Monday, September 24, 2007

Reading in Parallel

Somebody lent me the book
The Children of Willeden Lane, Beyond the Kinder Transport:
A memoir of Music, Love, and survival.
It is about the prewar years 1938-1939 in Vienna and the War years 1939 -1945 in England. For the parents it was a difficult decision to make, just being able to send one of their daughters to safety.
Lisa, a musically gifted young girl of 14 from Vienna, was on one the many Kinder Transports and found refuge in the hostel in Willesden Lane. Her mothers parting words were: “Music will give you strength”, she reassured her “It will be your best friend in life”.
It is a heart-rendering story of the courage of a young refugee girl who turned her love of music to help her overcome many hardships in life.
Willesden Lane was a hostel in London for refugee children from Austria and Germany. The matron, a refugee woman herself, whose son became blind as the result of being injured by the Nazis, did all within her power to encourage the refugee children to get on with life. In spite of war-time conditions and rationing, the Blitz in London with regular air raids, Lisa was working hard in a factory to earn her living while practicing and practicing to play the piano, until she finally managed to get a scholarship to the Academy of Music in London. She made it to her Musical D├ębut and became a Concert Pianist.
In parallel I read a of my son Danny.
It is an unusual and fascinating rendering about the history of a region in the hills of Jerusalem. Among many other stories there is an interview with an elderly Arab man from Amman in Jordan, who fled during the fighting of the Israeli War of Independence 1947 –1949 from one of the villages in that region.
He describes the village life prior to that war. Chirbet-El-Lus was a small village of some 400 inhabitants, belonging to different clans, in a hilly region near Jerusalem. There were no paved roads, one walked from one village to another or used a donkey to transport wares. Several villages together shared a one-room school for the first four grades for boys. Girls did not go to school in those regions in those days. Some of the boys continued on for a couple of years in a village school in nearby Ein Kerem. Being a hilly region, agriculture was greatly reduced to growing fruit trees, mainly olive trees, grapes and Almond trees. It is the Almond trees that gave the village its name.
Part of his story is of how after November 1947 when the Partition-Plan for Palestine was announced by the UN, heavy fighting took place in that region.
During the battles taking place between Arabs and Jews, stories of atrocities in another village spread from mouth to mouth and his whole village decided to flee. Packing up their belongings they walked over the hills from village to village, reaching Bethlehem, moving on to Jericho and finally putting up a tent and later building a mud-hut. In 1950 most of his family moved over to Amman in Jordan. His father remained in the refugee camp near Jericho till the year 1967 when he joined his family in Amman.

Refugees are refugees. Both stories are about refugees.
Most refugees try to preserve their old culture while moving from place to place. Time wise, there is only a few years difference between them, but the stories are worlds apart.
Being a refugee is something that is difficult to reconstruct in words.
One story differs from the next until there is no resemblance left between them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Kinder Transport

Yad Vashem is one of the places young girls aged 18, who for religious reasons do not join the Army, can do their National Service.
They get intensive training preparing them to be guides. As part of the course the girls are given assignments to give a workshop on various subjects.
One day I get a phone call from my friend in Tel Aviv, whom I am working with on preparing a paper about Jews who helped Jews before and during the Holocaust, telling me that she gave my phone number to a young girl who is in need of help to prepare a workshop about Kinder Transport, that I am considered an expert on.

Many days past before the girl called me. Very hesitatingly she enquired if I knew something about Kinder Transport. In turn I asked her what she wanted to know and what she already knew about the subject. Actually nothing she said, she was just given the assignment. She needed it for the next week. The long New Year holiday ahead of us we fixed a date for the following day in afternoon after her lectures.

That same day in the morning I had an appointment in Yad Vashem, introducing Digne Marcowicz, the author of “Massel” a new picture book about the Shoa. She had interviewed and photographed 12 survivors (one of them being myself) and told their stories laced with pictures from than and now. We also showed the book in the pedagogic center.
Just as we were through the young girls workshop came out on a break. I asked for the girl who had phoned me and introduced myself to her. She was pretty astounded but pleased to know whom she will go to in the afternoon. I told her that she could bring a friend along, knowing that it would ease the situation.

About 5 o’clock two girls turned up at my house, one just under 18, the other just turned 18 years of age. We immediately set to work.
Together we checked what they did know about the Jewish situation in Germany and Austria in the prewar period 1938-1939 and putting that into perspective within the boundary of their knowledge. I had prepared a few pictures showing refugee children on their way to England.
The Kinder Transport being the biggest prewar saving action of Jewish children, some 10 000 children, most of them Jewish, having found refuge in England
We went to my computer and together looked at my Power Point Presentation, The Connecting Path, The Story of my Family, that I use when giving testimony to pupils, students or soldiers.
She asked for the printout of it, which has not only the pictures but also the text to each picture and she promised to return it to me. I also gave to her the Hebrew translations of my mother’s letters, which she send to me after I left home with a Kinder Transport at the age of 15.
There is little academic literature available on the subject. To her the whole subject was new.
I wonder how she is geting on with the preparation of her assignment.