German president attacked at book fair ceremony

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FRANKFURT, Oct 14 (Reuters) German President Horst Koehler was attacked but not hurt today as he left a ceremony to honour Israeli historian Saul Friedlaender for his writings on the Holocaust.

A 44-year-old man tried to attack Koehler as he left the church, grabbing his lapels before being restrained by bodyguards, police said.

Koehler and his wife were leaving the ceremony at Frankfurt's St Paul's church with Friedlaender when a Romanian who lives in the nearby town of Offenbach attacked him. The man was detained and faces assault charges, police said.

''The man appeared to be confused... He was evidently trying to draw attention to himself because of rent problems,'' the police spokesman said. He said there was no political motive and that the man had clearly singled out Koehler, not Friedlaender.

Koehler presented Friedlaender with the German book trade's prestigious peace price, traditionally awarded on the final day of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest.

Friedlaender was awarded the 25,000 euro (35,500 dollar) prize for giving those murdered in the Holocaust a voice.

''Saul Friedlaender has allowed those turned to dust to cry and grieve, he has given them memory and name,'' said Gottfried Honnefelder, head of the German book publishing industry. ''He gave back dignity that was robbed from those murdered.'' Friedlaender, 75, said that although the prize was a great honour, it was nevertheless connected to the loss of his family.

His parents first fled from Prague to France but later had to escape again when the Nazis closed in on Paris. In 1942, they left 10-year-old Friedlaender at a boarding school in France and hoped to find refuge in Switzerland. But they were turned away and detained by French authorities.

His parents were later deported to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. His father was killed there and there is no record of what happened to his mother.

After the war, Friedlaender emigrated to Israel. He is now a professor at the University of California Los Angeles. His major work is a two-volume collection ''Nazi Germany and the Jews''.

Previous winners of the prize, which was first awarded in 1950, include Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, U.S. writer Susan Sontag, Alsatian theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer and former Czech president Vaclav Havel.


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