Aug 2011 Journal

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The AJR: 70 Years On

Celebrating the Jewish Refugee Experience in Britain

The AJR celebrated its 70th anniversary in June with an impressive programme of events: panel discussions; lectures on German and Austrian culture in the 1930s; film screenings; and a concert of chamber music. The programme was co-ordinated with, and hosted by, the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC).

Members of the First, Second and Third Generations provided varying perspectives in the panel debate ‘The Legacy - Generations Speak Out’ on the first evening of the programme. Joanna Millan, a board member of the AJR and the LJCC and a member of the First Generation, stressed that until recent years many First Generation members had wanted to speak, but ‘no one had wanted to hear.’ Anne Karpf, a writer, sociologist and journalist and a member of the Second Generation, stressed the impressive legacy of the refugees in British life. ‘How do we keep the memory alive and vivid as it passes into history?’, she asked. AJR Director Michael Newman, the grandson of a refugee, argued that the wealth of material available on the Holocaust had both informed and empowered the Third Generation, who were fortunate to benefit from the survivors’ interest in speaking about their experiences. Citing the contemporary interest in genealogy, he himself had researched his family’s history.

In another lively panel discussion, held in a BBC ‘Question Time’ format, the participants were human rights activist Helen Bamber OBE, Austrian Ambassador Dr Emil Brix, historian Dr Helen Fry, LJCC Chief Executive Trudy Gold (chair), Lord Moser, Rabbi Rodney Mariner and German Deputy Ambassador Dr Eckhard Luebkemeier. The panelists responded to questions on, among other issues, the current reception in this country of refugees and asylum-seekers.

It was felt the refugees of the 1930s had integrated more successfully. There was unanimity that Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria were a ‘remarkable success story’, although certainly not a success story for all refugees. A question on financial reparations and restitution provoked a somewhat more contentious reaction, especially from the audience, some members of which expressed disappointment with the response of the Austrian government.

Fascinating lectures were delivered on ‘Weimar culture’ (Patrick Bade); the German political background of the refugees (Trudy Gold); Austrian culture in 1918-38 (Patrick Bade); Sigmund’s Freud’s escape to Britain (Professor Stephen Frosh); the UK the refugees encountered in 1938-39 (William Tyler MBE); and growing up in Munich and the UK (Dr Edgar Feuchtwanger).

Dr Anthony Grenville spoke about his book Jewish Refugees from Germany and Austria in Britain 1933-1970 and, with Dr Bea Lewkowicz, gave a presentation on the AJR’s audio-visual project ‘Refugee Voices’. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Wittenberg’s theme was ‘When and What do you Tell Your Children?’ and Dr Martin Lovett OBE, a member of the world-famous Amadeus Quartet, was interviewed by David Herman.

The programme, directed by LJCC’s Judy Trotter together with Trudy Gold, Kindertransport Chairman Sir Erich Reich and Michael Newman, was unanimously considered a great success and a fitting tribute to the 70 years’ experience of the refugees in the UK.

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