One hundred years ago, World War I ended. My great-great uncle Fritz was among the millions who had been sent to their deaths in the terrible carnage fuelled by nationalist fury. Today, I would like to tell you his story.
on the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI, I want to tell you the story of Fritz’s binoculars.
In September 1914, my great-grand-uncle Fritz, a pilot in the German Luftfwaffe, embarked on a discovery mission beyond enemy lines. He was shot down and his plane crashed in Northern France. He was killed. It was one of his first missions after completing his training. Fritz was one of millions of Europeans who lost their lives in this brutal carnage driven by delusional dreams of nationalist grandeur. He was one of some 12’000 German Jews who fell for the Reich.
When the frontlines shifted, a French farmer cleared the war-torn fields and found a pair of binoculars next to the wreck of Fritz’s plane. In the binoculars’ casing, he discovered the address of the shop in which they had been sold. After the war had ended, he decided to return the binoculars to the family of their former owner. So, he sent them to Dresden where Fritz was from. Back into the hands of the former enemy.
The shop in Dresden was able to identify my forebears thanks to the meticulous registry they had been keeping. And, so, my great-grandfather was reunited with the binoculars of his younger brother.
Fifteen years later, the Nazi government passed the Nuremberg race-laws laws and stripped all German Jews of their nationality. My family realised that it was time to flee their beloved fatherland. So, on new-year’s eve of 1938, they sought refuge in Switzerland. Later that year, they made their way to London where they settled. With them they carried Fritz’s binoculars – one of the few objects they were able to save.
During the German air-raids on London, their home was bombed, their bedrooms blasted into pieces. They only survived the attack because they slept in the living room, taking cover under the dinner table. My grandmother’s cousins and her brother-in-law, Hamburg-born Henry, who would become like a third grandfather to me, fought in the allied armies and went to war against their former homeland. Luckily, they all returned unharmed.
After the war, my grandmother found her way to Switzerland where she met and married Mr. Scherrer, my paternal grandfather. With her she took – you guessed right – Fritz’s binoculars. When she passed away ten years ago, she entrusted them to me. They are the most cherished object in my possession. And believe it or not: they still work.
On the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI, I hold Fritz’s binoculars in my hands. Let them help us be far-sighted, fair, and balanced. Let them remind us that peace and solidarity across borders is neither a natural state of affairs nor an accident of history. Peace on our continent has been created deliberately. Institution by institution. Policy by policy. Law by law.
If you think that politics are boring, think of Fritz. He was 21 when he died. Sent to his death by old men who decided the fate of nations, and thus also his fate, from the comfort of their cosy meeting rooms.
It is our job to resist the sour seeds of tribalism and nationalism. It is our job to be active citizens and to build political compromises with our fellow citizens that are based on mutual respect. It is our job to embrace international cooperation, multilateralism, understanding, and diversity. In Europe and beyond. No one else is going to do it for us. We must decide our own fates.
Image: Ivo Nicholas Scherrer