Jun 2002 Journal

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Continental Britons' - a story now told

"In seeking to develop a wider awareness of the experience of Jewish refugees fleeing from the tyranny of Nazism, the significant contribution which they subsequently made to this country and the continuing relevance of these events to today, the exhibition helps us all to celebrate the values and benefits of diversity whilst also developing a greater sense of community responsibility, common citizenship and shared values. I would like to congratulate the Jewish Museum and the Association of Jewish Refugees." - David Blunkett, Home Secretary

Former Berliner and distinguished academic Lord Moser, in the presence of Jewish Museum Chairman Kenneth Rubens, Director Rickie Berman, AJR Chairman Andrew Kaufman and many fellow former refugees, spoke warmly of his gratitude to Britain. He took pride in the many talented refugees from Germany and Austria who contributed to their adopted country's science, history, publishing, architecture, music, art history and academia. He cautioned, however, that of the 50,000 refugees who settled permanently in Britain, possibly 500 to 1,000 reached exceptional eminence; most of the rest were pleased to make more modest contributions and a few never fully readjusted to émigré life. BBC Radio 3's evening-long broadcast portraying the refugees' lasting mark on Britain's intellectual and artistic life, presented by Daniel Snowman, had provided the exhibition with a remarkable prologue.

Having recently returned from Israel, where he is Chancellor of their Open University, Lord Moser reminded his audience that "Israel is a country of refugees," many of whom often felt close to despair. He expressed the hope that contemplating the past at the exhibition may well help to surmount contemporary problems. In congratulating all those who had created the Continental Britons' exhibition, he particularly commended the comprehensive programme of talks, discussions, concerts and conferences which accompanies it during the ensuing six months, and invited everyone to participate in a veritable German-Jewish cultural festival.

On behalf of the AJR, Andrew Kaufman thanked the Jewish Museum for its expertise and resources, and for providing a fine location in which the exhibition could be presented and with which the AJR could conclude its 60th anniversary celebrations. Although the backdrop to the exhibition was filled with sadness - the loss of homes and businesses, the abandonment of jobs and professions - those who found refuge in Britain had made an immense contribution to Britain's economic, social and cultural life in the second half of the twentieth century.

During the process of research and development, the exhibition gave rise to three additional elements: the outstanding programme of related events which Andrew Kaufman urged everyone to attend; a series of filmed interviews with refugees, directed by Dr Bea Lewkowicz; and a concise, illustrated history of German-speaking Jewish refugees who settled in Britain - especially in the Swiss Cottage-Finchley Road-Hampstead area of north London - written by Dr Anthony Grenville.

This remarkable refugee generation may well become known and admired as 'Continental Britons' from this time on as a result of the many people who will be visiting the exhibition and absorbing its moving history in the coming months.
Ronald Channing

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