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Sep 2002 Journal

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Continental Britons

The cultural impact of refugees from Nazism

Daniel Snowman, author of The Hitler Emigrés and producer and presenter of a complete evening's programming on BBC Radio Three on the same topic, spoke to an audience of over 120 at the Continental Britons exhibition on the cultural impact of Jewish refugees.

Britain and the Continent in the 1930s he saw as two worlds apart: one spawned Bauhaus architecture, innovative design and a modern urban lifestyle, while the other relied on re-presenting the arts and crafts of a bygone age, a revered Bloomsbury set, Reithian BBC, Vaughan Williams' rural idylls and Lutyens's garden suburbia and empire architecture.

In the film The Red Shoes Moira Shearer was danced to death by a Diaghilev character played by émigré actor Anton Walbrook. The De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, arguably the finest modernist building in Britain, was designed by Erich Mendelsohn, and the political cartoonist Vicky, otherwise Victor Weiss, had an immense impact. Berthold Lubetkin's penguin pool of 1931 could not be overlooked, nor Karl Ebert's, Fritz Busch's and Rudolph Bing's contributions to establishing opera at Glyndbourne. Only a refugee like Nicholas Pevsner could have conceived the mammoth task of cataloguing every major building in England!

Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus, centre of the new design philosophy, and his followers discarded "living in the past", coining the phrase "form follows function", and applied this dictum to the design and manufacture of everyday household objects. Alexander Korda employed many fellow refugees in designing, scripting and making 'London Films'. Picture Post brought a new level of socially revealing photography under its editor Stefan Lorant. Gombrich, Weidenfeld, Solti and the Amadeus Quartet could not be omitted from his sketch, and there were countless other contributors among the 50,000 refugees who settled in Britain.

To a degree their being marginal and cosmopolitan led Snowman to believe they were "able to think across borders," crossing intellectual boundaries in science as well as the arts. Religious Jews, such as the late Lord Jacobovits, also played an immense part in maintaining Jewish religiosity and cultural traditions, while the Reform movement was essentially Central European in origin.

Talks from the exhibition programme: Memories of my grandfather, Sigmund Freud

In 1938 Anton Walter Freud arrived in Britain from Vienna, a member of the extended family group which accompanied his grandfather, Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, into exile in Hampstead.

When Walter was born in 1921, his grandfather Sigmund was already 65 years old. He recalled that in inter-war Vienna, "everyone you knew lived just round the corner."

His grandfather occupied a large ground floor flat at 19 Berggasse, which served both as home and consulting rooms, where he became a virtual prisoner due to age and increasing infirmity. It was the main family meeting place, and Walter visited his grandparents every Sunday morning. Walter remembered his grandfather appearing at 1 pm from his study, but being rather reluctant to communicate. From 1923 he had undergone periodic surgery to ameliorate cancer of the jaw and this made conversation a painful process. Walter perceived his grandfather to be a kind and generous man, but one whose only relaxation consisted of playing cards.

The household was large and Freud's youngest child, Anna, played an important part. She took on the role of her father's assistant and guardian of his work, possibly as a substitute for the marriage which the carnage of World War I had prevented. In his grandson's view, "Sigmund Freud accomplished what he wanted to accomplish."

Walter Freud later had a distinguished career in the British armed forces, being parachuted into Austria as "a one-man advanced guard" in the face of the conquering Russian army.
Ronald Channing

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