The significance of the WUS International Assembly 1960 for WUS Germany

At the end of the 1950s, the reconstruction period in Germany was not yet complete, the so-called economic miracle was still in full swing. The generation of students to which I belonged was practising diligence and discipline and trying to develop new contacts internationally. In 1958, Chancellor Adenauer had achieved the repatriation of German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, and the Association of German Student Unions (VDS), of which I was a board member in 1957/58, persuaded the CDUled federal government to introduce the “Honnef Model,” the forerunner of the BAFÖG, which is still socially effective today, i.e., a necessary nationwide social subsidy in the education sector. Part of my WUS history was that in 1956 I was allowed to study for a year (on a DAAD scholarship) at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. For me, with the experience of social exclusion as a refugee and displaced person, this was an unheard-of process of opening up the world and expanding my circle of life.

It was the time of the beginning of apartheid in South Africa, and since I had written and published about it in Germany, I was elected to the VDS board in 1957 on the wave of the anti-apartheid movement. The experience and knowledge acquired in this office of Chairman for International Relations, the innumerable trips, contacts and events in and with universities in countries of Western Europe, Scandinavia, North America, but also to Moscow, Prague, Warsaw and East Berlin, as well as to Africa and Asia, were probably the basis for my election in 1958 to the Board of the German Committee of WUS. President was Prof. Dr. Glum (Public Law, University of Munich), Chairman Prof. Dr. Elbel (Legal Medicine, University of Bonn). Further member of the board: Peter Weinert, lawyer, Berlin at that time. According to my recollection, Professor Glum was for me at that time the representative of Prussian virtues, open-minded, hard-working, order-oriented, sympathetic to people, and keenly interested in the further development of society, including international society. Of course, he made an incredible impression on me as a young student, not only because he personally dedicated his first novel “The Escalator” to me – he wrote under the pseudonym Friedrich Viga – but also because of his distinguished, elegant and clever wife and especially because of his beautiful house in a magnificent landscape at Lake Attersee in Austria.

Professor Elbel was an outstanding scientist as a forensic pathologist, humanly sympathetic, sympathetic and compassionate, as a university teacher and as an educator interested in the success of his students and strongly involved in the rapidly expanding international orientation of the university landscape at that time.

As an aside: I was selected by him as one of the six test subjects who had to have doses of concentrated alcohol in his institute for a week each on an empty stomach, and then had to prove their reaction capabilities by taking blood samples and undergoing reaction tests for days. The resulting expert opinion was the basis for the German government’s decision on the 0.8 mg per 1ml blood law for road traffic. And since the regulation has held to this day, there is a certain satisfaction in having “been there”. The first big event in the board of WUS German Committee was the participation in the International General Assembly (GA) of international WUS in July 1959 in Ibadan, Nigeria. Representatives of the German Committee were Prof. Dr. Elbel as chairman (Prof. Dr. Glum as president was prevented), Mr. Peter Weinert and I as board members. For me, Nigeria and the university in Ibadan – a typical spacious university facility from the British colonial era – were not new, as I had already been to Ibadan twice as a VDS board member and to several other West African countries.

More than 100 representatives from more than 40 countries attended the GA, an unusually representative number by the standards of the time. My conference report informs in detail about the debates held, decisions taken and future developments discussed at the GA. (WUS News 15.10.1959)

For me two memories remain until today: One, the GA decided to hold the next GA in 1960 (thereafter only every 2 years) in the Federal Republic, for all of us a sign of recognition of Germany in the international family of WUS. In reality, however, for the international strategists of WUS in Geneva it was also about the increased siphoning off of the financial resources of the German committee – from fundraising as well as from public funds, which we were already very well aware of at that time, but which made us proud rather than concerned. On the other hand, I was elected as a personal member of international WUS, which was a certain honour according to the international statutes. On the return trip from the GA, Prof. Elbel and Peter Weinert took the plane, I preferred to travel back by ship from Lagos to Hamburg, which gave me a memorable encounter with the piracy already rampant off Nigeria at that time.

1960 – The General Assembly in the Federal Republic of Germany

The second big event during the time of my co-operation with WUS German Committee was the realisation of the international General Assembly in Germany. It took place from August 6 to 14, 1960 in Tutzing at the Starnberger See. There were 135 delegates from almost 50 (!) countries. For the German Committee it was a real event, among other things as a confirmation that the German Civitas Academica was again accepted internationally after the terrible war. But also nationally, the work of WUS became better known through this meeting. The major daily newspapers reported, the Federal President congratulated (in writing), the Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister of Economics, Prof. Dr. Ludwig Erhard, gave the opening address, the so-called Honorary Committee included the President of the Bundestag (Gerstenmaier), the Federal Foreign Minister (v. Brentano), the Federal Minister of the Interior (Schröder), as well as the presidents of the WRK (Jahrreiss), the DAAD (Lehnartz) and the Studentenwerk (Hallermann) from the academic world, in addition to leading representatives of both churches and the Central Committee of Jews in Germany.

The WUS International Board of Directors came entirely from Geneva (well, almost, but present was President Sir Keith Murray, UK). Notable speeches, however, came from Prof. Gallagher, USA, Prof. Oluwasanmi, Nigeria, Prof. Sidhanta, India and Prof. de Graftjohnson, Ghana. I still remember Hans Dall of ISC (International Student Conference, Leyden, the politically Western-oriented World Student Union, as opposed to IUS, International Union of Students, the socialist-oriented World Student Union in Prague),   Neville Rubin, whom I still knew from South Africa, Quamar-zu-Zaman from Pakistan, as well as Bernhard Ducret and Charlotte Löhrig with the red-haired Irishman Cyril Ritchie from the General Secretariat in Geneva.

Of course, true to the Olympic motto “Higher, Further, Faster”, the number of international aid projects could be expanded considerably, the financial framework approached the “one million dollar limit”, the problem of “ear-marking” (earmarking donations for certain selected aid projects) could be defused. And the discussion moved from material aid programs to topics about general education problems internationally. Interested parties may read further conference results in the conference report. Some parts of it are still interesting today.

Following the General Assembly, an information trip to West Berlin took place for about 30 foreign delegates, sponsored by the German government. And although the Wall in West Berlin was not erected until the following year, the participants gained a realistic insight into the sad reality of German division, with the fearful border controls by the then “zone,” the artificially highly subsidised cultural life in West Berlin, and the grey socialist everyday life in East Berlin.

with tailwind for the work of German WUS

The work of the German Committee received a tremendous tailwind from the holding of the General Assembly in Germany. A new (larger) office was rented in Bonn, the number of Local Committees increased to 15, the number of volunteer members and helpers increased. Programs, activities of and contributors to the German Committee and the Local Committee Bonn worked together more and more diversely, many friendships from that time have survived the last 50 years.

Two names of comrades-in-arms from that time are mentioned as representative. The always cheerful and lively Harald (“Harry”) Ganns, in the jazz combo on the banjo and with himself always the long-legged fabric Pluto after Disney, I met again after 12 years in 1972 on a research trip as Kulturat-Attaché in Lomé/Togo. What he brought in there as honorary coach of the soccer national team of Togo as sympathy advertisement for Germany, I could determine with several common evening pub tours in Lomé. When he became the first German ambassador to independent Namibia in March 1990, I also happened to be in South Africa, and when he subsequently advanced to become an Africa expert at the German Foreign Office, and remained active after his retirement as the Federal Government Commissioner for the United Nations and still is today, I still benefited from his insights and experiences.

Many prominent people in the WUS camp

The other companion from WUS times, Dr. Manfred Kulessa, I surprisingly met again in Beijing in 1983. When we worked together in Bonn, one could sometimes have the impression that he and his friend Wulf (later Dr. Wülfing) spent considerably more time in the vending machine arcade at Bertha-vonSuttner-Platz – singing the hit melody “Una Paloma Blanca” – than in the WUS office. But this impression was very deceptive. By the time he reached Beijing, he had had an incredible international career, officially representing the United Nations there as His Excellency the Ambassador. I myself was working as the head of the Aspirant College at Tongji University in Shanghai at the time, and with his help I was able to marvel a bit at the diplomatic world, which revolved mainly around itself in this totally controlled communist country. Under supervision, of course. Whether the Red Army company that guarded his magnificent residence, surrounded of course by a high wall, was to protect the inhabitants of this magnificent building from outside intruders, or to protect the outside world from the uncontrolled swarming of Da-Bitse (long-noses) into the socialist paradise, I could not determine. Probably both.

Still many names from the Bonn haze of WUS have remained in my memory. Norbert Oellers, the later professor of German at the University of Bonn, “HGK”, Hans-Günter Kirschstein with his Inge, later active in the BMZ, Dr. Böning and Dr. Scheidemann, both of whom were later beneficially active in the newly established Ministry of Science, Peter (“Pepi”) Marxsen, who later supervised the local committee in Kiel, “Watz” Wagner, “Moff” Möllinghoff, Dr. Thomanek with Renate (then Simon), Dr. A. Benziula, the distinguished manager from Wiesbaden, Dr. Böckstiegel, the successful international lawyer, Edmund “Eddi” Moser, the Bavarian veteran from Munich, Horst Richter (with his wife Helga), who made such a successful career in the Düsseldorf Ministry of Justice, but then turned away disappointed from his beloved party (SPD), Karl Richter, whom I regularly meet in the “Anholter Kreis”, Benno Kunze, Dr. Kalischer, who later represented the WRK in the press, and countless others. Those not mentioned I ask as a precaution for indulgence for the memory of an old man.

Strong women in the WUS offices

However, I would like to dedicate a special word of remembrance to one particular colleague and staff member of the German Committee: Jutta Olyschläger (later Höhle). She was secretary of the German Committee and as such indispensable and invaluable. As is often the case with institutions, associations, organisations (see also Charlotte Löhrig in Geneva in the international secretariat), a driving force is needed in the office, a person who identifies totally and exclusively with the institution, who makes appointments, reminds people of obligations, irons out mishaps, comforts the sad even when others are celebrating, thinks of supplies or consequences, plans ahead, procures files, admonishes, praises, criticises and considers everything. In simple words: the soul of the business. Jutta Olyschläger was such a person. I owe her (almost) everything I was able to achieve during my work at WUS.

All the more inconceivable was her tragic death when she was killed by a falling tree during a walk in the forest in 1992. This completely incomprehensible death went through all the newspapers at the time. She could no longer enjoy her wonderful country house that she had built with her husband on the Costa del Sol. As diverse as real life was the collaboration in WUS. “Mic” Michael Rautert, an architecture student from Luxembourg, overturned his newly acquired passenger car Ford Taunus 15 M station wagon on his first delivery trip in the context of the “Bazaar of Foreign Cultures”, but miraculously remained unharmed. Since then, the station wagon was called “the coffin” in the German Committee (typical student irreverence: “Do you happen to know at which university the coffin is today?”).

Meanwhile, the Bazaar of Foreign Cultures was the largest source of income in the German WUS fundraising program. Exotic goods from all over the world, mainly from African and Asian countries with WUS committees, were sold by local committees during Advent and Christmas campaigns. Since such goods were not yet to be found in the department stores and exotic stores at that time, this charity action – in Bonn the wife of the Federal President, Wilhelmine Lübke, had taken over the patronage and sometimes stood herself at the sales table – represented an excellent source of income for fundraising purposes. For the main purpose of WUS work was and remained the raising of funds for aid projects – mainly in developing countries – in the university sector, with collection and distribution being handled by the international secretariat in Geneva. Internationalisation of German universities The other programs for the support of foreign students in the Federal Republic and for the internationalisation of German universities developed in parallel.

One example: In 1958, I was a member of the Advisory Committee for Problems of Foreign Students at the Cultural Department of the Foreign Office. The number of foreign students at German universities had increased dramatically, and their accommodation, support, financing, integration, etc., were causing difficulties. The ministers of culture, as supervisors of the universities, did not see any funding possibilities for assistance programs. For this reason, the committee proposed that a position of “full-time supervisor” be established at each of the universities in the area of the International Offices or the International Departments, and that it be financed on an interim basis from federal funds. The federal government took up this proposal.

Gradually, positions for “full-time supervisors” were established at the universities and, after a period of 3 to 5 years, these were taken over by the federal states in their staffing plans. These full-time supervisors still exist today. Without them, it would not have been possible to provide support for foreigners at the universities. 

WUS in the context of the internationalisation of German society

All in all, German WUS at the end of the fifties/ beginning of the sixties – as, by the way, before and even more so after – was on the one hand a product of the developments of those years at the universities and in society (internationalisation, i.e. more and more foreign scientists and students at the universities, more and more German scientists and students abroad, scientific occupation in more and more disciplines with international developments in research and teaching), on the other hand the work both in the international aid programs and in the educational and information programs (seminars, publications, public events) meant an independent contribution to the change of consciousness for international problems in the university community and beyond that in the public sphere.

Whether the work of WUS was of social significance at the time is a matter for others to judge. To those who were involved, it meant a great deal, and not only for their own personal education. The younger generation gradually began to take an interest in constructive changes in and to society.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the German Committee in 1959, I tried on behalf of the Board to collect, sift and arrange the available data and facts, as well as the resolutions and programs with the accompanying information about the people involved for the 10 years. This overview was printed and published as a brochure (approx. 150 pages): “10 Years WORLD UNIVERSITY SERVICE in Germany”. As far as can be ascertained, it was the first summary publication about WUS in the Federal Republic.


For me personally, the co-operation with WUS has not only brought knowledge, experiences, information and friendships, acquaintances and connections, but has been an important stage in my life development. For this I am infinitely grateful.

Author profile
Jonathan Grigoleit

After fleeing and being expelled from East Prussia in 1945, Jonathan Grigoleit studied law and political science in Munich, Berlin (FU) and Hamburg from 1952 to 1958, with a year at the University of Cape Town/ South Africa in between, afterwards at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne. In 1957/58 he was a member of the board of the Verband Deutscher Studentenschaften (VDS). From 1958 to 1959 he was a member of the board of the WUS German Committee and from 1959 to 1961 its General Secretary. He organised the General Assembly of International WUS in 1960 in the Federal Republic. After two years with the Friedrich-EbertStiftung, Bonn, he became director of the International Office of the University of Kiel, from 1967 with interruptions until 1997. In between were a research stay in West Africa (1971) and the direction of the Aspirant College at the Tongji University Shanghai/PR China (1982/83). He was a member of the board of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for 16 years from 1976 to 1992 and a member of the board of the Otto Benecke Foundation, Bonn, from 1990 to 2010. Jonathan Grigoleit is a recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit, 1st class.