Extracts from the Dec 2009 Journal

Songs of innocence and experience

For many older readers, the recent reappearance of Dame Vera Lynn at the top of the hit parade - at the age of 92 – will immediately reawaken memories of the Second World War and the dark years when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. The strains of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ are powerfully evocative of the hardships and separations of wartime, but also of its spirit of solidarity and comradeship, reinforced by confidence in ultimate victory and in a happier post-war world. [more...]

Return to Canada: The New Brunswick Internment Camp Museum

I arrived in Canada in June 1940 on the good ship Sobieski bound for Quebec. I was all of 17 years old, one of the 4,000 of the 27,000 civilian internees the British government was deporting. After being recognised as a ‘refugee from Nazi oppression’, I changed my status to ‘enemy alien’ after Churchill decided to ‘collar the lot’. My father, who had been a doctor in Vienna, considered himself fortunate to have escaped Nazi Germany to obtain a job as a caretaker at a refugee club in Edinburgh. He too was interned but stayed behind on the Isle of Man, which became a massive internment camp.
Separated on the crossing from us civilian internees by barbed wire were German POWs. When they found out that most of the internees on the other side of the wire were Jews, they went through the repertoire of anti-Semitic songs popular among followers of the Nazi regime. It should have warned me of the murderous goals of their movement. I laughed them off, being more intent on enjoying my first experience of the Atlantic on board an ocean liner.
After disembarking at Quebec, a short stop-over at Trois Rivières and an endless seeming train journey through dense forest, I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere and taken to a camp that was to be my new home. It was enclosed by two rows of barbed wire fences and watch towers manned by Canadian soldiers. I was sent back to England the following year, no longer an ‘enemy alien’, and later joined the Royal Air Force. I didn’t see the site of the camp again until 68 years later, having returned to Canada as a landed immigrant in 1966.
Camp B was not in the middle of nowhere, but 34 km east of Fredericton, New Brunswick. There are no barbed wire fences and huts now. But the 52 buildings of the prison compound are clearly marked, thanks to local students working under the direction of Ed Caissie, a retired high school teacher. After taking us round the site on well maintained walking trails, Ed took me and my wife to Minto, where he had developed the New Brunswick Internment Camp Museum.
It took me back to my time as an internee. A double bunk reminded me how I had shared my personal space with Wolfi, another refugee from Vienna. We had met at Friends School Great Ayton, a Quaker school in Yorkshire, where we founded a two-member club: ‘Mir san Mir’ - Viennese dialect for ‘Wir sind wir’ (We Are Us).
Wolfi and I also held close political views. Communism wasn’t yet a dirty word, and the view that the Communist Party represented the most determined opposition to the Fascist and Nazi movements was widespread. To some it also held out the hope for a more just world. In the camp the Austrian Communist Party was well represented. It included Jenö Kostmann, the editor of an anti-Nazi paper published in London. He could discuss every subject under the sun from the Marxist perspective. We also had our local hero, Fredl Hreisenau. He was wounded in the Spanish Civil War, fighting in the International Brigades.
There were often fierce arguments between groups. There was heckling, and on New Year’s Eve a man who attempted to introduce phony levity during a concert in the recreation hut was bombarded with egg shells. That was the extent of the violence among us. [more...]

Art notes (review)

Courage and primitivism go hand in hand at the Royal Academy’s new exhibition, Wild Thing. The title derives from Ezra Pound’s description of sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska as ‘some soft-moving, bright-eyed wild thing’. The artist sadly died on a French battlefield in 1915 at the age of 23. [more...]

Letter from Israel:

As readers of this column will have surmised by now, my husband and I are keen concert-goers. Israel abounds in opportunities to attend inspiring orchestral concerts, uplifting chamber performances, and impressive solo recitals. We try to attend as many of these as our energy and pocket allow, and these almost invariably leave us agape at the wealth of musical riches with which this small country is blessed. [more...]

Letters to the Editor

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