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On the History of the Rotary Club of Munich.

By Paul U. Unschuld

The Rotary Club of Munich was founded on 2 November 1928 as the fourth Rotary Club in Germany, preceded only by the Rotary Clubs of Hamburg and Frankfurt (both founded in 1927), and Cologne (founded in 1928). It may have been the dominating influence exerted by the Viennese Rotarians (who together with the RC Hamburg founded the Club in Munich) which resulted in a significant number of representatives of the arts and sciences among the founding members of the Rotary Club of Munich. The most famous
[Photo: Thomas Mann]member happened to be Thomas Mann (left) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. When the RC Munich marked this event with a festive reception, Thomas Mann used the occasion to explicitly express his support of the international mission of Rotary to further humaneness and freedom. It was only four years later, on 4 April 1933, that the celebrated author, now in exile in Switzerland, was removed from the list of members together with several Jewish and non-Jewish Rotarians who appeared politically unacceptable under Nazi rule. The circumstances of this move remain unclear to this day.

Years before they were able to rise to power, the Nazi Party had made no secret of its aversion to the Rotary movement which it considered a branch of international freemasonry and therefore incompatible with the “ethnic German movement” it intended to push. In 1933, several German Rotary Clubs decided to disband their organizations. Encouraged by national and international exhortations to maintain the ideals of Rotary even under Nazi rule, such plans were not realized for the time being. Despite the fact that some members of the Rotary Club of Munich became actively engaged in the anti-Nazi resistance movement, the attempts to ensure the survival of their Rotary Club provide, from hindsight, an example of a policy of appeasement that was bound to fail. In 1937, after four years of negotiations, those opinion leaders in the Nazi party prevailed who saw no common basis with Rotary. Their decision to the effect that membership in Rotary and in the Nazi Party were irreconcilable finally convinced all Rotary Clubs of Germany that it was time to dissolve themselves.

Immediately afterwards all German Rotary files were confiscated by the Gestapo. Found in a German archive by the Red Army in 1945, they were brought to Moscow from where they were returned to East Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. Following the reunification of Germany they were deposited in the National Prussian Archives in Berlin where they are open for research now. On the occasion of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of its foundation in 2003, the Rotary Club of Munich has authorized an analysis of the files associated with the Rotary Club of Munich (some 30.000 pages) in the archive in Berlin. The result of this first substantial review of the history of the Club under Nazi rule has been published as the second chapter in a chronicle covering the entire 75 years since its foundation in 1928 with many illustrations and quotes from the original documents. The chronicle includes four parts.

A recollection by Walther Meuschel, a founding member of the RC Munich, of the years 1928 through 1948, written at the occasion of the Club’s 50th anniversary in 1978, as was a view on the years from 1949 through 1978 by Benno Keim. Paul Unschuld, in addition to contributing the analysis of the period of 1933 through 1937, added as a fourth chapter a survey of the years from 1978 through 2003. In the early years of the Rotary Club of Munich a deep-felt enthusiasm motivated its members to enter international relationships following the trauma of isolation and economic depression after World War I. From 1937 to 1948 members of the former Rotary Club of Munich met privately to uphold their ideals. When the reappearance of Rotary in Germany was permitted by the political administration in 1948, some surviving members of the old club together with newly won Rotarian friends brought the Rotary Club of Munich back to life.

In 1949, Rotary International renewed its charter of the Rotary Club of Munich which soon afterwards was founded again on 12 October 1949. It was now that the Rotary Club of Munich was able to expand and flourish in a democratic society firmly integrated into the moral value system of the Western world. For the past 54 years it has been able to continuously attract members who in their positions in society, including commerce and the arts, the sciences and medicine, have reached leadership positions and at the same time were able to uphold Rotarian values.

The Rotary Club of Munich has established close and intimate relationships with its partner clubs in St. Gallen/Switzerland (since 1954) and Merano/Italy (since 1964). It has participated in international Rotary activities (such as group study exchanges) and has itself founded several Rotary Clubs in Munich and elsewhere. In 1987, Munich was the venue of the World Convention and hosted about 25,000 Rotarian participants. Aside from furthering and maintaining friendship among its members, the Rotary Club of Munich has provided valuable assistance to charity projects regionally and internationally. In particular following German reunification, projects in the former GDR have been several times the focus of support. One of the highlights was the renovation of the Abbey St. Marienstern in Saxony. For this purpose the members of the Rotary Club of Munich donated DM 150 000 in 1990 and 1991, and were able to raise another 45 million DM from other sources to rescue this national landmark and asylum for mentally retarded women from its most deplorable condition.

On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the club donated 100 000 Euro to a project in Munich aiming at integrating socially disadvantaged teenagers into the work force. Seen in retrospect, the history of the RC Munich in post-WWII Germany offers an impression of a vital club life tied to the international values of Rotary International and contributing significantly to social welfare in its own environment.

Prof. Dr. Paul. U. Unschuld,
M.P.H., is Professor and Director of the Institute fort he History of Medicine, Munich University, Lessingstrasse 2, 80336 Munich, Germany.
His book, “Chronik des Rotary Club München, 1928 – 2003” is available thru the Cygnus Verlag,

Sonnblickstrasse 8, 81377 München, Germany, ISBN 3-926936-11-8, € 36.50 + postage.



Additional remarks by Wolfgang Ziegler

Aerial view of the Zisterzienserinnen Abbey St. Marienstern in Saxonia after the refurbishment
The biggest and most demanding task ever undertaken by the Rotary Club of Munich was the refurbishment of the Abbey St. Marienstern in Saxonia, formerly East Germany. Since decades the sisters of this abbey cared for disabled girls and women. After the fall of the wall, starting with the Christmas collections of 1990 and 1991, more than 80.000 Dollars were donated towards the refurbishment of the abbey. However, the resources of the Rotary Club of Munich were not nearly sufficient to finance this tremendous task.

In the end, the challenge of the refurbishment of the Abbey St. Marienstern showed, that remarkable accomplishments are possible against all odds. A small group of highly dedicated Rotarians used their economical and professional knowledge, their personal acquaintance with decision makers and the will to make financial sacrifices - metaphorically spoken like a nucleus of crystallization – to subsequently motivate a larger group of friends and other forces to take action. The reward was the knowledge of having saved historically outstanding buildings from destruction. Probably more important, having created for the sisters an unexpected, long lasting and sound basis, who since centuries made sacrifices far from the hustle and bustle of every-day life, caring for a group persons on the brink of our society.

The joining of many very different sources finally led to a financial support of twenty-five million dollars.

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