• a searching and hopeful spirit

    'One of the things that we must take with us is the searching and hopeful spirit that always inspires us, as we consider what we should say about the events of these times.'

    These were the words of Hermann Ziock, a PoW at Featherstone Park, in his farewell speech as he was repatriated in January 1947. During his last months in the camp he had been much influenced by the Interpreter, Captain Herbert Sulzbach – the man the prisoners refered to as 'The Good Spirit of Featherstone'.

    Thirty five years after his captivity, Ziock published his diary of that period, and dedicated it to Sulzbach. As one of the editors of the camp newspaper, Ziock had his own sphere of influence and in its first issue he wrote,

    'There will be many who will look without hope and even despair upon their country and cannot believe that we can overcome the chaos of the time. We can not afford today to tire and give up or fall into passive pessimism.

    'The main thing we need is the truth about ourselves, and that we dare to say what must be said. By a spirit of democracy, we mean that freedom and respect for individuality which the most intellectual of Germans saw as the highest value of mankind; poets and philosophers with a world-wide reputation like Goethe or Schiller, Herder or Kant. We do not want propaganda and illusion that would mark our vision of reality. We want truth and outspokenness, not prejudice and hate, but objectivity and real teamwork.'

    It was Sulzbach who had encouraged the serious, educated, and thoughtful officers to consider the influence of the Enlightenment on an earlier Germany. Further inspiration came from the Camp Commandant. In his welcoming speech, Colonel Vickers always told the prisoners of his own imprisonment under the Germans during WW1. As Ziock noted,

    'He had been treated as a gentleman, which was unforgettable for him. In any case, he would do all that he possibly could to make our captivity easier.'

    When Vickers left the camp, Sulzbach told him, 'If I was able to do things for the sake of the PoW, it was through your inspiration.'

    Many years later, tributes were paid to Herbert Sulzbach by his many friends, one of whom wrote,

    'His simple but dedicated belief in the necessity for mankind to forgive and forget, and live together in harmony, is infectious. His generosity of spirit, an inspiration.'

    (Photo: sketch and plan of Featherstone camp by a PoW. Text © Ainslie Hepburn, with her translation of ‘Jeder geht seinen Weg allein. Tagebuch eines deutschen Kriegsgefangenen’, by Hermann Ziock, published in 1981 by J.G. Bläschke. Translations of newspaper articles by pupils at Haydon Bridge High School.)


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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