26th January 2008
In my posting last week, I said the approach I intend to follow for my research on "'Winning the Peace': The British in occupied Germany, 1945-1951" was to "Follow the People," and I provided a list of people who I think are interesting for one reason or another.
One of the people on the list, in the category "German speaking exiles who took British nationality to return to Germany to work for the Control Commission" is E F (Fritz) Schumacher.
Fritz Schumacher is best known as a pioneer of sustainable development and the author of the book "Small is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered." I remember reading the book many years ago, and it made a deep impression on me, as it did on millions of others all around the world.
Schumacher founded, or was involved at an early stage, in a number of organisations which remain important today. Probably the best known is Practical Action (which he founded in 1966 as the Intermediate Technology Development Group). In 1970 he became President of the Soil Association. After his death the Schumacher Circle was formed in his memory and to help continue his work.
I've recently read a biography of Schumacher by his daughter, Barbara Wood. (Alias Papa: A Life of Fritz Schumacher. London: Jonathan Cape, 1984).
Fritz Schumacher wrote "Small is Beautiful" towards the end of his life. He was born in 1911 and grew up in Bremen. In 1930 he was selected as one of two German Rhodes scholars to go to Oxford, and he also spent a year studying in Harvard. His younger sister Elizabeth was married to the Nobel prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg, and he married the daughter of Rudolf Petersen, a Hamburg shipping magnate. After the end of the war Petersen was appointed mayor of Hamburg by the British.
(I wrote about a meeting in 1945 between Rudolf Petersen and William Strang, the political adviser to the British Military Governor in an earlier post. At the time I didn't know about the connection between Petersen and Schumacher.)
An opponent of Nazism, Schumacher left Germany after he was married in 1936, and moved, with his wife, to England. After the outbreak of war he worked for a time as an agricultural labourer, before being offered a job as an economist at the 'Oxford Institute of Statistics' which had connections with Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. He wrote articles for the Observer and other papers, and worked with William Beveridge on plans for the welfare state. For this he was criticised personally at the 1944 Liberal Party assembly by a certain Commander Geoffrey Bowles who attacked him as follows (which just goes to show that not everyone in Britain was in favour of the Welfare State):
"Herr Schumacher is a Prussian who came over here in 1934 and the National Socialism he left behind in Germany he is now advocating here in England. The Beveridge state slavery plan would require Englishmen to ask officials for a licence to live, and turn free Englishmen into Schumacher sheep to be herded about by officials. It is German state slavery."
Soon after the end of the war he returned to Germany to work as part of J K Galbraith's strategic bombing survey of Germany. A year later, in May 1946, after being naturalised as a British citizen, he was appointed economic advisor to British Control Commission in Germany, where he strongly advocated nationalisation of coal and steel. For various reasons, including the attitude of the US in Germany, who were strongly opposed to nationalisation, this never happened.
He returned to England in late 1949 to take up a job as economic advisor to the newly created National Coal Board in Britain. He opposed the running down of the coal industry in the late 1950s and 1960s, in the face of cheap imports of oil and gas, and during this time he formulated his ideas on sustainable development, which were eventually published as "Small is Beautiful." He died in 1977.
I found the most moving part of the book was where Barbara Wood, his daughter, quotes from letters he wrote to his wife shortly after returning to Germany in 1945. During the war his parents and the rest of his family had stayed in Germany. Unlike Fritz, his younger brother Ernest had joined the Hitler Youth as a boy, then become a soldier and died on Eastern Front in Russia in 1943.
In some ways, such as his uncertainty what to make of it all, and his comments on how beautiful the country looked, in contrast with the grim destruction in the towns, they remind me of another set of letters which the British documentary film director Humphrey Jennings, wrote to his wife a few months later, and which I quoted in an earlier posting.
Here are some extracts from Schumacher's letters to his wife:
On June 12th 1945 after arriving in Germany:
"Germany, from the air, is very, very beautiful. If one could forget about the towns (and a lot of other things) it would be heavenly.
Soon I might be able to write more concretely, but not yet. There is something uncanny about all I have seen so far - as if you saw a person walking about who you knew was dead. He speaks and moves and even laughs - and then you notice that he does not breathe. He does not seem to see you and you pretend not to see him."
A second letter written the same day:
"Driving through Frankfurt I could say nothing but 'My God'. But one seems to get used to it: the town is still beautiful with wonderful rows of trees everywhere. In many houses the ground floors and cellars are still habitable. You see many shops in houses the three upper storeys of which are totally destroyed. Somehow the people seem to find shelter..."
On June 18th:
"Well, I have just completed my first week, and I am beginning to find my way about. Yet it is still impossible to give even a preliminary summing up on impressions.
I was out in the field yesterday going through Marburg, Giessen, to Fritzlar. Giessen is dreadfully knocked about. But Marburg and Fritzlar are still lovely - so is the whole countryside, indescribably lovely. The woods are so beautiful it almost makes me weep. The fields are large and generous, without silly little hedges everywhere."
On June 23rd:
"My mind is a chaos of thoughts and emotions, and I cannot describe what I feel. I need time to digest it all. There is also so much to digest of the stuff I am learning here. What a bunch of gangsters these Nazis were! I am now looking into their most secret stuff. And what an immeasurable tragedy - this regime and those shortsighted stupid people - owning the most beautiful country in the world, living in the most beautiful houses - and falling for the idiocies of power and glory."
Later in the same letter:
"You cannot imagine how beautiful is this country of Germany. I had forgotten it myself ... I look around and say nothing but, 'Why, why, why not be happy here? What is it that makes human beings so inhuman as a nation when they are (as you know, and as everyone can see here) so human as individuals?"
On July 2nd:
After meeting his parents, who were now at Ueberlingen near Lake Constance, and hearing about the fate of his brother Ernst...
"They then told me a lot about him, and what I heard tore up a wound which time had only incompletely healed. I went through some of his letters which reveal a personality so complete, so full of promise, so beautiful that I have known of no one to compare him to - considering his age. They also show - is it a consolation or an additional cause of grief? - that he was abundantly happy till the last day, believing firmly that he was fulfilling a noble duty.
These letters are terrible to read. My father has written a biography of Ernst, about a hundred pages, which tells the whole story... But I was very bitter during the night. [after reading the biography] Why did they corrupt the mind of Ernst with nationalist poison? ... My parents find consolation in the thought that Ernst had sacrificed himself for the noblest of all causes. It is terrible to think that he has been sacrificed for the worst of all causes. I want to forget it, because if I go on thinking about it I shall become bitter against my father, who is a good and lovable man - and bitterness is no good.
So there was this bitter-sweet mixture in everything during those two days. The crisis of our time, the crisis of Germany, goes right through my family."