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Book Review

by Detmar Hackman - Gordonstoun 1953

Kurt Hahn Biography

I would like to draw the attention of the Gordonstoun community, especially of those former pupils who have personal memories of Kurt Hahn, to a book written by David Sutcliffe, who taught both Salem and Gordonstoun and later went on to head two United World Colleges in Wales and Italy.

This book was written to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Atlantic  College in Wales in 1962, and its title both reflects its principal aim and, at the same time, may initially deter Old Gordonstonians from reading it: Kurt Hahn and the United World Colleges with other Founding Figures. But is is the first detailed biographical study on Hahn to have been written and contains a great deal of material of direct interest to all who take an interest and pride in Hahn's achievements. 

Beginning with Hahn's family and the illness that changed his life for ever, the book identifies the sources of Hahn's determination to make education a healing force. Plato, Oxford and the impact he made on his Oxford contemporaries, not least in the Oxford Union debates, his early medical operations in England, his extraordinary if controversial record of achievement in politics and diplomacy in the First World War which culminated in the appointment, at his urging, of Prince Max of Baden as Chancellor in the fateful final weeks when all was lost for Germany, the reliance of the Americans on him as the focal point of liberal thinking in Germany both before and after the November armistice, his typically anonymous but influential role in Versailles, his ghost-writing of Prince Max memoirs, his founding of Salem despite the desperate financial circumstances in Germany in the 1920's and early 1930's and his being a Jew, his courageous opposition to Hilter which compelled his departure to Britain in 1933, the immediate decision to found another school in Scotland already in the autumn of 1933, his unsuccessful attempts to alert the British public to the horrors from mid-1933 onwards of the concentration camps, his principled and extraordinarily courageous interventions on behalf of "the other Germany" throughout the war, his analyses for the British government of political and military developments in Germany which paralleled his work from 1914-1918 from the other side, his confidential report on the Hess affair, and his astonishingly accurate forecast of the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler's life: all these events are enriched by reflections on Hahn the human personality, Hahn the writer and speaker, Hahn the Christian educator, Hahn the moral politician, Hahn in the eyes of others.

The book also includes the first authoritative account, based on family papers which are not available in the school's archives, of Hahn's controversial departure from Gordonstoun in 1952. And it is fascinating to learn just how much he achieved once he had recovered his strength and his morale: the bold and accelerating international expansion of Outward Bound, the launch of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, the Oxford and Cambridge Trevelyan Scholarships, the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention, and the Atlantic College, all allied with a continuing political involvement centred principally on the Cold War and the debate over nuclear arms and a graduated deterrent-not a bad record for an elderly man in retirement!

None of Hahn's achievements can be seen in isolation. They were- and are- all linked by the inspiration of the man. So it is no surprise that many personalities much involved in the fortunes of Gordonstoun - Anton and Hilda Besse, who saved Gordonstoun from bankruptcy in 1949, Kurt's sister-in-law Lola and her husband Rudo, their son Oscar, so badly handicapped by polio but a Hahn mimic sufficiently skilled to summon unpopular Gordonstoun masters to Hahn's study in the middle of the night or even to dismiss them- all feature here as part of the story of which Gordonstoun is so central a part.

The book can be purchased directly from the school at £10.00 plus postage or ordered on the following website: www.kurthahnbook.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 


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