According to the domestic intelligence service, Officer Blume had contact with a radical Muslim – and wanted to "work together soon".
In the general hysteria after 9/11, a civil servant with a Muslim partner was considered highly suspicious. Michaelʹs initial amused exasperation at being labelled a "Protestant risk factor" soon gave way to sleeplessness and fear: "Has marrying me harmed you?" Zehra asked. "Youʹre still in your probationary period at work, after all." Michael was upset: "If loving someone of another faith brings disadvantages – is this still the democracy I believe in?" His boss, however, was on his side.
The 2011 regional elections in Baden-Württemberg spelled the end of 58 years in government for the CDU. Michael Blume, by that point a father of three, started packing his things at the office. He planned to apply for a job at Tubingen University. Suddenly he saw Winfried Kretschmann in the doorway, the first Green Party prime minister. "Would you be prepared to stay? For church and religious issues plus integration of minorities?" It was an unexpected career leap.
Saving a thousand lives – you canʹt duck out of it
On 3 August 2014, terrorists from the so-called Islamic State attacked villages and towns in northern Iraq because they were home to "disbelievers": Yazidis, Christians, non-Sunni Muslims. They murdered some 3000 men in front of their families and abducted at least 5000 women and children to abuse as slaves.
Some 190 000 Yazidis live in Germany or were born there. That September, representatives of their central council showed pictures, torture of children, public executions, even crucifixions. They asked for help in the face of this disaster. Winfried Kretschmann was shocked, but told the Yazidi representatives "Baden-Württemberg doesnʹt have an army. . ."
Staff at the ministry recalled the late 1970s, when Lower Saxony took in Vietnamese "boat people". Germanyʹs federal states are permitted to accept special allotments of refugees. "Should we get about 1000 victims of sexual violence out of northern Iraq?" Kretschmann asked at a conference of political parties, local councils, churches and associations.
"We have a legal basis to do so. But it will cost tens of millions. And the federal government wonʹt accept responsibility, it will be down to us." All the hands in the room were raised – a consensus never seen before.
Every life counts
It is Christmas Eve when Winfried Kretschmann asks: "Would you do it, Mr Blume?" Through an office window, Michael sees a Christmas tree. Can he change something in this cruel world? He, the civil servant in a German region famed for its hardworking attitude and modest ambitions?
"Everyone in my generation has seen the movie ʹSchindlerʹs Listʹ and thought: would I have that courage? Suddenly that question was real," he recalls. "A thousand human lives! And if I duck out?" He hears himself answering: "Yes, I can do it. But I have to ask my wife first."
Christmas vespers in the Protestant church. Blumeʹs children are 11, 9 and 3, the best age to celebrate Christmas. Zehra and her daughter Melissa play the flute and Michael reads chapter two of Saint Lukeʹs Gospel. Zehra wonders why Michael has tears in his eyes. The family eat a semi-traditional late Christmas Eve meal of potato salad and halal sausages. Then there are presents.
Once the children are in bed, Michael drops his bombshell: "Kretschmann asked me whether Iʹd go and get the IS slaves out of Iraq, a thousand women and children." Zehra is shocked. "All in one go?" – "No, it will take a lot of missions." – "How often? How long?" –"I donʹt know. We have to find them, check their health, issue visas, bring them here, house them. It will probably take a year." – "And youʹd have to go to Iraq every time . . .?"
He nods. Suddenly she starts crying and takes his hand: "We both believe God will one day ask us what we did about the misery before our eyes, right?" Michael nods again. "Iʹm constantly ashamed of the crimes committed in the Middle East in the name of Islam. It makes me so angry that those monsters call themselves Muslims!"
She looks at Michael: "Youʹve become the man I always saw in you. Back at school, in ethics class. So yes – do it. Every life counts."
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire