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Honorary Doctorate Awarded to Margot Friedländer

Freie Universität Berlin Honored the 100-year-old Holocaust Survivor

№ 077/2022 from May 25, 2022

Holocaust survivor and writer Margot Friedländer was awarded an honorary doctorate from Freie Universität Berlin. It was presented on Wednesday during an award ceremony in the Henry Ford Building of Freie Universität Berlin. The laudation was given by the literary and cultural scholar Aleida Assmann, a professor emeritus at the University of Contance. Historian Paul Nolte, a professor at Freie Universität, led a conversation with Margot Friedländer and the history student Vincent Bruckmann. The Department of History and Cultural Studies at Freie Universität Berlin nominated Dr. Friedländer for this award.

In his opening address the president of Freie Universität Berlin Prof. Dr. Günter M. Ziegler paid triubte to Margot Friedländer’s tireless work of giving lectures and readings, especially in schools, and recalled a reading at Freie Universität in 2019. “Without a doubt, coming to terms with the past and memory work are basic requirements for living together in peace and dignity. This includes living together with Jews, but also with other religious groups in our society,” said Ziegler. He continued, “To a large extent our society has become more diverse and open. For most people in our country, pluralism, equality, and participation are taken for granted.” This can be attributed to people like Margot Friedländer and their tireless engagement.

Literary and cultural scholar Prof. Dr. Aleida Assmann said in her laudation, “Margot Friedländer embodies a form of democratic education that appeals to the heart and mind in equal measure. Anyone who listens to a witness today can become a witness themselves and take responsibility for their story. Secondary witnesses who continue to tell this story make a personal connection between the past and the future. Margot Friedländer’s impulse is very important at a time when on the one hand, there are fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, and on the other hand, the composition of our society is changing rapidly. Anyone can become a secondary witness, but young people also need to be encouraged, empowered, and educated to do so. Schools and universities have an important share of responsibility in this regard.”

By awarding the honorary doctorate, the Department of History and Cultural Studies said it was recognizing “the extraordinary services of Margot Friedländer as a contemporary witness to the persecution and survival in the Shoah, as a committed advocate of public history, and as an ambassador of remembrance and humanity for younger generations.” She was recognized as an exemplary citizen scientist whose achievements go far beyond conveying her own experiences. According to a statement issued by the department, “Margot Friedländer’s citizen science stands for independent forms of knowledge and reflection on the past, which have become indispensable not only for the history of National Socialism, but also for contemporary history and for historical and cultural studies in general. Freie Universität Berlin recognizes these activities as an outstanding academic achievement. The university is honoring Margot Friedländer as an individual with an unshakable attitude toward humanity, which is based on difficult memories, but who subscribes to the indispensable foundations of free and responsible academic research.”

About Margot Friedländer

Margot Friedländer was born on November 21, 1921. When the Nazis came to power, at first she managed to hide from them while remaining in Berlin. Her family was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. She herself was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. She survived and in 1946 emigrated to the United States with her husband Adolf Friedländer, whom she had met in Theresienstadt. After his death in 1997, she began to write down her memories. They were made into a documentary film called Don’t call it Heimweh, which was released in 2004. Her first return to Berlin was to make the film. In 2010 Rowohlt published her autobiography Versuche, dein Leben zu machen. The book title was taken from her mother’s parting words to her.

Margot Friedländer has made dialogue, especially with young people, her life’s work. Even before her final return from the United States to her hometown of Berlin in 2010, she visited school classes, held readings, and called for vigilance against antisemitism and totalitarianism. In August 2019 Margot Friedländer accepted an invitation from history student Vincent Bruckmann to visit Freie Universität Berlin and give a reading from her book.