Obituary: Rupert Neudeck: A Life Well Lived

  • Rupert Neudeck. Photo: DPA

Rupert Neudeck (14 May 1939 – 31 May 2016) was a German journalist and humanitarian.  He died aged 77 of complications following cardiac surgery.

Born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), he lived with his family in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Wrzeszcz) until 1945, when German civilians were being evacuated from Eastern Germany.  His family missed the sailing of the evacuation ship.   That ship was subsequently torpedoed with heavy loss of life.  Rupert and his family were displaced persons and refugees in his early childhood.

In his youth, he studied law and Catholic theology and eventually worked as a journalist. In 1977 he was a correspondent for the Deutschlandfunk, the German public broadcaster.

In 1979, Rupert and his wife Christel, together with several friends formed the committee: “A Ship for Vietnam.”  Motivated by the plight of the Vietnamese “boat people” who were fleeing post-war Vietnam by boat, they chartered the Cap Anamur, a commercial freighter, for a rescue mission to Southeast Asia. 

The fleeing Vietnamese were facing the perils of the open ocean in overloaded boats, battered by storms and attacked by pirates, who often murdered them for their paltry belongings. It was a humanitarian crisis which the Neudecks  said they could not ignore “and stand idly by.”

Between 1977 and 1995 over 800,000 Vietnamese landed safely in neighbouring countries (mainly Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore), but many others perished at sea.

Rupert Neudeck, the Committee and the Cap Anamur are credited with saving over 10,000 boat people at sea and providing medical assistance to at least 35,000 more.

Many of the people that they rescued were processed and eventually resettled from camps run by IOM in the Philippines and Indonesia. IOM eventually opened an office in Saigon to help other Vietnamese migrants.

Following the Cap Anamur initiative, Neudeck continued his humanitarian work with displaced people and refugees.  In 1979, with Christel and the writer Heinrich Böll, he founded "Cap Anamur - German Emergency Doctors eV" – an NGO that provides access to sustainable medical services and education in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe.

He also founded the Gruenhelme (Green Helmets), a group dedicated to re-building critical infrastructure, including schools and health facilities in war-afflicted regions.  He  was also involved in humanitarian assessments in Palestine and Israel, and most recently in providing assistance to Syrian refugees.

Rupert Neudeck’s commitment to assisting refugees touched many lives.  He has been declared as “one of the 100 best” in poll of public figures in Germany.  For many whose lives he did touch, he was a hero.  In Hamburg, the Vietnamese community in Germany created a memorial “book” to commemorate the life-saving activities of the Cap Anamur.

A book of condolences is available at:

http://www.kondolenzbuch-online.de/cgi-bin/2016/books/000183.pl

A celebration of Rupert Neudeck’s life will be held at St. Aposteln Church (in Neumarkt/Köln), Neumarkt 30, 50667 Köln on  Tuesday 14th June 2016 at 1100.