Monthly Archives: July 2019

“While you are in England…”: refugees in Britain in the twentieth century

A particular strength of our holdings is collections relating to refugees; in this blog post we will focus on our twentieth century material. The bulk of our material concerns Jewish refugees from the Second World War period. However, there is also material from the turn of the century relative to individuals fleeing Eastern Europe plus more recent collections which sheds light on Spanish children evacuated during the civil war.

Documents created by the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor relate to the immigration of Jews from Russian and Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Photograph from a file relating to the adoption of orphaned immigrant children from Russia. Their names (starting at the back on the left) are: Zipporah Pokotilow, Sische Charitanski, Hannah Levene, Rebecca Katz, Bejamin Charitanski, Hyman Schneier, Hyman Borodkin, Dora Katz, Boris Pokosilow, Aron Katz, Isaac Levene, Boris Levene, Mendel Schneier, Isaac Borodkin, Bessie Levene, Fanny Levene, Eva Schneier and Sarah Charitanski [MS 173/1/5/6]

This material is now part of the Jewish Care collection. A significant portion of the minute books concern emigration and the administration of relief. The Russo-Jewish and Jewish Board of Guardians conjoint committee was formed in 1891, on the exhaustion of the Mansion House Fund for the victims of Russian persecution, that had been established approximately ten years earlier. The collection contains five editions of the periodical Darkest Russia: a record of persecution from 1891 plus press cuttings about Jewry in Russia for 1904-9.

A related collection, the papers of Carl Stettauer, give details of pogroms against Jewish communities in Russia during this period.

The collections of archives relating to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s vary considerably in size and scope, from simply one file to hundreds of boxes. Examples of smaller collections include minute books of the Board of Management of the Christian Council of Refugees from Germany, 1940-51.

Notes on “refugee pastors and their families” from September 1945 [MS 65/1/1]

The Council of Refugees was part of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ). This was founded in 1942 to combat religious and racial intolerance and to promote mutual understanding and good-will between Christians and Jews, especially in connection with the conditions created by the war.

Another collection of interest is the papers of Diana Silberstein, a native of Sarajevo (formerly part of Yugoslavia and now Bosnia and Herzegovina), who came to Britain as a refugee via Germany. Her papers include official documents and correspondence dating from 1936-46.

A copy of a letter from Diana Silberstein to the Home Office requesting permission to work [MS 93]

We have a personal account in the form of the typescript autobiography of Dr D.Fuerst, a refugee dentist from Nazi Austria. The following account gives some details of his reception in the UK:

The Refugee Committee in Bloomsbury House and later in Woburn House was a blessing to us. The mostly voluntary worker did an admirable job and no praise is high enough to appreciate the patient and sympathetic way in which they managed to deal with us. We were not easy customers. The variety of our problems were incredible and all of them were urgent and very important. The first person who found her feet was our daughter Lilian. I had to take her the day after we arrived to the nearest primary school in Salisbury Road, Kilburn. She was very happy there and made some friends. At the end of the school year in June she was at the top of the class. Her teacher talked to us about scholarships in the future but we could not make it out what she meant until some years later. (She is a University professor and author of several books).

[MS 116/68]

Cissi Z.Rosenfelder was honorary secretary of the Golders Green Beth Hamedrash Refugee Aid Committee in 1938 and 1939. Her papers include lists of children from Germany and correspondence with refugee committees.

Jakob Israel (aged 4), Johanna Israel (aged 6) and Gustav Israel (aged 5) [MS116/157]

This photograph was enclosed with a letter from Frederich Israel, a Jewish doctor living in Germany, dated August 1939, asking for help in placing his children in a liberal Jewish or Christian home in the UK to enable him to prepare for emigration to the U.S.A. He explained how it was necessary for his family to move from Germany as he was now only permitted to treat a part of the Jewish population which was not sufficient to get even a moderate income.

Cecil and Joan Stott, of Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire, assisted Jewish refugees during the Second World War, including Sigmund Adler (brother of the psychologist, Alfred Adler) and his sons, Kurt and Ernst, from Vienna.

Ernst and Trudi Adler with Trudi’s mother and other Jewish refugees, settled in Australia [MS 293 A1015/3]

Their papers include correspondence with the German Jewish Aid Committee and the Germany Emergency Committee as well as letters about and with the Adler family and about other refugees.

Larger collections held by the Archives and Manuscripts include the papers of the Polish Jewish Refugee Fund. This archive is composed of case files relating to several hundred individuals and provides details of individual’s name, place of birth, family, address in Great Britain, date of arrival in the Great Britain and their place of origin, education and qualifications.

advice booklet
Excerpt from While you are in England: helpful information and guidance for every refugee issued by the German Jewish Aid Committee and the Jewish Board of Deputies [MS 293 A1015/8]

The Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council was an organisation of the Orthodox Jewish community. The archive contains a great deal on the administration and organisation of its work in the field of both the rescue and support of refugees, particularly child refugees, 1938-49. Amongst the papers are numerous lists of refugees (from Central and Eastern Europe) compiled by the Council, working closely with other relief organisations. These include not just lists of refugees present in Central and Eastern Europe, but of those brought over to Great Britain by the Council, of those given accommodation and assistance by the Council, and of those given assistance to emigrate from Great Britain by the Council. These often quite detailed lists contain much more information besides the names of individuals, such as their date and place of birth, their address, family details and, in some cases, their occupation.

Post-war Kinder, c. 1946-7 [MS 183/1006/1/2]

For refugees brought over to Great Britain by the Council, further information can be found in the form of photographs, biographical profiles, correspondence and refugee fund assistance cards. Landing cards and identity cards complement the block passport and other mass travel documents which exist for child refugees who travelled with the Council. After the arrival of refugees in Great Britain, there are further Council papers relating to their support, such as refugee fund assistance cards or a file of registration forms for the North London Refugee Home, 1938-40. Finally, there are lists, forms, photographs and travel documents relating to those who emigrated from Great Britain.

The Archives and Manuscripts also holds audio-visual material relative to refugees and Holocaust survivors. The Fortunoff Video Collection is a small collection of filmed testimonials of Holocaust survivors from the collection at Yale University.

Refugee Voices is an electronic resource consisting of a collection of 150 filmed interviews with Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors who made their home in Great Britain. The refugees describe their experiences prior to coming to this country and the ways in which they adapted to life in Britain. It was created by the Association of Jewish Refugees.

Photograph from the ‘colony’ of Basque child refugees at Cambria House, Caerleon in South Wales c. 1937-9 [MS 370/3 A3046/16]

The Archives has more recently acquired collections relating to the Basque evacuee children from the Spanish Civil War including oral testimonials and interviews of Los Niños. You can learn more about these collections in last week’s blog by Dr Edward Packard.

A second more recent acquisition are transcripts of interviews conducted by Tony Kusher and Katherine Knox in the mid-1990s with refugees from Chile, Czechoslovakie, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Uganda and Vietman. [MS 401]

We feel privileged to house these collections in our strongrooms. The stories they tell – while sometimes difficult – are important to preserve and make available for future generations.

User perspectives: researching and remembering the Basque refugee children of 1937 in the Special Collections

This week Dr Edward Packard, Lecturer in History at University of Suffolk and Trustee of BCA’37: The Association for the UK Basque Children, discusses his use of the University’s collections relating to Basque child refugees as part of a research project on the Basque colonies that existed in Suffolk between 1937 and 1939.


The Habana arrives at Southampton [MS404 A4164/4/6]

“Following a turbulent crossing of the Bay of Biscay, four thousand children from the Basque Country disembarked from the overcrowded liner SS Habana at Southampton on 23 May 1937. These niños vascos were refugees from the Spanish Civil War and were initially accommodated in a temporary reception camp at North Stoneham, near Eastleigh, before being dispersed in groups to approximately eighty ‘colonies’ across England, Wales, and Scotland. The government refused to provide any financial assistance for the young refugees, who instead relied on donations and other forms of support from private individuals, groups, and organisations. Most of the niños had been repatriated by the start of the Second World War, but around 250 settled permanently in the UK rather than returning to the dictatorship established in Spain by General Franco following his victory in the Civil War.

North Stoneham Camp [MS404/A4164/2/24]

North Stoneham Camp [MS404 A4164/2/24]

The remarkable history of the Basque refugee children and the vast public effort to support them is not as well-known in the UK as the subsequent Kindertransport, or the internal migration of evacuees during the Second World War. However, since the start of the twenty-first century, public awareness of the niños vascos has been boosted by the activities of BCA’37: The Association for the UK Basque Children. The Association was founded in 2002 by Natalia Benjamin, whose parents taught and cared for some of the children, and Manuel Moreno, the son of a niña vasca, owing to their concerns that archival material related to the children was at risk of being lost. By developing a network of surviving niños, their family members, and others with an interest in the Basque refugees, the Association accumulated a wide range of written and visual sources about the children’s experiences in the 1930s and since. These were passed to the University of Southampton Special Collections in 2016 to ensure their preservation and to facilitate access for researchers.

BCA’37: The Association for the UK Basque Children 70 Years Commemoration Event Programme [MS404/A4164/1/2]

BCA’37: The Association for the UK Basque Children 70 Years Commemoration Event Programme [MS404 A4164/1/2]

The archive, catalogued as MS404 (A4164 and A4171), is especially intriguing as it contains not only original and facsimile historical documents pertaining to the Basque children, many of which have not featured in published work to date, but also includes administrative papers and correspondence related to the Association’s activities. Besides gathering documentation, the Association has also been involved in numerous events, including exhibitions and educational work. Given that the memory and memorialisation of the Spanish Civil War remains controversial and contested in the present, these materials offer insights into the ways in which a specific organisation has been involved in the construction of the public memory of the niños.


Children and adults at North Stoneham Camp [MS404 A4164/2/24]

My own research focuses on the Basque colonies that existed in the county of Suffolk between 1937 and 1939, and I am also interested in the different ways that the history of the niños vascos has been told, and what remains untold. It is often difficult to research local case studies connected to the Basque refugees, owing to the impermanence of the colonies and the fragmentary nature of the surviving historical record. I found that the materials held at Southampton, which include further collections of relevant papers catalogued at MS370, helped me to fill some of the gaps and add texture to the history of the Suffolk colonies and the local experiences of the niños. For instance, while I considered myself very familiar with the history of the Wickham Market colony, which was located in a decommissioned workhouse, file MS404 A4164/2/13 contained several photographs that I had not seen before, including the children eating a meal inside the workhouse, and a striking image of some of the Basque boys with bicycles. While these subjects might sound mundane, the photographs help to convey a sense of the children’s experiences of colony life.


Basque boys with bicycles [MS404 A4164/2/13/5]

Among the other highlights of my visit to Special Collections was viewing an original souvenir programme for an ‘All Spanish Concert by the Spanish Refugee Children from Wherstead Park, and West-End Spanish Artistes’ held at Ipswich in December 1937 (MS370/8 A4110/1). Such entertainments were a crucial part of the fundraising activity required to maintain individual colonies, although the participation of ‘West-End Artistes’ was unusual – the songs and dances were usually performed exclusively by the children.

Souvenir programme for an 'All Spanish Concert by the Spanish Refugee Children from Wherstead Park, and West-End Spanish Artistes’ held at Ipswich in December 1937 [MS 370/8 A4110/1]

Souvenir programme for an ‘All Spanish Concert by the Spanish Refugee Children from Wherstead Park, and West-End Spanish Artistes’ held at Ipswich in December 1937 [MS370/8 A4110/1]

The enduring and poignant connection between some of the Basque refugees and those who cared for them is highlighted in a short letter, dated 1 January 1988 (MS404 A4171/2/3/1/5), by Poppy Vulliamy, then in her eighties, who had established a series of colonies, including in Suffolk and Norfolk, for a group of fifty older Basque boys in 1937 and 1938. She was writing to one of these ‘boys’, Rafael de Barrutia, now a man approaching retirement age, thanking him for a Christmas card. Poppy signed off ‘From your friend who never forgets you.’ The preservation of memory is a key theme that runs through the BCA’37 archive and influences its continuing activities in the present. These include an undergraduate dissertation prize, for which the Special Collections at University of Southampton are likely to prove an important resource.


Part of letter by Poppy Vulliamy, 1 January 1988 [MS404 A4171/2/3/1/5]

After spending much of my research trip to the Hartley Library pondering the relationship between historical experiences and the ways in which they are remembered, it seemed appropriate to head back to Southampton railway station via the Civic Centre to visit the plaque commemorating the arrival of the Habana over eighty years ago. I also reflected again that, while the Basque refugee archive at Southampton is inevitably incomplete, it offers significant glimpses into local refugee experiences. With the number of surviving niños vascos declining each year, these documents will only become more valuable in preserving the memory of this crucial part of Britain’s refugee history.”

Commemorative plaque of the arrival of the Basque refugees at the Southampton Civic Centre

Commemorative plaque of the arrival of the Basque refugees at the Southampton Civic Centre

The wonder of watercolours

July is World Watercolour Month, a 31-day charitable event aimed at promoting the joy of the art of watercolours and arts education.

To celebrate the wonder of watercolours, Special Collections shares items from a small series of watercolour paintings of architecture in India. Dating from the early to mid-nineteenth century, these possibly were created in preparation for a work on architecture.

Taj Mahal from the river [MS288/1]

Located on the banks of the Yamuna river, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction started in 1632 and was completed in 1648. Subsequent buildings, including the mosque, the main gateway on the south, the outer courtyard and its cloisters, were added later. The marble of the tomb, which is the centre of focus, stands in contrast with the red sandstone of surrounding buildings. Decorative elements were created by using paint, stucco, stone inlays or carving.

Gate opposite the river, by which you enter the garden [MS288/2]

The gardens reflected the intricate melding of nature and religion. Every portion was meticulously planned and based on four or multiples of four which is the holiest number in Islam. They also were designed to the idea of Charbagh – the idea of a Paradise Garden. This was in keeping with ancient Persian Timurid gardens which filled the gardens with symbolic shapes and plantings.

View of gardens from Taj Mahal towards gate opposite the river [MS288/3]

The ground plan of the Taj Mahal is composed in perfect balance and the domed chamber, housing the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, is a perfect octagon.

Interior view of vaulted dome over the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan [MS288/8]

The octagonal marble lattice screen encircling both cenotaphs is highly polished and richly decorated with inlay work. The borders of the frames are inlaid with precious stones representing flowers.

Detail of flower design [MS288/12]

For further details of watercolours and art in the Special Collections why not check out other blogs on the notable art of watercolours or Heywood Sumner: artist and archaeologist.

Cesspits and Salubrity in Southampton

Philip Brannon’s Picture of Southampton, a guidebook published in 1850, presents Southampton as an attractive place to visit, its fine streets and amenities on display in the book’s many engravings.

The High Street from Philip Brannon The Picture of Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 03.5 1850

Although the arrival of the railway and development of the docks meant that the town’s commercial life was increasingly important, the guide emphasises Southampton’s longstanding claim to be a health resort. According to Brannon, as a result of the beneficial climate, there were cases where ‘incipient consumption has been arrested … and asthma of longstanding cured’. Going on to classify different areas of the town according to their ‘climatal characteristics’, he described Bedford Place as elevated and airy, whilst Cranbury Place was bracing.

Subtitle from Philip Brannon The Picture of Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 03.5 1850

Brannon also wrote that when cholera appeared it was mild and ‘seldom attended with loss of life’ a surprising claim given that 239 people had died from the disease during the summer and early autumn of 1849. Those most badly affected were the poor who lived in the squalid courts and alleys behind the main streets, where the water supply was inadequate and sewers rare. Such insanitary conditions were alluded to by Brannon though they could ‘only remotely affect the visitor, as these portions are seldom, if ever, dwelt in by those who resort hither for health or pleasure’. He did however feel obliged to suggest that some areas of the shore were best avoided by invalids, particularly in warm weather at low tide.

River Itchen and Floating Bridge from Philip Brannon The Picture of Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 03.5 1850

The reason for this becomes apparent in the very different picture of Southampton presented in  the Report of the General Board of Health on the Sanitary Condition of Southampton, also published in 1850. The author, William Ranger, was the inspector assigned to the town as part of the process of establishing a Local Board of Health, which it was hoped would improve the situation. Ranger visited in January 1850, taking the testimony of witnesses, many of them local doctors and clergy, and touring the areas where most deaths had occurred.

Courts and alleys behind the High Street from a copy of the 1846 map of Southampton Rare Books Cope cf SOU 90.5 1846

The Report provides a detailed account of the living conditions of those who rarely feature in publications on Southampton. The doctor, Francis Cooper, wrote ‘I have seen and visited paupers in their illness, who have lain in hovels not fit for pigs, and where pigs would infallibly have died for want of air’. In the courts and alleys, some as narrow as two or three feet, ‘light and air are in a great measure excluded and where drainage and sewerage are wanting and where ventilation is impossible, fumes of a malarious kind are perpetually given off by cesspools, dung-heaps and filthy privies’.

Ranger also included tables providing further evidence of the insanitary and overcrowded conditions:

Table showing access to a water supply from William Ranger’s Report to the General Board of Health … on Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 61

Among the many problems were twenty slaughter houses within the town, privies unemptied for 10 years, only one public lavatory and no public baths. Out of 5,482 houses only 1,750 had a water supply, sewers where they existed were inadequate and outfalls on the shores insufficient, a problem particularly noted at the Floating Bridge and West Quay. Overcrowding was common, especially in the lodging houses found mainly in Blue Anchor Lane, Simnel Street, West Street and St Michael’s Square, where people were accommodated at the cost of three pence a night for part of a bed. The burial grounds within the town walls were also overcrowded.

Table showing access to toilets from William Ranger’s Report to the General Board of Health … on Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 61

Ranger’s proposals to improve public health included providing a pure water supply to every house, extending and improving the sewers and prohibiting their discharge on the foreshore. Dead end alleys were to be opened up, the backstreets paved and cleaned and where possible ventilation increased in back to back houses. Burials within the town were to be prohibited as were slaughterhouses. Ranger suggested that the costs of such works would in part be offset by the savings achieved by improved public health.

Steps were taken to improve conditions but as time passed the impetus to carry out the proposals receded and in the mid-1860s cholera returned to the same areas killing 100 people, including Francis Cooper. Conditions described in the Detailed Report of Delapidated and Unhealthy Houses in the Borough of Southampton of 1893 showed that little had changed by the end of the nineteenth century.

Brannon’s engravings of Southampton show the town at its best, but Ranger’s report is a reminder of conditions just out of sight beyond the main streets, and raise the question of whether the walks along the shore would have been quite as pleasant as they might appear.

Blechynden from Philip Brannon The Picture of Southampton (1850) Rare Books Cope SOU 03.5 1850

Conditions in mid-19th century Southampton were by no means exceptional, the cholera epidemic of 1848/49 was nationwide. General Board of Health  inspectors visited 414 towns and villages between 1848 and 1857 and their reports are available on microfiche in the Hartley Library.