How A.A. members are being shut up Facts: November 1990: A.A. found me, I found A.A.
April 1995: German General Service Conference (GDK 1995), Final Report TOP 8, p. 45: “The Service Board ‘Basic Issues’ recommends in answer to request 22/95 ‘lawsuit at literature distribution’, that the General Service Conference grants to the Inc. (‘e.V.’) the right, to take appropriate legal remedies for protection of legitimate claims, trusting in its professional competence.”
Reading this I was worried. What about our anonymity? What about the essay by Bill W. “Twelve Concepts for World Service”? Is this no longer effective? I had become aware of cases, where such methods had been used already, even before this decision. Are we A.A.s going to suit each others for carrying the message in written forms?
August 1995: I hear about a bilingual A.A. group to be founded, which is planning to publish a newsletter. I am showing my interest in participation.
September 1995: An essay of an American A.A. (“Greshem’s Law and Alcoholic Anonymous”) is recommended by Walter Lechler m.D., an non-alcoholic friend of A.A., to be translated. A member of the Big Book Study Group, which is just founded by some A.A.s, sends me the English manuscript and the translation. My wife and me are proof-reading. We enjoy the text.
October 1995: The newsletter (“A-A-ktuell”) is published. Other newsletters are erratically published in the following six months.
April 1996: I was informed about another case, where an A.A. friend (member of the Big Book Study Group) was threatened by lawyer acting per procurationem of A.A. Interest Group Inc. (“Anonyme Alkoholiker Interessengemeinschaft e. V.”, the German institution exclusively licensed by AAWS Inc.). The A.A. member forwards this letter to the Big Book Study Group, as the complaint of the attorney is directed against the layout of the newsletter from October. The Group sends a very polite answer, which is signed by first names of me and my wife as “editorial staff”. About the same time I formulated a request to the German GSC:
“April 17th, 1996. Request to the GSC. “Dear friends,
hereby I would like to place the following request to the GSC for the next possible date:
“Is the A.A. Interest Group Inc. (“Anonyme Alkoholiker Interessengemeinschaft e. V.”). authorised to break anonymity of A.A. members towards third parties? “Explanation: “By Fax I received the copy of an attorney’s letter to Matthias M. at Oberursel. By this letter appears that in this case the anonymity of his full identity as an alcoholic has been disclosed without his own consent. Reading the expositions of the attorney, the occasion seems more or less run-of-the-mill.
“Therefore I would like to ask the GSC, to clear up, under which circumstances the A.A. Interest Group Inc. is allowed to break the anonymity of A.A. members towards third parties and if this may happen with or without approval of the GSC?
“In Australia a case had become known, in which the anonymity of a member had been broken. After his identity became public he lost his job. He sued the group of people, who had made public his identity as an A.A. member. The Service office had been sentenced by the court to pay compensation. I mention this example to make clear, that the A.A. fellowship is carrying the risk, that a considerable damage may emerge. Therefore we should never carelessly deal with our anonymity.
“In the Final Report of the German General Service Conference 1995 it says on page 45, TOP 8, that the General Service Conference “grants to the Inc. (‘e.V.’) the right, to take appropriate legal remedies for protection of legitimate claims”. However, there is of course the question, when and where we may ignore our Anonymity-Traditions? The decision does not treat the question, how such cases have to be handled, if they are causing as well a break of anonymity of A.A. members towards third parties. In addition, it is left open, what are “legitimate claims” and what are “appropriate legal remedies”? In my opinion, it can never be an appropriate remedy to expose an alcoholic to the public. It would be very important for me, to see this question cleared up by the GSC.
“For myself there is no question, that I would lay down all my service activities and withdraw from the fellowship, if my anonymity towards third parties, which is guaranteed by our Traditions Eleven and Twelve, is no longer safeguarded. The freedom of choice, where and when identity as an alcoholic is uncovered, I would like to keep for myself. I do not want to leave this decision to an Inc., of which I am not even part of.
Sincerely Yours ... Burkhard.”
A week later, I passed on a little anonymity card to a newcomer during a Twelfth Step Job. I started to feel guilty. Is this still honesty? I decide to place another request to the GSC.
A couple of days later, a member of the Big Book Study Group calls me. Bills Original manuscript is to be translated. My wife and me are asked to do proof-reading. So we do. For two days I visit an A.A. member on his request and translate two or three chapters and some stories of the manuscript. I am informed, that the manuscript is to be published until the German National Convention and given out for free. Members of the group have raised the money for printing. I have no worries about copyright, as I am aware of John Bragg’s statement in the Final Report of the 10th World Service Meeting (page 23): “Of course, as you may be aware, the copyright on the first and second editions of the Big Book is no longer in force anywhere except in Canada...”
“April 27th, 1996. Concern: Request about anonymity card / decision of the Service Board ‘Basic Issues’, TOP 8, 1995
the following request is to be seen in connection with my request from 17th April 1996 and is part of it in a sense. Hereby I would like to ask the GSC of Alcoholics Anonymous, whether
to reassess the recommendation of the Service Board ‘Basic Issues’ in TOP 8, “‘lawsuit at literature distribution’, ...”
or b) to actualise the anonymity card in its first paragraph, maybe like that: “Members of Alcoholics Anonymous make a point of carrying the message about their own recovery in A.A. on a person-to-person basis — but never disclose the membership of others, except when the Alcoholics Anonymous Interest Group Inc. feels bound to take appropriate legal remedies for protection of legitimate claims.”
or c) to cease distributing the anonymity cards.
Explanation Reality has shown, that litigation of the Inc. about literature may be directed at A.A. members and thus there anonymity will be disclosed. However, this contradicts the promise of anonymity, which we give to each member. For protection of our credibility we would have to actualise all our current literature in this point, stop distributing it or change the recommendation. I feel affected, as I haven given out anonymity cards to newcomers in good conscience.
Please, would you mind to consider with it the following and clear up as recorded statement:
In addition the wallet card states:
“2. Past events indicate that those alcoholics who seek public recognition as A.A. members may drink again.”
Here is admitted and seen as a matter of fact, that alcoholics may be endangered to relapse, if they are exposed to the public in an unfortunate way. As legal actions provoke a certain publicity in an unfortunate way, we would consciously expose them to this danger, if we “take appropriate legal remedies”. Can we take it upon ourselves, to run the risk, to push someone back into his disease, and possibly sentence him or her to death???
That it is, what makes me depressed about that, and I would like to urge you to speak about this topic and clear it up. Personally I have to say, that I would not like to participate any longer in this fellowship, if these questions cannot be cleared up sufficiently. I would like to dissociate from the above mentioned decision and way of handling of the Inc. by a clear statement: This is not happening in my consent, that is not “We”, who send letters by lawyers, those are power-hungry officials up there, with whom I have nothing in common !!!
Sincerely Yours ... Burkhard
April/May 1996: My wife attends a meeting of the Big Book Study Group during the German National Convention at Bremen. She says that 30 people visited the meeting and the foundation of the group has been confirmed. She tells me regards from my Service-Sponsor, who she met at this meeting. He is an experienced A.A. with more than twenty years sobriety and I met him in the English Speaking Phoenix Group at Frankfurt about four years ago for the first time. She and him have been reserved at the meeting, she adds. Beyond that my wife mentions that many Original Manuscripts have been given out for free and lots of A.A.s received it happily. Later on I am informed by a member of the Big Book Study Group, that 3000 Books have been given out.
September 24th 1996: My wife and me receive a registered letter each from Alcoholics Anonymous Interest Group Inc. (Anonyme Alkoholiker Interessengemeinschaft e.V.). I am writing:
To whom it may concern:
I am an alcoholic and I am sober today. However, I need help. I must have been in the wrong meeting, or what? — Since three days my head is aching, I am dancing on the verge of a depression and I feel fury, pain, and grief about a fellowship, which I used to have faith in. What has happened?
Marion, my wife went for therapy to Bad Camberg (Diagnosis: Burnout). Myself, I had spent two weeks in Taunus, met my friends and had a good holiday. Went to a nice A.A. barbecue & many meeting. Saw my 85 years old mother on the way back. Was home at Hannover on Monday.
A big heap of mail was waiting, in between it two little slips for registered letters to be collected, one for my wife Marion and one for myself. I wondered, what that could be. The deadline was the same day, so I rushed to the post office immediately. Next I could not believe my eyes, when I was holding two big, colorful envelopes in my hands, one addressed to me, one to my wife. Both letters carried a big, fat blue punch: “Anonyme Alkoholiker Interessengemeinschaft e. V.” etc. (That’s like Alcoholics Anonymous Services Inc.) — I felt like being hit over my head. I was like in a dream and somewhere in the tram I opened my envelope to find an explication, why the German Service Board was interested, to break my and my wife’s anonymity.
I would like to let you know its full content, so I will try my best, to translate it:
“Interest Group Inc.
“PO Box etc...
“... (my address)
“Munich, the 13th September 1996
“Concern: Your marketing of copyrighted writings
“This letter, which is signed by all three chairmen of our board, we are sending to your group in general. In addition we send a copy each by separate mail, namely by registered mail, directly to Marion, Burkhard and Matthias. We are doing this, because we want to be sure, that our writing of today will not remain unnoticed.
“Your group is spreading AA-literature, among other things
The Blue Book” under just this name. Basis for your publication is Bill´s manuscript in its first form, which has been translated by you (or other people in your contract).
The comic “Too Young?”, which includes two publications of AAWS, namely “Too Young?” and “It Happened To Alice!”.
“Bill´s Story” in three varied translations (11/95 of your irregularly published information sheet “A-A-ktuell”).
“These writings (and other material, which is not important here) you are sending to other AA groups, as we think, by abusive utilization of addresses from the directory, which is published by us, uninvited and often not welcomed, as we know on account of numerous queries and complaints. Your ‘successes’ in marketing AA literature you have described in detail yourselves in your newsletter from July 12th, 1996. Since very recently, you are adding a slip with your “prices” and forwarding expenses to your mail, as we have been told.
“Your distribution of literature is illegal, as far as the above mentioned publications are concerned. Namely the AA writings are protected by copyright. Going by what legally qualified people say, there are no serious doubts about the existence of copyright protection. That is valid for the Blue Book or its parts, irrespective of the fact in which form or in which language it is published. In Germany it is protected for a period of 50 years after the death of Bill and thereby until the year 2021. Matthias knows all about it, as he communicated about it with AAWS in 1993 and 1994.
“The utilization of the title ‘The Blue Book’ is hurting the title protecting law of our society as well, which may prohibit identical or mistakable names.
“Your activities are not new. They have been the matter of inquires at the General Service Board several times before. We have visited you, to talk with you about it. However, you have changed nothing. In explicit consent with AAWS we try to make you to listen to reason by this letter for the very last time.
“We are not doing this, because we have the legal possibility to do so (only the better legal position would not be a sufficient legitimization, as our AA-understanding tells us), but because you are damaging the common matter. This damage is multiple. On the one hand, financial losses are emerging by the marketing of the literature. The development and the building up of the AA fellowship in all counties was and is dependent upon financial profits from literature sales. Even where the work is no longer protected by copyright, it is not delivered free of charge. You know that. Second, we are, AAWS is, constraint to watch, that our message is spread out uniformly. It can’t be true, that each AA group issues its own version of the Blue Book. George, the general manager of the GSO at New York has formulated it appropriately, when he said, that you are hurting the integrity of the message. Third, it is part of the spreading of the AA literature to be able and willing to be responsible for the addressees, to help them and to support them to the optimum according to our principles. For that there is our fellowship with its developed structures, that are decided and borne on the various levels of service. But you are limiting yourselves on uninvited mailing of publications.
“Therefore we ask and urge you for the very last time, to stop immediately the translation, the production and/or the distribution of the three above mentioned publications, as well as of all other AA literature, that is not released by written permission. If you are willing to do so, we expect of you a corresponding written declaration, which we receive by
October 11th 1996.
“We have included a blueprint. The declaration has to be signed by full name from Marion, Burkhard and Matthias. For the other members the first name is enough.
“We hope, that with that we will get rid of this tiresome matter. If you should not be willing to do so, we will authorize a lawyer, who is experienced in this matter and who will then take further actions. That may be criminal prosecution, because infringements of copyright are criminal offenses. In addition we have been told, that criminal justice authorities investigate of their own accord the persons in question in cases of anonymously committed infringements.
“Finally a word about anonymity: It is laid down in the traditions ten, eleven and twelve and it has besides others the purpose to protect the individual. However, anonymity is not intended to be a cover for the individual to damage AA as a whole or even commit crimes. In this matter we are in agreement with AAWS. In such cases, names may be given to other persons just like that.
“Of course we are prepared to negotiate. But we will not agree about a prolongation of the above mentioned deadline, because we have tried for years.
(Bodo Dombrowski, 1st chairman; Heinz-Peter Ricken, 2nd chairman; Hans Prußky, manager)
“PS: By the way, with the spreading of your publications you are violating press law, too. Printers and publishers have to be stated by full name and address in every publication. We are less interested in this infringement, but we assume, that the authorities — once they are informed — will also investigate in this matter.
blueprint of declaration
copy of cover of “The Blue Book”
copy of cover of the comic “Too Young?” (A-A-ktuell 7/96)
copy of cover of A-A-ktuell 11/95 (content “Bill’s Story”)
“Declaration of Liability
“Mrs Marion Czarnetzki, Eintrachtweg 9, 30173 Hannover, Mr Burkhard Czarnetzki, Eintrachtweg 9, 30173 Hannover and Mr. Matthias Michel, Karl-Herrmann-Flach-Str., 61440 Oberursel, as well as all the other members of the Big Book Study Group, Bad Homburg, place an obligation hereby, namely individually, on Alcoholics Anonymous Interest Group Inc., Ingolstädter Straße 68 a, 80939 Munich, as of now, to refrain from
“1. Production and/or spreading of the following publications, whose covers are included by copy,
“The Blue Book”, the German translation of the original manuscript of 1938, 256 pages, 1. Edition 1996
“2. The application of the name “The Blue Book” as a title of printed items.
Bad Homburg, ...
................ (to be signed by Marion Czarnetzki)
................ (to be signed by Burkhard Czarnetzki)
................ (to be signed by Matthias Michel)
................ (to be signed by other members)
Now, I nearly lost my way in the tram. Maybe you think, I’m joking, but I’m not. I add a copy of the original papers. Ask a skilled translator, what it says.
This letter includes a heap of false accusations, which seem to be formulated by a lawyer. In my case, they can only be founded on speculations, in case of my wife, who has not much to with the whole story, except being my wife and a distant friend for Matthias, on extremely vague guesswork. In my eyes these are calumnies.
The strategy shows a Munich interpretation of “Ladies first”, because a chain is breaking at ist weakest link, if there is any chain and women are meant to be weak. It also shows the anti-female tendencies, which maybe easily found at German A.A. tables — sarcastically spoken.
As this deadline had been given, I had to send the letter with identical content (except for the name) to my wife, to the therapy center, where she tries to recover from a burnout syndrom. “The fury is breaking up my depression...” she said to me on the phone. “I’m going to write those Misters Dombrowski, Ricken und Prußky, that I am not their “Dear Marion” — and that they may restrain from such impertinent letters in future. I consult an attorney and sue them for calumny and constraint.”
I will consult an attorney on Monday and send an appropriate answer to this saint society. I am thinking to file a suit because of injury. Haven’t I’ve been given a little card, where it says what anonymity means to us? Watch your words in the meetings, fellows, if the GSO assumes, you may be a criminal or suspects you to be brought into connection with anybody, who they assume to be a criminal or harming AA as a whole, they will break your anonymity, just like that ... I do not know how law people see this case.
In any case, reality has shown, that publications of A.A. are meaningless phrases to serve the single purpose of attracting members — at least for the members of the Service Boards — like many other organizations in this world. This letter includes a bunch of lies. Neither me, nor my wife, nor the Big Book Study Group ever had a visit by a member of the board, as they claim. And concerning anonymity they act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in one person, namely in doubt against the defendant and without hearing the latter. With the anonymity A.A. has made itself a cruel weapon, and now it seems to start using it.
In fact, I don’t care, if the postman knows, that I am an alcoholic. Indeed, I would go and tell him my story, if it would make a point. But I assure you, my friends, it is bloody painful, if our anonymity is purposely broken by others. I wandered around in a trauma for three days, suffering sleeplessness and loss of appetite. My hands were shaking like in my first weeks of sobriety. I thought of drinking, but I didn’t. I could not think a clear thought. I guess, it just feels like that being violated.
Many thoughts are crossing my mind. Should I leave this bunch of liars? I reported to our area secretary, whose substitute I am. I said, I would quit my service, if she wanted so. She replyed, that I have her full trust. That felt good.
I called my sponsor and he came to me. Another AA-friend came to see me. I called a Conference delegate, who I have faith in. He will pick up this topic in the next Conference, which is in October. He understood very well. The pressure and the headache were decreasing. Again, the phone was ringing. A sponsee of my wife had problems at work. I listened to her — until early morning. Then I fell into a deep sleep.
For the time being, there seems to be more recovery for me within the circle of my closest friends. — Do I need an insane service structure under the direction of a GSO and Service Board, that is mixing up uniformity of thinking with tolerance? An organization, that shuts up its members by reprisal and retaliation?
Contemporary witnesses relate, that Bill W. mentioned in front of Mary, the long-standing sponsor of Inge L., that he doubted if A.A. will get a foothold in Germany, for there is no Kaiser and no Führer in A.A. — Maybe he was right. We Germans lack 50 years experience of democracy, compared to the U.S.A.
The wonderful thing is, that all my close AA-friends stick with Marion and me, without exception. They tell us to have the courage to carry on and that we have their full confidence!
If I ask myself, what shall I do, to be of better service for A.A., then I find only one single answer: Carry on, as you did and work the Steps, just as now; fulfill your usual commitments, without thinking I would be something better. I feel, I need a lot of help at this moment. Please, give me a note, if you can. And thanks for sharing the road of happy destiny with me!
Sincerely Yours in the Fellowship
September 27th, 1996: I receive a letter by the German GSC:
Concern: Your requests to the GSC from April 17th and 27th, 1996 Dear Burkhard,
We have considered your requests in the conference team. We will not treat them in the conference.
You, dear Burkhard, are making yourself a megaphone of M. at Oberursel and you are trying in this way to go the official way of conference. Your activities, which offend against all of our Traditions of our fellowship, you would like to know protected by our Traditions. Don’t you realise yourself this contradiction?
Besides it is not the responsibility of the conference to treat requests, which do not clearly serve our primary purpose, and which moreover are formulated polemically, disgracing and not seriously.
Sincerely Yours ... for the Conference Team
September 28th, 1996: In agreement with our area secretary I resign from my service as area assistant secretary.
Sincerely Yours in the Fellowship