AJC Berlin remembers Walther Leisler Kiep
One of the great German transatlanticists, Walter Leisler Kiep, passed away this week at the age of 90. His Hanseatic elegance and charm, combined with his eloquence and diplomatic demeanor, made him a giant of post-war transatlantic relations. He approached transatlantic
Much has been written about his colorful political career and his private diplomatic efforts in countries such as Turkey and China. Less well-known, however, was his commitment to German-Jewish relations, which he considered an anchor of post-war German democracy.
We were fortunate at AJC to experience Walter’s commitment, dedication and friendship to strong U.S.-German relations. An inexorable part of that relationship for Walter was the resumption of German-Jewish relations, never overlooking the past but helping make dialogue possible again.
To that end, during his days as Chairman of the Atlantic Bridge, Walter Leisler Kiep and then-Atlantic Bridge Director Beate Lindemann reached out to AJC as far back as the 1980s to initiate a series of joint conferences in Germany and Israel that explored contemporary German-Jewish relations and Jewish life. Considerable time was allotted to speakers such as the late Robert Wistrich to discuss modern anti-Semitism, as well as to Israelis who vividly outlined terror attacks against Israeli civilians. For Walter Leisler Kiep, the relationship to AJC was a natural outgrowth of the beginnings of Atlantic Bridge, co-founded by the Jewish Hamburg banker Eric Warburg in 1952 to help anchor post-war German democracy and contribute to a responsible foreign policy that never forgot the Holocaust. In addition, Walter Leisler Kiep and Beate Lindemann initiated projects to foster a better understanding of the Holocaust amongst teachers in the U.S. and Germany, focusing as well on Germany’s post-war confrontation with its past.
Walter never forgot Israel, which he considered an indispensable part of the quotient for transatlantic security. Instead of talking about Israel, he ensured that conferences took place in Israel to speak with Israelis. During his time at Atlantic Bridge, he helped organize trips for leading decision makers to ensure that they had first-hand knowledge of Israel and government policies. He remained committed to this goal, even in the last years of his life, as co-founder of the NGO Global Bridges, which organizes high-level delegations of opinion and business leaders to Israel on an annual basis. Walter was always part of the delegation, remaining to the end a hugely enthusiastic promoter of German-Israeli relations.
Little known was that Walter Leisler Kiep could speak Turkish fluently, due to spending part of his childhood in Turkey. He remained dedicated as well to German-Turkish relations, often helping young Germans of Turkish heritage integrate into German politics and society. Walter was committed to ensuring a safe place for all minorities in post-war Germany.
Walter travelled the world, rightly calling himself a bridge-builder. We will never forget his passion for the U.S., Israel, German-Jewish relations, and a strong post-war German democracy. Walter Leisler Kiep’s global vision of tolerance, diplomacy and exchange is his legacy to us all.