In celebration of Sir Heinz Koeppler’s 100th birthdayedit
The 100th anniversary of Wilton Park founder Heinz Koeppler’s birth was recently commemorated by the planting of a tree in his honour at Wiston House, providing an opportunity to reflect on Wilton Park’s history and origins.
Heinz Koeppler was born on June 30th 1912 in the Polish territory of Posen, but grew up in Berlin, studying law and then history. As a German Jew, Koeppler was unable to follow an academic career further in Germany and in 1933 emigrated to England, where he undertook his doctorate at Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1937, Koeppler became a naturalised British citizen and would remain for the entirety of his life a committed anglophile. This commitment to his adopted country’s war effort led to a commission at the Army Education Corps, teaching German to British troops, before joining the Political Intelligence Department (PID) as an Intelligence Officer in 1940.
In 1943, Koeppler was transferred to the Political Warfare Executive which dealt with propaganda and disinformation, broadcast to Germany from London. As a liaison officer between the BBC and the Political Intelligence Department, Koeppler was chiefly concerned with the nearly 40,000 words that were broadcast every 24 hours from London to Germany. Significantly Koeppler was also the secretary for a joint committee between the Foreign Office, the BBC and the Ministry of Information, tasked with preparing educational and information services to be set up after the war. It was in this context, between 1943 and 1944, that Koeppler came to construct the purpose and mission of what would become Wilton Park; as Koeppler put it, to allow men and women to “look at German problems from outside Germany.” Although the last of the PoWs left by the summer of 1948 Wilton Park continued in the same spirit of open dialogue and rapprochement.
Reflecting on his time at Wilton Park in 1966, Koeppler commented, in a statement which remains pertinent today, that ‘after 20 years, I am still not absolutely certain why busy, distinguished grown-up men and women should feel such a long-lasting attachment to an institution in which they have lived and worked for only a short time. Perhaps it is because there is more to Wilton Park than academic analysis. Perhaps political conversation and an understanding of other countries, are not just a science but an art.’
Sir Heinz Koeppler continued to run Wilton Park until his retirement in 1977.