Carl Jacob Burckhardt

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Carl Jacob Burckhardt

Carl Jacob Burckhardt (born September 10, 1891 in Basel , † March 3, 1974 in Vinzel , Canton of Vaud ) was a Swiss diplomat , essayist and historian .

His main literary work is the three-volume Richelieu biography published from 1935 to 1967 . In 1937 he was appointed High Commissioner for the Free City of Danzig by the League of Nations . From 1944 to 1948 he served as President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), where he later repeatedly caused controversy with his lack of condemnation of the Holocaust and the limitation to conventional aid to the victims.


Carl Jacob Burckhardt was born as the son of the lawyer and politician Carl Christoph Burckhardt and Aline, nee Schazmann. His uncle was the classical archaeologist Paul Schazmann . His sister was Theodora (1896–1982) who later translated Voltaire's biography of Karl XII and in 1917 married the architect Hans von der Mühll .

Burckhardt graduated from high school in his hometown of Basel and in Glarisegg . Subsequently, the great-nephew of the cultural historian studied Jacob Burckhardt history at the Universities of Basel , Munich , Göttingen and Zurich and graduated in 1918 with the promotion of Dr. phil. away. While he was still a student, the rumor was circulating in Zurich that his sister had written her brother's dissertation.

From 1918 to 1922 he was an embassy attaché in Vienna , where he met Hugo von Hofmannsthal and later became friends with him. In 1926 he completed his habilitation at the University of Zurich. Three years later he was appointed professor of modern history here. From 1932 to 1937 and from 1939 to 1945 he was also active in Geneva as a professor of history at the Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales . In his literary work, Burckhardt dealt with great figures in European history. In 1935 the first part of his main work appeared, the later three-part biography Richelieu . Some of the texts in his work reveal the conservative political stance. In the essay Der Honnête Homme, for example, he sees the climax of French absolutism in the 17th century as "the great French century" in which "the education of the noble man" took place; In the essay Friedrich von Gentz ​​he notes with regret that despite his conservative turnaround under the influence of authors such as Edmund Burke , Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise de Bonald , Joseph de Maistre and Adam Müller , "especially in his work in Austria [ ...] had "stayed" entirely in those tracks of state wisdom of the 18th century, on which Metternich moved, without any sense of the great and meaningful symbols such as the German Empire, rationally an institution as rich in a deep past and unpredictable future as sacrificing the Roman empire of the German nation in order to establish such a completely rational and historically rootless concept as an Austrian empire. "

In 1923, Burckhardt was active for the ICRC for the first time during a visit by Greek prisoners of war to Turkey, ten years later he became a member of the committee and visited concentration camps in Germany in 1935 and 1936 . On 18 February 1937 it appointed League of Nations to the High Commissioner for since the Treaty of Versailles under League of Nations supervision Free City of Danzig . There, the synchronization was already completed when he took office. In 1941 he took over the chairmanship of the Joint Aid Commission of the ICRC and the League of Red Cross Societies, founded in July of the same year. In December of the same year, on a visit to the British Department of Economic Warfare , he negotiated easing the sea blockade in favor of aid to war victims and the civilian population. He received the ICRC authorization to forward packages to prisoners of war .

Carl Jacob Burckhardt was married to Elisabeth de Reynold (1906–1989), daughter of Gonzague de Reynold , since 1926 . There are two daughters from the marriage. He died at the age of 82 and rests in the Vinzel cemetery in the canton of Vaud.

ICRC presidency

On December 4, 1944, with effect from January 1, 1945, he was unanimously elected President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and thus successor to Max Huber , who gave up this position for reasons of age. Burckhardt remained ICRC president until 1948, when Paul Ruegger took over this office, and was also the Swiss envoy in Paris from 1945 to 1949. His dual function as ICRC President and Envoy led, at the suggestion of Max Huber, to the creation of the offices of two Vice Presidents and the Directorate as a permanent body under the direction of the Director General, in order to enable the committee to work continuously even when the President is absent. In 1950 he became an honorary citizen of the city of Lübeck because, in the opinion of the responsible authorities, by classifying the city as an " open city ", he had made a significant contribution to saving Lübeck's historic old town. In 1957 the Carl-Jacob-Burckhardt-Gymnasium in Lübeck was named after him.

Controversies about his work

In his report, Meine Danziger Mission 1937–1939 , published in 1960, Burckhardt described his work in the Free City. Although there were already critical voices at that time about the reliability of Burckhardt's presentation of his own deeds and achievements, for example by Hans Mayer or Golo Mann , his reputation in Swiss and ICRC diplomacy remained untouched until the early 1990s. In 1991 a biography was published by the Swiss diplomat Paul Stauffer , which, based on source studies in Warsaw, among others, and precise text comparisons on Burckhardt's self-created picture, raised considerable doubts. In the opinion of Stauffer, at least three representations of Burckhardt are to be regarded as implausible:

  • Hitler's "most remarkable remark" about his strategy and future war aims, which Hitler is said to have made to him during his visit to the Berghof on Obersalzberg in August 1939; a saying that was later cited as a source in many contemporary historical works:
    «Everything I do is directed against Russia; if the West is too stupid and too blind to grasp this, I shall be compelled to come to terms with the Russians, to defeat the West, and then, after its defeat, to turn my combined forces against the Soviet Union. I need the Ukraine so that we cannot be starved to death like in the last war. "
  • The authenticity of his correspondence with Hugo von Hofmannsthal , published in 1956 , which is heavily Burckhardt-heavy in terms of size.
  • The dating of a letter, allegedly from 1938, to the later publicist Marion Dönhoff , which certified her resistance activity:
    "I admire the self-sacrificing, bold position that you take, the resistance that emanates from your friends."
    (see also Stauffer-Dönhoff controversy )

Awards and honors

Works (selection)

  • Asia Minor trip . Callwey, Munich 1926
  • Maria Theresa . Coleman, Lübeck 1932
  • Richelieu. Four parts. Callwey, Munich 1935–1967
  • Forms and powers. Callwey, Munich 1941, extended edition Manesse, Zurich 1961
  • Memories of Hofmannsthal and letters from the poet . Schwabe, Basel 1943
  • A morning at the bookseller . Schwabe, Basel 1943
  • Speeches and notes. Manesse, Zurich 1952
  • Three stories. Manesse, Zurich 1952
  • Four historical considerations . Manesse, Zurich 1953
  • Encounters. Manesse, Zurich 1958
  • Portraits . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1958. Reprint (based on the 1959 edition) 2015, ISBN 978-3-596-30369-4 .
  • My Danzig Mission 1937–1939. Callwey, Munich 1960
  • Reflections and reports . Manesse, Zurich 1964
  • Carl Jacob Burckhardt - Max Rychner: Letters 1926-1965 . Fischer, Frankfurt 1970
  • Collected Works. Six volumes. Scherz, Bern et al. 1971
  • Memorabilia. Memories and encounters . Callwey, Munich 1977
  • Letters from the last few years . Callwey, Munich 1977
  • Ideas. Aphorisms and reflections . Arche, Zurich 1978
  • Reminiscences . Callwey, Munich 1984
  • Letters 1908–1974. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1986. Reprint 2015, ISBN 978-3-596-30580-3 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Roland Ruffieux: Carl Jacob Burckhardt. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . October 24, 2019 , accessed May 19, 2020 .
  2. Burckhardt family tree
  3. See Hans Mayer : Memory of Carl Jacob Burckhardt . In another: Zeitgenossen , Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 100–110.
  4. Baselbieter Heimatblätter . Dissertation.
  5. As can be learned from the correspondence with the poet.
  6. Carl J. Burckhardt: Shapes and Powers. Speeches and essays . Callwey, Munich 1941, pp. 208f. See ibid. Pp. 202f .; P. 207f.
  7. Klaus Nerger: The grave of Carl Jacob Burckhardt. In: Retrieved August 30, 2021 .
  8. ^ Peace Prize of the German Book Trade: 1954 - Carl J. Burckhardt laudation by Theodor Heuss and acceptance speech by Carl J. Burckhardt. Published by the German Book Trade Association (PDF file, approx. 150KB)