Guest Post by Terence Bates
Alexander Altmann was an amazing man who wrote an open letter to the British public many years ago that paved the way for an incredible story of forgiveness, freedom and the most amazing story of football.
Like many over recent days I have been outraged at the story of Shamima Begum. The East London teenage girl who ran away from home to join up with an evil organisation called ISIS as they waged Jihad in trying to establish a caliphate across the Middle East.
We know the story of the 15 year-old and I am guessing if we held a poll on these boards 99% of people would vote for Shamima Begum to rot in hell in her refugee camp in Syria, she is after all a treacherous uncaring traitor that thinks nothing of seeing the severed head of some poor soul discarded into a rubbish bin.
Why on earth should we forgive her and give her the chance to rebuild her life here in London with her newly born child?
Well this is where Alexander Altmann comes in.
Alexander Altmann was born in 1904 in Germany. His Father was the Chief Rabbi in Trier one of the oldest Jewish communities in Germany. Altmann obtained a PHD in Philosophy at Berlin University, based upon the teachings of an eminent philosopher called Max Scheler. Now Max Scheler had disassociated himself from his parent’s religious lines (one a Christian the other a Jew), he also was years in front in the forewarning of the dangers of Marxism and National Socialism (In other words Communists and Nazis) back in the 1920’s.
A century on 2019 it is amazing how history is seemingly repeating itself as we find the hard-left and far-right rising again across Europe and beyond including here in Blighty.
Back to Alexander Altmann. In 1938 he managed to flee Germany and escape from the Nazi’s. His parents and many other family members were not so fortunate and were murdered by the Nazi’s.
Altmann ended up in Manchester where he served as a communal Rabbi. He had to rebuild his life on foundations of tragedy and evil.
Little did Altmann know how one letter he would eventually write would transform the thinking of thousands of angry people and the life of one man, who in turn would rebuild bridges of peace across divided people and learn the beauty of our cultural differences.
The story now switches back to Germany. Hitler’s evil reign included the indoctrination of its people starting with the children who were brought into Hitler youth as young as eight. This was mass grooming of millions of young minds where they were taught to obey one evil man and a warped ideology, in the process poisoning their brains with violence and hatred.
This is of course also a parallel to Shamima Begum who along with two of her friends was groomed and seduced by religious evil fanatics with their warped ideology. Is there a difference between ISIS and Nazi’s? Not much I would say.
One such young German mind was lured in at the age of 10. He was given the shiny uniform, taught the Heil Hitler respect salute, Aryan superiority, a hatred of the Jews and groomed to go into battle with weapon training, which he did as a teenager with glee.
At just 18 he saw service in Poland and then on the Eastern Front where huge atrocities were committed fighting the Russians, he witnessed the slaughter of Jewish civilians as they were shot, butchered and buried alive in trenches in Ukraine. He killed people, soldiers certainly, civilians we cannot be sure of.
He then was relocated to France where as a committed Nazi was thrust into fighting the allies and preventing the invasion of allied troops.
Along his personal journey he witnessed his personal horrors of war including the wiping out of many of his ‘comrades’. At this point it is worth reminding ourselves how he got here. His parents were moderate and liberal and opposed to the Nazi’s, they capitulated along with the rest of the German nation through ignorance and the fear of violence and poverty, the Nazis were ingenious at wiping out all opposition to them. His parents were nice people and he was sucked up as a child into warped thinking.
This soldier hated the Jews, he was taught to hate them from a young age, it was ‘normal’. On the night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) he like most Germans thought the Jews had it coming, they deserved it.
Shamima Begum is on record as saying that the severed head in the bin did not bother her as ‘they were the infidels, the enemy and given the chance they would cut her head off’. This was her now ‘normal’ life. Along her personal journey she witnessed the death of her ‘comrades’, two fighter husbands and of course her two children. Her family in the UK are a respectable hardworking nice family. Shamima Begum was in a war zone partly of her own choosing. ISIS were determined at wiping out all opposition to their aims and they worked on young minds.
The German soldier had managed to survive the course of the war whilst many hadn’t. This was largely due to his athletic abilities, for like many in the Hitler Youth he was big on sports and good at them, a fast and strong runner who also had a passion for football and he was a very good footballer. Along the way on the battle front this soldier won five medals including The Iron Cross.
The Nazi’s by now were losing and the end of war was in sight. The German Soldier evaded capture for a while from the Russians and French Resistance, his physical prowess probably saving his life. He then jumped a fence only to be confronted by a British soldier who allegedly said, “Hello Fritz fancy a cuppa?”
His war was over and now he was taken to a camp in North West Britain as a prisoner.
During the latter stages of the war, there were camps all over Britain. When Soldiers were interned, they underwent interrogation. Part of this interrogation was to ‘classify’ them. Thousands of German soldiers were taken prisoner. The British public considered them all as Nazi’s. At its peak there were over 400,000 German Prisoners interned across Britain.
The classification of prisoners was into three groups; Class A/B = Non-Nazi
Class C = Nazi. Our soldier was classified as a Class C, he was a Nazi, indoctrinated brainwashed whatever you want to call it. Those years from a young age had moulded his thinking in the most awful way. He was officially in our eyes a Nazi, our enemy… evil.
The war was now thankfully over. The majority of Germans were repatriated. 25,000 of German POW’s however decided to stay in the UK including this Nazi. There was also a programme of deradicalization, German POW’s were shown films of Belsen and other hell hole concentration camps in order for them to confront the awfulness of the Nazi ideology and the crimes against humanity, some were also made to work for Jews as servants or drivers.
For those that stayed it was a hard decision as anti-German sentiment was understandably high. Manchester like many cities had been badly bombed. It didn’t help this soldier when immediately after the war he met an English girl, got her pregnant and then dumped her. He then had to pay her child support. He had a baby to be responsible for, another similarity with Shamima Begum.
During these 5/6 years his one escape amongst all of this war, death, destruction and warped evil thinking was football. He was a very good footballer.
Shamima Begum doesn’t play football, she isn’t yet interned, but she could be. If and when she returns to the UK, she will be assessed and go through a de-radicalisation programme just like the Nazi soldier.
The Nazi soldier then got lucky as he was spotted playing football and at the same time offered a job by the owner of a small non -league football club who subsequently enlisted him to play for the club. The Ex-Nazi Soldier was told to shut up and feign being mute so that the other players didn’t suspect he was a German Nazi soldier.
Of course, many of you by now will know I am talking about a certain Bert Trautman, who went on to play for Manchester City becoming a legend after helping City to win the FA Cup in 1957, he played through the latter stages of the game with a broken neck.
Prior to Trautman’s signing for city there was public outrage, protests, anti-Nazi placards and huge media commentary. Just like there is now with Shamima Begum. He was ostracised, abused and rejected as unworthy of any compassion or forgiveness particularly amongst Manchester’s Jewish community and City supporters, many of whom tore up their season tickets.
Trautman of course redeemed himself with the life he thereafter led and eventually was awarded an OBE after becoming an ambassador for Anglo-German relations. The recently departed World Cup hero Gordon Banks based his style of play on Trautman, Bob Wilson was a fan of Trautman. His transformation and redemption is a fascinating story of our times.
Trautman is entrenched and proclaimed as a hero. A story of his life hits the big screen in April, called The Keeper.
However, the real hero is Alexander Altmann. As a Rabbi in Manchester and watching fury and hatred unfolding in the city that was now his home and refuge, he wrote an open letter to the media where he concluded; ‘An individual should not be punished for his country’s sins’.
This was a man whose family had been horrifically wiped out due to the very ideology that Trautman had been groomed into. Altmann in an instant influenced the mindsets of many people and through such a public act of forgiveness he had possibly found his own freedom.
We perhaps all could learn from Alexander Altmann including Shamima Begum. Trautman did, as did many of the British public of that time.