Dec 2005 Journal

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Making a New Life: Educational opportunities

Among the varied and remarkable themes emerging through the unique experiences of those contributing to the Making a New Life: Holocaust Survivors in Yorkshire Project, the loss of potential scholarly status is particularly poignant and pertinent. These accounts may resonate with familiar feelings recognised by readers and we on the research team would greatly welcome your responses.

Nazi ideology prescribed one fate for all European Jews. Although anti-Jewish policy was applied in various ways in the occupied countries, John Chillag and Waldemar Ginsburg, incarcerated in severely congested ghettos, shared a common destiny. Not only doomed to humiliation and deprivation, they were also severed from their educational opportunities and ambitions.

John attended a gymnasium in Györ, Hungary, the total population of which was approximately 50,000; the Jewish community was about 5,000. Of 36 boys in the class, 5 were Jews. Discrimination against Jews in Hungary culminated in the Race Laws of 1941, similar to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws in Germany. On 19 March 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary and, in April of the same year, the population of one district of Györ was evacuated and designated as a ghetto for the Jewish population. According to John:

Before we were forced into the ghetto, I was 17 years old and about to complete seventh grade in grammar school. I should have taken my final examination in June 1945. I was the only Jew who came back [from the camps], to take an accelerated course towards matriculation [final exam]. I obtained good results and might have gone to university the next day. But how could I? Somehow I had to earn a living.

On 11 April 1945 John was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp and, while recovering, supervised the loading of patent and work-process documentation. Unbelievably, he was reunited with some of that same material 18 years later, when he began work at the British Library in Yorkshire.

On graduation from grammar school in 1939 Waldemar enrolled in the Architectual Department of the University of Kaunas, Lithuania: 'I adapted well to the new demands of student existence. At the same time, I became anxious about the pace and scope of ominous developments. Nazi-inspired racial antisemitism was spreading like a contagious disease across the German border.'

Two years later, in June 1941, exactly a year after the arrival of the Red Army, the German army advanced into Lithuania. By July that year over 30,000 Jews, including Waldemar, were marched into a ghetto. The majority of the ghetto workforce was assigned to the airport for relentless gruelling work.

'I noticed, a few rows in front of me, a young man taking off his yellow Star of David. He disappeared. Joseph Kagan survived, made his way to England and became Lord Kagan of Elland.' In the autumn of 1948 Waldemar eventually settled in Elland, West Yorkshire, where he worked for Kagan Textiles until his retirement.

In defiance of the Nazi ideology which denied their civil human rights, including education, the threads of John's and Waldemar's careers have woven a rich tapestry into the Yorkshire landscape of Boston Spa and Elland.

Making a New Life Project
AHRC Centre CATH
Old Mining Building 2.08
University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
Email: b.l.harrison@leeds.ac.uk

This is the third article in the series. See AJR Journal, October and November issues.
Bernice Shooman

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