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31 March 2014


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Thanks David. On first sight it wasn't Peter Ganz. Although I surely won't forget that name now again.

Interesting story. I like these biographical details. Makes one aware of more complex layers in history.

You mentioned two friends who had German fathers. Who was the other again?

David Habakkuk


Ironically perhaps, the other figure to whom I referred, Joseph Peter Stern, although he ended up as a professor of German literature, wasn’t German. His ‘biographical details’ are quite interesting, in relation to both Jewish and German worlds.

He came from a Jewish family in Prague who were Roman Catholic in religion, and opted to become Czech. His father fought with the Czechoslovak Legion on the side of the Entente during the First World War, and Czech was his first language. He arrived in England on the last boat out of Gdynia, having crossed over the border to Poland after the Wehrmacht marched into his native city.

He volunteered for the Czech Army in 1941, but became a ‘tail-end Charlie’ – rear-gunner – in a Wellington bomber flown by 311 Squadron, the Czech bomber squadron with the RAF, who in April 1942, at a time of crisis in the Battle of the Atlantic, were shifted to hunting U-boats.

And he was lucky not to end up among the rather large number of the squadron who did not make it through the war, as it was only pure accident that led to his crew being rescued from the Atlantic after they were shot down, and he badly wounded, in September of that year.

As a student I knew him slightly, but later read some of his writings. Among them is a short study originally published in 1975, entitled ‘Hitler: The Führer and the People’.

When ten years later he was asked to write an introduction for a Czech ‘samizdat’ edition of the book, Stern was obviously enormously pleased, and wrote an introduction which is more personally revealing than anything else of his that I have read.

Having talked about ‘totalitarian’ regimes – and he quite patently had no desire to ‘whitewash’ the Czech communists, but for whom he would returned home after the defeat of Hitler – Stern argued that the communist regimes were still more open to ‘universal’ values than that of Hitler had been.

And he argued that this was because Marxism, disastrous as it was in so many ways, was based upon, was ‘one of the tenets of Western civilization as a whole’. And he went on to explain how he saw this ‘tenet’:

‘I see it as the imperative, voiced for the first time in the modified Judaism of the Christian gospels, that each man, woman and child, regardless of birth or rank, is to be thought of and treated with equal seriousness and of equal value in the sight of God; and the concomitant of that imperative is love of your neighbour as the highest human commandment.’

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