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[Letters related to the case of George Von Zedlitz]

[Letter to the Chairman, Victoria University College Council from Professor George Von Zedlitz. 1st Sept. 1915]

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Victoria University College. Wellington

The Chairman,
Victoria University College Council

Dear Sir,

My appointment as Professor of Modern Languages at Victoria College took place in.1901. When informing me of the appointment, the Agent General for New Zealand, Mr. Pember Reeves, having before him full particulars of my origin and career, asked me whether I intended settling permanently in New Zealand. I assured him that that was my hope and intention, and he in turn formally assured me that, if I proved myself a useful citizen of New Zealand, I should be ex­posed to no sort of discrimination on the ground of nationality.

This assurance was amply borne out by the treatment I received here until recently. But when Britain declared war upon Germany. I realised that so formidable a change of circumstances might make the Council of Victoria College wish to dispense with my services. As the Council has always treated me well, I felt it incumbent upon me to relieve them, if they wanted to get rid of me, of the embarassment of taking the first step, and on August 4th, 1914, I handed my resignation to the then Chairman of the Council, Mr H.H. Ostler.

A few days later I accepted the assurance of the Chairman that the Council in no way desired or expected my resignation, and agreed to withdraw my letter of resignation. The subsequent conduct of the Council towards me shows conclusively that Mr Ostler's view was correct. Similarly, any fears that my teaching might be handicapped under present, circumstances have been altogether dispelled. The students, while showing as admirable practical patriotism, treated me with an unspoken sympathy and helpfulness which I cannot find adequate words to describe As regards administrativee work, I withdrew voluntarily from everything of the kind until invited by my colleagues, in kindly terms, to resume attendance at meetings of the Professorial Board. In short every section of the Victoria College, the Council, Professorial Board, graduates, Students and employees have treated me most generously ever since, and have recognised that I am entitled to my share of credit for that public spirited and patriotic atmosphere which has helped to send over 200 of our students to the front.

Meanwhile, every kind of wild rumour was busy with my name, and anonymous attacks became persistent. I was not prepared to resign under pressure of that kind. I still think if I may presume to say so. that the attitude of the Council was a credit to the Dominion, and that in a few years time all parties will look, upon it as a fine instance of British justice and promise keeping. No one has accused me of any wrong doing, or of the slightest breach in my duties as a loyal New Zealander, and if I may quote the generous words attributed to Sir Robert Stout in referring to my case in the "Post" of last August; 26th: "The foundation of our civilization rests on this, that the State, as such, must give praise to those who are worthy and Punish those who do ill. If there is to be no distinction made between right and evil conduct, then civilization has departed from us". The College Council has loyally carried out towards me these high ideals of the Chief Justice, and I do not see that it was any business to frustrate" its purpose by insisting on resignation. The Council knew that the least hint that my retirement would be acceptable to it, would have led to my immediate resignation, and it seems to me that my duty went no further than that.

Now the, whole case is changed, and irrestible pressure is threatened against the, Council by the highest authority in the Country I therefore respectfully desire the Council to deal with me in any manner they please, and place myself unreservedly ir their hands for that purpose.

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During the whole campaign against me I have kept silence. Now that the blow has fallen, and I can no longer be suspected of making humbugging protestations, of loyalty in order to save myself, it seems to me only fair to the Council and to those others who have bravely spoken up for me I in the teeth of unpopularity, that I should lay before you the facts of my case.

I am not a German subject and I owe no allegiance to Germany; to Britain I owe all that I am and have. It is scarcely conceivable to me how any sane being could regard me as a possible spy or traitor to the people among whom I have lived all my life, and from whom I have received unvaryingly just treatment until now. It is true, and I would scorn to deny it, that being of German descent I have a strong sentimental feeling for Germany; I know that she has rendered great services to human progress in the past, and believe she will do so in the future. There is no disloyalty in that: I feel the same for France, which is supposed to be the original home of my family. I have taken the oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria and again to King Edward VII, and again to King George V. and would take it again now if allowed: and the suggestion that I approve or extenuate acts of trezchery and barbarism committed by Germans or in the name of Germany is an odious and utterly unfounded calumny. No tittle of evidence has been or could be brought to this effect, and no self respecting man would think me guilty of it, with the whole evidence of my life and teaching to the contrary. I utterly loath and detest such acts, by whomsoever committed, and when Germans are responsible for them, they are even more distressing to me than to one who has no German blood in his veins.

I may add that I cheerfully realize that a large part of the feeling against me is due to honourable motives and ignorance of the facts. Whatever may happen to me now, I still owe more to British protection and justice than I can hope to repay, and I tender to the members of the Council me sincere thanks for their confidence in me,

and remain,

Your obedient servant,

G. W. von Zedlitz