A first tentative step

I have come so far through the initial steps … I won’t turn back now. Not without having given the thing (i.e. blogging) a try. A proper one. Still it feels strange and I wonder whether I really will have something to say.

It is not without some reason I call my blog “Wenn meine Grillen schwirren”. Do you know Schubert’s lovely song? If not, enjoy this wonderful performance by the great tenor Fritz Wunderlich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUu_kG8lBXw. If you know and love it like me, enjoy it all the same! Its proper title is “Der Einsame”. But opening a blog is not about being “einsam” – “lonely”.

It is more about tracing the flights of my fancies, or as Lord Peter Wimsey’s family motto has put it: “As my whimsy takes me”. What is on my mind, what would I like to think through a little more closely, what would I put to the test of writing about? In English. A language I am deeply in love with but which is not my own. Why I do so? Hobbyhorsing surely has to do with it. But it is a bit of a safeguard as well. A very wise friend once advised my father (who is a very good writer) to test a thought one is not quite sure about by tranlating it. If the translation doesn’t work out, rethink. Because surely something is wrong with the idea.

I promise most solemnly that I will give my best not to ramble nor to get too chatty. Instead I will try to write about what is on my mind, what thoughts, bouts of enthusiasm (some I daresay there will be some) and worries I would like to share with you. Be patient with me, please. I guess it will take some time to find my blogger’s legs – if this is the equivalent to a new cabin-boy’s sea legs (which he has to find before he can move on to become an admiral, which is still in the offing but sure to happen some day – or so he hopes).

And so bear with me, kind reader. I hope forward to what is going to delevop here

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Let us stand with Raif Badawi – as long as it takes

Another year gone and the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is still in prison. On 17 june he will have spent six years as a prisoner.  So far our hopes have been disappointed, that the ongoing reforms in Saudi-Arabia reach out to the prison of Dhaban where not only Raif Badawi but as well his attorney and brother in law, Waleed Abu al-Khair serve their  long and harsh prison terms.

No doubt, any step away from the restrictions that so long have hemmed in the lives of the people and most especially the women in Saudi-Arabia is an overdue relief and welcome. Another encouraging step certainly was the restrictions for the ever vigiliant and waspish religious police. On the other hand, it is galling, that while many of Raif Badawi’s demands are being fulfilled step by tiny step, their author still remains isolated behind bars.

From far away and out of Saudi-Arabia I keep wondering, what we can do to remind those in charge of Raif Badawi’s fate that neither locking him up nor a shift of general attention to other truly pressing matters will make us forget that brave blogger. Last year I suggested a postcard-whirlwind in Saudi-Arabia’s embassy-mail-boxes (and nothing’s wrong with despatching the odd postcard again).  But perhaps this year we may mark the date of Raif Badawi’s 6 year long imprisonment with a virtual rally. As most of us cannot show up at the gates of the sprawing compound of the Dhabhan Central Prison I would like to propose the following:

Let us us come together as Raif Badawi’s supporters by posting pictures of ourselves and whipping up a twitter-storm by using the hashtag #IstandwithRaif. If you are better at this than me (and that is easily accomplished since I am hopeless when it comes to selfies or touching up photos), by all means adorn these picures. But on the other hand I think a simple but clear message can be just as meaningful as any photoshop-extravaganza.

So, let us meet on twitter on 17 june and stand up for Raif Badawi!

Who is Jürgen Schumann?

John Maynard!
“Wer ist John Maynard?”
„John Maynard war unser Steuermann.
Aushielt er, bis er das Ufer gewann.
Er hat uns gerettet. Er trägt die Kron.
Er starb für uns. Unsre Liebe sein Lohn.”
John Maynard!”

John Maynard is a ballad by the German writer Theodor Fontane. Like for many of his other works the great storyteller got his inspiration for this ballad from a newspaper article. The ballad remembers and honours a helmsman who managed to steer his burning ship into safety, saving all his passengers and crew but himself. He has saved them. He wears the crown. He died for them. Their love his reward.

Had Theodor Fontane lived a hundred years later, his ballad might as well have begun like that

“Jürgen Schumann!””Who is Jürgen Schumann?”

Schumann-Landshut

 

Jürgen Schumann (29 April 1940 – 16. October 1977) was the captain of an aircraft called “Landshut” and he died trying to save his passengers. Not from a fire but from the brutality of four terrorists who had hijacked his plane on its flight from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt. Like the passengers on John Maynard’s ship the passengers of the Landshut were happily unaware of the death-trap they had boarded. Most of them had enjoyed a late summer-holiday, catching some last rays of sun before returning to German autumn with its rains and mists.

However, it was not just any German autumn. It was the German autumn 1977; of a year already pockmarked by murder and terrorism, committed by the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, RAF), a terrorist group founded in 1970. Some of its chief-founders were in prison; but the second generation carried on with armed robbery and murder. In September 1977 it kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the employers’ federation after having murdered his driver and security staff. The kidnapping was undertaken to extort the release of the imprisoned RAF-leaders, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhoff and Gudrun Ensslin. Chancellor Helmuth Schmidt and his government however were determined not to fulfil the demands of the terrorists. They had done so once before and justly recognized the present situation as the fruits of their earlier decision.

That was the setting in which the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) decided to support their German fellow terrorists by increasing the pressure on the German Federal Government. To do so, they settled on hijacking a German aircraft and as their victims they picked the crew and passengers of the Lufthansa Flight 181, the Landshut, that took off from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt on 13 October 1977.

The development of the hijacking can be looked up in many reports and in the very good movie called “Mogadishu”). It ended on 18 October 1977 after a dramatic ultimatum, which had brought the terrorists within an inch of detonating explosives that would have killed them and all their hostages. The end when it came was brought about by a highly specialized German anti-terror-unit, the GSG 9, that managed to rescue all the hostages alive – all but one.

The one, for whom the rescue came too late, was the aircraft’s Captain Jürgen Schumann. He was murdered on 16 October in Aden, 40 years ago by the leader of the hijackers. And it is of him that I want to tell you.

Jürgen Schumann was born 29 April 1940 in Colditz, a small town in Saxonia, well known during WWII for its big old castle that the Nazis used as a high-security POW-prison. His family moved to Hessia in 1949, where Jürgen Schumann grew up and enroled in the Bundeswehr-Airforce to serve a term of 8 years after which he joined the Lufthansa. There he worked for some years as a co-pilot until only a few weeks before the fatal journey of the Landshut, Jürgen Schumann rose to the position and responsibility of a pilot.

Any mention of what happened to the Landshut would be incomplete unless it honours the whole crew of the aircraft. The co-pilot as well as the stewardesses met the stress of the kidnapping with exceptional courage. Together they bore the constant psychological cruelty of threatened or faked executions with which the terrorist leader, Zohair Youssif Akache, or “Captain Martyr Mahmud” as he demanded to be called, terrorized his victims; they helped as best as they could the passengers, many of whom were frightened children or sickly elderly persons, who were continuously shoved about the plane, separated from their parents or partners and denied proper medical relief. And on top of all this came the climatic conditions in the aircraft, that stood for hours in the relentless heat of some desert-airports, without supplies of fuel, air-condition or drinking- water; or without being relieved of its waste.  During this ordeal their captain proved to be a true leader who from the first calmly and efficiently lived up to his responsibilities and never cowed before the terrorists’ unpredictable moods.

BOEING LANDSHUT HIJACKED, PLANE

The Landshut on its stop at the airport of Fiumicino, Rome

 

On the third day of the kidnapping, 15 October, once again the aircraft was in desperate need of fuel. Despite being denied landing, Captain Schumann and his co-pilot Jürgen Vietor brought about a skilful emergency-landing without damage or injury to anyone – next to the blocked up runway of the Aden Airport. In order to make sure of the state of the aircraft for himself Jürgen Schumann obtained the permission by the terrorists to leave and inspect the plane. While this check-up went on, the terrorists were confronted with the certainty that their “sponsors” had washed their hands of this hijacking and withdrawn the help they had expected to find in Aden. This disappointment brought Akache’s volcanic moods beyond control. When he realized that the captain was absent much longer than any inspection might have taken, he screamed after him, demanding his immediate return to the aircraft. Inside the aircraft he declared his determination to execute the captain whom he denounced as a deserter and traitor. When after a short while Jürgen Schumann re-entered the aircraft, Akache forced the captain to kneel down in the middle-aisle and twice fired the question “guilty or not guilty” at him. Twice Jürgen Schumann declared not guilty. But without intending to grant the captain any chance for explanations and in full view of the horrified crew and passengers Akache murdered Jürgen Schumann by a direct shot into the head.

“Guilty or not guilty?”

What should the captain of the kidnapped Landshut have been guilty of? Not only Akache suspected him of having tried to leave behind his crew and passengers and to desert his post of responsibility.

How do you decide which of two versions of an event is the trustworthy one? How as an outsider do you decide whom to believe? Belonging to the many who learned most of what happened in October 1977 only much later, this cruel suspicion always seemed to me to be an especially malevolent blow against a man whose whole personality and lifelong commitment to justice and right gave the distinct lie to such a slander. Even if one may assume that any nerves may crack under circumstances like those on board of the Landshut, not only all I had read about Jürgen Schumann pointed towards disbelieving the version of an attemted desertion.  What made the slander even more incredible: the accusation first was brought up and voiced by Akache – Schumann’s murderer, who for obvious reasons would have tried to undermine his hostages’ confidence in “their” captain. Why should his be a voice to be credited?

Still, it took almost 30 years and the determined researcher, Maurice Philip Remy, to find out what happened in that night at the Aden Airport. After several digs deep into the more muddy layers of history, Remy found the witness who had met Jürgen Schumann that night and was the last person to speak with him.

Schumann Landshut während Entführung

Jürgen Schumann, during the Landshut’s stop at the Airport of Dubai

 

What kept the captain away from his aircraft was this: During his round of inspection he encountered Jemenite police-officers who guarded and isolated the aircraft which nobody wanted on their hands. Jürgen Schumann used this opportunity and begged leave to talk to an authority. He was brought to Sheikh Ahmed Mansur who was in charge of the police force that guarded the Landshut. In their short interview Jürgen Schumann asked for help for his passengers and crew. His wish was for Jemen to allow the kidnappers and their hostages to leave the aircraft in order to continue negotiations from Aden. It was denied. Aden would not want anything to do with this chaotic and obviously doomed terror-action and was determined to send the plane on at the earliest possible moment. With this plea for help denied and Akache screaming for the supposedly defected captain, Jürgen Schumann was in no doubt what would be his fate on his return. Despite the mad rage of Akache, he returned to his own responsibilities and to those he knew himself to be responsible for.

Should he have returned immediately into the plane without making this bid for freedom – on behalf of others? It certainly would have been safer. But after three days in the hands of the terrorists this was plausibly the only opportunity to put in a word for humanity with those who had shoved the aircraft around and tried to wash their hands of the affair.

Another brave man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had described the attempt to stop the unfolding catastrophe of his country as grasping into the spokes of a running wheel. You do not know whether you can stop it; but you can be sure that the wheel will ruin your hand. And yet, if you see clearly the situation, conscience leaves you no other way but to grasp into the wheel and do your best. Jürgen Schumann tried and took his slim chance to stop the nightmare. He decided to speak up for those entrusted to his care, coute que coute. And it did cost. He and his young family paid a horrible price for acting honourably on a slim chance and against immense odds.

In the end, German diplomats and the élite-police-unit saved all innocent lives – but one from the hands of the terrorists. But still, what Theodor Fontane had written about his helmsman John Maynard holds true about this captain as well: his courage and sense of responsibility deserves our lasting grateful memory.

“He died for us, our love his reward

Jürgen Schumann”

 

 

  1. http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/spielfilm-der-wahre-held-der-landshut-1492413.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A call to action

Those who keep track of the fate of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, most especially his brave family, will know that this year is marked by a special kind of sad anniversary: on 17 June Raif Badawi will have completed his fifth year in prison.

Five years at the hand of a spiteful regime that does not seem to know the difference between concerns about overdue reforms and blasphemy. Five years of isolation from his beloved family, from all that might sustain his spirit during his imprisonment. And on top of all this Raif Badawi has suffered a cruel public flogging – 50 out of the inhuman total of 1000 lashes. As far as we know he has not been subjected to another flogging. But the threat, that his horrible punishment might be resumed, keeps hovering like Damocles’ sword that might fall again anytime.

All this has happened, because Raif Badawi has dared to discuss openly and considerately about how to reform his country; because he invited his fellow citizen to be citizen and to discuss publicly and peacefully about the future of their country. Amongst other subjects Raif Badawi has claimed freedom – not from religion but freedom to reason about religion and the way it is practised in his country. That alone was enough for the authorities to lash out against him in a cruelly literal sense of the word.

The horrid scene of his public flogging on January 9th 2015 – in which the only visible person that inspired respect and radiated dignity was the man who had been dragged out of prison to be tortured and degraded – cried out to heaven. And the world echoed. Politicians, newspapers, writers, Nobel laureates all over the world people declared their sympathy. Important institutions such as the European Parliament honoured and keep honouring Raif Badawi with prestigious awards.

Now, almost 2 and a half year after his ordeal of public flogging and after five years in prison, let us show official Saudi-Arabia that its citizen and his cruel plight is not forgotten. I was very glad to hear, that Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has publicly addressed Raif Badawi’s fate and thus brought it up in the news as well. Besides I am sure, that on the diplomatic backstage there are diplomats, attorneys and others steadily at work on Raif Badawi’s behalf. Please, let me express my sincere thanks to all involved to help him. My best wishes go out to all of you. May your good work prevail and prevail soon! Still, that leaves me with the question how we “ordinary people” can let our concern about Raif Badawi’s fate be heard by those whom it does concern very much indeed. Here is my idea:

Of course we may call embassies or send mails. But let us get a little more haptic and voice our concern about Raif Badawi’s welfare by means of postcards. They are easy to get, easy to write and may be quite effective. With them we can make sure of a steady trickle of short, polite and precise messages to arrive in the mailboxes of the Saudi embassies in our countries between now and 17 June. Many embassies have (for sensible safety reasons) abolished the letter boxes – all the better. Let the cards arrive by mail. As such they will be registered on delivery.

This link will provide you with a list of Saudi Embassies all over the world with their addresses. It lists General Consulates as well. Why neglect them, once you start sending postcards? And there is King Salman himself, whom we can address in this way. The proper address would be:

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia

A possible text for a postcard to King Salman may be the following:

Your Majesty,

with great concern I follow the fate of Mr. Raif Badawi. In June it is five years that he has been imprisoned. During that time Mr. Badawi has undergone severe hardships and a cruel punishment. Your Majesty, I beg you respectfully: Please grant him mercy and release him to share his family’s exile in Canada.

Yours sincerely XY

To the ambassadors the text may be

Your Excellency

with great concern I follow the fate of Mr. Raif Badawi. In June it is five years that he has been imprisoned. During that time Mr. Badawi has undergone severe hardships and a cruel punishment. I beg your country respectfully to grant him mercy and to release him to share his family’s exile in Canada.

Yours sincerely XY

It is still several weeks to go till 17 June, but the post may take some time. Let us be ready and let us make ourselves be seen and read. There’s always a way to help and often is quite undramatic. But if we all contribute such a postcard together we may send a noteable and visible sign of sympathy and concern that cannot be overlooked.

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The snows of yesteryears

I just dipped in here to find wordpress’ congratulation upon my first year of blogging. Well of intermittent blogging at best. My writings are few and far between. But on the whole I am not surprised. I was so busy writing about law-stuff there was little time left for dressing up my musings even for my very modest blogging.

Come to think of it, 8 April marks not only my first try at blogging. On this day in 1984 (8.4.84 is rather a nice date, isn’t it) my sister and me were confirmed together. We are not twins but not far apart in age so that it seemed to be great idea to celebrate our coming of religious age together. Funny how much one remembers of such a day. Rather than furtively and belatedly slipping into o pew we entered the church through the middle aile to the hymn “Sonne der Gerechtigkeit” “Sun of justice”. After the service we all received a small wood mounted picture of a beautifully carved altar-piece by Tilman Riemenschneider the pride of the Heidelberger Museum. That, in the meantime has made its way from a deep drawer to my nightstand. Things do have a way to wait for you to be ready for them.

Tilman Riemenschneider 12 Boten-Altar

 

A few days later we, i. e. my family, started for an Easter holiday in Israel. I still marvel at our timing. It must have been one of the least troubled times there. We had the use of a friend’s friend’s apartment in the same house like a very important Rabbi and later my father said, that there had been some raised eyebrows about the Goyim and German ones, too, in that flat over Pessach. But that sorted itself out. A sprung fuse on a high holiday can do loads for peoples’ understanding.

Later we were invited to a wonderfully impressive Seder meal. I did not understand much of the texts but my sister and me sat en sandwich between two nephews of our friends’ who gallantly helped us to find our place in the Haggadah and thanks to a good preparation we knew what the evening remebered and how this memory was lived, about the boys’ questions and the opening of the apartment-door to let the Messiah enter – in case he passes by. Even if I had taken part in another Seder-evening since that day, so far I could not vaidate my promise of “next day in Jerusalem”. But perhaps one year I might.

Thanks to our kind friends we made the most fascinating acqaintances – with two artists who could not be more different. One elderly gentleman who lived in an huge atelier flat, who had sketched at Eichmann’s process and told us about the terrible sufferings he had gone through under the German Nazi-regime. A few evenings later we met a lady who lived in the old part of the town in one of those white cubes of a house and illustrated the Kabbala.

During the Holy Week we went on tour (away from the throngs of pilgrims) across the country. Easter-suday found us first in Qumran and I remember how strange it was to be there, without great Easter celebrations – just being THERE. Later that day we visited the family of an Arab student of my father’s and enjoyed the cordial hospitality of the Natour-family. The student was one of ten siblings, who themselves already had had children of their own. So when we were shown the kids’ room, my sister and me were impressed by the huge room in which across the generations siblings, cousins, young uncles and even younger nephews or nieces had their beds, well mattresses. We did a lot of pantomimic conversation that afternoon and eveing and understood each other very well. Thanks to an elder uncle, Mr. Natour’s  younger brother and an internist who was there for a holiday from Essen, my parents could really converse and we all were very glad to have been so kindly invited into this reality of life in Israel as well. I often wonder how the family has fared ever since.

I could go on endlessly gathering the snows of 1984 …

1984 … 32 years ago …

How can it really be, that I was that little girl and that some time I shall be the old woman. How can that happen? How does the dear God do it? While throughout it all, I remain the same. And if he has to do it that way, why does he make me watch it all with all too clear a sense. Why doesn’t he hide it from me?

All this is secret, so much is secret.

And one is there to bear it. And, the “how” makes all the difference ….

Of course these are not my words. But they come readily to my mind. How could they not ….

 

Trouvaille

One of the time honoured festures of The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) is the Frankfurter Anthology – a collection of poetry that presents and interprets one poem every saturday. And since words esp in poetry are there to be spoken and sounded (some poems just will not “work” when read silently only), they are accompanied with a recital. Even if you are not in the habit of reading poetry every day, this collection brings to mind the magic and the endless diversity of poetry. Try it out.

As I said: the Anthology itself is an institution and esp. as a FAZ-subscriber you would have to be willfully blind to its feuilleton if you have not spotted it so far. The trouvaille was today’s poem by the Nobel laureate Wieslawa Szymborska that so delighted me. It catches a moment which otherwise might have gone almost unnoticed and ripples the surface until everything runs on smoothly again. Three short stanzas are enough to draw four distinct characterstudies and an passingly irritated system.

The original poem of course was written in Polish and Karl Dedecius made the beautiful translation the FAZ used. Bear in patience with what I can manage in English …

 

We were chatting,

but suddenly fell silent.

A girl appeared on the terrace,

A beautiful one, alas,

Much too beautiful

For our easy stay in this place.

 

Basia cast a panicked glance at her husband,

Krystyna – instinctively – laid her hand

On the hand of Zbyszek.

I thought to ring you up: I call to tell you,

Do not come out just yet (I will say)

They predict rain for days to come.

 

Only Agnieszka, the widow,

Greets the beauty with a smile.

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Krakow, 10.09.2003 Wislawa Szymborska, promocja ksiazki fot. Anna Kaczmarz/Reporter portret, poeci, ludzie, literatura