New honorary citizen portrait in berlin: berlin says thank you

The honorary portrait of Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander is unveiled. A small thank you for her important work.

Margot Friedlander stands in front of her honorary portrait in the Berlin House of Representatives Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

It is gray and rainy on Monday morning. Berlin does not show its most beautiful side on the way from the taz building to the Berlin House of Representatives. The contrast is great when entering the brightly lit ballroom of the house. This is where the honorary portrait of Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander is to be ceremoniously unveiled this morning.

Friedlander was born in Berlin in 1921. After her mother and brother were deported to Auschwitz in 1943, she hid in different places for a while before she was arrested in 1944 by so-called griffins, Jewish men and women who were commissioned by the SS to track down and extradite others, and taken to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Miraculously, she survived the horrors of the concentration camp. She lived with her husband in the USA for almost sixty years before Margot Friedlander returned to her hometown for the first time in 2003 on the occasion of a film project.

She has lived permanently in Berlin again since 2010. Since then, she has lived her life as a contemporary witness, meeting mainly with young people to tell her story and fight against forgetting. In 2008, her autobiography "Trying to make your life" was published. The title is also the last message that Margot Friedlander received from her mother before she was arrested by the Gestapo. And her life, she made, and still makes, which is why today the portrait to her honorary citizenship is unveiled.

The event in the festival hall begins musically with Max Raabe and pianist Christoph Israel. Raabe sings "Ich bin nur wegen Dir hier" ("I’m only here because of you"), capturing the respectful mood in the room, which is expressed in the subsequent speech by Ralf Wieland, President of the Berlin House of Representatives.

A story that moves

Meeting Margot Friedlander "does something to you. It’s impossible for her to leave you cold," says Wieland, who then recounts episodes from Friedlander’s life story. You have to listen to her carefully to be able to carry the story forward, Wieland continues. For him, the picture should be a reminder, but also a reminder of Friedlander.

The picture, which, until now covered, is placed between the grand piano and the lectern, now becomes the focus of attention. Friedlander, Wieland and the artist stand up and reveal a portrait that shows the protagonist of the event sitting at a table with a mild but expressive smile.

In front of her lies an address book, and in her hand she holds an amber necklace – two of the few objects Margot Friedlander has left of her mother. Between the pages of another booklet protrudes a "Jewish star" that she used to have to wear. The pose at the table, which participants of her readings today know very well, together with the objects of her past show the meaning of her life and survival.

And then she speaks. The audience listens intently as the 98-year-old begins to speak. She tells of memories of the day in January 1943 when the Gestapo took her family away. With a warm voice, however, she also tells of the return to Berlin, which she undertook "without ever having regretted it". With a standing ovation following her speech, those present in the ballroom thanked her for this courageous undertaking.

After two more pieces of music and a photo opportunity with a smiling Friedlander, the event ends. Leaving the House of Representatives, it is a little less gray. In the meantime, it has even stopped raining. Berlin also seems to thank its honorary citizen.