100th Birthday of Heinrich Böll

Honorary Day of a Radical Humanist

“Neudeck, that’s what we have to do, but spread it. Not only with one church or one party “. With these words, Heinrich Böll encouraged Rupert Neudeck 38 years ago to rescue Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea. This was the first step towards the foundation of Cap Anamur/Deutsche Not-Ärzte e.V.. Heinrich Böll, Rupert Neudeck and his wife Christel Neudeck founded the committee “A Ship for Vietnam”. Throughout his life, Heinrich Böll supported the humanitarian work of the organization wherever he could. Today the writer would have turned 100 years old.

Before Rupert Neudeck chartered the Cap Anamur to save the distressed refugees in the South China Sea, he worked for many years as a journalist. For WDR, he had conducted two interviews with Böll and immediately perceived him as a person who inspires confidence. When he heard about the plight of the Vietnamese refugees, he did not hesitate for long and wrote a letter to the renowned writer asking him for his support. The next day the phone rang in the editorial office: Heinrich Böll had read the letter and was thrilled about the idea.

Rescue of Refugees in the South China Sea

“I believe that people’s lives should be saved where they can be saved. And no institution capable of saving lives, is allowed to carry out selections on the open sea. That would mean arbitrarily condemning people to death,” said the Nobel laureate in an interview with Der Spiegel in October 1981, discussing the rescue mission by Cap Anamur. Then as now, voices were being raised polemicizing against the rescue of the refugees. With the same humanitarian radicalism that drove Rupert Neudeck, Böll defended the activity. When asked about criminals among the refugees, he replied: “I would also save a drowning pimp. I would even save a drowning pimp millionaire because I cannot presume to let someone drown”.

Heinrich Böll is considered one of the most important post-war writers. In his works, he deals with themes such as humanity, love and faithfulness. Today, these themes are more topical than ever. Although Cap Anamur has relocated its projects from the water to the countryside, we are still approaching crisis areas with the same radical humanity – following the example of Neudeck and Böll. Without their commitment, our work would not be possible today.