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Alfred Grosser
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Recalling the 'Great War'

Bettina Marx / db
July 3, 2014

The Bundestag on Thursday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Guest speaker Alfred Grosser, a German-born French political scientist, reiterated that Germany was not solely at fault for the war.


The mood beneath the Reichstag cupola was solemn as German lawmakers, President Joachim Gauck, and Andreas Vosskuhle - head of the Constitutional Court - gathered in the Bundestag on Thursday (03.07.2014) for a brief commemoration.

Numerous guests, including former President Richard von Weizsäcker, France's ex-President Valéry Giscard d'Éstaing, and about 100 ambassadors and envoys were among the audience.

"We are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who went to war 100 years ago, who died in the war for their emperor and fatherland, and who returned injured and maimed," Bundestag President Norbert Lammert said at the opening of the commemoration.

World War I was a "Pandora's box" for the violent 20th century, the last conventional and simultaneously first modern war, ranging "from the spiked helmet to machine guns and poison gas," he told the audience.

The war, which ran from 1914 to 1918, cost millions of lives and heralded the turn of an era, while at the same time ending the dominance of European states in world politics.

Different memories

Lammert pointed out that for Germans, memories of World War I - referred to as the Great War in Britain and France - are overshadowed by the disaster of World War II. Much later, Lammert conceded that the Federal Republic had learned the lesson from both wars: "Basically, military measures are not an adequate means of political change; if at all, they can only be the very last resort to solve conflicts."

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Richard von
Former German and French presidents attended the remembranceImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany anchored its armed forces in a democratic state as a lesson learned, he said, adding that Germany was the first country worldwide to add the right to conscientious objection to its constitution. Unlike most other nations, German parliament also has the final say on military operations.

Keynote speaker Alfred Grosser, 89, also pointed out the different roles the two world wars play in Germany's self-concept. World War I led to a fragile democracy that was weakened by the Treaty of Versailles to such a degree that it did not withstand the Nazi surge, he said.

World War II, on the other hand, ended with utter German defeat - giving birth to an entirely different Germany.

Lone responsibility

In his speech, the French political scientist stressed that Germany succumbed to a masochistic attitude for various years, and ended up taking sole responsibility for World War I. Research has shown that to not be the case, he added.

France, as well, no longer sees Germany as the sole country responsible for a war that is deeply engraved in the French collective memory. Today, Grosser said, 82 percent of French people regard Germany as their most reliable partner.

Grosser, born 1925 in Frankfurt am Main, also mentioned his father. Grosser senior was decorated with the Iron Cross fighting for Germany in World War I. In 1933, after he and other Jewish veterans were excluded from the association of bearers of the Iron Cross, the elder Grosser decided to leave Germany. The family found refuge in France, where Alfred Grosser's father was honored as a World War I veteran although he fought for the Germans in that war.

German lawmakers stand and applaud
German lawmakers aplauded Grosser's speechImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Alfred Grosser is highly regarded in Germany for his tireless efforts toward reconciliation between Germany and France. The speech on the occasion of the World War I commemoration is his third address to the German parliament.

In November 2013, Grosser held a speech in Frankfurt's Paulskirche on the anniversary of the Nazi pogrom of 1938, the Night of Broken Glass. A massive row preceded this address, with the Central Council of Jews in Germany accusing Grosser of anti-Israeli propaganda.

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