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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! 


The Paralympics really have come home! A very personal view

Posted on September 3, 2012 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (18)

Full stadiums, cheering crowds and an opening ceremony that was watched by over eight million people. Over 600 hours of Paralympic activity broadcast on free-to-air TV and a very good medal table for GB. The fact that the games have returned to the country where they were invented has, I’m sure, contributed a great deal to their success.


Here are some thoughts about what I’ve seen on TV, saw in person at the Olympic Stadium last Friday and, to make it personal, some para-sports related family memoirs.


The Opening Ceremony:


It was always going to be tough job to produce an exhilarating opening ceremony because the whole nation has already seen two Olympic ceremonies in about a month. In addition, a large part of the three hour program is taken up by processions, speeches and flag raising, which are not in themselves riveting viewing.


But the production team, headed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings exceeded all expectations. They began by introducing the audience to Professor Stephen Hawking, probably the most famous living disabled person. The cast of over three thousand volunteers, headed by Hawking himself, with Ian McKellen as Prospero, and disabled actor  Nicola Miles-Wildin as Miranda celebrated science, literature, athleticism and human rights using words from both Hawking and Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.


Cast members with disabilities, including Tanni Grey-Thompson flew from the high wires and the Paralympic flame was carried into the stadium  from the Orbit on a zip wire by 2016 paralympic hopeful Joe Townshend, a 24 year old ex-marine who lost both legs in Afghanistan. The production team used all the facilities of the massive stadium to produce a thrilling piece of physical theatre. The Olympic cauldron was lit by Margaret Maughan who won GB’s first ever paralympic medal in Rome in1960; one year after she broke her back in a road accident. Margaret Maughan was treated by Ludwig Guttmann, and I think that is fitting that the cauldron was lit by somebody who remembers the movement’s founder.


The highlight for me was John Kelly and the cast of “Reasons to be Cheerful” singing Ian Dury’s “Spasticus Autisticus” anthem that was originally written for the International Year of the Disabled in 1981, and which was, at the time, banned from the airwaves by the BBC because the word Spastic (traditionally a term to describe sufferers of cerebral palsy) was becoming taboo in Britain, due to its increasing use as an insult. The BBC did not trust the public to understand Dury’s sense of irony.


Spasticus Autisticus is of course a protest song, and this, together with Miranda’s shattering of the glass ceiling was large part of the human rights theme of the ceremony.


Our visit to theGames – Friday 31 August


Marilyn and I went to the evening athletics session on Friday. We were fortunate enough to see an iconic moment - Hannah Cockroft win GB’s first track gold medal in the T34 100 metres race. From high up on level two I managed to get a fairly decent picture of Hannah and the runners-up celebrating. We were thrilled at the spectacle of the full stadium and the cheering crowds.


The Paralympic games have moved on so much since Atlanta sixteen years ago. Yesterday I posted something about the current games on the Polio History Facebook page, and got these comments from Kathy Gregory Davies, who was a member of the GB basketball team in Atlanta. Kathy wrote:


In Atlanta, the organisers had only 3% of the budget left after the Olympics. They were selling off furniture etc in the accommodation to make up the shortfall.Some of the teams had no blankets, microwaves were gone, one of the food halls was closed down, though they had to re-open it. One American offered my team accommodation in his hotel when he heard how bad it was. Luckily, we had a good psychologist with us: btw, we stayed with the rest of the Brits, but thanked the hotelier for his offer.


A personal memoir –My Mum, Ludwig Guttmann and Ian Dury


I’ve always known who Ludwig Guttmann is, ever since I was a child. That’s because my mum, Kathy Bradford, often talked about him. Even though she was not a particularly sporty person, way back in the 1950s and1960s she know about the work that he was doing to enable people like her to excel.


But Kathy died in 1995, and I must admit that I’d forgotten thatI knew anything about Guttmann until the run-up to the games. I’m quite pleased that I knew of what he was doing so many years before he belatedly became a knight of the realm and the subject of a TV docu-drama.


Ludwig Guttmann may have been one of Kathy’s heroes but Ian Dury was certainly not a hero to her. She was scandalised by the very thought of a song being titled “Spasticus Autisticus”, which made her one of the people whom the BBC wished to protect. But in 1981 she was almost seventy years old, and that explains a lot of her dislike of Ian Dury. She loved pop and rock but she much preferred Wham, the Beatles and Patsy Cline. She wasn’t that keen on the Stones or Bob Dylan either. I don’t think that she ever heard “Spasticus” because it wasn’t played on the radio, and she certainly wasn’t going to buy it and lend it her support. I could have lent her my copy of Ian’s “New Boots and Panties” album but I don’t think that she would have approved of the opening lines of “Plaistow Patricia”. You can look up what those lines are here – I’m also conscious that some of the readersof this blog may be offended if I print them.


Kathy would be 100 years old this year. I think that if she’d lived to see John Kelly, Nadia Albina and Garry Robson belting out the lyrics to Spasticus at the opening ceremony, and seen thousands and thousands of people supporting the paralympians, she would have got the joke and would have promoted Ian  - as well as John, Nadia and Garry - to hero status.


Paralympic Blog 2 - Review of "The Best of Men"

Posted on August 17, 2012 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (543)

Last night BBC2 broadcast a one-off drama “The Best of Men”,that showed the work of Sir Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the1940s. The play was written by Lucy Gannon (Soldier Soldier) and Guttmann was played by the excellent Eddie Marsan (War Horse, Happy Go Lucky). Guttmann’s patients – all soldiers - are played by Rob Brydon, disabled actors David Proud and Ben Owen-Jones, and George McKay.

The play showed that spinal injury rehab was a highly unfashionable branch of medicine at the time. Virtually all of the patients were injured servicemen, and those that could be cured by surgery had been cured, while those who couldn’t respond to surgery were simply sedated and - quite literally- left to rot as pressure sores took their toll. The life expectancy of a spinal injury survivor at the time was just two years. Guttmann and his team were starved of resources as the medical establishment couldn’t see the point of what they were doing.

But Guttmann could empathise with these men because, like them, his life had been shattered. He was a German Jewish refugee who had already lost his career, his country and most of his family. He had fought back to establish a new career in a new country, and he knew that if his patients were to lead fulfilled lives, he had to motivate these men to fight back in thesame way. Sport was just one of his weapons, sheer force of personality was another

Guttmann’s story is an example of how immigration has enriched the United Kingdom. Without immigration we’d have no Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah or Ludwig Guttmann, and possibly no Paralympic movement.

There’s an exhibition about Guttmann’s work at London’s Jewish Museum until September 16th.