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Jan 2003 Journal

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Refugee Voices: AJR oral history collection launched in the north

The AJR has launched a successor project to the Continental Britons exhibition, which closed in November 2002 after a run of five months at the Jewish Museum in London. The exhibition was a remarkable success, attracting an estimated 8,000 visitors.

For many of those who saw the exhibition, its most moving feature was the film made by Dr Bea Lewkowicz, which consisted of beautifully integrated extracts from 20 interviews she had carried out with former refugees. The AJR has now commissioned myself, who with Dr Lewkowicz and Carol Seigel of the Jewish Museum organised the exhibition, to create an archive of similarly filmed interviews with Jewish refugees.

To be called Refugee Voices: The AJR Visual History Collection, this ambitious new project will consist of 120 filmed interviews with former refugees, to be carried out over three years, starting in January 2003. Each interview will aim to provide an account of the interviewee’s entire life story, from his or her childhood in the German-speaking lands of Central Europe up to the present in Britain. Copies of the videos will be held at the Jewish Museum and at the Wiener Library.

Since most of the existing interviews with Jewish refugees from Hitler in Britain have been carried out in London and the South-East, the AJR has decided to redress the balance by having many of the interviews for this new project conducted with members in other regions of the UK. For this reason, I travelled to the Manchester meeting of the AJR’s Northern groups to launch the project there.

Anyone wishing to be interviewed should first contact their regional organiser. But prospective interviewees need to bear in mind that 120 interviews (40 per year for three years) is not a large number, considering the likely demand. Apart from a quota set aside for the AJR’s Day Centre, interviews with members living in the London area will probably have to be limited to exceptional cases. Preference will also have to be given to those who have not yet been interviewed by other organisations.

The AJR Charitable Trust, which has agreed to finance the project, is to be congratulated on its foresight and generosity. With the inexorable passing of the years, it becomes ever more important to record and document the historical experience of the Jewish refugees from Nazism in Britain; theirs is a community that has suffered much and achieved much, not least in establishing themselves and their families securely in Britain. The Refugee Voices project is designed to ensure that a solid body of material about them survives into posterity, for their descendants and for the use of scholars and educationalists.

Dr Grenville is the AJR’s historian and researcher.
Anthony Grenville

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