BERLIN The Rumsfelds of Weyhe-Sudweyhe, a red-brick suburb of Bremen, were once proud of their long-lost cousin, the U.S. defense secretary. No longer.
Like many Germans, they are appalled by Donald H. Rumsfeld’s hawkish attitude toward military action against Saddam Hussein. Some 18,000 anti-war demonstrators marched through Munich yesterday to protest his presence at an international security conference chanting slogans such as “No room for Rumsfeld.”
“We think it is dreadful that Donald Rumsfeld is out there pushing for a war against Iraq,” Karin Cecere (born Rumsfeld), 59, said from her two-up, two-down home last week. “We are embarrassed to be related to him,” she said.
Margarete Rumsfeld, her 85-year-old mother, was equally dismissive: “We don’t have much to do with him anymore. Nowadays he’s just the American defense secretary to us, but for God’s sake, he’d better not start a war,” she added.
They used to feel differently. Some 25 years ago, the German Rumsfelds were thrilled to welcome Mr. Rumsfeld then the U.S. ambassador to NATO stationed in Brussels into their extended family.
Like many Americans eager to retrace their European antecedents, Mr. Rumsfeld had made contact with the Weyhe-Sudweyhe Rumsfelds, a branch of the family with whom his near relatives had lost touch since his great-great-grandfather, Heinrich, emigrated to America during the 19th century.
Mr. Rumsfeld paid three visits to Dietrich Rumsfeld, a bricklayer, and his wife, Margarete, in their small, red-brick artisan’s cottage. On the last occasion, they greeted him with chicken soup and roast pork for lunch.
“It was a really pleasant family gathering, almost like a wedding,” said Karin Cecere last week. “Mr. Rumsfeld seemed a genuinely nice man. It is such a shame about his war ambitions.”
She had grown up, she said, during World War II, and her instincts were to search for a solution to the deadlock with Saddam that did not involve military action. “I was born in the war and saw its aftermath, and my mother went through it,” she said. “There must be a peaceful way of solving the Iraq problem.”
This change of heart over their Rumsfeld cousin reflects the mood in Germany. More than 60 percent of Germans oppose a war, and Mr. Rumsfeld has become a hate figure for the country’s peace movement.
His desire to topple Saddam by force is at odds with the Social Democrat-led government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which is directly opposed to war in Iraq.
Even before his arrival in Germany yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld had faced fierce criticism from senior German government officials for describing France and Germany as “old Europe.” Last week he caused further outrage when he told the House Armed Services Committee that Germany, like “Libya and Cuba,” had indicated it “did not want to help in any way” the international efforts to tackle Iraq.
The German government attempted to play down the criticism. “Mr. Rumsfeld is like he is. I can say no more,” said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Other senior politicians were more explicit. “Rumsfeld has flipped out his behavior is impossible,” said Klaus Kinkel, a Free Democrat and former foreign minister.