Yesterday I was awarded with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for my commitment to the Jewish heritage of Eastern Europe – the order is better known as the Federal Cross of Merit. It was handed over to me by Cologne’s Lord Mayor Henriette Reker in the Historic City Hall. Since some friends have already commented on it publicly, perhaps I should say a few words too, because this honour does not only concern me, it is an honour for a whole network of people.
When a friend told me two and a half years ago that she and another group of friends would nominate me for the Federal Cross of Merit, I had to laugh. The many people who would have deserved such an award far more than I did came to mind, and medals are strange to me to this day. I then immediately forgot the whole story – until around the turn of the year when I learned that my friends had been successful with their proposal.
Then came the doubts as to whether such an award was really justified. A friend then made the whole process public on Facebook, Jewish Heritage Europe reported on its website and finally many congratulations came from all over the world – from people close to me and those I had never heard of. This helped me to feel happy about the honour after all. I thank everyone for their good wishes!
Nothing we do in life we do alone. In my case, it is a whole network of people without whom I could never have done what I did. I don’t want to name them all, because that list would be very long. But those who read these lines will certainly recognise themselves.
There are those who made it possible for me to support work camps at the Jewish cemetery in Chernivtsi/Czernowitz for 10 years, and it is above all the many volunteers from all over the world who worked there.
There are those who have shared their family stories with me and helped me to understand some of the history of the places I have visited. I was lucky enough to travel with some of them.
There are those who have hospitably welcomed me on the ground and shown me the way to the places I was looking for.
There are those who helped me to turn my pictures into exhibitions and books, and who sat with me for days and nights so that pictures could become stories.
There are those who travelled with me, who brought their own stories and perspectives and helped me find the places where history speaks to us. There are those who were able to make me laugh again in the evening when the day was sad.
There are those who invited me to participate in their own projects.
There are those who, with their media and institutions, have made it possible for me to talk about Jewish Eastern Europe and bring it closer to others.
There are the photographers who walked similar paths before me and those who taught me to photograph. I stand on their shoulders.
There are the many who have listened patiently to my travel narratives and who have been open to a world unknown to them. There is no story if there is no resonance space.
There are those who have opened my eyes to the fact that their countries not only have a past, but also a present and a future. This is particularly true for Ukraine and Belarus.
And of course there are also those who nominated me for this order and those who convinced the examining bodies with their testimonies.
They are all meant by the Federal Cross of Merit and I share it with them with gratitude and humility. Thank you!
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