Maxwell Fyfe's Strasbourg

 

For Maxwell Fyfe, Strasbourg was a place of work as this was where the Assembly for the Council of Europe met and where Maxwell Fyfe helped draft the European Convention on Human Rights. In his autobiography he describes how he came to be part of it saying 'One day in 1947, Winston (Churchill) called me across the smoking room of the House of Commons and asked me if I would join the committee of the United Europe Movement of which he was chairman. I had always been anxious to do something positive after the part I had played in destroying Nazi ideology and I accepted with enthusiasm.' Maxwell Fyfe travelled from Calais to Strasbourg in 1949 for the first conference. He says 'The Conference was divided into three committees, political, economic and cultural. I went into the cultural as I wanted to say something on human rights.' He went on to draft the European Convention on Human Rights that was signed in 1950 in Rome. Despite the fact Maxwell Fyfe spent a considerable length of time in Strasbourg, it is surprising how little he describes it. He mentions nothing of the architecture or beauty of the Alsatian town and its history. Strasbourg is a chocolate-box town with considerable French and German history as the town museum proudly displays. Since Maxwell Fyfe didn't mention any particular locations, I put together some of the most well known places to give an impression of the things that Maxwell Fyfe might have seen.

Modern Strasbourg

 

Aside from being a beautiful town to visit on a long week-end, Strasbourg has major responsibility for being the capital of Europe. It is home to the Council of Europe, is the seat of European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. The European Council was set up in 1949 and Maxwell Fyfe headed the team who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights. Since the original meeting in 1949, buildings have been built to house these important institutions, however Maxwell Fyfe wouldn't have known them.All of the important buildings are within an area called The European Quarter and each of the buildings though hoped to be less daunting by architect Richard Rodgers, are about as daunting they could be. Vast metal constructions looking alien UFO have landed and there is no way of penetrating them. This could not be more apt at a time when the government in the United Kingdom are considering leaving Europe and the Convention. Even when Maxwell Fyfe wrote the Political Adventure, he was aware of the lack of support for the Convention as it was universal and inalienable. In the final pages of A Gleam in Alsace, he says 'It seems almost incredible, were it not true, that we should have so contemptuously thrown over an opportunity for leading Europe into an economic, military, moral and cultural unity without parallel in her long and tortured history.' He goes on to say that the pro-Europeans were few and were outnumbered by figures of higher standing and more power. This is interesting at a time when Politician's are considering the possibility of leaving the Convention that even though history doesn't remember that politicians then were just as against it then, it's important to remember why they put it in place and how it keeps us safe from the after effects of war and allowing anything like it to happen again.

Platz Kleber and Maxwell Fyfe's Social Strasbourg

 

Aside from his work in Strasbourg, Maxwell Fyfe was keen to make his stay a social one. In his chapter 'A Gleam in Alsace', he says ' I was anxious...that Sylvia should come out for part of the time for selfish reasons, and that she should bring Pam with her so that Pam could see Strasbourg and the Council at work.' He took the principle suite in the 'Maison Rouge' which was on one side of Platz Kleber. He says 'It was not only fun for us but became a focal point for the British delegation to drop in for drinks in the evening.' Platz Kleber also played its part in the celebrations while he was there, as it played host for a meeting of all the people of Strasbourg when Winston Churchill made a speech. Maxwell Fyfe describes it saying 'In the square, the people were so closely packed that it seemed you could hardly have a placed a walking stick between any two.' Platz Kleber now is a buzzing market square, surrounded with restaurants and shops so consequently full of tourists. The 'Maison Rouge' still exists and having looked at the hotel spec on the website, it looks as if Maxwell Fyfe might have hired the Ambassadors Suite and therefore would have been in walking distance of the city sights.  

'The most moving and exciting occasion of that August was a great meeting on the Place Kleber. All around every building flew two flags, the tri-colour of France and the green and white flag of United Europe. In the square the people were so closely packed that is seemed you could hardly have placed a walking stick between any two.'

 from David Maxwell-Fyfe's autobiography, Political Adventure

Click on a small image to enlarge

'It is impossible not to look back without distress at the hopeful and enthusiastic beginnings of the Western European movement which so quickly were to dissolve in 'doubt, hesitation and pain.' It seems almost incredible, were it not true, that we should have so contemptuously thrown over an opportunity for leading Europe into an economic, military, moral and cultural unity without parallel in her long and tortured history.'  

from David Maxwell-Fyfe's autobiography, Political Adventure

'Our draft had at its basis security for life and limb, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from slavery and compulsory labour, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of marriage, the sanctity of the family, equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary deprivation of property. I was very anxious that we should get an international sanction in Europe behind the maintenance of these basic decencies of life.'

 from David Maxwell-Fyfe's autobiography, Political Adventure

Click on a small image to enlarge

Click on a small image to enlarge

DMF Strasbourg 36

Strasbourg

Strasbourg Cathedral Square

DMF Strasbourg 5

River Ill, Petite France

Platz Kleber 11

Platz Kleber

Modern Strasbourg 28

The European Quarter

(from left to right...Palais de Europe, Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights