becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Joachim Alfermann

In Günter Grass’ autobiography, which was published in 2006, he describes the time when he was drafted into the German civil defence. There he met a man who refused to take up arms. This man was beaten, humiliated and put into solitary confinement. Whatever happened he would simply repeat, ‘We don’t do such things.’ Grass admired this man’s determination deeply. ‘I asked myself: How does he put up with it all? How does he do it?’ When Günter Grass wrote about him sixty years after the end of the Second World War, he did not know the man’s name.

The pacifist whom Grass had so admired was called Joachim Alfermann. He was eventually sent to Stutthof concentration camp in February 1944. He was liberated in April 1945 and died in 1998. He was one of more than 13,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany and the occupied countries who suffered some form of persecution for their faith. He remained a faithful Witness for the rest of his life.

There exists no good photograph of Joachim Alfermann. However, because his story is so important to me, I have used this poor photograph rather than exclude him.

References to works mentioned are on the references page.