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Sir Konrad Schiemann was born in Berlin in 1937 and came to England in 1946 to live with his uncle after he was orphaned during World War Two. He attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham and was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers, serving in Cyprus. He holds a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Laws from Cambridge University and is an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Sir Konrad practised as a barrister from 1964, becoming a Queen’s Counsel in 1980, a High Court Judge in 1986 and a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1995. He was a judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union between 2004 and 2012, and now lives with his wife Elisabeth in England.
Please tell us a bit about your memoir A Dual Perspective: The German in an English Judge and what inspired you to tell your story now.
The book is an unusual mixture of family and European history, showing the influence of nationalism on the building of Germany and Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The most famous of my family were Eduard von Simson, of Jewish extraction and an enthusiast for the founding of the German empire, who in the nineteenth century presided over five German parliaments and became the founding president of the German Supreme Court; Professor Theodor Schiemann, a Prussian of Protestant extraction who in the early twentieth century was a strong supporter of German Protestant culture and of the Kaiser; his nephew Paul Schiemann, a Latvian who fought for the Tsar in the First World War and was an opponent of both German and Russian nationalism; and Theodor’s daughter Professor Elisabeth Schiemann, who was an open Protestant opponent of Hitler and, like Paul Schiemann, has been recognised by Israel as one of the Righteous among the nations.
Drawing on a cache of family letters written in the 1930s and ’40s, the book describes why Elisabeth Schiemann’s brother (who became my grandfather) joined the Nazi party in 1933, my mother’s involvement with those plotting against Hitler and how she expected execution when the Stauffenberg plot failed, and what happened to my family in Germany during and after the war. It illustrates the tensions within a typical German family who loathed Hitler but had strong loyalties to Germany.
I depict my own arrival in England as an orphan aged nine, my growing up there, a particular type of English education fifty years ago and what influence my German background has had on my life as a barrister and judge, first in the English High Court and Court of Appeal and finally in the European Court of Justice. I outline how my background has shaped my approach to the European Union and to Brexit.
Why did you decide to independently publish your memoir with whitefox?
I have friends, Helen Fraser and Grant McIntyre, both of whom have extensive experience in publishing, who advised me that commercial publishers would find the book difficult to market because it covered too many fields. They would want to push me into more marketable directions and restrain me from writing what I actually wanted to write primarily for my family. They suggested that I publish the book independently. They put me in touch with an editor, Janet Walker, who suggested whitefox. I cross-checked with Helen, who knew and approved of John Bond. I followed their advice and am happy that I did so.
What aspects of the writing process did you find the most rewarding and the most challenging?
Writing I have always enjoyed. Putting this disparate material together so as to illustrate an overarching theme was the biggest challenge. An editor at whitefox persuaded me that bringing myself in as a commentator on the earlier material would help to do this and he was right. The attendant disadvantage may be that the word ‘I’ appears too often.
When reflecting on your long, illustrious career, what achievements are you most proud of?
I am pleased that, because of my consciousness of the dangers of the alternatives, I have supported and persuaded others to support the broad aims of the European Community (later the EU) since my university days. I think I have been quite good at persuading people to cooperate, despite their differences in background, to produce results with which everyone can be at least content and, at best, pleased.
What impact do you hope your memoir has on its readers?
I hope that it will widen the readers’ empathies and perspectives and make people realise that their own self-evident truths are not everyone’s.
What advice would you give to people looking to write their own memoir?
Don’t just think about it but get on with it and then, when you have some significant material already written, ask yourself and some others who are not too close to you, ‘Is this likely to be of interest to anyone and, if so, whom?’ If you think it worth exploring further then seek advice as to whom to ask for help. Cut out what solely is of interest or amusement to you, however flattering. What is clear to me is that, even if you think of yourself as a fluent writer, there is much more to getting a book read than merely writing it. The process of publishing needs to be learnt.