German visitor Reinhard Gross sent me a useful clarification on the 2010 Ethics Alarms tribute to Henri Salmide, who as a German soldier in World War II saved the French port of Bordeaux by defying orders to blow it up and blowing up his German superiors instead. You can read the post on Salmide, an Ethics Hero Emeritus, here, and his New York Times obituary here. It’s an inspiring story, and if you are not familiar with Salmide, you should be.
Salmide lived the rest of his life as a French citizen in Bordeaux, and until late in life was seldom noted for his heroic act in France, so strong was the bias against him as a former German soldier. I asked Reinhard what the attitude in Germany was toward Salmide, and his Comment of the Day was the response. It also provides some insight on the the long and painful process the German culture must work through, as the German people come to terms with the dark Nazi period, when their society and its values were so horribly warped, with such tragic consequences for Germany and the world.
Here is Reinhold Gross’s Comment of the Day on the post Ethics Hero Emeritus: Henri Salmide, 1919-2010…and I thank him for reminding me of Henri Salmide’s courageous and ethical act:
“I am afraid that still very few people know about him, but as a Bordeaux High School is caring about Henri Salmide’s memory, I hope that at least the German exchange students will hear about him. If you walk the streets of Bordeaux, every bookshop sells the books written on him.
“Fortunately, the general opinion in Germany has changed and people who turned against Hitler and his hangmen are no longer considered as traitors or deserters, but have found their place in the memory of our people. Luckily the “old soldiers” who considered them as cowards are passing away.
“This started in the 90s, when the grandchildren started to ask questions. Now many war memorials carry an additional plate commemorating these people and the victims of prosecution. I was born in 1953, and when I started asking questions, it often happened that I upset people. Nobody wanted to talk about the war and the Nazis. At our cemetery there is a stone with the names of a dozen Ukrainian forced laborers, more or less tortured to death ,and they wrote on it ” deceased during WW II”. What hypocrisy there is still today!”