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   Andrew Bradford​

The story of Charlie and Kathy Bradford​

“The Passenger” by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

Less than a year after Kristallnacht – the 1938 pogroms against Jewish citizens of Germany and Austria - Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, a twenty-four-year-old Jewish refugee who had sought asylum in Sweden, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium before arriving in Britain published “The Passenger”. This novel tells the story of Otto Silbermann, a man who, like the author, had never considered himself Jewish. Both the author and his protagonist were the sons of fathers who had married Christian wives and converted to Christianity. However, the Third Reich saw things differently, and Silbermann was forced to sell his home and business for a fraction of their true value and was now reduced to making long journeys on the German railway network in order to seek refuge elsewhere in Europe.

The novel sold only a few copies and disappeared from bookshops almost immediately. A few months later, the author, like over 20,000 other Jewish refugees in Great Britain, was arrested, interned as an enemy alien, and deported to Australia. In 1942 he wrote to his mother to tell her that he was due to be released from detention and would shortly return to England carrying a revised version of the novel. His letter describes the nature of his revisions in considerable detail. But neither the author nor his new manuscript ever arrived. On October 29, 1942, Boschwitz was a passenger on the troopship MV Abosso when it was sunk by a U-Boat seven hundred miles north of the Azores. The author and 361 other passengers were drowned. He was twenty-seven years old.

The novel begins with Silbermann fleeing his home when it is ransacked by the mob. He then takes a train from Berlin to Hamburg to meet a former employee who has just purchased his business for a fraction of its worth, which is paid in an amount of cash which most of us would be wary of carrying on our person. But he can’t pay it into a bank, as banks no longer accept deposits from Jews. Carrying his briefcase full of cash, he takes further train journeys, back to Berlin, then on to Dortmund and Aachen, back to Dortmund, east to Dresden, and finally back to Berlin. At Aachen, he pays what we today call a people-smuggler to get him across the Belgian border, but he is captured by border guards and forced to return to Germany. He avoids the company of his fellow Jews because he does not look Jewish and can pass as an Aryan, which is safer. He meets people who are prepared to help him, and others who are more than happy to fleece him and betray him. Many people he considered close friends, such as his Christian wife’s brother, refuse to help him. Each leg of the journey depletes his stock of cash, his self-esteem, and his physical and mental health.

Just as the parallels between the lives of the author and his protagonist are striking, so too are the parallels between the lives of the refugee from the Third Reich, and the refugee of today. British people have memorialised our ancestors’ decision to accept 10,000 child refugees under the Kindertransport operation, but we forget that the British state refused asylum to their parents. Silbermann had tried to join his son in Paris, but his visa was refused, and when he tried to walk into Belgium he was sent back. The author was granted a kind of asylum in our country but met his death because of the British State’s decision to expel him to Australia. Australia seems to be the Rwanda of the 1930s.

“The Passenger” was published in German for first time ever in 2018 and re-published in English in 2021. These editions came about because Ruella Shachaf, Boschwitz’s niece, heard a radio interview with Peter Graf, a German publisher who had had some critical success in re-publishing anti-Nazi German novels of the 1930s. She drew Graf’s attention to the original German manuscript which lay untouched and unloved in an academic library in Frankfurt, and his 1942 letter to his mother, which outlined the changes he intended to make. Peter Graf then made those changes, as far as he could in accordance with the author’s wishes.

Jonathon Freedland, writing in The Guardian, describes the Passenger as “part John Buchan, part Franz Kafka and wholly riveting.” I thoroughly agree. Because the story of the novel is just as engrossing as the novel itself, it is well worthwhile reading the introduction, and the afterword, which is written by his current publisher and editor Peter Graf.

Some Thoughts About Slavery and the Culture Wars

Slavery has been part of human life since the dawn of history. It is still with us today, as shown by American singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens’s twenty-first century re-write of ‘Barbados’, an eighteenth century poem by the abolitionist William Cowper.

Cooper Wrote:

What I hear of their hardships, their tortures, and groans

It's almost enough to draw pity from stones

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum

For how could we do without sugar and rum?

Especially sugar, so needful we see?

What? Give up our desserts, our coffee, and tea?!

Besides, if we do, the French, Dutch, and Danes

Will heartily thank us, no doubt, for our pains

If we do not buy the poor creatures, they will

And tortures and groans will be multiplied still

And Giddens re-wrote those lines as:

I pity them greatly, but I must be mum

For what about nickel, cobalt, lithium?

The garments we wear, the electronics we own?

What? Give up our tablets, our laptops, and phones?!

Besides, if we do, the prices will soar

And who could afford to pay one dollar more?

Sitting here typing it seems well worth the price

And you there, listening on your favorite device

This bargain we're in, well, it's not quite illicit

So relax, my friend, we're not all complicit

It might be argued that today’s western consumer, who also enjoys the ability to vote and influence political discourse, knows and cares far less about slavery than his or her eighteenth century counterparts. Our forebears, who by and large, were unable to vote, regularly packed town squares and churches to protest against slavery and used their economic power to boycott slave-produced sugar and rum. Why doesn’t the twentieth-century consumer do the same? Could we make a difference if every time we bought a garment from a high-street store, we asked whether it was made from cotton produced by coerced Uighur labour in China, for example?

However, to argue that slavery has always been, and by inference will always be, part of humanity, runs the danger of minimising what happened to thirteen million Africans at the hands of white Europeans from the sixteenth until, in the case of the Belgian Congo, the early part of the twentieth century. More than a million died on the journey to the New World, and those who were enslaved in the West Indian sugar plantations, once sent to work in the field, measured their life expectancy in months not years.

Today, a lot of political discourse is centred around the so-called ‘culture wars’. Crudely, the culture wars are presented as a conflict between older people, who are concerned about familiar and loved local landmarks being renamed or demolished; and younger people who are accused of trying to ‘re-write history’. The National Trust has come in for a lot of criticism for daring to examine the relationship between many of its properties and collections. Specifically, the Trust is researching whether the wealth that established some of its large estates was created by the ownership of other humans. This criticism is, in my opinion, entirely malevolent and unjustified. What is the point of a body such as the NT if it doesn’t carry out historical research on its assets? Why should some areas of research be deemed acceptable while others are considered beyond the pale?

In 1784 Samuel Greg opened Quarry Bank Mill in the remote village of Styal, which is now on the outskirts of Manchester. The Mill took cotton that was produced by West Indian slaves and spun it into thread using water-power from the River Bollin. Greg needed a labour force to work the new machinery, and within Britain itself, slavery was not acceptable. Greg needed to find a way of subduing labour without enslaving it, and the solution was to tour the workhouses of London to find children as young as eight years old to work ten-hour days in the mill. These children lived in the cramped Apprentice House, which was controlled by superintendents who, to be fair, did their best to educate them. However, industrial accidents such as severed fingers were common.

Quarry Bank Mill has been owned by the National Trust for many years, and the Trust has always presented visitors with an honest and balanced visitor experience about the role of coerced child labour in the mill’s early history. But how was the Mill financed in the first place? The Trust’s research concludes that the initial capital came from the Greg family’s ownership, over several generations, of slave plantations in Dominica and St. Vincent. When slavery was finally abolished in 1833, Samuel Greg’s son Thomas claimed £5,080 - more than half a million pounds in today’s money – as compensation for the loss of 210 slaves.

Slavery is only the most extreme form of coerced labour. The young boys and girls who were sent to Quarry Bank Mill’s Apprentice House from the workhouses of Hackney and Chelsea were also coerced, but by a lesser degree. In terms of the culture wars, those who criticise the trust should answer the question why they consider it acceptable to point out the Greg family’s involvement in the exploitation of children but unacceptable to point out their involvement in slavery. For a nation both to have an honest record of its history, and to understand its place in the modern world, we need to be able to hear, and be prepared to listen to, both stories.


Earlier this month I retired after 13 very fulfilling years as a board member and former Chairperson of


. Here are my thoughts:

Reflections on being an undergraduate in my seventies

In July, just one month before my seventy-third birthday, I heard that I’d been awarded my BA in History from Birkbeck, University of London. A ‘second-class upper division’ (or 2.1) to be precise. So, my student career is over. I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and met many really interesting people of all ages who have come from many countries to teach or learn in London. How lucky we are to live so close to such a dynamic, cosmopolitan city.

Of course, the whole learning process was disrupted by Covid. In March 2020, towards the end of my second year, teaching moved online, and stayed that way until the end of my third and final year. I know that the teaching staff moved heaven and earth to make the process of mass online learning as fruitful as they could, but it’s just not the same from the student perspective. Online learning is a solitary experience. The main thing that you miss is chatting with fellow students before and after the lecture. From the teachers’ perspective, it must be even more frustrating as the teacher has so few body language clues about how his or her message is getting across. In theory, this year’s graduates should be attending a graduation ceremony in November, but we don’t know whether that too will be forced online. I will be really disappointed if it is.

In the first year of the course, students choose to study history by period, and there are nine periods to choose from, from classical times to the twentieth century, I chose to study three periods of world history covering from 1500 to the present day. My main interest is twentieth-century history, but I also thoroughly enjoyed learning about the early modern world (from 1500 to 1789), which is of course the period when Europeans first encountered other civilisations. Spaghetti Bolognese is a quintessentially European staple, but what would it taste like without pasta - from China - or tomatoes and chilli peppers - from the Americas - or basil - from Africa? What would be left on the plate?

In return for the indigenous Americans introducing us Europeans to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, maize, and a whole host of other food staples, we gave them horses, which they found quite useful; but we also introduced them to measles and influenza, which may have killed more than forty million of them. If that wasn’t enough, we then sent thirteen million Africans to the Americas to be enslaved, but several million of them never arrived on American shores, because the journey was so dangerous. So much modern history is about slavery and genocide that it was a great relief to choose, as one of my second-year modules, a course called ‘Being Good in the Modern Age’ which is history of altruism and morality. This course began by examining why the Enlightenment philosophers considered kindness and politeness to be important, and went on to cover, inter-alia, the campaign to abolish slavery, the campaigns of the nineteenth century feminists, and, from the twentieth century, the disability rights movement, environmentalism, and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that if I had to choose the course that I enjoyed the most, it would be this one.

In the third and final year I wrote my dissertation. Those of you that are already familiar with my blog  will know that one of my interests is disability rights, and that I have written the life stories of my parents, both of whom were disabled by polio as young children. So, you won’t be surprised at my choice of research project, which was a study of the foundation of the British Polio Fellowship in 1939 and its work between 1939 and 1970. This charity was a self-help movement which in many ways was years ahead of its time; as most charities with this kind of ethos did not emerge until the 1960s. Writing a dissertation during various stages of lockdown is not to be recommended; the library that holds most of the relevant material for a dissertation about polio is the Wellcome Library in Central London, but at no point when I was working on this project was this library open to new readers. Other students will have had similar problems, so I guess we’re all in the same boat. Anyway, these are trivial problems compared to what many other people have had to endure during the pandemic. At least it was my final year of university that was disrupted. I feel a lot of sympathy for those eighteen-year-olds who had to endure the stress of the 2020 A-level examinations fiasco, and then go into a university hall of residence to be solely taught online. They deserved better, and it’s not the fault of the colleges that things weren’t better for them.

The question that I’m asked most often is what next? Am I interested in a master’s degree? I have to say that the answer is no. There is no government funding for the over -sixties to go further, and while there are scholarships, I think that there are many younger people who deserve them more than I do. I will carry on writing and start to update my seriously unloved and dated blog more often, starting now. But would I recommend going to Uni to other seventy-somethings. You bet I would! 


My thoughts about e-books and society

Posted on August 6, 2012 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (2)

Today, Amazon announced that Kindle books outsold printed books in the UK. Amazon said that so far in 2012, for every 100 print books sold on the site, it has sold114 Kindle books, excluding free Kindle books. UK Kindle readers buy four times the number of books they did before owning a Kindle. Meanwhile, over the past year, the site has seen a more than 400% increase in UK authors and publishers using the self-publishing tool Kindle Direct Publishing.

I cannot decide whether e-books in general, or Kindle e-books in particular are a development that should be welcomed, or whether they are a cause for concern.So I thought I would write about some of the effects of this disruptive innovation- which, like it or not is here to stay – on society as a whole.

There’s one undisputed fact – e-book readers and e-books are what very large numbers of people want. More than three million Kindles had been sold worldwide by the end of last year. They are not going away.

On the whole, e-books are usually cheaper than their printed competitors. Superficially they’re kinder to the environment, as they don’t require forests to be felled and fuel to be used in manufacturing and distribution. However ,there may be a catch here – if the forests aren’t felled then they won’t be planted in the first place. I just don’t know what the long term impact of this will be on biodiversity. Equally, some parts of the device, just like lots of computer hardware that we use every day are made from highly toxic minerals,some of which may be sourced from countries where there is little concern for both the environmental impact of mining as well as the human rights of the mining communities.

As far as holiday reading and reading on trains and buses are concerned, e-books are of course far more convenient than their printed equivalents.Thousands of volumes can be carried around on a device that weighs just a few ounces. Some people who have disabilities find them easier to hold than large printed books, and many of us welcome the ability to enlarge the font size as our eyes feel the strain later in the evenings.

But I have a concern about the place of the book in social interaction. If you’re on a train and see someone reading a book that you’ve really enjoyed, it leaves open the possibility of starting up a dialogue with that person. The reader is unlikely to consider your opening remarks as an invasion of personal space. But if the person is just holding an e-reader; well – they’re just reading. We don’t gain any insights about this stranger. Opening up a conversation becomes that bit more difficult as we would be interrupting their privacy. Equally, if you come into my home for the first time and then take down one of  my books from the shelves and talk to me about it, then that’s fine with me, you’re welcome to do that. But if you pick up my e-reader, turn it on and start to browse its contents then it feels like an invasion of personal space – it’s like you're peeping at personal mail that I’ve left around. So I’m fearful that the replacement of the printed book by its digital cousin might limit the scope for spontaneous social interaction.

I’ve read and signed my work at Lit Fests, Rotary Clubs, Lunch clubs and other events, and I’ve bought signed books at these venues too. I’ve gone to these events with friends and family. Watching the author reading from an e-reader and then telling the public that they can buy it over the internet isn’t really the same thing; is it? There’s no signed copy, no momento of the day.

Amazon’s self publishing program has given hundreds of thousands of self-published authors a cheap and easy way to distribute their work. I’ve done it myself. Using the Kindle self-publishing program is virtually free; you only pay Amazon when you sell something. The problem is that Amazon doesn’t demand that you get somebody to copy edit or critique your work, or give any thought to book design. This means that the quality of the works on the self-publishing platform varies from excellent to dire. The benefit is that thousands and thousands of authors have been given a voice; the drawback is that some of the stuff may not be worth reading. But it’s a free society, and nobody is compelling anybody to read anything they don’t like. It’s the opposite problem to the one of the traditional publishing model, where new authors are excluded by the difficulties of persuading publishers and agents to take any notice of them at all. If – and this is a very big if – the traditional publishing business model can survive, we may actually get the best of both worlds here.

But perhaps my second greatest concern is the effect that the widespread adoption of e-reading is having on our high streets. I love browsing bookshops.I browse in independents and chains, in secondhand bookshops as well as new bookshops. I’m convinced that many of these stores won’t be there in just a few years time and I will miss them a lot. But I’m to blame as well. This year I’ve bought (or been given as presents) fifteen books. Five came from high street shops, two were bought from the author direct, two were secondhand, two were physical books bought on the internet and four were e-books. I’m obviously not doing enough myself the keep the high street alive. But every so often I have to remind myself that my next purchase must come from Waterstone’s – they’ve been so supportive of my work. I really hope that this big chain can find a way of re-inventing itself so that it is relevant to a new generation of bookbuyers.

There were just over 2,000 high street bookshops in Britain in July 2011, compared with4,000 in 2005. Over 500 towns do not have a single bookshop. Every high street business that closes down is a UK taxpayer, and the corporate behemoth that’s vacuuming up their business is Amazon, the inventor of the e-book. Amazon organises its affairs so that it pays hardly any UKtax. This is part of a general trend that worries governments; it’s the same trend that sees local newspaper advertising migrating to the internet, and once again the local newspapers that close are UK taxpayers; organisations such as Google, EBay and LinkedIn that have taken their business are not generally UK taxpayers.

But my greatest concern is this. Amazon now has over 90% of the UK e-book market and over 25% of the market for printed books. It’s moving into mainstream publishing, where I’m sure it will innovate in ways that we don’t yet understand. It is to be congratulated on the way it has not just responded to, but also anticipated consumer preferences. But Amazon is a media company. And in the past twelve months we’ve seen how one media monopolist has cynically abused its position in the UK. I’m not saying that Amazon would ever be a party to the abuses of power we’ve seen at News International, but society should be very careful about allowing another UScontrolled multinational to have such a dominant position in our cultural life.