Joschka Fischer - Early Life

Early Life

Fischer was born in Gerabronn in Baden-Württemberg, the third child of a butcher, whose family had lived in Budakeszi, Hungary, for several generations. Fischer's family had to leave Hungary in 1946 after it was occupied by the Soviet Union, and ethnic Germans were persecuted and expelled by the Hungarian authorities. His nickname Joschka is derived from the Hungarian Jóska, diminutive of Joseph (Hungarian József). Fischer dropped out of high school in 1965, and started an apprenticeship as a photographer, which he quit in 1966. Because Fischer never gained a school-leaving certificate, he never attended a university or a college. He neither did compulsory military service nor the alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors, because he failed his physical examination due to poor eyesight.

In 1967, he became active in the German student movement and left-wing movement (post-) 1968 (the so-called Spontis), first in Stuttgart and after 1968 in Frankfurt am Main. For his regular income, Fischer took several low-wage jobs, such as working in a left-wing bookstore in Frankfurt. During this period, he began attending university events, including lectures organized by left-wing revolutionary students by Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas and Oskar Negt. He studied the works of Marx, Mao and Hegel and became a member of the militant group, Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle). Fischer was a leader in several street battles involving the radical Putzgruppe (literally "cleaning squad", with the first syllable being an acronym for Proletarische Union für Terror und Zerstörung, "Proletarian Union for Terror and Destruction"), which attacked a number of police officers. Photos of one such brawl in March 1973, which were later to haunt Fischer, show him clubbing policeman Rainer Marx, to whom he later publicly apologized.

Fischer is a close friend of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, whom he met during that time. In 1971, he began working for the car manufacturer Opel and attempted to organise his fellow workers for the coming communist revolution. (This was not organising on behalf of a regular labour union: the vast majority of Opel's workers had already been organised for decades by IG Metall, the German metalworkers' union.) This resulted in his dismissal from the company after six months. Fischer then continued making a living with unskilled work while continuing his activism. He worked as a taxi driver from 1976 to 1981 and later in a bookstore in Frankfurt.

In the Deutscher Herbst (German autumn) of 1977, Germany was rattled by a series of left-wing terrorist attacks by the Red Army Faction (RAF) and Revolutionary Cells (RZ). According to Fischer's own account, witnessing these events, particularly the kidnapping and murder of Hanns-Martin Schleyer and the Entebbe hijacking, made him renounce violence as a means for political change. Instead, he became involved in the new social movements and later in the newly founded Green Party, mainly in the state of Hesse.

In May 1981, the Hessian Secretary of Commerce Heinz-Herbert Karry was murdered with a firearm that in 1973 had been transported in Fischer's car, along with other weapons stolen from an American army base. Fischer maintained he had given the car to the later terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein solely for the purpose of having Klein fit it with a new engine. Only later had Fischer learnt that his car had been used to transport stolen weapons.

As Foreign Minister, Fischer apologised for the violence of his Putzgruppe days, without disassociating himself from the radical movement. Some critics continue to charge that Fischer was the leading figure of a 1976 discussion that led to the use of Molotov cocktails in an upcoming demonstration in support of RAF member Ulrike Meinhof. Fischer was arrested on May 14, 1976 as a suspect in the Molotov cocktail attacks on police, but was released after two days. Fischer has stated that he never used Molotov cocktails against the police. The firebombing of policeman Jürgen Weber's police car left Weber with burns over 60% of his body.

Fischer has also been criticised for attending a 1969 conference of the Palestine Liberation Organization, where Yasser Arafat called for an all-out war on Israel "until the end".

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