Wednesday 3 March 2010

JBW: Save the Children

I've had a fun afternoon in London, attending the first of two Jewish Book Week events I'm going to this week (check back on Monday for the second). Today's was called Save the Children, and was about Jewish evacuation during the Second World War. Both speakers were personable and excellent, and it was a really good session.

Ruth Barnett was four when she was part of Kindertransport in 1939, living in England for the following ten years. During that time she developed a love for the country, and for the countryside, and was horrified when her father used a court order to make her return to Germany - especially, as she said, since she'd been exposed to propaganda in England for ten years, and wrongly believed all Germans (not just Nazis) to be cruel and unspeakable. For the next four years, until she was able to claim British citizenship, she was a Person of No Nationality, the title of the book she has written about the experience. Astonishingly, it wasn't until she was over fifty that she realised what Kindertransport really was - having previously thought that her experience and her brother's was exceptional.

The second speaker was Susan Soyinka who, though not an evacuee herself, has written a book about the Jewish Free School moving to Mousehole (pronounced Maows-ull) in Cornwall. She was one of those speakers you jus
t want to go and hug... the topic obviously touched her greatly, and she was a little overcome emotionally - which heightened how good her talk was, rather than the opposite. It was a truly uplifting story, about a small village which generously welcomed strangers from the East End of London - I definitely want to get hold of her book From East End to Land's End, based on extensive interviews and research. A few of the evacuees were actually in the audience for the talk, as well.

That's just a taster of the event - I'm keen to track down those books, and was hugely impressed not only with the lucidity and warmth of the speakers, but with the genuine curiosity and selflessness of those in the audience who asked questions. So often Q&A sessions are just taken as opportunities for people to give their own lengthy opinions, whereas the questions at the event were interesting and actually questions, rather than diatribes disguised as questions!

Do have a look here to see what other events are still to come, and try to get along to something if you can. There's such a variety of interesting topics and speakers, and the programme is rather better than most other literary festivals I've seen...


  1. That sounds amazing! I have long been interested in the Holocaust. Our local library recently had a survivor give a talk about her experiences. I brought my children and they were in awe! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The lectures sound so fascinating. WW2 has always fascinated me - for different reasons at different points in my life. Now, as a mother, anything to do with "exporting my children for safety's sake" blows my mind and tugs at my heartstrings. Both books sound worth hunting down. Thanks for sharing with us - I'll be looking forward to seeing how your other sessions go.

  3. Sounds fascinating-- both the books and the speakers. I think I may have heard Ruth B on the radio -- an extraordinary story, anyway.

  4. I'm so jealous. I wish I could bunk off work and come along! I am really interested in literature about the Jewish experience. We had a wonderful woman who was a Holocaust survivor come and speak at our secondary school about her experiences - we were all in tears by the end. She wrote a book but I can't remember her name, which is sad! Hopefully one day I'll come across it and my memory will be jogged. I look forward to reading about the other talks Simon!

  5. East End to Lands End sounds fascinating. Lucky you getting to go to those events.

  6. I managed to get down to see the talk by Assaf Gavron on his book CrocAttack and it was really well done, I must do more next year when things will hopefully be less mad than this week.

  7. These two stories sound amazing. I'm curious about the fact that Barnett didn't realize until age 50 what the kindertransport was all about.


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