Tribute to Max Mannheimer on 23 October 2016
Who remembers whom, for what reasons, and when?
For decades, these questions have accompanied efforts to raise awareness and preserve the memory of the crimes of National Socialism. In the Dachau concentration camp and its sub-camps alone – to say nothing of Auschwitz – more than 200,000 people’s lives were damaged or destroyed between 1933 and 1945 – a number that provokes horror, but fails to stir deeper emotions. Only by sharing the stories of individual people, by discussing individual fates, can we who were spared convey an idea of the destruction caused by the National Socialist policies of persecution and murder.
Today we have come together to remember Max Mannheimer, who died four weeks ago at the age of 96. He survived the genocide of European Jews and found his calling in retirement as a witness and educator. Max Mannheimer was an extraordinary communicator and, in his three decades of work, he reached more people and touched more hearts than any other of his fellow victims. This was in part thanks to changes in policy and the public’s attitude regarding the National Socialist terror. It wasn’t until four decades after the liberation of the death camps that interest and empathy developed in Germany for the survivors. As a result, many who had worked to promote remembrance in previous years were no longer here to experience it.
Yet, above all, it was thanks to Max Mannheimer’s personality. He made it easy for his counterparts by approaching others in a friendly, open and curious manner. His testimony was neither tinged with blame nor resentment of his fate. He won the affection of his conversation partners, from school children to well-known public figures, and his message extended far beyond the realms of memorial work and traditional historical teachings. His artwork also contributed to this. Max Mannheimer began to paint in 1954. What started as a form of therapy to help him ease the painful memory of his dead family and friends eventually took on a deeper significance for his life and view of the world. His paintings were displayed in exhibition after exhibition and he continued his artistic passion until his life came to an end. Shortly before his passing, he took great delight in publishing The Marriage of Colours, an illustrated book which contains many examples of his work.
I imagine that most of those here who knew Max Mannheimer smile inside at the thought of him – that this memory is bound by deep affection, and perhaps also gratitude for his kindness, humour and openness. Yet it would not be enough if our memory of Max Mannheimer didn’t also include the concern which drove his tireless work. Our responsibility for the legacy of National Socialism and its consequences must not die with those who bore witness to the atrocities. This responsibility has now been passed on to all those who were touched by Max Mannheimer and who are therefore called upon to help prevent a future return to barbarism.