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Death of Max Kohnstamm

Max Kohnstamm, Honorary President of EPC and one of it’s founding fathers, died peacefully on 20 October, aged 96, survived by his wife Kathleen and five children.

Max was the last survivor of the nine EU Founding Fathers, and his death marks the end of an era. He believed deeply in vision, method and action, above all action. He was the living embodiment of the ideals of Jean Monnet. In his lecture to the European University Institute in Florence on ‘Jean Monnet: the Power of Imagination’, he said: “The only way to be liberated from the past is to have a vision of the future”.

Max was too multi-faceted to catch all his sparkle. He believed that people, above almost all, need to have hope It was appropriate for him to receive the Franklin D Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. Above all, Max dedicated his life to liberating Europe from its bloody past and giving us all hope for the future.

Jean Monnet wrote in his Memoirs in 1976:

“Really exceptional qualities were required to interpret and give shape to the thoughts and wishes of a collegiate body made up of nine men from six different countries, speaking four different languages-not to mention their differences of character and upbringing. I had never dared to hope that we should find a single person capable of fulfilling this role, which was really a task for the European of the future – or rather, which recalled the European of the Renaissance. Kohnstamm was able to understand the French, the Germans and the British in their own languages, as well as his compatriots in theirs; he was also familiar with their literature and their press. The misunderstandings to which we were liable owing to ignorance of each other’s customs held no pitfalls for him: he was an invaluable intermediary. Everyone was impressed by his great open-mindedness and his deep moral qualities. I found him a colleague and a friend, unshakeably and permanently loyal”.

Key elements of Max Kohstamm’s remarkable career

• Born Amsterdam, 22 May 1914, son of a professor at Amsterdam University
• Studied modern history at Amsterdam 1933-1940 except 1938-39, which he spent at the American University in Washington (DC).
• Imprisoned during World War II in the Netherlands, from 1942.
• After the liberation, served as private secretary to Queen Wilhelmina, until her abdication in August 1948
• Joined Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Head of German division and then Director of European Affairs
• Helped create Ruhr Authority and German Federal Government
• Vice-President of Dutch delegation to Schuman Plan negotiations
• First Secretary of ECSC High Authority Community from 1952 until 1956
• Head of High Authority’s new permanent mission in London in 1956
• Resigned from High Authority with its President, Jean Monnet, in 1956
• Set up in 1956 with Monnet the very influential ‘Action Committee for the United States of Europe’, of which he became its Secretary General until its demise in 1975.
• European Chairman of Trilateral Commission
• Member of Bilderberg Group
• First President of European University Institute in Florence from 1973 to 1981
• Founded second ‘Action Committee for the United States of Europe’ and became its Secretary General
• Grand Officer of the Order of Oranje Nassau
• Grande Ufficiale of the Italian Republic
• Große Verdienstkreuz mit Stern (Germany)
• Prix Jean Monnet
• Franklin D Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award
• Director and then Honorary President of EPC

European Policy Centre mourns the death of Max Kohnstamm, one of its founding fathers:
Max was too multi-faceted, to be able to capture all his sparkle. He believed that people, above almost everything else, need to have hope, so it was appropriate for him to receive the Franklin D Roosevelt ‘Freedom from Fear Award’. Above all, Max dedicated his life to liberating Europe from its bloody past and giving us all hope for the future.

Meglena Kuneva, Chair of EPC Governing Board said, “This is very sad news. Max was a great European. We will all remember him”.

Kohnstamm was able to understand the French, the Germans and the British in their own languages, as well as his compatriots in theirs; he was also familiar with their literature and their press. The misunderstandings to which we were liable owing to ignorance of each other’s customs held no pitfalls for him: he was an invaluable intermediary. Everyone was impressed by his great open-mindedness and his deep moral qualities. I found him a colleague and a friend, unshakeably and permanently loyal”.

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  1. I was greatly saddened to read the news about Dr. Max Kohnstamm’s death. I met and interviewed him earlier this year at the suggestion of Stanley Crossick.

    The interview, which took place in February at his home in Amsterdam, lasted about 90 minutes. I asked him about his work with Jean Monnet, the years of working for a peaceful and prosperous Europe, and the idea of working for peace based on equality and fairness. He also told me about this misfortune at the hands of the Nazis. He was an individual who saw and experienced the great range of human behaviors.

    He was a great man whose story is one of a peacemaker. Max Kohnstamm, Jean Monnet, and the others who were there at the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community and worked tirelessly on behalf of a peaceful Europe are to be saluted by all those who he leaves behind.

    From across the Atlantic, I, the son of an American father who fought in Europe in 1944-45, say goodbye and thank you to a man who literally changed history for the better.

    Don C. Smith
    Denver, Colorado USA

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