VILNIUS - During a two-day visit to Lithuania, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the 11th annual Thomas Mann Festival in Nida on July 14 by hailing the writer's defiance of Nazism as a shining example for today's united Europe.
Steinmeier praised Mann's outspoken condemnation of the Nazis 's which led to the writer's exile in America 's saying that it helped sow the seeds of the European Union by calling for a continent driven by shared principles of diversity, tolerance and liberalism.
"Thomas Mann looked into the abyss Germany was standing before during his last summer stay here 75 years ago," Steinmeier said.
"After his public protest against the Nazi violence in Koenigsberg, the missive 'What We Must Demand,' he found a burnt copy of 'Buddenbrooks' before the door of his summer house. That is seen today as a clear omen for the book burnings and all the barbarity of the Nazis," he said.
Mann, a German Nobel laureate novelist, spent his summers in Nida from 1930 to 1932. In 1933, after he published an angry account of a Nazi pogrom in Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad) he was forced to flee Germany.
Mann wrote his novel "Joseph and his Brothers" while staying in Nida, a time when he was growing increasingly troubled about the rise of the Nazis.
He stated in a famous radio address to the Germans during World War II that the only answer to the rise of fascism was a united Europe.
The festival, which runs through July 21, was first organized by Lithuanian writers in 1995 and now features readings, translation workshops, art exhibitions and concerts. It attracts participants from across the continent.
"Nida is not only a warning (about extremism) but also a sign of hope and European solidarity," Steinmeier said.
"We need such forums where common understanding can develop. All of our countries have great literary traditions, all of our countries have national epics but also national traumas that can resurface and strongly influence current debates."
Steinmeier's stop in Lithuania, which wound up his four-day tour of the Baltic States, was the first high-level visit by a German official in recent memory.
During his stay, the foreign minister met with President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas in Vilnius.
Among the issues discussed was the dispute with Russia over the United States' plans to station a missile defense system in Europe, and the Kremlin's July 14 announcement that it will pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
Kirkilas and Steinmeier touched upon transit and humanitarian contacts between Kaliningrad and Lithuania.
Kirkilas proposed on July 13 that Lithuanian, German, Polish and Russian top diplomats meet to discuss Kaliningrad-related issues, the governmental press service said.
Steinmeier also visited a war memorial in the Paniriai woods, southwest of Vilnius, where German SS and police units killed more than 100,000 people, including at least 70,000 Jews, before the end of the German occupation in July 1944.