William Boyd, An Ice Cream War, 1982
How do we ‘get’ history? If not at first hand, then where do the people we get it from find it themselves? I have been exploring the ways in which other people’s research into IWM Collections gets shared with a wider public. Formal works of written history and biography provide some obvious examples, which I will look at in a later post, but works of fiction offer a rather more left-field starting point.
Then there are writers who have included scenes at IWM buildings in their plots – the protagonists of both W G Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001) and Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung (2007) view film at the All Saints Annexe, a First World War veteran gives talks to schoolchildren in the London galleries in Pat Barker’s Another World (2001), a woman commissioned to write the biography of a First World War flying ace turned politician begins her researches here in Isabel Colegate’s Deceits of Time (1988), and the whole final chapter of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) concerns a visit to the Reading Room by the central character.
Many writers of historical novels have acknowledged the help they received when researching here – examples include Len Deighton (Bomber, 1970), William Boyd (An Ice Cream War, 1982), Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger, 1987), Pat Barker (Regeneration, 1991), Elizabeth Buchan (The Light of the Moon, 1991), Leslie Thomas (Other Times, 1999), Jody Shields (The Crimson Portrait, 2006) and Sarah Waters (The Night Watch, 2006).
The crew of 'Ragin' Red', a United States heavy bomber, sorting out their kit after landing. IWM EA 11269A
Last month the American Air Museum (AAM) Research Group sat around a meeting table at IWM Duxford and dreamt of Savannah, Georgia. Well, more specifically the United States Army and Air Force veteran associations based there and the possible help they could offer to the redevelopment project. The AAM is a monument to the 30,000 American airmen who died flying from Britain during the Second World War. The hope for the redevelopment project is to contextualise the aircraft on display with the stories of the American airmen who flew them and the ground crews who maintained them.
Time and again, the names of faraway American places were mentioned: California, with the highest number of AAM Members, Texas with its high number of veterans who could form part of the oral history side of the project, Washington D.C. , a city chock-a-block full of excellent archival material…the list goes on. I had to snap back to reality, though, and present the findings of initial research into collections much closer to home – those of Imperial War Museums (IWM).
Professor David Cesarani (right) with Professor Paul Shapiro of USHMM at the Beyond camps and forced labour conference held at IWM London, 4-6 January 2012
On 4-6 January 2012, Imperial War Museum London hosted the fourth international conference in the Beyond camps and forced labour series. Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, co-organiser of Beyond camps and forced labour guest blogs here about the key themes which emerged from the conference:
‘It is hard to sum up the themes that were explored in the conference, let alone find patterns common to all the papers. But I think that some distinct threads did emerge. One was the discovery of new archival sources or the re-examination of neglected collections.
The largest and most important of these is the vast archive of the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Bad Arolsen. Thanks largely to the persistence of Professor Paul Shapiro of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum we now have a good idea of the staggering riches that were kept locked away by the ITS for decades, and the process of making them available to researchers is now well underway. The many sub-collections will offer new insights into the existence of inmates in the concentration camps, the death marches, and the experiences of refugees and survivors after liberation. One of the most extraordinary collections was described by the new ITS historian, Susanne Urban. It comprises 1,200 responses to questionnaires sent out to survivors of death marches – amongst the earliest, most immediate testimony every recorded. The ITS records will help historians to map and analyse population movements after 1945, including the influx of former DPs into the UK. It will take decades and many PhD theses to even scrape the surface of this treasure trove.
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105681
Here in the Department of Research, one of my responsibilities is to oversee the development of new content for The Holocaust Exhibition. My next is to display a collection of recently acquired photographs of Roma and Sinti (‘Gypsies’).
A photograph showing Roma in Radom, Poland – torn from a German soldier’s photograph album. IWM HU 105682
Roma and Sinti were targeted by the Nazis in their discriminatory laws and policies from 1933. They were later subject to slave labour, internment and mass murder (including at extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau). 25%, or up to 220,000 of Europe’s Roma were killed by the Nazis.
‘Trixie’ who accompanied her young owner –Inga Joseph– when she left Vienna for Britain as one of the Kindertransport refugees in June 1939. IWM EPH 3922
The Holocaust Exhibition was ten years old last year, and giving talks about its impact is a rewarding thing to do. Visitor figures – at 7-800 a day – are still high. The subject has become mainstream after years of being marginalised, and films, tv programmes and books still appear each month with new slants, and new questions.
Today I am talking to the Sheffield branch of the Association of Jewish Refugees. I know one of the members well – Inga Joseph, who came as a Kindertransport refugee in 1938 and it is through her that I was invited along. Inga gave the IWM two dolls which she brought with her as a child refugee from Vienna – Trixie and Peter – and has written up her early life in three highly readable books written under the name of Ingrid Jacoby.
Excavations of a new mass grave discovered at Perucac Lake. Muhamed Mujkic.
Back in Sarajevo. I call in on Muhamed Mujkic, who co-directed the Memorial Room film with the British documentary maker Leslie Woodhead, at his office at the Federation for Missing Persons. His job is to document the excavations of mass graves found in Bosnia – something he has now done for 15 years. Last year a new mass grave was found–when a damming project at Perucac Lake caused a river bed to yield up its terrible secret – their work is far from over.
Excavations of a new mass grave discovered at Perucac Lake. Muhamed Mujkic.
The walls of their office are covered with photos of the team at work – including one of their chief wearing a miner’s lamp as he examines human remains discovered in a deep cave. And there’s one of Bill Clinton – deep in thought during an official visit to Potocari.
The Srebrenica Memorial Room, Potocari, Bosnia Hercegovina: two black towers sit in the former UN headquarters. In one a film explains the course of the genocide, in another showcases tell the stories of twenty of those killed. Jasmin Agovic.
Wood-smoke curls through the darkness as I make my way to Sarajevo’s bus station for the 7am daily bus to Srebrenica. It’s my first visit to Bosnia since 2007 when the Srebrenica Memorial Room opened, a project initiated by Lord Ashdown, then High Representative in Bosnia Hercegovina, and supported by the IWM.
Once on the road, it’s good to see the familiar landscape – even if it is through a haze of rain. Substantial brick houses dot the fields – they’re usually shared between families with one on each floor. Each has a pile of logs outside – ready for the winter.
One of the collections catalogued by Dr Simon Robbins: A photograph of and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson (August 1918) about the award of her Military Medal. IWM DOCS 62/135/1
A delegation comes from the Wellcome Trust – to hear what we are doing on the medical history front. It’s a great opportunity to let them hear and see just how strong are our collections on this topic. Inevitably the medical treatment of wounded soldiers is a running theme in our collections – whether recruiting posters for Red Cross nurses in the First World War or films urging soldiers to protect themselves against malaria in the Second. But there are wider themes you can explore here too – there are few aspects of war which did not impinge on health also.
Dr Simon Robbins is our medical expert and he talks through the work he has done this year – the Wellcome Trust has just supported a major cataloguing project of our collections of letters and diaries written by medical personnel. We’re hoping to expand our understanding and online coverage of this massive subject – linking up with other archives so that specialists can see who has what.
Alicia Melamed Adams, Two Frightened Children, c 1963, Imperial War Museum IWM ART 17458
The Muswell Hill studio is flooded with sunlight and all around are paintings of flowers in radiant reds, yellows and blues. I have come to visit Alicia Melamed Adams, the Holocaust survivor whose paintings and whose story I wrote up as one of the chapters of Justice, Politics and Memory in Europe after the Second World War published this summer. We did the interviews in this studio a year ago, sifting through her old family photographs and going over the details of her family’s horrendous wartime ordeal.
Alicia was born Alicia Goldschlag in Boryslav, in Galicia – in Eastern Poland – to parents who gave her and her brother Josef a happy childhood. But during the Second World War the Nazis imposed a reign of terror, with random shootings and disappearances a daily occurrence. Alicia’s parents and brother were all murdered by the Nazis. Her brother Josef – who had ambitions to become an architect – died in the Janowska camp in Lviv in 1942. Her parents were shot.
The BBC monitoring reports in store
The wooden library trolley creaks into our Board Room. Piled on its shelves are around twenty boxes of transcripts made by the BBC Monitoring Service during and after the Second World War. Around the table are gathered four academics – Professor Hilary Footitt, Professor David Welch, Dr Alban Webb and Dr Peter Busch – who have kindly agreed to give us their thoughts on where we go next with this large, academically potent collection.
The reports were compiled by specially-recruited linguists (many of them refugees from Nazi Europe), to furnish the wartime government with an additional source of intelligence – how events were being reported on the radio within Axis and occupied countries. The reports show what the British Government knew from this ‘Open Source intelligence’, when they knew it and how that knowledge was used.