Contemporary witness on persecution of jews: “a feeling of shared responsibility”.

The documentary "Silent Saviors" shows civil courage during the persecution of Jews in France. A conversation with contemporary witness Alfred Grosser.

Alfred Grosser in "Silent Rescuers" Photo: dpa

site: Mr. Grosser, in "Silent Rescuers" you report on the time of persecution. What are your most formative memories?

Alfred Grosser: When the German Wehrmacht invaded France in 1940, as a 15-year-old I rode south on a bicycle with my older sister. That was very hard, and in the course of the trip my sister fell ill and later died of blood poisoning. In 1942, when German occupation threatened the south as well, my mother and I put our lives in danger and fled with false papers. I then became a teacher at a private Catholic school. The director who hired me took a great risk. If I had been caught, he too would have been deported.

So the protection of Jews in France through civil resistance was of an extraordinary dimension?

Yes, but it also took place in Germany much more than is said today. There is ample evidence that many German non-Jews helped at the risk of their lives. I have always rejected the notion of collective guilt. "The Germans" never existed for me.

This view seems magnanimous in view of the suffering, also towards your family, that German people caused at that time.

But there was also exactly the opposite. An example: when I visited Frankfurt as a journalist in 1947, I harshly criticized the medical profession for not protecting my father, a professor and pediatrician. But on the other hand, I met the Lord Mayor Walter Kolb there, who had come from the concentration camp. We started to build a relationship with Germans like him after the war.

Was there something like an initial spark for this willingness?

Yes, it was triggered one August night in 1944, when I heard on the BBC that close relatives had been transported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, which meant a certain death sentence for them. I was 19 years old, and on one of the next days, after the liberation of Marseille, I visited a friend in the hospital who was dying because he had been badly wounded in the fighting. Next to him lay a 19-year-old German soldier, with whom I had a long conversation in German. And he really didn’t know anything. That’s when the feeling of shared responsibility for the future arose, even for people like him. That has shaped my work.

The political scientist, who was born in Frankfurt, emigrated with his family to Paris as a child in 1933. Today, the 91-year-old is considered a doyen of Franco-German rapprochement and one of the most important intellectuals in France. In February, his book "Le Mensch – die Ethik der Identitaten" will be published.

What do you think about the classification of the crimes that were committed at that time?

Historians around the age of 50 always sound as if they were heroes during that time. For example, I fought against those idiotic books "The Office" and "Hitler’s Willing Enforcers" by Daniel Goldhagen, because he makes an inadmissible generalization about peoples there. One need only look, for example, at Catholic journalism in France at the end of the 19th century: Even then, there were calls for the Jews to be thrown out of the country and eliminated.

Expressed by German intellectuals, your view would be at least politically incorrect.

"Silent Saviors," Tuesday, 9:05 p.m., Arte, directed by Christian Frey, Susanne Wittek.

You seem to be very masochistically inclined when it comes to this topic. Which also has the consequence that it is impossible to criticize Israel in Germany. When I was invited in 2010 to give the speech in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche on the pogrom of November 9, 1938, there was an uproar in the Central Council of Jews and the Jewish community that I was too critical of Israel.

What do you think about teaching history on television, as you do in "Silent Savior"?

It is important. However, I wish that Arte would reach more viewers and that there would be more truly jointly produced content by French and Germans there. In any case, the Franco-German connection has worked well, and Germany is viewed in France today with a mixture of admiration and jealousy.