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"We just wanted to say thank you"

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill delivering his historic “Let Europe Arise” speech at the University of Zurich in 1946. In order to commemorate this event, the Circle of Zurich Friends of Winston Churchill has organised a podium discussion to take place at the Kaufleuten Club Room on Pelikanstrasse on Friday 23 September and subsequent Light Show on Münsterhof at 8.30pm and 9.30 pm, to be repeated (in part) on Saturday 24th at the same times. Among those dignitaries present at the function at the Kaufleuten will be the mayoress of Zurich, Corine Mauch; the rector of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Professor Sarah Springman, in addition to a former chancellor of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer, and Theo Waigel, a former German finance minister.
Furthermore, the University of Zurich, in cooperation with the Europa Institut, will be presenting a colloquium entitled “The Significance of Churchill’s Zurich speech 1946-2016" starting at 4 pm tonight, Monday 19 September, at the University’s premises at number 71 Rämistrasse. It is at the second of the two events at the university this evening (starting at 6.30 pm) that Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and Johann Schneider-Amman, the president of the Swiss Confederation, will be present.
It was on 19 September 1946 that crowds of people came to see Churchill, whom they regarded as the saviour of Europe in its darkest hour. It was in these early times after the end of the Second World War that Switzerland’s reputation was somewhat tainted by the close trading and financial links it had had with Nazi Germany. It was thought Churchill’s visit might be a way for Switzerland to distance itself from this impression and benefit from the English statesman’s aura.
Churchill had in fact been in Switzerland since the 23 August that year, enjoying a spot of painting on the shores of Lake Geneva. While there, he was inundated with letters and presents from grateful Swiss. These included, as one would imagine, not only boxes of cigars and crates of champagne, but also sweetmeats from local patissiers, chocolate, jams, edelweiss, a fishing rod, Emmentaler cheese, along with instructions on how to keep it, keyrings, silver ashtrays and much more. It was good that Churchill’s host on the occasion, Winterthur painting teacher Charles Montag, had hired a Swissair plane for the outward and return journey.
There was some concern on the part of the government of the day with regard to what Churchill might say on this occasion, but, as the speech was to be given within the university building, and not publicly, so to speak, the Federal Council decided not to intervene in any way. Montag had thought the occasion would be a good one on which to have Churchill awarded an honorary doctorate, especially knowing how the former prime minister loved such titles. However, as it became apparent there was some objection on the part of some members of the university rectorate to award him one, it did not go ahead. However, he was presented with an honorary diploma, albeit in Latin, a subject Churchill hated at school.
Last Saturday, 10 September, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung devoted two pages to this historic event, mentioning how many people, tens of thousands of them, lined the streets to see Churchill on a tour through the city, with flowers thrown onto the former leader’s open limousine. Details of the precise route were given, setting off from the university via Bellevue and Bürkliplatz before proceeding north up Bahnhofstrasse and then going over Bahnhofsbrücke before heading south down to Limmatquai and taking the Münsterbrücke to Münsterplatz. It was here that young men had even climbed onto nearby roofs to catch a glimpse of him as he drew up for a formal lunch at the Zunfthaus zur Meise guildhall.
The article also mentioned how subsequent Zurich doctor Jürg Mann, then only 11 years old, had waited with his father and brother to see the great man leave the rear entrance of the Grand Hotel Dolder and was even able to shake hands with him. “We just came to say thank you for everything,” said the boy’s father.
Photographer André Melchior from Uitikon-Waldegg recalled seeing Churchill arrive at the town hall. “He was visibly moved (by the reception he received) and elegantly raised his hat in acknowledgement. Then, when he came out, there was this deafening ovation, to which he responded with his inimitable victory sign, before lighting another cigar and continuing on his way,” he recalled.
There is no admission fee for the colloquium at Zurich University tonight, though charges apply at the events on the Münsterhof next weekend.      
We just wanted to say thank you

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