He was born in a beautiful 16th century house in the centre of a Mediaeval town in the German-speaking part of the new state of Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a prosperous Old Austrian family and went to school in his home town Znaim (which is now called Znojmo). In 1938, it was decided by the United Kingdom, France and Italy that the German-speaking parts of the newly created state should be transferred to Germany, and the population got a choice between German citizenship or leaving their home area for good. That is how he became a citizen of Groβdeutschland, which meant obligatory military service for men of his age. He managed to get into the Luftwaffe, got a solid training as an air force pilot and spent some years as a pilot and flight instructor, outside Paris, in Greece and other places. On April 19, 1945, he landed on the military airfield of Bredåkra in Southern Sweden in a stolen aeroplane, a twin-engined Siebel 204 equipped with an advanced radar installation for locating submarines. When the Swedes found out that he was born in Czechoslovakia, he was allowed to stay in Sweden, unlike other deserters from Germany, who were promptly sent back to their home country.
In his new role as a refugee, he supported himself for some time as a fashion draughtsman and painter, followed by four years as a bank clerk, before entering the academic world, which became the third and longest stage of his life. He got a doctorate in the Department of Theory of Science at the University of Göteborg in 1968, and after some years as a senior research fellow in Göteborg he got a chair in Wissenschaftstheorie in Western Germany (first in Bochum, then in Trier). When he retired, he began the fourth stage of his life – critical reflection on the circumstances which had formed his life – the history of 20th century Europe as seen by a Central European emigrant.
The last result of that critical reflection was a book which he managed to finish before he died in March 2006: Gerard Radnitzky, Das verdammte 20. Jahrhundert. Erinnerungen und Reflexionen eines politisch Unkorrekten /The Damned 20th Century. A Politically Uncorrect Man’s Recollections and Reflections/, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zürich-New York 2006, 353 pp.
The book alternates between the micro and macro levels. Anecdotes and reminiscences from the author’s childhood and youth are interspersed with critical historical surveys and excursions in various directions. The years in the beautiful old town are described as an idyllic time in a sheltered environment. The first language which he learned to read and write was Czech, which was unusual in that part of the country. That was a bad investment, he writes, apart from its usefulness when flirting with Czech girls whom he found sexier than the German ones.
He liked flying, but regarded the years as a pilot as slave labour. Deprived of his freedom, the only thing that the young aesthete could do was to try to make his existence as pleasant as possible. The war was hardly noticeable in the idyllic air fields in beautiful surroundings where some of the schools were situated. When he was ordered to take part in the bombing of London, he was lucky to have a crew who thought in the same way as he did – the bombs were dropped over the Channel, and after flying for a while high up over London, they could return to Paris. He was far from being a Nazi, and his aversion towards all kinds of totalitarian systems became very strong indeed as he got older. In his picture of 20th century Europe, it is socialism in its various forms which makes it the damned century – the national socialism of Germany and Czechoslovakia, the international socialism of the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the social democratic variations on the theme in countries like Sweden and Western Germany. He remained deeply grateful to the Swedes for receiving him, but his comments on the Swedish economic policy after the war are harsh.
It is a fascinating book which I think I shall come back to, not least his analyses of such events as the Japanese attack on the American Pearl Harbour base on December 7, 1941, and the still mystifying flight to Scotland which Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess undertook in the middle of May 1941. Those episodes are presented in great detail, supported by an extensive list of references to the relevant literature. The same applies to such themes as the fate of the German-speaking population in Czechoslovakia under the hands of the Czech national socialist régime and the expulsion of the German-speaking people from Central and Eastern Europe after the the capitulation in 1945.