On 19 November 2015, a family friend, Prof. Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, former Cabinet Minister and High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, celebrated his 85th birthday. Born in 1930, he and his household, we learned, had been marked for life by “frequent visits from the Gestapo” during the years of horror.
It was Claudia Roth (photo below), vice president of the Bundestag and leader of the Green Party, who told us that. Meanwhile, her very presence at the podium was a surprise. Our host’s affiliation with the Christian Democrats (CDU) represents in many ways a contrast. Claudia, however, was amused by the juxtaposition. “You can imagine,” she said, “what he must have thought of me before we met, that is, if it was a mirror image of my view of him…” As it turned out, they bonded well and only grew in mutual esteem, the cement being a shared regard for human rights. Each cherishes the notion that democracy is meant to uphold the ideals inscribed by the UN in 1948 and again in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child whose anniversary, November 20, is celebrated as the International Day of the Rights of the Child.
Christian had in fact been a child when the Gestapo intruded, not an unlikely influence on the principled stance he took in 1992 when, Wikipedia tells us, he “resigned his post in anger at Germany’s inaction over atrocities in the then Yugoslavia — rebuffing Chancellor Kohl’s protestations that Germany’s post-war constitution barred it from stepping in. He told the Chancellor he was ‘ashamed’ to belong to such a government, saying he had entered politics in the first place to ensure that atrocities like those perpetrated by the Nazis ‘never happen again’.”
After we guests, 200 strong, had applauded the stories by the governor of the state (Hesse) and the mayor of Büdingen (Christian’s home town); and enjoyed baritone Florian Dengler with accompanist Marcelo Amaral performing a sonatine and ‘Lieder’ by Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling, Christian’s composer father, our host turned the discourse toward his mother. “You’ll hear a lot about forged passports,” he said, referring to Germany’s present response to refugees, telling us that when they save a life, he advised against harsh critique. “After my father had been dead for twenty years,” he went on, “I finally made two trips to Poland, a nation whose shroud hung mysteriously over us. What did I uncover? That my mother’s passport had not been hers; that she had, in fact, been Jewish but hid her upbringing from the moment revealing it would have meant death.” During her entire lifetime, about the mother he had known, he had never known this, and he wanted us to understand the tragedy of losing that much of who we are …
The arc from the Nazis to deletions of identity brings me to the usual theme of this blog, its principled stance against indifference; against inaction; against the tolerance for cultural excuses for FGM which also imposes on children an alteration, dilution or even loss of personality. Time and again we hear and read about the girl, post FGM, now subdued where she had been outspoken; now shrinking where she had been bold; now hesitant where she had been confident. But more important, it was government failure to intervene to stop atrocities that led to Christian’s humble gesture of resigning from complicity – an act that, after all, didn’t become resignation but redoubled action on an even broader scale in defense of human and thereby also children’s rights.
References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Schwarz-Schilling#International_political_career Retrieved 20 November 2015
Portrait of Christian Schwarz-Schilling by Michael Giers in http://www.kreis-anzeiger.de/lokales/wetteraukreis/buedingen/einer-der-sich-noch-immer-einmischt_16391481.htm Retrieved 20 November 2015
Photo of Claudia Roth by Tobe Levin