Apart from parliamentarians, I was able to meet many other individuals in Hamburg. I always kept off the war, but others did not. I spent Christmas day 1956 with a medical family and the husband and wife wanted to explain why they had supported Hitler and how they regretted it.
Don’t talk about the war
Three mature ladies were keen to tell me how lucky we British were to have Germans, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family, as part of the Royal Family. They had had to put up with the Austrian, corporal Hitler.
A much greater surprise came when I was told the father of the girl I was dating would not meet me. I asked why. “Because of the bombing of Hamburg”, came the dramatic reply. I pointed out that before the British and US had bombed Hamburg, my aunt had been bombed in Birmingham. “And what about the Nazi concentration camps?” I threw in. Response? “Who started the concentration camps? The British in the Boer War!” I did not know anything about this but when I returned to London, I looked up that war in Hansard and found the accusation was correct.
The origins of concentration camps
Officially, 28,000 white and 20,000 black inmates, many of them women and children, had died. David Lloyd George, told the Commons on 17 June 1901: “When children are being treated in this way and dying, we are simply ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in Africa.”
John Ellis, Liberal MP for Rushcliffe said: “If I mistake not, there are not far short of 60,000 of those whom the Government call our fellow subjects interned in these camps, for the most part surrounded by barbed-wire fences, with British sentries walking round, and, for the most part, unable to get out, a large majority of them being women and children. There is no greater delusion in the mind of any man than to apply the term ‘refugee’ to these camps. They are not refugee camps. They are camps of concentration, formed by the military as the result of military operations in the field.”
This was nothing like the atrocities committed by Leopold II of Belgium. From 1885 to 1908, many atrocities were perpetrated in the Congo which, at the time, was a under the absolute rule of Leopold. These atrocities were particularly associated with the labour policies used to collect natural rubber for export.
The centre-right: Conrad Adenauer
I also took the opportunity to see something of the right-of-centre, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). As part of the election of 1957, Chancellor Adenauer paid a visit to Hamburg to deliver a speech. A devout Catholic, Adenauer was a leading politician in the Weimar Republic, serving as Mayor of Cologne (1917–1933).
In the early years of the Federal Republic, he led his country from the ruins of World War II to becoming a productive and prosperous nation that forged close relations with France, the UK and the USA. He worked to restore the West German economy from the destruction of World War II to a central position in Europe, presiding over the German economic miracle together with his Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard.
He was a driving force in re-establishing national military forces (the Bundeswehr) and intelligence services in West Germany in 1955 and 1956. He opposed recognition of the East German State (GDR). He used these points in electoral campaigns against the SPD, which was more sympathetic to co-existence with the GDR and the post-war borders. Adenauer made West Germany a member of NATO. A proponent of European unity, he was one of the founders of the European Union, and a key signatory of the Treaty of Rome; he also pursued close links with the United States as a counterbalance.
When I applied for a ticket to the Adenauer rally, I was told it was hopeless. Then an official had an idea: 2Serve as a steward!” I readily agreed and was issued with armband, coupon for beer and sausage and a few D-Mark. It was a spectacular event! Aided a military-style band, ‘der Alte’ (the old man) did not disappoint! Some cried, more cheered, and all were wildly enthusiastic singing the third verse of the national anthem.
A surprise career move
I surprised myself one more time during my sojourn in Hamburg. I bumped into a German who could not speak more than a few words of his native language. Brought up in London he had been interned during the war and then deported after it. “Have you thought of signing up as an English teacher with the new air force? They are desperate.” I had no difficulty in enrolling for 25 hours a week teaching recruits at Uetersen Airbase. The young would-be flyers surprised me once or twice when they recounted their experiences ‘earning a bit extra’ with the mature ladies of Hamburg.
When I boarded the train at the Hauptbahnhof heading back to London, I did not know whether I was doing the right thing. I could have gone on with the Bundeswehr teaching. I could have taken up the offer from the SPD as a courier between its HQ in Bonn and its struggling office in East Berlin where it still had a presence until the Wall went up in 1961.
What would I do in London? I could not help thinking, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”