“Exiles and Democracy” - 80 Years of the Council for a Democratic Germany (May 2)

Exiles and Democracy -  80 Years of the Council for a Democratic Germany (May 2)

“Exiles and Democracy” - 80 Years of the Council for a Democratic Germany (May 2), © American Council on Germany

18.04.2024 - Article

Examining the contexts, possibilities and limits of political influence in exile – then and now.

In the spring of 1944, sensing that the tide of the war was turning, exiled German dissidents in the United States began discussions envisioning a new, democratic, post-war Germany. Meeting as the “Council for a Democratic Germany,” the group consisted of an impressive, and impressively diverse, collection of German intellectuals, artists, politicians, scholars, and civil servants. The respected theologian Paul Tillich chaired the Council, which was originally formed with support from Thomas Mann. Bertolt Brecht was a member of the founding committee. The Council issued its declaration on May 3, 1944, insisting that the “German problem” would require a European solution. The Council recognized that the defeat of Nazism and eventual disarmament of Germany remained the immediate priority. Looking ahead to the hoped-for peace, the Council strongly opposed the dismemberment of a defeated and occupied Germany. It also opposed talk of deindustrializing Germany, which risked creating “economic conditions that would become hopelessly depressed in all countries of Europe.” The Council urged the establishment of a democratic government in Germany supported by rejuvenated civil society institutions and robust democratic education. After the Council issued its May Declaration, subcommittees produced policy reports on reconstruction and economic renewal, as well as reform of the press and media, cultural policy, health policy, education policy, the administration and legal culture.

The event “Exiles and Democracy” will mark the 80th anniversary of the Council’s Declaration and reflect on its work. Prof. Eckart Goebel, University of Tübingen Philosopher and Cultural Critic, will lecture on the Council, building off his study “Escape to Life”: German Intellectuals in New York: A Compendium on Exile after 1933 (2012). This includes an acknowledgment of two stark developments. On one hand, the Council stirred political resentment and petty jealousy within the broader German exile community in the U.S. On the other hand, the Allies seemed to largely disregard the Council’s efforts. The event will also use the historical reflection on the Council as an opportunity to consider contemporary exiles’ work to promote democracy in their homelands. Dr. Natalia Savelyeva, a Russian Sociologist at the University of Wisconsin who writes extensively on the Russian war against Ukraine, will discuss her experiences of dissidence and the chances for impacting Russian politics, scholarship, and life from the U.S.

Date and Time: Thursday, May 2, 2024 at 4 PM

Location: American Council on Germany, 60 East 56th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10022

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