Nov 2012 Journal

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The Association of Jewish Refugees/British Academy Appeal

Enclosed with this month’s issue, readers will find a funding appeal issued jointly in the names of the Association of Jewish Refugees and the British Academy. It is now nearly 50 years since the two organisations were first formally associated, through the Thank-You Britain Fund, which the AJR set up in 1963 and which was so successful that it raised the sum of £96,000, principally from the refugees from Nazism who had fled to Britain.

A cheque for this amount, worth almost £1 million in today’s money, was formally handed to the British Academy at a ceremony in the Saddlers’ Hall in the City of London on 8 November 1965. (The date was presumably chosen to fall as close as possible to the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938.) Photos of Sir Hans Krebs, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, who handed over the cheque on behalf of the AJR, and Lord Lionel Robbins, the distinguished economist, who accepted it in his capacity as President of the British Academy, are on the reverse side of the leaflet.

The story of the Thank-You Britain Fund as seen from the viewpoint of the AJR and its members was told in our issue of May 2005. This article concentrates instead on the British Academy, while also explaining the reasons behind the new funding appeal. The Fund originated in 1963 out of a proposal that the Jewish refugees from Central Europe should make a public gesture of thanks to their adopted homeland, to be paid for by their donations; accordingly, an appeal was launched. The AJR, which was responsible for the administration of the Fund, resolved that the money raised should be devoted to scholarly research that would benefit British society. It decided that the British Academy was the appropriate recipient institution.

The British Academy, which received its Royal Charter from King Edward VII in 1902, is the most prestigious British institution that supports and promotes the humanities and social sciences. One of the great national learned societies, it occupies a place in those fields comparable to that of the august Royal Society in the sciences. The Academy is one of the leading bodies that funds research in the arts and social sciences in Britain, across a wide range of academic disciplines from history, philosophy, literature and languages to law, politics, psychology and economics. As its website states, ‘Our purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.’

The Academy also functions as an independent fellowship that represents the humanities and social sciences and consists of some 1,000 distinguished scholars. The list of its past fellows reads like a role call of the greatest names in its subject areas: the economists J. M. Keynes, William Beveridge and Friedrich Hayek, the philosophers A. J. Ayer, Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, the writer-scholars C. S. Lewis and Henry Moore, the classicist Maurice Bowra, the art historian Kenneth Clark, the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler and the historians Alan Bullock, A. J. P. Taylor and Max Beloff, among a host of other famous names. Current fellows include George Steiner, the literary scholar, the historian David Cannadine, the classicist Mary Beard, the political scientist Vernon Bogdanor (David Cameron’s tutor at Oxford), the archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, the philosopher Roger Scruton, the professor of linguistics David Crystal, and the political philosopher Quentin Skinner.

With the agreement of the AJR, the Academy used the money raised by the Thank-You Britain Fund to establish a research fellowship, the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship. This was intended, as its founding statutes stated, to promote research into ‘human studies widely interpreted and their bearing on the well-being of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom’. The Fellowship is now awarded alongside the highly respected Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowships, which are awarded annually to established scholars in mid-career, to enable them to take a year’s leave to carry out a major piece of research. Competition for these awards is extremely fierce, and only scholars of genuinely high distinction (and considerable productivity) are considered in the awards process. So the Fellowship, originally funded by an appeal to the refugees from Hitler, has taken its place at the highest level of British academic and intellectual life.

Recipients of the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship have included such outstanding scholars as Hew Strachan, the historian of the First World War, and Stefan Collini, the authority on English literature and intellectual history. Since 2008, when the Academy re-established a closer relationship with the AJR, this journal has reported annually on the recipients of the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowships, Dr Patricia Clavin (Jesus College, Oxford), Dr Alexander Lingas (City University, London) and Dr Eugene Rogan (St Antony’s College, Oxford); these are scholars of outstanding ability working in subject areas broadly related to the concerns of the Jews who fled from Hitler to Britain.

The fact that money raised by the refugees from Hitler has funded research of such prestigious quality over nearly half a century should be a matter of great pride to the refugee community, and especially to AJR members. The original decision to dedicate the Thank-You Britain Fund to academic scholarship reflected the high tradition of respect for education and learning widespread in German and Austrian Jewry, which had a reverence for Bildung unusual even among Jews, the ‘People of the Book’. That tradition remains one of the outstanding features of our community today, and it is one that this journal strives to maintain.

However, the capital sum from which the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship is funded has been gradually eroded, so that the Fellowship can no longer be awarded every year. This is threatening what is arguably the greatest single contribution that the Jewish refugees collectively have made to British public life. To preserve that contribution, the AJR and the British Academy are launching an appeal intended to replenish the fund on which the British Academy can draw. The Academy wishes to use the money raised to overhaul and modernise the awards. It intends to establish annual research grants of £10,000, which will be awarded to younger scholars, to enable them to conduct the first pieces of research so vital to their career development; and to create an updated version of the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship better suited to academic research in the twenty-first century. (It is envisaged that both types of award will carry the AJR’s name, making clear their connection the Jewish refugees.)

The funding campaign is being launched in the AJR Journal as a mark of respect to the AJR and its members, who played the leading part in the successful appeal of the 1960s. Speaking as an academic who appreciates the high quality of the scholarship that the Fellowship has produced over the years, I would urge readers to consider making a donation, however small. One of the most impressive documents that I discovered when researching the original Thank-You Britain Fund was the list of donors from the 1960s, some 3,000 names long, most of them ‘ordinary’ refugees who could not afford more than relatively small amounts, but who were determined to contribute to a project that reflected the values of their community and was of benefit to British society. The Fellowships have also created a lasting memorial to the Jewish refugees from Hitler who settled in Britain. Now that the generation of the refugees themselves is disappearing, the Fellowship’s function as a memorial to our community takes on ever greater significance.

The Thank-You Britain Fund brought the AJR into contact with the cream of British intellectual life. The Fund’s patrons, including representatives of the British Academy and the refugees from Hitler, could scarcely have been more eminent. They were Lord Robbins, President of the British Academy and author of the Robbins Report of 1963 on higher education; Sir Isaiah Berlin, one of the great intellectual figures of his day; the scientists Sir Ernest Chain and Sir Hans Krebs, the two refugees from Nazism who had won Nobel Prizes by 1964; and Sir Ludwig Guttmann, director of the Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Centre (see our September 2012 issue). The committee responsible for administering the Fund included Alfred Dresel, then chairman of the AJR, and Werner Rosenstock, its general secretary, and its co-chairmen were AJR vice-chairman Werner Behr and Victor Ross, who, as readers know, still wields an active pen.

The calibre of the members of the committee appointed within the British Academy to oversee the Fellowship reflected the importance that the Academy attached to the refugees’ gift to Britain: Lord Robbins, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Sir Isaiah Berlin, the historian Sir Denis Brogan, the anthropologist Sir Raymond Firth, H. L. A. Hart, Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Sir John Hicks, and Professor Arnaldo Momigliano, a former refugee from Mussolini’s Italy. Through the current appeal, it is hoped to continue the AJR’s participation in this high tradition of scholarship. Readers will be kept informed of the progress of the appeal.

Anthony Grenville

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