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Oct 2008 Journal

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German-Jewish refugees on the BBC

August 2008 saw two notable commemorations by the BBC of the German-Jewish refugee experience. On 27 August, BBC TV devoted a programme in the series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to Jerry Springer, born in North-West London in 1944 to Jewish parents who had fled to Britain from Berlin in 1939. The family stayed in London for ten years before emigrating to the USA.

As readers who have seen the programme will know, I made a brief appearance in it, as the AJR’s historical expert on the Jewish refugees who settled in Britain after 1933. I filmed with Jerry Springer for about two hours last autumn in Golders Hill Park, trying to recreate his family’s experiences in London and to relate their story to the general history of the refugees from Hitler in Britain. As the excellent director of the programme, Sue Hills, effectively let me interview Jerry Springer, I found it a nerve-wracking but rewarding experience.

The Springers were classic German-Jewish refugees. Originally from what is now Poland, the family had settled in Berlin, where Jerry Springer’s father ran his own business. Though conscious of their Jewish origins, they had assimilated culturally and occupationally into the German middle class and were probably largely indistinguishable from their gentile environment. They stayed in Germany after 1933 but, with the intensification of anti-Semitic measures by the Nazis after the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, the younger family members sought urgently to emigrate.

Jerry Springer’s parents obtained a British visa thanks to a lady who was willing to act as guarantor for them, and arrived in Britain shortly before war broke out. As the programme shows very movingly, the older generation of the grandparents were unable to emigrate and were left defenceless to face their fate under the Nazis. Springer’s parents, however, were happy in England, finding life in Hampstead Garden Suburb congenial despite the bombing and the hazards of war. It was only fear of a third world war erupting in Europe that drove them to re-emigrate to the USA; otherwise Jerry Springer would have grown up a good Hampstead Garden Suburb boy.

From Monday 18 August to Friday 22 August, Week 5 of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Writing the Century’ dramatised two sets of letters, one of which was the correspondence between the young Marianne Josephy, a Jewish girl born in Rostock in 1923 who had come to Britain on a Kindertransport in 1939, and her parents back in Germany. The letters were taken from the collection published by Marianne Elsley (the married Marianne Josephy), Voices in the Night: Letters from My Parents: 1939-44 (Deddington, Oxon: The Old House Press, 1995), and are deeply moving. Franz and Edith Josephy remained in Berlin until 1943, when they were sent to Theresienstadt; they were deported to Auschwitz on 28 October 1944. I am pleased to say that I recommended the letters to the BBC.
 

 

 

Anthony Grenville

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