Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography

By Emile Durkheim; Kurt H. Wolff | Go to book overview

REMINISCENCES OF THE DURKHEIM SCHOOL

PAUL HONIGSHEIM

My memories of France center around my contacts with the Durkheim school, but before I describe some of the most vivid and significant of them I must say a few words about my own background. My father's ancestors were German peasant folk, and my mother was French. I spoke French as my first language, and always considered myself a link between the French and the German peoples. During the First World War, I was critical of the German invasion of Belgium; indeed, my parents and I were in continual difficulties with the German war authorities. I was drafted as an interpreter with the rank of corporal in a camp of French and Belgian prisoners, among them Paul-Henri Spaak. Like Ernst Troeltsch, I had predicted the inevitable collapse of the Kaiser's Germany. Upon the desertion of Wilhelm II, Ludendorff, and other authors of the defeat, the soldiers took over, and I was unanimously elected to represent sixteen thousand revolutionary soldiers in the provisional government.

After the establishment of the German Republic, I supported it actively as a member of the socialist party, for which I was later to be persecuted by both National Socialists and Communists. In the field of adult education, I participated in international holiday courses and was a leader in international youth movements and meetings; I was active in many pacifist organizations; I acted as German-French interpreter at peace conferences in Geneva and elsewhere. As a German delegate to the League of the Rights of Man, notably at its meeting in Metz, I insisted that since the people of Alsace-Lorraine had clearly shown their wish to belong to France rather than to Germany, their decision must be respected by everyone, especially by the Germans. In the course of my work, I often met and collaborated with Frenchmen.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, I immediately resigned my positions as director of the people's university (Volks-

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