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Oct 2001 Journal

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'Settling down in England'


Claus Moser, distinguished academic, civil servant, aesthete and former German-Jewish refugee, reminisced on his 65 years in Britain as the keynote speaker at a joint Sussex University, London University and AJR symposium on the value to historical scholarship of six decades of the publication of AJR Information.

Until 1933, he and his brother had experienced a happy childhood in Berlin where his family felt very German. Among 70,000 other refugees from Germany and Austria, his immediate family had been fortunate in reaching Britain in the 1930s. More distant members had perished with millions of others, many because they were proud Germans and believed that Hitler was a temporary aberration. “It all remains in the mind,” he said.

Remarkable achievement

“To have published AJR Information (now AJR Journal) continuously, at a very high standard, for six decades, is a remarkable achievement,” said Lord Moser, emphasising that he spoke from personal experience. In the 1940s his parents had derived enormous confidence, support and security from its pages. “It has been part of my family since it was first published,” he recalled.

Disagreeing with those who suggested that the subject was over-emphasised, Claus Moser derived a real sense of satisfaction from the attention the Holocaust was currently receiving. The permanent Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum should be a source of pride and he felt strongly that there was now less risk of the Holocaust being forgotten.

Unanticipated welcome

While Britain was not particularly warm to foreigners, in the 1930s the evidence was that this country was one of the most welcoming to refugees. He felt that a number of remarkable non-Jews especially deserved appreciation: “I feel a continual sense of gratitude to the host country for welcoming us.” Having spent his first thirteen years in Berlin, he still did not feel “totally English.” Lord Moser thought it “one of those nice coincidences in life” that he received his peerage 65 years to the day since arriving in England in 1936.

Speaking of his fellow German-Jewish refugees, Claus Moser believed that although they differed in age, financial standing, professional qualifications, in what they had left behind, in their links to this country and in what they were to achieve here, they were in the main middle class, urban, liberal, rather cultured, well educated and, on the whole, not very religious.

The then existing Jewish community in Britain, mostly of Eastern European origin and from poorer and more religious backgrounds, “were not waiting to receive us,” he remembered, and he remained intrigued that Jews of German origin had yet to develop a significant relationship with the mainstream Anglo-Jewish community.

Endless list

The refugee contribution to British society included 20 scientists who became Nobel laureates and 50 members of the Royal Society. Others distinguished themselves in publishing, journalism, industry and the law. “The list is endless,” said Lord Moser.

Glyndebourne Opera owed its existence to Fritz Busch and Karl Ebert (political refugees); the Amadeus Quartet transformed chamber music; the conductors Solti and Klemperer reigned supreme, while the refugee community formed large parts of their audiences. Gombrich created the study of the history of art and Pevsner took an unequalled architectural tour of Britain.

Lord Moser reminded us, however, that many endured hard and tough lives and some even returned to Germany.

AJR in the life of refugees

Refugees owed a debt of gratitude to the AJR. Founded in 1941, its aims were to help fellow refugees, to end enemy alien status and internment, to achieve naturalisation and secure restitution. “It is a remarkable story,” he said.

AJR Information had always remained neutral on religious issues. Both the AJR and AJR Information had proved to be “extraordinarily helpful in enabling us to settle down and to assimilate,” said Lord Moser. They forged a bond between refugees and “the AJR enabled my parents to retain a part of their own identity.”

“I feel incredibly confident in its future,” said Lord Moser, advising the AJR Journal to retain all its interesting items and to pursue an agenda well beyond that of the 1930s. Encouragingly he concluded, “No other journal can do it as well.”
Ronald Channing

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