I PRAY your patience and forbearance, Masters and Doctors, if I acknowledge in my own tongue the high honour you have bestowed upon me. But you will observe that I do not ask your permission to do this. That is because at the free University of Strasbourg there is now no tongue forbidden to any man within the confraternity of civilised nations. In this you have returned to the custom, momentarily interrupted, of your long and illustrious past. The price paid for this resumption was not small; but it is one in which all the civilised world has shared.Upon you of this University has been imposed additionally the burden of an oppression, willed and designed in the past, of which the object was, first to enslave, that later it might brutalise, the most sacred springs and sources of man’s intellect. It was a burden of peculiar atrocity, since its external manifestations were camouflaged beneath the apparatus and the verbiage of an elaborated civilisation. All that was lacking to the perfection of its perversion was any understanding of men’s minds—any comprehension of man’s soul. Therefore, the intolerable thing perished, after a time, short, indeed, as the lives of nations are reckoned, but which, to those who suffered and whose sons suffered under it, was a veritable eternity.
That night has passed, but the memory of it remains in your mind; as the knowledge of it remains in the minds of all men who are concerned that, henceforward, communication between man and fellow-man shall be open, direct and uncoerced.
It is that knowledge which makes doubly precious the gifts you chose to bestow, since one receives them, as I do mine to-night, not merely from an ancient and world-renowned citadel of learning, but directly from the hands of those men who suffered and endured in its defence.