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1946-1947: Contribution to Franco-German reconciliation
'Where are the Germans? We can not rebuild Europe without Germany.’
1946-1947: Contribution to Franco-German reconciliation

 Madam Irene Laure and German trade union leader, Dr Heinrich Strater, at Caux (Photo: Arthur Strong)

'Where are the Germans? We can not rebuild Europe without Germany.’

Nobody present at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, Switzerland, July 14, 1946, would forget the question that Frank Buchman, founder of the movement, posed to his friends after war. The hatred of everything German was so immense, especially in those European countries that had suffered under Nazi terror in all its cruelty.

That summer of 1946, few Germans came to Caux. It was not until September 1947, after working in cooperation with the Allied occupying forces, that 150 of the new German leaders could attend the conferences. The following year 500 came, including the prime ministers of almost all Länder, heads of universities, industry and union leaders and the future chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

By 1948, international IofC teams were working in a devastated Germany. It was, in the words of Paul Hoffman, the American administrator of the Marshall Plan, the ‘ideological equivalent of the Marshall Plan’. Later, German Chancellor Adenauer spoke about ‘large and successful services’ rendered to his country by IofC, and the ‘invisible, but effective role’ it had played behind the scenes in major international negotiations. And the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, awarded Buchman the Légion d'honneur in 1950 for his ‘contribution towards a better understanding between France and Germany’.

Among the French who came to Caux in those early years was Irene Laure, a resistance leader who served as a Socialist Deputy in the Constituent Assembly after the war. At first shocked by the presence of Germans, she underwent an inner transformation and publicly asked forgiveness for her hatred. She then went on to carry this message of forgiveness to Germany, working with teams from Initiatives of Change.

The role of IofC in Franco-German reconciliation has been studied by researchers from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC and published in Religion, The missing Dimension of Statecraft (1994, Oxford University Press).