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PORTSIDE  September 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2012, Week 3

Subject:

A Conference and the Story of a Ring

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 17 Sep 2012 22:03:37 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (123 lines)

A Conference and the Story of a Ring

Victor Grossman, Berlin 

A small but moving episode marked the regular
annual meeting of the German organization Fighters and
Friends of the Spanish Republic 1936-1939 (Kämpfer und
Freunde der Spanischen Republik 1936-1939). It was the
first such meeting without a single veteran; the last
volunteer in Germany, Fritz Teppich, died last winter,
and none of the tiny, decreasing number of survivors
from other countries was able to attend. But there were
friends, often children of the veterans, from other
countries: Italy, Sweden, Russia, France, the
Netherlands, Northern Ireland. And of course Spain was
represented. Aside from lectures and discussion on
strengthening international ties so as to keep the
spirit of Republican Spain alive, even without the
vets, the participants paid a visit to the site of the
Nazi concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, an hour’s
drive from Berlin, with special attention to the
Spanish and International Brigade fighters who were
imprisoned there (including the Republican premier
Largo Caballero). 

The episode mentioned above featured two children of
International Brigade fighters.  Otto Kühne, a German
Communist, was arrested by the Nazis on the night of
the Reichstag Fire on February 28th 1933. But he was
soon able to escape Germany and led the exile German
anti-Nazi movement in Norway until the war began in
Spain, where he fought from May 1937, becoming
commissar in the 11th Brigade with its famous Thälmann
Battalion).

In December 1938 he escaped to France but was soon
caught and, like most of the fighters in Spain from
fascist homelands, interned in French concentration
camps. But in 1940 he was again able to escape and
formed, with other German anti-fascists, a unit of the
French Résistance.  Before long he commanded a unit
with 2700 French, German, Spanish and other fighters,
battling the Nazi occupiers in the Cevennes Mountain
region. In 1943 he was promoted to the rank of
lieutenant colonel.

During the years of battle, which finally resulted in
the liberation of this entire area, he was faced at
least once by a difficult decision. A small group had
to go on a dangerous scouting mission. Otto Kühne, as
commander, asked for volunteers. One of them, a young
Frenchman, spoke to him before leaving and gave him a
personal ring. Return it to me if I return safely, he
requested. If I don’t, you may keep it for yourself.

The young man did not return. And Kühne always wore the
ring. He survived the war, returned to East Germany and
held leadership jobs in the German Democratic Republic;
he was mayor of the city of Brandenburg for a number of
years. Before his death he requested that the ring be
passed on to other veterans of his unit. It was, to
Karl Gaile, and after his death to Heinz Priess. But
when he died – over ten years ago – the ring could not
be found and was gradually given up as lost. But then
this year Priess’ son found it and gave it to the
daughter of Otto Kühne, Eveline Lüders. Despite a life
marked by very difficult years – with her mother and
baby in distant Kazakhstan, barely surviving hunger and
deprivation - Eveline, though past 90, is still an
active, indeed a lively, member of the Spanish
organization in Berlin. And she decided to maintain the
tradition. 

At the Saturday evening session of the conference,
during a wonderful music program, "Evi” ceremoniously
gave the ring to Herbert Mosch, the son of one of the
men who fought – and died - in her father’s unit of the
Maquis. Mosch, past 80 himself, from a town in
southeastern Germany, often tells how he and his family
– after 1990 when such trips became possible - drove to
the mountain village where his father and other German
comrades are buried – with a commemorative stone to
mark the site. They knew no French, and found at first
a degree of reservation towards what seemed only
somewhat unusual German tourists. But as soon as they
found an interpreter, and the people of the town
village learned whose son Mosch was, they were given an
overwhelming welcome and became lasting friends with
people there, whom they now visited as often as
possible. 

Herbert Mosch, also an active member of the
organization, will always wear the ring, and will then
pass it on to someone who also wants to keep good
traditions alive; the internationalist struggle against
fascism in Spain and then, as in the French Résistance,
again joining to fight the Nazis, still  a lurking
menace, in both France and Germany. 

The French participants in the congress promised to
pass on a request; since the ring has two carved
initials, it may still be possible to discover the name
of the young fighter who once owned it – and find out
if any of his relatives are still alive. 

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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