Alfred Grosser during an interview in his Paris study, 2009. © AFP
The political scientist and journalist Alfred Grosser died at the age of 99. An obituary for the structural engineer of German-French friendship.
Frankfurt am Main – The list of honorary citizens of Frankfurt since 1795 is not very long. Göring and Hitler were deleted in 1947, but Leo Gans and Arthur von Weinberg were reinstated. Max Horkheimer received the honorary citizenship in 1960, François Mitterrand in 1986, Trude Simonsohn in 2016. One name is missing there: Alfred Grosser. The political scientist, who died on Wednesday at the age of 99, had hardly wanted anything more in the last years of his life than to be honored by the city in which he died on February 1, 1925 as the son of Lily Rosenthal and Paul Grosser, then head of the children’s clinic , was born.
The family’s Jewish origins forced them to emigrate in 1933. In 1937, the twelve-year-old, who had to cope with the death of his father and sister, received French citizenship. In Nice he graduated from high school and completed a degree in German, but then, influenced by his experience of the Resistance, he turned to politics and became one of the most important mediators between Germany and France.
Alfred Grosser was a structural engineer of a friendship between two societies
If one sees Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer as the architects of German-French reconciliation, then personalities like Alfred Grosser (and Joseph Rovan, who died in 2004) were the structural engineers of a friendship between two societies, the development of which Grosser, as a political scientist and journalist, appreciated on both sides and whose deficits he addressed incorruptibly. Overcoming the “hereditary enmity” had to come from the youth base. Grosser made radio broadcasts for German young people, founded the “French Committee for Exchange with the New Germany” and promoted cooperation between the two countries in magazines and as a columnist for “Le Monde”, “Ouest-France” and “La Croix”. in the project of a democratic Europe.
For us French researchers, Grosser was probably the most important teacher. From 1956 until his retirement in 1992, he taught at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, where he impressed us with his sharp tongue, great friendliness and almost boyish temperament. He also contributed a lot to political morality and the fundamentals of the subject. He was particularly in demand as a speaker, not least in the Paulskirche, where he received the German Book Trade’s Peace Prize in 1975 and the city’s Goethe Medal in 1986.
In 1983 Alfred Grosser criticized the German peace movement
People should have listened to him even more when he denounced the one-eyedness of the German (and French) peace movement towards the Soviet Russian Empire at the Evangelical Church Congress in 1983, and again in 2014 when, to commemorate July 1, 1914, he condemned Vladimir Putin’s attack on the called Ukraine a declaration of war on Europe. And also in the Bundestag, when he urged the reunited Germans to have more empathy for this outrageous event. Where he accused his French of arrogant national narrow-mindedness, he saw self-pitying national forgetfulness in his Germans.
Civilized debate is a premium feature of a functioning political culture, and hardly anyone could do it better. It was no wonder that in May 1968 the young professor was one of the few colleagues to argue on equal terms with left-wing radical students. If he sat on a podium or at Werner Höfer’s morning pint, it was guaranteed that no long phrases would be used and that Grosser would always have a lucid surprise argument ready.
The premature expectations of a political camp were regularly disappointed: Grosser was able to defend Günter Grass’s membership in the Waffen-SS and criticize his silence about it for far too long. In 2007, he defended Ludwig Börne when an “unworthy” juror awarded the prize, named after the Frankfurt Jew in exile in Paris, to an equally “unworthy” publicist. For the authors of the “Manifesto of the 60”, in which personalities from all camps and knowledge disciplines called for Germany’s self-recognition as a multicultural republic and a rational migration policy in 1994, this dual national was a strong ally.
Alfred Grosser: Critical attitude towards Israel
Grosser was best in small groups in front of an audience. For example, I had the pleasure of reading his book “Le Mensch – Ethics of Identities” at the Cultural Studies Institute in Essen and at the Bonn State Museum, where the then 92-year-old captivated the audience for over two hours and drew applause with his punchlines. Wisdom – coupled with great philanthropy, a cosmopolitanism spiritually anchored in two countries and sarcastic repartee. I could do a lot with his “atheistic view of Christians”; his self-confident combination of scientific analysis and daily journalism, which has long been frowned upon in this country, was a role model.
This rich life, which spanned almost a century and several republics and totalitarian collapses in both nations, was also honored many times in Frankfurt. So why still have honorary citizenship, or rather why not? When we, including the German-French Dany Cohn-Bendit, campaigned for this with city dignitaries, spontaneous approval followed – nothing more. However, Alfred Grosser’s appearance in memory of the victims of the November pogroms in 1938 was remembered, it was whispered; After critical statements about Israel, some, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, feared a new Martin Walser affair.
Claus Leggewie Ludwig-Börne is a professor in Giessen and was a frequent conversation partner of Alfred Grosser. His life story “Joy and Death” is still available antiquarian.
Alfred Grosser held back
But had it come to this? Grosser held back and shook the hand of Central Council Vice President Graumann. This did not change the critical attitude towards Israel. He never disputed its right to exist, but neither did he ignore the blatant errors of Israeli policy and the suffering it caused to the people of Gaza and the West Bank. It is precisely this ignorance, Grosser always emphasized, that promotes anti-Semitism.
One would like to be able to hear such an independent voice as Alfred Grosser’s when there is a struggle for a community of two peoples in a secular state that currently seems completely unthinkable, as Grosser had in mind against all evidence. When a protagonist of German-French reconciliation says this, it has weight. In any case, Grosser’s life’s work should be an opportunity to think through the Franco-German cooperation, which is in disarray in almost all areas. (Claus Leggewie)