Yoko Ono Awarded Germany’s Highest Human Rights Medal
Yoko Ono has accepted the German human rights prize for peace activism, the Rainer Hildebrandt Medal at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The museum is situated next to the Cold War border crossing which was an iconic symbol of political suppression. The lifetime achievement award was given for her recent work highlighting equality for women and LGBT issues, as well as for the work she created with her late husband, John Lennon. Ono, who is 80 in February, flashed a peace sign as she thanked the jury. “I’m very honoured to get this award and I will consider this award as an encouragement to do more work in humanitarian causes,” she stated.
The Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal is an international human rights award set up by Alexandra Hildebrandt in 2004 to commemorate the 90th birthday of her late husband, Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt, the founder of the Mauermuseum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. The award is given annually in recognition of extraordinary, non-violent commitment to human rights and is conferred on the birthday of Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt (* 14.12.1914 – † 09.01.2004) to mark International Human Rights Day.
The Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal was designed by Prof. Matthias Koeppel.
Hildebrandt was born in 1914 to the art historian Professor Hans Hildebrandt and his artist wife Lily. Initially studying Physics, Hildebrandt later moved to Berlin and obtained a doctorate in Psychology. During the Second World War he was involved with those criticising and resisting the Nazi regime, and as such was imprisoned twice by the Gestapo for a total period of seventeen months. It was the execution of his best friends by the Gestapo that really strengthened Hildebrandt’s resolve to dedicate the rest of his life to the fight for human rights and freedom.
After the war in 1948 he set up the Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichheit, a non-political organisation that sought to expose human rights abuses where and when they occurred. One of the organisation’s main focuses was the campaign to expose the truth about post-war Soviet NKVD camps on East German territory. The organisation also helped to search for and locate persons missing or displaced from Eastern Europe in the turbulent early post-war years, passing on about 900,000 names to the German Red Cross at the end of the 1950s. One such victim was the Swedish humanitarian and diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who saved around 100,000 Jews from almost certain death in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Af-ter the Soviet’s took over Hungary, Wallenberg was arrested and deported to Moscow in early 1945. After this all traces of him disappeared and it is unknown whether he died in captivity or was executed. Hildebrandt and the Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit were one of the main organisations involved in the quest to find his whereabouts, along with other internationally renowned figures such as Albert Einstein and Andrei Sakharov. Wallenberg and his work are remembered in the Museum’s ground floor exhibition.
It was the building of the Berlin Wall on August 13th 1961 that stirred Hildebrandt to set up the Mauermuseum, which still stands today, a symbol of his commitment to human rights and freedom. For an activist like Hildebrandt, the construction of this barrier was an intolerable action that went beyond injustice and cruelty. He simply could not sit by and watch this terrible manifestation of inhumanity take hold without some form of response, so a year later on October 19th 1962 he opened his museum. It was on the corner be-tween Wolliner Straße and Bernauer Straße, facing outwards into East Berlin territory, and its exhibition sought to shed light on the Berlin Wall as well as the regime hiding behind it. The Museum’s two and a half rooms soon however proved too small for the number of visitors they were daily welcoming, so half a year later on June 14th 1963 Hildebrandt opened a bigger exhibition on Friedrichstraße, right next door to Checkpoint Charlie.
As the years went by, and the Wall remained, the Museum became a centre for all those fighting against it. Escape organisers set up base in the museum’s cafe, often lending a hand with new placards and information displays. Later these people donated artefacts that had been used in some of the successful escapes, such as chairlifts, ladders, petrol tanks, welding machines, and canoes. When the Wall finally came tumbling down on November 9th 1989, the museum decided to continue with its exhibition, so that the world would never forget what happens when we allow those who govern us to divide us.The museum has been there ever since and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.
AWARD RECIPIENTS, 2005—2011
Antonia Rados, Austria – For her outstanding personal commitment to human rights and their observance.
Yitzhak Rabin, Israel (posthumous award): 5th Prime Minister of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Zheng Yichun, China: Dissident and journalist arrested and imprisoned in 2004.
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet González, Cuba: Civil Rights activist
Normando Hernández Gonzalez, Cuba: Civil Rights activist
Dr. Harald Poelchau, Germany (posthumous award): Priest and member of the ”Kreisau Circle”
Dr. Muhamad Mugraby, Lebanon: Attorney and civil rights activist
Dr. Rudolf Seiters, Germany: President of the German Red Cross
Yurij Samodurov, Russia: Director of the Sakharov-Museum in Moscow
Bogdan Borusewicz, Poland: Co-founder of “Solidarnosc”
Prof. Dr. Imre Pozsgay, Hungary: Minister and Deputy President of Hungary
Yuri Schmidt, Russia: Lawyer and Chairman of the Russian Lawyers Committee
Michail Khodorkovsky, Russia: Oligarch and philanthropist , imprisoned in 2004
Yoko Ono picks up German human rights prize at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Yoko Ono on Friday accepted a German human rights prize for peace activism with her late husband, Beatle John Lennon, as well as her more recent work championing equality for women and gays.
Ono, who will turn 80 in February, picked up the Rainer Hildebrandt Medal at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum next to the former Cold War border crossing. Wearing a black top hat and trouser suit, she gave a two-fingered peace sign as she thanked the jury. “I’m very honoured to get this award and I will consider this award as an encouragement to do more work in humanitarian causes,” she said.
Hildebrandt, who died in 2004, founded the museum to document daring attempts by East Germans living under communism to escape over the Berlin Wall and in protest against the regime’s shoot-to-kill policies. His widow Alexandra handed Ono the prize, which was selected by a jury she said included German President Joachim Gauck, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
“Since the early days of her career, and in addition to her music and conceptual art, Yoko Ono has always drawn attention for her political statements and her fight for peace and human rights,” the jury said. “She is a great proponent of gender equality, and is committed to world peace and the recognition of same-sex partnerships.”
Previous winners include jailed Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky and assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Tokyo-born artist — raised in both Japan and the United States in a well-off family of bankers — became a global icon when she married the rocker from Liverpool. Since her Montreal honeymoon with Lennon, during which the couple called for peace from their marital bed, Ono has used her celebrity to raise awareness for causes. In 2002, she launched the “LennonOno” grant for peace in Iceland, given every two years.
In honour of Ono’s 80th birthday, the Schirn Kunsthalle in the western German city of Frankfurt will present a retrospective of her work from February.