By Frank Harding, grandson of Dr Alfred Alexander
8 April 2014
As many of you will know, I was somewhat cool on the proposed Glienicke project – that was until this last weekend. I decided to join 13 other members of the family in Berlin for the clean-up day on the so called Alexander Haus and am very pleased to have done so.
I arrived somewhat late for the Saturday morning exercise as I only flew to Berlin that morning and got to the site of the house at 10.30. By then much of the inside furnishings, clothes, equipment that had lain rotting in this empty house for some years had been removed and placed in the largest industrial skip I have ever seen. A gang comprising family members and neighbours, members of the Groß Glienicke (GG) community, were busy emptying the house, cutting down and clearing saplings and shrubbery from the garden and generally tidying up the place. In between the work, there was an opportunity to meet and talk to those members of the community.
I spoke to a number of people, and they all had similar objectives – to clean up the house and garden, obtain approval from the Potsdam local authority, which owns the plot of land and thus the house, to have it restored for future use as a
Community facility and a building to commemorate those in GG and elsewhere who had suffered at the hands of the Germans – probably both those who suffered under the Nazis and those who had suffered under the regime of East Germany. However we all seemed to recognise that the project provides the opportunity to show that this is a time for reconciliation, whereby the members of the local community could recognise the ills that were meted out by previous generations and the Jews, as represented by the family, could come closer together and look to a better future with a greater understanding of how to live and work together for that future.
In the afternoon there was a meeting of members of the GG community, some 60-80 being present. It was addressed by a senior member of the local council who, before explaining what had been happening at the house that morning and introducing Thomas, put the project in context by playing recordings of some of Hitler’s and Himmler’s speeches castigating the Jews. He then went on to say that the Alexander Haus, and others in the area, had been vacated owing to their occupiers fleeing to save their lives. Thomas then gave a short history of the family in Berlin, in English but well translated by Moritz, a very keen supporter of the project, and their use and enjoyment of the Haus, their flight from Germany and their arrival in England. An extract of the 1933/36 cine film recently found by Peter was then shown. At one stage it stopped. A member of the group asked who the person then on screen was and I answered, in German, that it was my mother. That lead to my being asked a number of questions to which I was able to respond that I had been born in London and that, although my parents spoke English as much as possible and certainly outside the home, I had picked up the language from hearing it spoken between them at home. I was also able to explain that Papi, having been a leading doctor in Berlin, had to requalify in Edinburgh in his late fifties in order to continue to practise. I think that these responses brought home to the group, many of whom would have been in their fifties or sixties themselves, what it was to lose one’s homeland, career etc. They became, I think, even more supportive of the project.
It became clear as the day progressed that the politicians present were themselves increasingly persuaded and they said that they would seek and obtain the support of their colleagues which should, it is hoped, lead to the house and at least some of the land on which it sits, being given by Potsdam to the foundation which Thomas has established to own, refurbish and run the building in the future.
There is a website www.alexanderhaus.org on which information and pictures of the weekend can be found.
As you may have guessed, I am now a supporter.