Monday 25 October 2021

Hide and Seek by Robin Scott-Elliot

Amélie’s parents and older brother are taken by the Gestapo from their Paris apartment as she hides in the wardrobe with her mother’s fur coat.  She survives for a while by eating all the food that is left in the apartment.  She spends her days in the museum.  She has removed her Star of David from her coat but Cécile who works there realises this. Cécile takes Amélie in.  Cécile works for the Resistance and soon Amélie is doing the same.  However, there is a traitor in the network.  Amélie and Cécile wrongly accuse Alain. It is in fact Raymond, whom Amélie pushes form a train when she realises this.  Amélie lies about her age and is eventually recruited for the SOE (Special Operations Executive) after she has accompanied a British airman back to England. There she goes first to a boarding school and then to a government establishment where she is trained for SOE.  That she is a native speaker of French is very useful. This enables her to return to Paris where she also becomes involved in rescuing Jewish children.  Some are hidden amongst families in Paris and the others are smuggled into Switzerland. One little boy, Lou, doesn’t make it through the fence and returns to Paris with Amélie where they both wait for the end of the war and for their older brothers to return. The final scene is of Amélie meeting her brother Paulie at the station. We do not learn whether her parents or Lou’s brother return.    

This is a fiction but some real characters are mentioned in the text.  An afterword by Robin  Scott-Elliot explains this.         

Sunday 17 October 2021

Racism and Anti-Semitism

Hillary Clinton, End Racism, Colorful

… don’t spring up overnight.   They fester below the surface and erupt.  Even the eruption may be a slow burn so that the victims don’t know what’s really happening until it has happened and there’s no going back.     

Look at what happened in the UK after the referendum in 2016. There was a surge in racism. Many people who had been harbouring some very xenophobic feelings suddenly felt justified in showing those feelings and a particular was of doing that was to attack the people who they felt had no right to be in our country. These feelings didn’t come from nowhere. They’ve been there all the time.  At least now that they are out in the open we may be able to tackle them.

There is something here about work forces: first we lack a work force so we invite people form other counties to fill it.  We have enough labour but then suddenly too much and the native unemployed gain the perception that others are stealing their jobs. Many countries including Germany got around this by employing Gastarbeiter. – they never had the full rights of native citizens and would be required to return home once the work ran out. In the UK we welcomed workers from other Commonwealth countries – many now known as the Windrush generation. We were glad of the labour they supplied but less glad about their cultural otherness.

Jews appear in many countries, partly because until recently they did not have a homeland and in any case, not all of them would fit into Israel. The mistrust of Jews is subtle and ever-present. Why? Not all of them look different from Europeans and in most cases if they do it is because they choose to dress in a certain way. Some of the rituals may appear strange to gentiles but only a small percentage of the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were practising Jews. They supply to the culture in which they live some of the best doctors, lawyers, artists and scientists. There is of a perception that Jews are rich and careful with money. The propaganda story for children Der Giftpilz paints a fearsome picture of this race. If it is a race. An autopsy cannot identify a corpse as Jewish.  

The UK agreed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime. It provided homes for 10,000 Jewish children. Some adults managed to find employment here as well.  Why mainly children though? I’ve read the minutes of the committee that worked on this. One great fear was that because of the Depression anti-Semitism would rise up here as well. There would be a perception that Jews were stealing jobs. In any case, although the need for visas was scrapped for the children of the Kindertransport, they needed to get an exit visa form Germany and had to have £50.00 sponsorship (the equivalent of £3,000 today) to guarantee their return fare. It’s a huge figure. We know that most did not return but settled here or migrated to Israel. The Quakers were instrumental in getting the Kindertranpsort established and in setting up centres to receive the young people.  The men and women who accompanied the children had to return to Germany.  If they failed to do so, the German authorities would stop the transport.

There has been a subtle mistrust of Jews for centuries. Is it jealousy because of this perception that they are rich, that they get the better jobs and that they control finances? Is there some religious input into these feelings? Are gentiles jealous because the Bible tells us that they are God’s chosen people? Are Christians annoyed because they do not recognise Christ as the promised Messiah and in fact were instrumental in his death?

In the late nineteenth century laws were passed in Germany that gave the Jews equal status with German citizens.  This would counter anti-Semitism but was done mainly because Jews could make a very good contribution to the economy if they could fully integrate.  This was all reversed by the 1935 Nuremberg laws at time when the whole world, but Germany in particular, was suffering financially. .

It didn’t happen overnight, though the Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938) is well-named.  Not only was it the night of the broken glass but also the night in which some Germans’ hatred of the Jews crystalized.  

Otherwise it crept up slowly. Germany was down at heel after World War I. Some Jews flaunted their wealth and had some of the better jobs.  Some were astute business people. There the jealousy intensified.  The excuse might have been something to do with religion. In my novels Käthe sees only to easily what is coming whilst Clara thinks that this will surely all stop because human beings are decent. Renate is blissfully ignorant until a few weeks after the Kristllnacht.  

So we have:

·         The subtle mistrust and jealousy

·         The not so subtle mistrust and jealousy

·         The removal of professional jobs and businesses from Jews

·         The burning of books written by Jews

·         The Nuremberg laws

·         Kristallnacht

·         The wearing of the yellow star and other restrictions.  

·         The concentration camps

·         The death camps

We need to have a care. If we don’t master our feelings of xenophobia they can lead to murder. Better than merely mastering them is to change them for something else by educating the spirit.   

The immigrants and the Jews who live amongst us contribute to our economy. In my books they should have full citizen rights including the right to vote in all elections. No taxation without representation. And we should make them welcome.  


Tuesday 5 October 2021

Shortages – then and now

Ration Book, War, Book, British, Ration

In the UK today we’re suffering from some shortages. In most cases there isn’t an actual lack of goods but a lack of people to pick the crops and deliver the supplies. Some problems are caused by our new trading rules. Brexit has caused a few more. The pandemic has had its effect. There is also a general labour shortage because of an aging population. During World War II there was a shortage of labour because many of the men were fighting in the war.  Females took on traditional male roles, including truck and ambulance driving. Land girls worked on the farms. However when the men returned they had to hand back these positions. We’re tentatively inviting back the EU immigrants we’ve just rejected – and we’re not being very successful.   

Just before World War II there had been the great depression.  During that time there was enough of everything – if you could afford it.  In the US, as they joined World War II in 1941, food shortages started immediately.

Germans of a certain age – the parents of the war generation – were used to hoarding non-perishable food because of the 1920s’ hyperinflation, where they had to change their money into goods as quickly as possible. Rationing in Australia during World War II helped to curb inflation there.  

We have had panic buying of toilet rolls, flour, pasta and most recently petrol. Petrol was the first commodity to be rationed during World War II. All goods depend on petrol.  

Our supermarket shelves are looking emptier by the week. Fruit and vegetables during World War II were not rationed though there were shortages. Some were still imported, such as onions, tomatoes and more unusual fruits. People grew their own. Shall we have to do this again now?  Or roll up our sleeves and go and pick them? We take so much for granted now. My grandmother was a greengrocer and it was exciting when she had a huge box of bananas delivered. Now we eat bananas almost every day.

Most families these days do one big shop a week at the supermarket, or have goods delivered once a week. In the 1940s, when fewer people had fridges and domestic freezers were unheard of, people used to shop daily. There would be queues outside most shops. In the early days of our pandemic there were huge queues outside our supermarkets.        

We are now threatened with soaring energy bills which will lead to fuel poverty for many people. We in the UK get much of our electricity from France, supplied by their nuclear reactors. However, the main cable transporting this energy has broken and will take months to repair. We haven’t had enough wind lately to generate much electricity via our wind farms. In the 1940s there was a shortage of coal; people were only allowed warm water twice a week. This was particularly harsh in the cold winter of 1939-1940. Even in the 1950s, I remember bathwater being limited to five inches. I longed for a deep bubble bath like you saw in the TV ads and the glossy magazines. Will we be limiting ourselves soon? Or will our power showers still work?      

There was a shortage of clothing too during World War II. People were encouraged to “make do and mend”. We are now encouraged to do that but for slightly different reasons.  The fashion industry has a huge impact on the planet. Clothes manufacturers are now encouraged to consider and deal with the end–of- life of what they produce. The pandemic has made many of us limit our wardrobe and we are finding that we can manage with less. However, this impacts on the livelihoods of those who work in the fashion industry. During World War II there was generally a shortage of shoes.  Maybe we could go back to painting our legs if tights become a problem.          

There was a shortage of nurses in the US from the mid-1930s. The situation worsened during World War II as many started serving the military. It did not reverse as much as one would have expected in the 1950s; many did not return to their pre-war roles.  We currently have a shortage of nurses.  This is caused partly by poor morale generally, extra pressure that the pandemic has caused and because we are no longer recruiting from the EU.

So, there are parallels. On the whole, we’re probably not having it quite as bad as they did – yet.   

Image by Kevinsphotos from Pixabay