Willy Brandt falling to his knees in the former Warsaw ghetto was a silent and humble request for forgiveness for the appalling crimes of National Socialist Germany in Poland. We cannot put it better than Willy Brandt himself: “At the abyss of German history and burdened by millions of murdered humans, I acted in the way of those whom language fails.”
History can often only be interpreted with hindsight. It was different when Willy Brandt fell to his knees. People immediately understood the significance of this gesture, and everyone knew that here a page was being turned to begin a new chapter. It is also this sense for the moment that made Willy Brandt such a unique politician.
Hardly any other event played such an important role in Germany discovering its identity in the aftermath of the Second World War and in reconciliation in Europe as Willy Brandt falling to his knees. Today, the goal is to shape the future of our united Europe together with Poland in order to make our entire continent stronger. As we pursue this goal, we Germans will never forget how much it must have cost Poland and the descendants of the millions of victims, and must still cost them to this day, to accept Willy Brandt’s silent and humble request for forgiveness.