Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

WE GERMANS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WAR, SAY BOMBED DRESDENERS 70 YEARS ON

February 17, 2015

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I was in Dresden last weekend for a deeply cathartic commemoration of the 70th  anniversary of the British bombing which destroyed the beautiful historical centre of Dresden and killed up to 25,000 in a firestorm. Seeing the pictures of the utter devastation of the burning ruins, and listening to stories of survivors, it is hard to believe that a people and a city could ever rise again. The sheer scope of the catastrophe makes our troubles today seem trivial.

I was there as Vice-Chairman of The Dresden Trust, which dedicated to reconciliation and raised £1 million to help rebuild the city’s main church. The Trust’s Royal Patron, the Duke of Kent, was honoured with a Dresden Peace Prize, which has previously been awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev and Daniel Barenboim. DSC07969 Reconciliation is possible for one reason – the recognition by all German leaders for the past 30 years that the German people as a whole were responsible for bringing Hitler to power and following him willingly into a war of genocide. The     Dresden Trust awarded its Medal of Honour to Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz, who declared that Dresden was bombed because Germans first bombed Coventry, London, Rotterdam and Warsaw. German President Joachim Gauck said: “We know who began this murderous war.”

These German leaders are brave, since they risk unpopularity with their voters. But it is the only way Germany can take its place in the community of nations. Still. I find this frank admission of guilt quite exceptional, and the key to the peaceful European order of the past 30 years. “We have to keep saying it, because not all Germans acknowledge it,” says Helma Orosz. Three days later 4,000 right-wing “Pegida” demonstrators were out in the main square chanting slogans against Islam and immigrants.

Dresdeners no longer hold animosity towards the British for a raid which was controversial from the start. Now they welcome Britons for the more stable, tolerant values they hope we will share with them. They look to us to counter the malevolent influence of the neo-Nazi fringe. I did my bit by joining 10,000 Dresdeners in a human chain formed around the historical centre. We held hands for a few minutes in a gesture of peace – but also symbolically to keep out the neo-Nazis.

Everybody I met had their stories. A Coventry woman remembered a relative was killed on the last day of the war bombing U-boats in Norway. A Dresdener whose hand I was holding in the human chain told me of an uncle bomber pilot who was shot down over England and then invited in for a cup of tea by the locals.

Dresden is now an expanding young city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany. From the smouldering ruins it has risen again, demonstrating how resilient the human spirit can be. I was proud to show a bit of solidarity they have finally earned.

WEAK THOUGH I MAY BE, I DO NOT STAND FOR RUSSIA’S NAKED AGGRESSION

March 3, 2014

Russia's President Putin, Defence Minister Shoigu and head of Russian army's main department of combat preparation Buvaltsev watch military exercises at Kirillovsky firing ground in Leningrad region

Russia has returned to its bullying, autocratic ways. Its arguments and actions in Crimea are the same as it used in invading Hungary in 1956 to put down the Uprising and sending tanks into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the Prague Spring.

Now as then, Russia (at the time the Soviet Union) disagrees with a government brought to power by a popular revolt in a neighbouring country, and for no other reason feels justified in launching a military invasion.

Having been a correspondent in Eastern Europe in the Cold War, I vividly remember the loathing of the local populations for the occupying Russians who foisted on them oppression and poverty.

I also recall the euphoria after the enlightened Russian Mikhail Gorbachev set about democratising Russian society and in doing so ended the Cold War and released hundreds of millions of people from the fear of nuclear annihilation.

Now the ex-KGB Vladimir Putin has reverted to the Russian norm. I hear the “explanations” that Crimea once belonged to Russia, as if that justifies trampling over treaties it freely entered into.

I hear the “realistic” assessments that there is little the West or anyone else can do. That may be true but they are weasel words, excuses for failing to take a personal stand against wrong. I remember how my German mother took a stand against the Nazis and paid the price. I prefer her courage in a fight she was bound to lose than the comfortable evasions of the realists.

It may be useless, but I am angry and proud of it. I do not accept that in the long term might will prove right. In the meantime, I wait to hear one Russian voice raised in dissent.

Photo: Reuters

DRESDEN 1945 – THEY DON’T WANT SYMPATHY ANY MORE

February 16, 2014

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“Dresden was no innocent city!” The city’s mayor Helma Orosz is haranguing her citizens in the street. “When we remember the catastrophe which befell the city in 1945, we should think of German bombing of Coventry and Rotterdam. Remember the millions whom Germans slaughtered in Poland, the forced labourers, the destruction of the Jewish synagogue in Dresden, the deportations. There were many Nazis in Dresden and people knew what was going on.”

Where else in the world, I wonder, does a political leader castigate the fathers and grandfathers of her voters so harshly?

But her audience laps it up. It is the 69th anniversary of the British bombing of February 1945 which killed over 20,000 people and destroyed the heart of one of Europe’s most beautiful historical cities. They are not sorry for themselves. I had come a little apprehensively as a Trustee of Britain’s Dresden Trust, set up to further reconciliation and help rebuild the ruined Church of Our Lady. Would they be hoping that I express regret, I wondered?

Not at all. When I tell a young journalist that for all the need to defeat Hitler, I felt the attack was not justified, she crisply retorts: “Why not? It was a military target.”

Well yes, in a way. But by my judgment the firestorms which Britain’s Bomber Command created in German cities were immoral. First they dropped high explosives to crack the buildings open, then thousands of incendiaries to light fires which, if the wind was right, came together in a fiery whirlwind that nobody could escape. They targeted town centres, where the old houses packed together burned better than the military targets located on the outskirts. That these houses were inhabited by civilian old men, women and children, they cared not at all. Indeed the plan was to break civilian morale (it did not work).

The British commander of the raid circling overhead radioed to an incoming wave of bombers, “It’s coming up quite nicely now,” as if he were talking of a bonfire at the bottom of his garden.

But Dresdners don’t have this on their minds today. They want to prevent neo-Nazis from streaming in from all over Germany, to rampage and demonstrate – trying to depict the British attack as a war crime relieving Germans of guilt for Auschwitz. Thousands of neo-Nazis used to come, giving the city a shameful reputation.

Now Dresdners have seized their commemoration back from the fanatics: Mayor Orosz calls on us to join a human chain around the historic centre as a symbolic barrier against the neo-Nazis. I can scarcely find space. 10,000 people last year, 11,000 this year.

It works. Although a few hundred neo-Nazis parade with burning torches the day before, none appear on the anniversary. There is no fighting, no disruption. The crowd clap. They may care little about politics otherwise, but they have done what Germans precisely did NOT do when Hitler was pushing his way to power. They have stood up en masse for normal, decent human values.

Actors, musicians and writers read texts at various points of the old centre. They too are doing what German intellectuals failed to do when the Nazis emerged in the 1930s. They are assuming responsibility for influencing hearts and minds.

I head for the magnificent Semper opera house, painstakingly rebuilt over several decades. The choir launches resoundingly into Verdi’s Requiem evoking the Day of Judgment when nobody can escape God’s fearful reckoning. Another tough choice: Dresdners certainly underwent their punishment by hellfire. After the soloists conclude by pleading God to forgive the sins of the dead and let them rest in peace, the conductor drops his baton, the musicians and audience of 3,000 rise to their feet, and for four or five minutes intense silence reigns. The cathartic emotions bursting to find relief in applause are turned inwards in silent contemplation.

As we file quietly out, the bells of Dresden peal out at 21.40 hours, the time when the first bombs fell on 13th February 1945. Some deep and funereal, others such as those of the Church of Our Lady higher in tone, suggesting life and joy after death and destruction.

In the square outside, hundreds of people stand with candles. At 22.00, the bells fall silent and we troop into the church. A choir chants Dona Nobis Pacem, and teenagers read texts they have written themselves. The pastor is expecting me and asks me to read a piece. It’s Jesus’s invocation to love thine enemy. That puts me on the spot. He says I can add a few words of my own.

When it’s my turn in the pulpit, I read my text and add (in German): “I have come here to represent the Dresden Trust of Britain in a spirit of reconciliation. My mother was German. She was anti-Nazi and was thrown out of her school. My father was English and fought in the British Army. My uncle was a bomber pilot, shot down and killed over Cologne in 1942.

“Immediately after the war, my mother insisted we go to Germany to renew contacts with her German family, even though some had been Nazis. From my German mother, who just died at the age of 101, I learned: after war should come peace.”

The pastor shakes my hand and says he is moved. So am I, and how. I stay in the dimmed splendour of the church till after midnight. When I slip out, Dresden’s teenagers are still going up to the pulpit, one after the other, humbly acknowledging their nation’s past and the terrible chastisement which followed.

I launch my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at an Oxford Book shop

November 25, 2013

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I have launched my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at the Summertown Book House in Oxford.

It’s about a woman of Hungarian origin who belatedly realises she lost half her family in Auschwitz, returns to discover her roots, and goes through personal dramas as she takes over her grandfather’s flat in Budapest. It’s a true story delving into some of Europe’s darkest and most sensitive history, ending on an uplifting and poignant note.

As for any author, the launch was a rite of passage. Waiting for the audience to arrive, feeling the buzz around the bookshop and presenting the book – these are unforgettable moments. Published by Crux Publishing, London. Available as paperback and ebook.

Now the book is delivered to the world! May it enjoy a long life and captivate those who hold it in their hands.

http://www.marcusferrar.org/index.html

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My talk at the German Historical Institute about 100 years of German history

November 8, 2013

Final

I shall be giving a talk about 100 years of German history at 5.30 pm, on Tuesday 12 November, at the German Historical Institute, 17 Bloomsbury Square, London WC1.

Open to the public. Free entry. All welcome.

See http://www.ghil.ac.uk/

First media interview for my new book “The Budapest House: a Life Re-Discovered”

September 26, 2013

25.9.2013 Jewish Telegraph

 

 

 

 

 

 

See …

http://amzn.to/15hyS3x

My new book – The Budapest House: a Life Re-Discovered

September 8, 2013

The Budapest House cover

 

My third book – The Budapest House: a Life Re-Discovered – has been published!

A Hungarian traumatised by the loss of half her family in Auschwitz returns to Budapest to retrace her roots. She discovers a dramatic personal history that enables her eventually to shed the burden of her past and move forward to a new life.

The Budapest House is Europe’s house…. a poignant but unsentimental journey … Marcus Ferrar masterfully recounts moving personal stories against their wider historical backdrop and vividly evokes Budapest’s haunted past.

Adam LeBor, correspondent of The Economist and author of The Budapest Protocol

Available online on

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Budapest-House-ebook/dp/B00ERDLXLQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377803580&sr=1-1&keywords=the+budapest+house

and

http://www.amazon.com/The-Budapest-House-ebook/dp/B00ERDLXLQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377803944&sr=1-1&keywords=the+budapest+house

Paperback version comes out in early October.

My other books are:
A Foot in Both Camps: a German Past For Better and For Worse (2012)

Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival After World War II (2005 – co-author John Corsellis)

Last chance to acquire 100 years of history for less than one penny per year

January 15, 2013

A Foot In Both Camps

Today 15th January 2013 is your last chance to experience 100 years of thrilling history, told through people who went through it, for less than one penny per year if you buy A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: A GERMAN PAST FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE as an ebook.

Special Offer: 99p, $1.99, €1.99. Ends at midnight tonight.

SPECIAL OFFER – A Foot In Both Camps – ebook at only 99p, $1.99, €1.99

December 15, 2012

A Foot In Both Camps

A Foot In Both Camps: A German Past For Better And For Worse, by Marcus Ferrar, is available as an ebook for only               99p, $1.99 and €1.99 in a year-end special offer. Valid until 15 January 2013.

Since launch this summer, the book has enjoyed excellent reviews and feedback. This is what readers have said:

not just good but brilliant
… made tears sting the backs of my eyes – a wonderful and moving book
… eloquent, thought-provoking and remarkably reflective
… a passionate, fluent and deeply insightful book
… quite exceptionally good – and very moving
… an absorbing and uplifting story told in fine style
… one of the best books about Germany
… the perfect introduction for anyone visiting the country for the first time
… unputdownable
… very satisfying both intellectually and emotionally
… this book is unique … easy-to-read

Also available in paperback. Publisher LBLA digital. ISBN: 978-10908879-08-0

UKRAINE: THE LAST GHOSTS OF A FLOURISHING JEWISH COMMUNITY

May 13, 2010

Kirovograd, Ukraine, 13 May 2010 – For most Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe, the Holocaust was the tragic episode in their existence. In the Ukrainian city of Kirovograd, it was one among many. Today a sad remnant of 1,500 Jews hangs on and wonders whether it is worthwhile.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews were half the population of this large, sprawling city. They ran the local tramway, small industry, mills and shops. Most doctors were Jews, and Jews founded hospitals, pharmacies and schools. They were at the heart of city life.

They did not choose this place of their own accord. The old Russian Empire pushed Jews to the Pale of Settlement on the fringes of the Empire. Kirovograd, founded in the 18th century as Elizavetgrad, was one of the places where they could live – a fortress township built to defend Russia from Turks and Tartars.

So settle they did, but only in the city. Opportunities to become rich by owning land in the countryside were barred to them. In 1881 came the first pogrom, started by the local authorities. Then another in 1905, and two more in 1907 and 1919. Local Jews such as Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev joined the new Bolshevist Party and rose to its leadership – but Stalin had both murdered.

When the Nazis turned up and slaughtered all the Jews they could find – 22,745 of them – that was not quite the last straw. Having regained control, the Soviets refused to let the survivors (those who fled or served in the Red Army) commemorate the genocide.

The Communists insisted that the Nazis were the product of bourgeois capitalism, and denied that the Jews were singled out for racial reasons. They saw it all as class warfare, so the Jews were no different from the other Ukrainians and Russians killed in the war. Only in 1991 could the local Jewish community erect a Holocaust monument which told the truth. The state of Israel helped finance it.

Kirovograd is dotted around with fine buildings erected by the Jews, but hardly any remain connected with the Jewish community. The Communists forced the Jews to stop religious activities in 1938 and used the ornate, Moroccan-style synagogue as a recreation centre. This is the only building back in Jewish hands.

Inside is a modest exhibition illustrating their history. An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped set it up. The guide spends two hours showing me around. There is so much to explain – a story of endeavour and transient success, but mostly a long, sad litany of persecution.

In local memories, the fate of the Jews is just one misfortune in a dire series. Several million Ukrainians perished in a famine in the early 1930s caused by the seizure of their food by Soviet commissars. Hundreds of thousands were killed by the Nazis, who treated Slavs only slightly better than Jews. These atrocities mark spirits deeply too.

When the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, 5,300 Jews were left in Kirovograd. Now only 1,500. Nobody persecutes them any more, but in a poverty-stricken economy they are left to fend for themselves. They drift away to new homelands offering more promise.

Despite all its efforts, the community scarcely survives. The city which Jews were once told to make their home may soon have none at all. In their synagogue, I feel I am looking at a house of ghosts.


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