2 anniversaries, 2 stories

It is extraordinary the way the great events of our world today have bounced back through time to shake up the story we are telling.

November 2020 marked TWO historic anniversaries in which David Maxwell Fyfe, a twentieth century British politician and lawyer played a significant role. To commemorate, a new generation of his family set out to share his story, only to find that it wasn’t an easy tale to tell. Here they take up the tale.

We were delighted when the then head of the Oxford History Faculty, Martin Conway wrote in 2017:

‘The more serious business of History too dances to the rhythms of anniversaries’

And we became determined to make our story dance.

For November 2020 marks the rhythm of TWO significant interwoven anniversaries linked by shared endeavour but separated by a period of 5 years. November 4th is the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Human Rights forged in Strasbourg and signed in Rome. November 20th is the 75th anniversary of the opening of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, better known as the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

These two anniversaries sit either side of the Armistice, and both events form important landmarks as the world recovered after the Second World War. They share the expression of a deep desire to make things right.

David Maxwell Fyfe

Some characters took part in both events. One was David Maxwell Fyfe, and it is through his eyes that we see these anniversaries.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling is the product of two decades of exploration of the papers of David Maxwell Fyfe. Fifteen years ago we staged Making History, a play based on the letters he had exchanged with his wife Sylvia from Nuremberg. Ten years ago we launched Kilmuir Papers with Under an English Heaven, a first pass at telling the story of Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

Every step taken to relate our tale over this time has proved far more difficult than you might expect: everything from the prevailing political climate, Maxwell Fyfe’s comparative obscurity, enthusiasm for Europe, and later social conservatism hampered progress and any chance of getting support. The argument about Brexit in the House of Commons was heating up as we began working on plans for our joyful dance of commemoration, and we are telling the story of a Conservative who wholeheartedly supported the European Project.

In fact we have been led on a merry dance. For as well as the canvas of Brexit, this story has now unexpectedly been told against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic. Like so many others, we have been denied the opportunity to fulfil our planned tour of performances, the centrepiece to our dance.

Perhaps more importantly, we are now living in a world where the rights and freedoms that had been enshrined in law post war, that David Maxwell Fyfe had championed and many of us have taken for granted, were summarily suspended at a stroke. The right to freedom of assembly, the right to a free trial, the right to worship, the right to marry, many would say the right to freedom of expression. All were removed so that we could protect ourselves from the virus.

Suddenly there were now two stories to match the two anniversaries.

It is extraordinary the way the great events of our world today have bounced back through time to shake up the story we are telling. We don’t know how our story will play out, but we are sure that Maxwell Fyfe’s story should be widely shared and remembered as we deal with the present missteps and misdemeanours and move forward into a post-Covid world.

Discover our commemoration for #ECHR70 and #NurembergTrials75 at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

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