Extracts from the Oct 2013 Journal
Which were the defining transitional years in the history of post-war Europe? Many would nominate 1968, the year of mass student unrest; others would opt for 1973, the year of the oil price rise that put an end to the period of high growth rates, Europe’s post-war ‘economic miracle’. But for Britain, where student unrest was on a modest scale and where the dismal performance of the economy made the German Wirtschaftswunder a distant prospect, neither of these years appears to represent a historical turning-point.
Instead, 1956 stands out as a year of change in Britain, when the established order of post-war society was turned on its head. In politics, 1956 was the year of Suez, Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s ill-fated military intervention in Egypt, which revealed in humiliating fashion the limitations of Britain’s fading claim to be a ‘world power’. The failure of political judgment evident in this military adventure, and the evident dishonesty of the government’s attempts to justify it as a means to restore peace to the Suez Canal area, seriously undermined the British public’s hitherto largely unquestioning belief in the ultimate competence and trustworthiness of its rulers. The discrediting of the ruling class was taken a stage further with the Profumo affair in 1963, when senior public figures were revealed frolicking with nubile young women and, in Profumo’s case, lying to parliament about it.
Nineteen fifty-six was also a year of dramatic change in the world of the British theatre. The first performance of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court Theatre on 8 May 1956, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Kenneth Haigh, was a landmark in British culture, ushering in the era of the ‘angry young men’. The play can be seen as a calculated rejection of the conventions and values of the well-made play, the genre that had dominated British theatre in the interwar years and continued to do so in the decade after 1945, despite the huge changes in British society that had occurred over that period. The play’s main character – one can hardly call him its ‘hero’ – is the resolutely lower-class Jimmy Porter, and its action takes place in the cramped, shabby, provincial flat occupied by Porter and his wife. With its direct onslaught on the class-obsessed conformity and smug complacency of post-war Britain, its distrust of established standards and values, and its general lack of respect for ‘official’ society, Look Back in Anger brought a new, sharply left-wing tone onto the British stage.
In Osborne’s second play, The Entertainer (1957), the role of the washed-up vaudeville comic Archie Rice was taken by Laurence Olivier. Having embodied British establishment patriotism in his role as the King in the wartime film of Henry V, Britain’s leading actor was now playing a figure whose slide into mediocrity and cynicism mirrored the increasingly threadbare condition of establishment values and the scepticism that they were increasingly encountering in post-war society. The floodgates were now open, as the plays of Arnold Wesker, Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots (both 1958) and Chips with Everything (1962), with their vision of a class-ridden society from the viewpoint of its poorer, under-privileged members, and John Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (1959), a bitter indictment of the violence perpetrated by Britain in its colonies, conquered the stage. This new style of radically naturalistic drama, dubbed ‘kitchen sink drama’, giving prominence to downtrodden, inarticulate characters in down-at-heel, sometimes sordid settings, was epitomised by Wesker’s The Kitchen, set in the basement kitchen of a restaurant.
Like the strange and menacing early plays of Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party (1958) and The Caretaker (1960), these dramas broke decisively with the well-made play’s focus on upper- and middle-class characters and settings. I can still recall the sense of excitement I felt when, as a 14-year-old boy, I was taken to see Lindsay Anderson’s production of Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall at the Royal Court in 1959. A play about the war – dramatising the fate of a patrol of British soldiers in Malaya in 1942 during the Japanese advance – that had no officers! No clipped upper-class accents, no moustaches masking understated emotions, no officer-class actors behaving as if they had swagger sticks up their behinds! The production of The Caretaker that I saw in 1960, with Donald Pleasance as the tramp Davies opposite Alan Bates and Peter Woodthorpe as the brothers Mick and Aston, also had the novelty value of portraying, as if through a distorting mirror, the life of society’s neglected underclass.
Nineteen fifty-six marked a turning-point in British social attitudes and social culture. Left-wing politics acquired a new chic as it became de rigueur for its devotees to be seen on the annual CND march to Aldermaston. The new social realism erupted into British cinema with Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), starring Albert Finney, an adaptation of the novel by Alan Sillitoe that brought the everyday life of the British industrial working class onto the screen. It was followed by The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), an adaptation of a short story by Sillitoe, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay as a rebellious borstal boy whose ultimate act of defiance of the system he hates is to disown his talent for running by handing victory in a race to an upper-class adversary. Milder in tone, for all its frankness in depicting the joys and pitfalls of working-class love life in northern England, was John Schlesinger’s film A Kind of Loving (1962), adapted from the novel by Stan Barstow and starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie. The bleak setting of the industrial North was shared by This Sporting Life (1963), adapted from a novel by David Storey about the life of a Rugby League footballer, directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Richard Harris.
The principal victims of the abrupt shift in fashion that overtook the British theatre in the mid-1950s were Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan, established and highly successful writers of well-made plays. Rattigan’s reputation has never recovered from his fall in critical esteem 60 years ago, though in figures like the desiccated classics teacher Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version (1948) and in plays like The Deep Blue Sea (1946) and Separate Tables (1954) he was able to create unlikely depths of emotional resonance. But solidly conventional plays like The Winslow Boy (1946), not to mention the pre-war comedy French without Tears, now look rather like period pieces.
Noel Coward has fared better, with Private Lives (1930) currently enjoying a successful revival at London’s Gielgud Theatre and plays like Hay Fever (1925), Blithe Spirit (1941) and Present Laughter (1942) well established in the theatrical repertoire. He is remembered for his striking cabaret act, especially when performing his own songs, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, London Pride or the post-war Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans. Coward is celebrated by his admirers as ‘The Master’ (though the range of his activities rather suggests jack-of-all-trades). But does this mastery extend much beyond cleverly constructed plots, often involving marital mishaps (as in Private Lives and Blithe Spirit), sparkling but brittle dialogue, and characters who combine a world-weary cynicism with sallies of wit that have the iridescent brilliance of soap bubbles? When war broke out in 1939, Coward, whose plays had epitomised the escapism and frivolity of the 1930s, rallied to his country’s cause. While Rattigan served as a rear-gunner in the RAF, Coward directed the patriotic film In Which We Serve (1942), in which he appeared, slightly risibly, as the captain of a Royal Navy warship on active service in the Mediterranean; he even wrote a now forgotten play, Peace in Our Time (1946), that takes place in a Nazi-occupied Britain.
Arguably the greatest of the next generation of comic playwrights is Tom Stoppard, who made his breakthrough in 1967, with the National Theatre’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Those fortunate enough to see that production, with John Stride as Rosencrantz and Edward Petherbridge as Guildenstern - or was it the other way round? - sensed that we were witnessing the emergence of a scintillating new talent. Stoppard’s play is often compared to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but with the important difference that Beckett’s audience shares the disturbing bafflement of his two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, in the face of an empty, incomprehensible universe, whereas Stoppard’s audience, safely familiar with the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, can look on with amusement at the antics of his two bewildered courtiers. Stoppard’s next play, Jumpers (1972), was notable for splendid performances by Michael Hordern and Diana Rigg but, like Travesties (1974), which featured a strong performance by Tim Curry (fresh from his success as Dr Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show) as the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, did not quite match Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Among other modern comedies, I have seen one part of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy The Norman Conquests, but have not felt inclined to repeat the experience.
At the beginning of the 1930s, most Jews in Berlin and Munich had never heard of Burnham or Maidenhead, yet within a few years these Berkshire towns and villages were to become the homes of many of them.
It has been well documented, not least on the pages of the AJR Journal, how Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe dispersed throughout Britain in search of sanctuary, but now particular light has been shone on the large number who spent time in the Royal County.
Royal Jews: A Thousand Years of Jewish Life in and around the Royal County of Berkshire* records the surprising amount of Jewish life there since the 12th century. However, with the exception of those fleeing London to escape the Zeppelin raids in 1917, the numbers were relatively small. This changed dramatically in the approach to the Second World War, with the Continental Jews being a significant presence.
Many of the refugee children came through the Kindertransport or via the ‘Winton trains’ and went straight to their adoptive families in the Home Counties. They faced the shock not only of a new country, a strange language and being without their parents, but also tasting country life for the first time. Cows and chickens were no longer confined to books but were in the backyard and part of household life.
When ten-year-old Ulrich Oppenheim settled in Pinkneys Green, for instance, he was alarmed to be asked one morning to bring in one of the geese so that it could be got ready for dinner that evening.
Other children were allocated homes in London but faced further disruption during the general evacuation of Londoners to the countryside once war was declared. Attendance at a succession of schools was one of the characteristics of their lives as well as the suspicion of classmates who – as children do even in normal circumstances – immediately pick on those who are different in some way.
By the time Marion Vanderwart arrived in Warfield after living in London for several months, she had exchanged her Continental plaits and clothes for a much more English look – ‘but there was nothing I could do about my foreign accent and I had to endure the quizzical look of anyone to whom I spoke for the first time.’
But if they suffered from xenophobia, few reported anti-Semitism. Nine-year-old Henry Kuttner in Eaton Hastings was typical of many when he found that his new family tried to locate books on Judaism so that he could learn about his heritage while he received tuition on the Old Testament specifically provided by the local vicar.
Other refugees came as adults. For some this was because of their job, such as Berlin-born sisters Gertrude and Eva Evans, who were both trained nurses and worked at Borocourt Hospital in Peppard. Despite being classified as ‘enemy aliens’, they had escaped internment because their skills were needed. However, they were restricted from travelling more than five miles away, while Gertrude recalls several occasions when she was accused of being a spy by locals because she didn’t close her black-out curtains tightly enough.
The situation was typified by a newspaper advert in 1942 which, under ‘Situations Vacant’, offered a position running a family home in Maidenhead and added ‘refugee not objected to’. That employer may have been welcoming, but the implication was that this did not apply to everyone else.
A typical occupation for the refugees was that of domestic servant, though often without knowing what it involved. This was the situation of W. W. Brown and his wife, who exchanged office life in Vienna to serve as a butler and cook in a large estate in Berkshire without any prior experience. After a short while, they were gently asked to leave as the ‘season’ was beginning, guests were expected and it was essential that the staff knew how to, for instance, put out their riding clothes properly and lay the breakfast table correctly.
The couple were fortunate enough to secure another position shortly afterwards with a retired Indian army colonel in Crowthorne; the position was more successful and they gradually mastered the art of English etiquette. Looking back, they recorded fondly: ‘The Ohs in various intonations and the It’s not done were early introductions into the English way of life. We laughed to ourselves when we first encountered them. Over the years we have learned to appreciate, respect and admire much of what seemed ridiculous at first.’
Whilst many refugees arrived without any money the Diener family was in the unusual position of receiving royal help as the Duke of Windsor (the uncrowned Edward VIII) frequented their Vienna restaurant the Three Hussars. After the Anschluss, he acted as a guarantor for them to come to England, while the Duchess brought their jewellery out of Austria and deposited it for them at Barclays Bank, Knightsbridge. The family settled in Wargrave, opened another restaurant, The Green Monkey, and remained in the area for the rest of their lives.
There were others who came to the area as part of their preparation for military duties. Peter Arany did some initial training in Hurley before becoming part of one of eight commando units that landed at Normandy on D-Day. The journey from Viennese citizen to British soldier had involved major changes, including jettisoning his previous pacifism.
As he crossed the English Channel in preparation for the attack, he wrote: ‘At twenty-two I had already had a rich, full life, and therefore could not complain if it were to end there and then. But before that I, who had been harassed by the Nazis, intimidated and targeted for extermination, would at long last have the opportunity to strike back.’
Fighting a very different kind of war was Fritz Lustig, who was based at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield, where he was eavesdropping on the conversations of high-ranking German prisoners of war in their cells so as to pick up intelligence they inadvertently revealed. Not far away, in High Wycombe, was Alice Gross, at RAF Bomber Command. She worked in photographic reconnaissance and was part of the process responsible for locating the launchpad of the V1 flying bombs in northern France that terrorised London towards the end of the war.
For those who settled locally, some became involved in life around them; others mixed primarily with fellow refugees, with whom they felt more comfortable. This was the case with Ilse Fuehrenberg of Prague after she met her Vienna-born husband, Paul Illoway, in London in 1940 and they then moved to Slough. As she put it, ‘We refugees were family for each other and we stuck together.’
Some of the refugees arrived after the war. They included 25 Jewish teenagers from Buchenwald and Theresienstadt who came to Woodcote, a large country house in Ascot, for rehabilitation under the auspices of the Central British Fund. They presented a challenge for the staff, as the warden, Manny Silver, reported: ‘In the camps, survival meant breaking the rules. Boarding school discipline could not apply. After the Nazis, what punishment could there be for someone who stole food or did not come to class? We devised a co-operative way of life, based on mutual respect … and how best we could prepare them for the future.’
The haven Berkshire offered them and many others was not forgotten and the Royal County features in the lives of countless refugees. Some left the area; others settled permanently; some stayed apart from Jewish life; others became mainstays of the local synagogues (in Reading and Maidenhead). They form a microcosm of the experiences – both enriching and traumatic – of the refugees in general.
This month’s exhibition at the Royal Academy, described as the most significant survey of Australian art ever mounted in the UK, offers a chance to study the light and the extraordinary colours of the world ‘down under’. To accentuate the point, some of the artists on show use natural earth pigments and other local materials. The sunsets and the vastness and flatness of this antipodean landscape all evoke something primitive and sensory, as well as exploring the pioneering spirit of the settler.
‘Australia’ (the exhibition ends on 8 December 2013) includes over 200 works from 1800 to the present day and covers paintings and drawings, photography and multimedia. Culled from major collections in Australia, these are mainly on show for the first time in the UK.
It is this connection with the landscape that most inspires the artists here. Sidney Nolan’s surreal enamel work on composition board presents the back of a horseman riding across a parched desert into blue skies filled with cloud, but his head appears to be a narrow window or mirror within a deep frame. The work, in a four-part Ned Kelly series, is described by this Australian artist and Royal Academician as ‘a story arising out of the bush and ending in the bush’. In this painting, the sense of endlessness and ‘beginninglessness’ is perfectly evoked by the strange and rather laconic rider who emerges geometrically from the horse itself.
Most of the artists have a narrative feel for the wildness and history of their country. Charles Meere’s Australian Beach Pattern is a crowded beach scene, almost urban in its physical intensity, but there is a hint of the crucifixion in the background. Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer describes a rather British forest landscape in three scenes and has a touch of Pre-Raphaelite romanticism.
The 200 years spanned by the exhibition feature the colonisation of the indigenous peoples by the first settlers and include the works of 19th-century Aboriginal artists such as Albert Namatjira, Rover Thomas and Emily Kame Kngwarreye and some from the Papunya Tula group of the Western Desert. The 19th century also spawned a number of works by European immigrants such as John Glover and Eugene von Guerard, whose Bush Fire is a mystical skyscape of black and red cloud with a tiny, helpless moon whose light is almost obliterated.
The Australian Impressionists drew their magic from the mythology of the Australian bush. These include Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin. Contemporaneous with them are the early Modernists, like Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith and Roy de Maistre. The show goes up to the 21st century with artists known and recognised internationally, like Bill Henson, Gordon Bennett and Tracey Moffatt.
But for many of these artists, their message is their distinctiveness from European artistic tradition. They sought to break the rules and explore their own vision of their national identity, whether they are the indigenous peoples or those who came with external influences.
The British Government has asked the Wiener Library to make available to the public the UK’s digital copy of the International Tracing Service (ITS) Archive, which provides access to documents that can help determine the fate of individuals during and after the Second World War. After months of preparation, the Wiener Library is now ready to assist those looking to do family research.
During the Second World War, millions suffered from deportation, incarceration and displacement due to the actions of the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The British Red Cross began to trace missing persons in 1943. The ITS Archive grew out of these and other efforts by the Allies and humanitarian organisations to reunite families in the aftermath of the war.
The ITS Archive is stored in Bad Arolsen, Germany, where post-war tracing efforts merged, and holds over 100 million pages of documentation on the fates of 17.5 million people during and immediately after the war. The collection contains documents gathered by Allied forces as they swept through Europe, liberating concentration camps, forced labour camps and other incarceration sites. Researchers can also find records from displaced persons camps as well as documentation on emigration. Finally, the Archive records efforts of the ITS and other institutions to trace individuals, including children, in the post-war era.
In December 2011, following discussions with a group of stakeholder organisations, including the AJR, the British Government deposited the UK’s digital copy of the ITS Archive at the Wiener Library. AJR member Eugene Black spoke at the event held to mark this occasion about his experience obtaining from the ITS in Bad Arolsen records which documented his deportation from Hungary to camps in Germany and his liberation at Bergen-Belsen. For decades, Mr Black thought his sisters had been gassed in Auschwitz. However, the ITS documents revealed that they had been killed in an Allied bombing attack on a factory near Buchenwald, where they had been forced to work after being deported from Auschwitz. The Wiener Library’s digital copy of the ITS Archive may allow family researchers to discover similar stories.
With support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donors, the Wiener Library is now able to process requests for research of individual fates during and after the war. Readers should note that requests for humanitarian use of the archives may often be better carried out through the expertise of the ITS’s staff at its headquarters in Bad Arolsen. In the autumn, the Library will also provide a work station for those who wish to use the Archive for academic research.
Priority will be given to Holocaust survivors and their families but all are welcome to submit enquiries for research assistance. Despite the Archive’s massive size not every victim of persecution appears in the documentation. Further, due to the complexity of the Archive, the number and type of available documentation for each enquiry varies significantly and may take many weeks to retrieve.
Before submitting a query, it is helpful to gather as much information as possible, including full names and name variants, date of birth (even if approximate) and any information, however speculative, about the person’s whereabouts during or after the war. Queries should be submitted via www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/International-Tracing-Service
The AJR, the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC) and Sussex University’s Centre for German-Jewish Studies came together in September for a two-day seminar: ‘German and Austrian Jewish Refugees: Their Impact and Personal Legacy'. Held at the LJCC’s Ivy House, the seminar, built on presentations, discussions and lectures over the past two years, was very well attended, with the presence in the audience of many ‘Second’ and ‘Third Generation’ members together with a number of Israelis.
In the opening session, ‘First Generation’ refugees Bea Green, Edgar Feuchtwanger, Ruth Jacobs, William Kaczynski and Clemens Nathan reflected on their experiences of fleeing from their home countries and settling in Britain and the effect this had had on their families, culture and heritage.
In the following session, Professor Peter Pulzer, himself a former refugee, looked back on ‘A Year of Anniversaries’, specifically those of Hitler's appointment as Chancellor and Kristallnacht. Professor Pulzer stressed that for the Nazis terror was not a means but an end in itself.
A ‘Second Generation’ panel comprising Diana Franklin, AJR Trustee Frank Harding, Allan Morgenthau and Melissa Rosenbaum reflected on the impact their coming from a refugee family had had on their upbringing, education and family lives.
Rev Bernd Koschland, his daughter Beth and grandson Sammy, members of an ‘Intergenerational’ panel, discussed the impact of the refugee experience on each of the generations. The 1989 Kindertransport Reunion had been a turning point. It was important to ‘get on with living’, they concluded.
Illustrator John Minnion gave a multi-media presentation based on his ironically entitled book Hitler’s List: An Illustrated Guide to Degenerates: Jews, Bolshevists and Other Undesirable Geniuses.
Professor Edward Timms gave an illustrated talk on the often neglected contribution of women - among them Anna Freud, Hilde Spiel and Marie-Louise von Motesiczky - to pre-war Viennese culture as well as to refugee culture in London.
A ‘Third Generation’ panel - Hannah Bowers, Laurence Field, Alisa Franklin and Michael Newman - discussed what some saw as the ‘burden’ of Jewish identity.
In the final session, Nicky Gavron, the former Deputy Mayor of London, said that her mother, prevented from taking part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics due to her being Jewish, had fled to the UK. Praising London's ‘diversity’, she contrasted the Berlin Olympics with last year’s London Olympics.
The seminar was brought to an end by AJR-Kindertransport Chairman Sir Erich Reich. Putting the Kindertransport into historical context, Sir Erich expressed gratitude to the British Government: while ‘more could have been done’, he said, the UK had nevertheless done more than anyone else. Emphasising the refugees’ contribution to British society, his conclusion was ‘Remember the past - but go forward!’ [link]