Political scientist Alfred Grosser died at the age of 99. No one else campaigned so persistently for Franco-German rapprochement.

Alfredo Grosser

He analyzed Franco-German relations with humor: the journalist, political scientist and sociologist Alfred Grosser, here in 1981 Photo: ullstein

PARIS taz | Whenever there was a problem between Paris and Berlin there was a competent person to talk to. He then picked up the phone himself to explain the context in detail in an interview, with humorous comments thrown in for good measure. This was the irreplaceable Alfred Grosser, a living nonfiction book of 20th-century European history. The Franco-German political scientist died a few days after turning 99. Alfred Grosser was born German on February 1, 1925 in Frankfurt am Main and died French in Paris.

He received French citizenship at the age of 12, three years after his parents emigrated to France with him and his sister because his father, a pediatrics professor, was prohibited from teaching as a Jew after Hitler came to power. When the Nazis occupied France, the Vichy regime helped organize the persecution of the Jews and threatened to extradite German refugees, the mother, widowed at a young age, found refuge with her two children in Saint-Raphaël, in the South of France. Looking back, she spoke with gratitude of her “assimilation,” while she recalled how he “was treated badly as a little Jew at the Frankfurt School.” However, she remembered him without any feeling of revenge; This was strange to him.

Although he felt clearly French, not only in the last years of his life, his double identity determined his life and his work as a journalist, historian and political scientist. Shortly after studying German in Aix-en-Provence and completing his doctorate with Raymond Aron, one of the greatest French intellectuals of the postwar period, Grosser made his first trip to defeated and destroyed Germany in 1947.

No one has embodied like Alfred Grosser the tireless effort for the Franco-German rapprochement with his method of constant observation, criticism and mutual comparison. And no one can replace his insight and wry wit, based on an incredible knowledge of the history of the two countries. With Grosser a form of Franco-German dialogue will be buried. The ideal remains an understanding that overcomes boundaries that have become anachronistic, but that is also shaped by clichés and prejudices created by the past, against which Grosser fought tirelessly.

He didn't know “what 'the Germans' are and what 'the French' are,” Grosser responded in an interview for basler newspaper In 2003, when asked if it was true that “the French understand the Germans but love them, and that the Germans love the French but don't understand them.” He also does not know if the two nations are “complementary.” What is clear, however, is that they have become closer.

One of the highlights of this rapprochement was the Elysée Treaty, which sealed Franco-German friendship and sent an important signal for a peaceful Europe. But reconciliation and friendship, for which Grosser also worked tirelessly, began after World War II, and not only with Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. What remains today is institutionalized cooperation, but also awareness of lost opportunities and new misunderstandings.

That was never a reason for Grosser to give up hope. He had “a temperament to see the positive,” he said in an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2018, in which he also spoke almost jokingly of how he often, but without fear of reactions, used his critical analyzes against the political routine or the national situation. . He mocked the complacency: “I say a lot of bad things about Germany in Germany and a lot of bad things about France in France. Nobody blames me for that.”

On the contrary, he has received numerous honors: in 1975 the Peace Prize of the German book sector for his role as “mediator between French and Germans, unbelievers and believers, Europeans and people from other continents” or in 2018 from President Macron the rank highest of the Legion of Honor, the Grand Cross.

The French ambassador to Germany, François Delattre, writes in an obituary x, former Twitter, all those working for Franco-German friendship must now feel “orphaned” after the death of Grosser, who remains “a humanist link and a great source of inspiration.” also up x Cornelia Woll, Alfred Grosser Chair Professor at the Paris School of Political Sciences, pays tribute to her former mentor: “We are losing one of the greatest. From Frankfurt to Paris, no one has shaped our vision of Franco-German reconciliation as much as he.”

During his life he was also irritating, not only when, thanks to his detailed knowledge, he often, as they say in France, touched his finger where it hurt. She highlighted particularly problematic differences that could cause tension. And Grosser has not only spoken about bilateral issues and Europe, but also about foreign policy, about the United States and, as an atheist Jew, very critically about the governments of Israel and, in particular, about the settlement policy at the expense of the Palestinians.

The first, died in 2018 The world-Director Daniel Vernet recalled how Grosser used to impress young Germans when talking about World War II, the persecution of the Jews and the question of guilt: “You are not to blame, but you have to think about Hitler and the Third Reich.” and (that is why) today we defend human rights everywhere. This also applies to the Palestinians.” Because of his criticism of Israel, Grosser was accused several times of condoning or promoting anti-Semitism.

He responded that it was not acceptable to denigrate any criticism. When Rowohlt published his book “From Auschwitz to Jerusalem”, he, like Martin Walser before him, spoke of an “Auschwitz club” in the taz (September 28, 2009): “Every time a German says: 'Israeli policy It's bad,' he says: 'Think of Auschwitz!'”

Empathy as a guiding principle

This generated strong reactions and today, in the current context, such a statement would probably generate even more controversial attacks in both Germany and France.

His moral philosophy, inspired by Kant and humanism, consisted, among other things, of always putting oneself in the place of the other according to the principle of empathy and asking what the other could be suffering. Vernet also quotes a Grosser who knew how to ironically comment on his self-confidence and his “complex identity”: “I am a man, a Parisian, a husband, a father, a civil servant, a professor. If I'm a motorist, I hate cyclists. When I ride a bicycle, I hate motorists (…) My identity seems to me to be the sum of these phenomena and, I hope, more than a simple dominant synthesis of them.”

He taught at the Sciences Po Institute for 36 years. He is remembered by his numerous former students for his incisive and humorous comments on France and Germany, which represented a single home for him. He leaves them a legacy of around 40 books written in both German and French.