• fighting right-wing politics in his own way

    'Laughter passes one by. There remains only sorrow and shame.'

    Otto Riese wrote this brief message on a postcard to Herbert Sulzbach a couple of days after an extreme racist attack by right-wing activists in Germany that came to be called 'Kristallnacht', from the shattered glass that littered the streets.

    At the time - mid-November 1938 - both men were in Switzerland. Sulzbach had fled from Germany because he was Jewish, and had been working in Basle for the previous three months to produce anti-Nazi propaganda and to campaign for opposition to Hitler. Riese (who was not Jewish) had chosen to relinquish his job in the German Ministry of Justice to become Assistant Professor of German Law at the University of Lausanne. The two men had been friends since their school days in Frankfurt.

    Sulzbach was enraged that British politicians seemed to misunderstand the mind-set of the German leader, and offered no opposition.

    'If Chamberlain has never read anything from “Mein Kampf”, is there no-one in the Foreign Office who knows Hitler's ideology?'

    With other German emigrés in Basle, he worked to produce written propaganda, such as

    'a brochure-style booklet in all languages of the world – short - with slogans about the crimes of the leaders of the Third Reich; no commentary – just let the actions speak for themselves, to enlighten the people – not the leaders – about this murderous Reich.'

    He wrote letter after letter to newspapers in Britain, France and Switzerland, and to the leaders of western European countries calling for co-operation and a united, positive resistance to extreme right-wing views.

    'The only concern now is to stir up the ordinary people and the humane people out of their lethargy, from their sleep and their resignation. It seems to me that all good Europeans, true friends of peace, should come together and it is that which I ask of you. Don't you think that something ought and could be done to make an organised propaganda for the truth? If we can manage to unite the spirits who fight for human rights, humanism, freedom - and can improve their activity - there is a justifiable hope that the poison can be successfully opposed.'

    He was not successful, but he had played as active a part as he could in fighting extreme right-wing politics.

    (photo: Herbert Sulzbach in the 1930s)

    (©text Ainslie Hepburn, from the Sulzbach papers ©photo Yvonne Klemperer)


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


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