yes, there is a Carol Kahn Strauss independent of the Leo Baeck Institute. It is obvious that Carol is an expert when it comes to connecting two continents. Anyone who knows her knows that she tells it like it is. But Carol tells it like it is while switching from English to German and back with such breathtaking speed and agility that one hardly realizes that there are two continents. And she does so with plenty of energy, passion and charm.  

Thank you, Carol, for your tireless work and your generosity to help us achieve our wish and ambition to establish Jewish life in all its richness again in Germany. You have my continued personal support as well as that of the Federal Republic of Germany for all your indispensable and much-appreciated efforts.

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