'My story is not special, or mine. It belongs to this conference centre.'
A milestone anniversary
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Caux Conference Centre as the European conference centre of the worldwide movement of Initiatives of Change. Often referred to as Caux Palace, or simply ‘Caux’, this hotel turned conference centre has played a leading role in the transformation of individuals, organizations, and governments over the course of its history.
Part of the celebrations is a new series of 75 stories – one for each year – of inspiring people from all over the world whose lives were deeply changed by their time in Caux. Yet, what kind of stories can one expect from the belle epoque structure and its stewards?
Short stories of incredible impact
Over the course of the previous decades, Caux served as a gathering place for those drawn to our vision of a just, peaceful, and sustainable world to which everyone, responding to the call of conscience, makes their unique contribution. The series of stories being showcased by our team in Switzerland, the caretakers of this global beacon, are the tip of what could be called an ‘impact iceberg’. Here are snapshots of the stories shared so far:
‘I stepped off the mountain train with a heavy blue suitcase; I was angry and tired and grieving. I was 21 and had lost so much. I had not had lunch, or much sleep. I had no expectations. A stranger took me to an empty dining hall and offered me a sandwich.’
‘Deep down inside, I blamed the rich, I held them responsible for so many people’s unhappiness. I couldn’t accept that some could have everything they wanted without having to lift a little finger, while others had to work themselves to the bone. This injustice filled me with bitterness.’
‘Between 1948 and 1951, nearly 4,000 more Germans attended conferences at Caux. Petersen was part of an international IofC taskforce (see our story on 1948) which travelled through Germany over the next five years, building the bridges of the heart which made the post-war reconciliation and reconstruction of Europe possible.’
‘One of the remarkable talents enlisted in what was described as the largest non-military operation in Germany since the war, was Paul Misraki, a major French composer of popular music and film scores. Over more than 60 years, he wrote the music to 130 films, for directors like Jean Renoir, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and Orson Welles.’
‘This proposition was regarded as heresy. Things only got worse when Max and his colleagues went to Caux. Finally, when they challenged the Communist Party to adopt Moral Re-Armament’s approach, they were thrown out of the party and subjected to a campaign of defamation and threats. Yet when the works council elections came round, most received more votes than ever before.’
‘The Japanese flag was flying outside the conference centre as 64 Japanese arrived in Caux in 1950, to be welcomed by a chorus singing in Japanese. It was a moving moment: back in Japan, still under American occupation, displaying the flag was forbidden.’
The Swiss Jean-Jacques Odier was not overly impressed when he first met Maurice Mercier, the man behind the large French industrial delegations that visited Caux in 1951. ‘He would have looked at home serving behind a bar down the street,’ Odier wrote* of their meeting in the offices of France’s Force Ouvrière textile workers federation. ‘But in the following weeks, as we got to know him better, we discovered an exceptional human being.’
When Elsbeth Spoerry helped to clean up the derelict Caux Palace for the first conference in 1946, she could hardly have guessed that, six years later, she would get married there – with over 1,000 conference participants as guests.
Shaping the future
Prior to the pandemic, Caux welcomed thousands of individuals for the annual Caux Forum, where programmes like Ethical Leadership in Business, the Caux-Dialogue on Environment and Security or the Caux Scholars Program fed the flames of inspiration for people of all ages. Though COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone, the Swiss team pivoted to offer the Forum in a virtual setting – ensuring that hearts and minds are still inspired by the changes that Caux incubates.
We look forward this year to celebrating this incredible milestone anniversary with IofC Switzerland, Caux, and the rest of the world through the sharing of a story for every year of service to humanity.