• being a European

    'Today my heart beats for Europe – and that is how it is.'

    Herbert Sulzbach, a British citizen who had been born in Germany, spoke those simple words on 2 July 1973. He had fought for Germany in the First World War, for Britain in the Second, and spent years encouraging German PoW 'to return to Germany as good Europeans'. Until the end of his life, he campaigned vigorously for a united Europe.

    Since 23 June of this year, when Britain voted to leave Europe, I have received many messages from people who knew Sulzbach, or whose families' lives were deeply affected by him, telling me how appalled he would have been at the result. The messages have come both from British and from German people, and have been of some comfort.

    When Bernard Levin, a British journalist, was invited by Sulzbach to address the annual meeting of the Featherstone Park Association in Düsseldorf in 1969, he said,

    'We have got to start thinking of ourselves, all of us, as Europeans. We are moving into an era when a higher loyalty than to our country is needed. A new partnership is needed. Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler failed to unite Europe because the purpose of their unification was aggrandisement, self-glorification, dominion. We can unite Europe in peace and friendship and mutual respect of each nation for the others.'

    There are many citizens of the towns, villages and organisations which have been twinned with others in different European countries who know the benefits of such partnerships. We clearly still need to foster international understanding and an enthusiasm and commitment for unity between people. As the German Ambassador said of Sulzbach thirty years ago,

    'He had a strong sense of freedom - and a critical eye for everything that could infringe upon it - as well as the recognition that our common European culture and basic beliefs find us together in defending peace and justice.'

    Many English Europeans in 2016 feel that they no longer recognise their own country. And, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote two days after the result of the referendum,

    'Now we have a fight on our hands to ensure that England does not become a meaner, darker, smaller-spirited place.'

    (photo: German PoW at Featherstone Park discuss 'The European Question' in their newspaper: 1947.)

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

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