Kinder Sculpture

 

Oct 2005 Journal

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Making a New Life: Holocaust survivors in Yorkshire

We are now in our second year of this research, generously supported by the AJR. The team of Amanda Bergen, Bernice Shooman and Brett Harrison have undertaken a series of in-depth interviews with survivors and refugees of the Holocaust who found themselves in the Yorkshire region, or who passed through Yorkshire when they sought asylum in Britain. This project differs from the many video and audio recordings of survivors' experiences of the horrors of the Holocaust. Our focus is on what Eva Hoffman has pointed out is a strangely ignored aspect of the overall impact of the Holocaust: migration. We are interested in documenting the life experiences of those who were forced by racist political persecution to flee for their lives to Britain, where new lives had to be started from scratch, in a strange language, among foreigners, with customs and conditions very different from those across the Europe from the refugees came. In a series of short articles we want to share some of the initial results of our research in this particular region. We are hoping to find more materials, more documents, more stories. We are also interested in finding out if the themes that are emerging from this in-depth work with a specific group of survivors in one region of the country that is neither London nor Manchester, major centres of Jewish life and communities, echo with other refugees in the AJR.

The focus on Yorkshire is the result of the formation of the Holocaust Survivors' Friendship Association in the late 1990s to create a forum for a dispersed group who in fact did not know of each other and were often isolated by retirement, age, illness and loss of family. It was the initiative of this group to write their own stories of coming to Britain, settling and making new lives that set this project in motion. Joining with the Centre for Jewish Studies and the AHRC Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History at the University of Leeds, funds have been raised from charities such as the AJR to appoint a qualified team of researchers and archivists to create a record, a documentary archive and the recording of the stories of over 200 survivors in this region as a case study of the unacknowledged challenges of being an immigrant, an asylum seeker, making a new life. The European Jewish refugees who came to Britain in the 1930s-40s or later having been elsewhere first, forms a singularly important group for research into the relations between childhood experiences and migration, ageing, work, education, professions, family life, relations with the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. This research is not only a monument to the ways new lives were courageously located with enormous contributions made to Britain. It is also a document of immense social and cultural significance in terms of the fact that Jewish refugees form a large and the oldest body of refugees in British society - at a point when it seems we are struggling with hospitality, asylum, anxieties about refugees and immigrants. Our real lives can shed light on the need for a positive, supportive and welcoming approach to any human being fleeing for safety and in need of the opportunity to create a new life.

In this series of short essays by members of the team, we hope to present some of the main findings of these in-depth interviews and encounters with a range of ordinary people who are all, of course, extraordinary in the way they have made their new lives, while keeping faith with the memories of the one that was stolen from them.

Griselda Pollock is Director of the Making a New Life Project at the University of Leeds.
Griselda Pollock

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next article:Mein erster Schultag