A place of international understanding
The history of the Club is closely intertwined with the Frankfurt industrialist and patron Richard Merton (1881 to 1960), who for many years was the Chairman of Metallgesellschaft AG, a major industrial conglomerate based in Frankfurt. Merton was part of the Frankfurt business elite, which had a liberal and cosmopolitan approach and which placed great importance on tolerance and social equilibrium.
In 1927 Merton built a villa-style town house in Frankfurt’s diplomatic district and moved there with his family. The Jewish entrepreneur was forced to flee to Great Britain in 1939 in the face of Nazi persecution. When he returned in 1945, the villa had been partially destroyed by bombs. The US army initially used the house for officer accommodation before handing it over to the American Press Club.
Merton sold the villa to the city of Frankfurt in 1953 with the proviso that it should be turned into a centre of international understanding. This led in 1956 to the foundation of the Union International Club. The Club rented the property from the city and has since carried out a careful programme of modernisation and extensive renovation involving both the villa and the park, working in close cooperation with the German Historic Buildings and Monuments authority. The protection of historic buildings is one of the core aims of the Club – and the villa itself is, in the eyes of the Club, a true legacy of Richard Merton.
Richard Merton was born in 1881, the youngest child of the Frankfurt businessman and patron Wilhelm Merton and his wife Emma Ladenburg. Upon completing his studies, Merton entered the Berg- und Metallbank group, a subsidiary of the industrial conglomerate, Metallgesellschaft. He familiarised himself with the overseas branches of this international corporation and soon began to focus on the concept of international understanding. In 1911 he joined the Board of Metallgesellschaft and following the death of his father in 1917 he rose to become Chairman of the Board of Directors of both Metallgesellschaft and Metallbank. During the First World War, Merton became involved in industrial relations and the limitation of war profiteering.
In the Weimar Republic he followed in his father’s footsteps by introducing a number of cultural and social initiatives. As a City Councillor for the DVP (1928 – 1933) he played an active role in local politics and, in 1932/33, in the German Reichstag. During the Third Reich, from 1936 onwards, Merton was gradually driven out of all his public offices as a result of his Jewish background. In 1938 he was interned in the Buchenwald concentration camp for three weeks and his assets confiscated.
In 1939, with the help of his second wife, Elisabeth Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, he just managed to escape to England, where he also had citizenship. In Great Britain he became an advocate for Germany and was heavily involved in seeking opportunities to rebuild the German economy in the post-war period. In 1948 he returned to Frankfurt, where his assets were restored to him.
The British occupying forces proposed Merton as the Minister for Trade and Commerce in a future German government. However, Merton concentrated on the task of rebuilding Metallgesellschaft, chairing the Board of Directors from 1950 to 1955. He campaigned on a national level for international cooperation: from 1949 to 1953 he acted as Chairman of the Association for the Protection of Science and Humanities and from 1948 to 1955 he was President of the German International Chamber of Commerce. In 1952 he founded the Frankfurt Social Policy Association and in 1956 he endowed a Professorial Chair in Social Policy at the University of Frankfurt.
1956 was also the year in which he was named a Freeman of the city of Frankfurt. Richard Merton died in 1960.