It is often by chance that one comes across something valuable. Until 19 January, I had never heard the name Max Tau. But in the morning, while driving, I listened to the programme “Kalenderblatt” on Deutschlandfunk. On this day, Max Tau was remembered, who was born 125 years ago, on 19 January 1897. The radio station’s broadcast, according to the result of my research in the following days, was the only one to be found on the internet on this birthday. And even otherwise, there are only a few articles where one can learn a little more about Max Tau.
But what I was able to read impressed me a lot.
Two schools are named after him. Since 1967, a school in Kiel, and since 1998, a school in Norway is called “Deutsche Schule Oslo – Max Tau”.
On the website of the school in Kiel I read: “Max Tau studied literature in Kiel until 1928, then worked in Berlin at the Cassirer publishing house as an editor. He is considered the discoverer of many important writers, for example Marie-Luise Kaschnitz, Luise Rinser and Wolfgang Koeppen. In 1938, friends helped him to leave Germany because as a Jew his life was in danger. Many of his relatives and friends were killed by the National Socialists. He was able to live and work in Norway until he fled from the German occupiers to Sweden in 1942. During the war, he helped found a publishing house for German literature there.”
Warmth of heart
Then follow the passages that particularly appealed to me.
“After the end of the war in 1945, Max Tau immediately campaigned for the reconciliation of the countries invaded by the Nazis with Germany, as well as for the reconciliation of Jews and Christians. Until the end of his life, he remained in Oslo, working as an editor and writing books about his life. [...] In his numerous speeches he spoke about the understanding of people and the peace of nations.
In 1950 he was the first winner of the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels [Peace Prize of the German Book Trade]. Many awards and prizes followed. [...] In 1965, Kiel University made him its honorary citizen. [...] Once a year he visited the school, and the pupils and teachers loved him for his warmth of heart.”
There follows another sentence spoken by the school supervisor at the inauguration ceremony of the Max Tau School on 23 June 1967: “Whoever acknowledges Max Tau, acknowledges understanding, brotherhood”
“Trying to bring people closer together”
On 19 January, Deutschlandfunk quoted the co-founder of the Peace Prize, Friedrich Wittig: Max Tau’s attitude was “not a vague rapture. But rather the knowing love of a man hounded by political fate who, despite difficult experiences, did not lose the belief that we are all creatures of one God, united in all our divisiveness.” In his childhood, he had experienced “that the confessions can live together in harmony and peace”. This experience had given him “the strength to help pave the way for reconciliation”. Then the broadcaster quotes from Tau’s novel “Denn über un sist der Himmel” (For Above Us is Heaven): “Do not try to improve the world through plans and organisations. Try to get closer to each other, to bring people closer to each other, with the heart, not with the mind.”
Elsewhere I read that Max Tau also campaigned for Albert Schweitzer to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1955, three years after Schweitzer was awarded the prize, he wrote a book about this other great friend of mankind.
Faith in man, against the poison of mistrust
Of course, I immediately looked for the laudatory speech and the speech of the laureate himself at the awarding of the first Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels on 22 April 1950. The laudator Adolf Grimme, a social democratic politician in the Weimar Republic and in the early Federal Republic, found words still sounding highly topical. “You are a living witness that an individual can impersonate humanity in an age of diabolical inhumanity”. This sceptically ridiculed, if not despised, imperative of ‘faith in man’. You have made it the law of your own way of life. [...] And you have become so because the basic trait of your being is trust. If more people were like you, Mr Tau, things would improve for us all and nations would peacefully live together. That you are the way you are is only possible because you have remained immune to the poison of mistrust, that mistrust which, in our times, has become the world disease that threatens man in his very existence.”
“He who wants peace must first create peace within himself”
Then the sentences of Max Tau himself – spoken more than 70 years ago. Are they not highly topical again these days?
“It is not the workload that oppresses people, it is the senselessness that often drives them to despair.”
“Peace is indivisible. No one can achieve it alone. We all must try to find it together. War is senseless. No power can dictate peace. Only the spiritual forces can secure it.”
“Man has become lonely. He can make all the technical connections in an instant, but the one connection that is indispensable to him, the connection with man, has been broken. The mechanised world makes it difficult what the human demands. One can only grow towards human. Who wants peace must first create peace within himself.”
Hope in the youth and the cooperation of the generations
Max Tau placed special hope in youth and the cooperation of generations.
“Every human being is born with a dream. He wants to realise the essence of his own in the world. [...] That is why we must try to preserve the spirit of peace in the hearts of children. That is why only the youth can create a non-political new spiritual peace movement. The young people in all countries, the survivors from the concentration camps, they know that only he who has overcome himself can find reconciliation. He sees the light in all things. He believes because he has found himself. He has forgiveness because he knows suffering. From him radiates the new spirit of reconciliation.”
His appeal to the youth:
“From here the call goes out to all young people of all nations. We so much want the youth to go to the scholars of their country to learn about the values of life. In every country, young people should write the fairy tale of their lives. The peculiarity of the view, the melody of the mother tongue should sing the praises of life, and the responsible researcher should proclaim in concise sentences the danger of war. The youth in all countries shall then determine who has best told the fairy tale of the meaning of life.”
Helping people regain an ethical basis
Max Tau demands that German publishers set up a “peace library” – he himself with international publishers. He attaches a special peace-making significance to literature:
“It is a fateful hour for literature. Its spirit will decide if we can achieve peace. It bears the responsibility of helping people to find a new ethical basis. [...] What politicians have not succeeded in doing, the spirit and the new literature must succeed in doing – reawakening trust, renewing reverence for life and respect for man.”
At the end of his speech, he returns to the beginning.
“People must try to find each other again. Peace can only be made from person to person. [...] If, through the power of the soul, confidence will be reawakened for the spirit, then the heaven of peace will again be attainable for all countries. [...] The sacrifices of all countries have placed an obligation upon us. We must prove ourselves worthy of the obligation of the dead.”
Now I have ordered three books by Max Tau, antiquarian: “Trotz allem. Lebenserinnerungen aus siebzig Jahren.” (But still. Memoirs from Seventy Years), “Albert Schweitzer und der Friede” (Albert Schweitzer and peace), and “Glaube an den Menschen” (Faith in Man). •
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