Dr Sally Horrocks, Senior Academic Consultant for An Oral History of British Science, writes:
My Leicester colleagues Olaf Jensen and Alex Korb, who run the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, have organised a Holocaust Awareness Week from 24-27 October. This has prompted me to think about the ways in which memories linked with the Holocaust, the impact of Nazi racial policies and associated events emerge from several OHBS interviews. The ‘life story’ nature of the interviews means that although interviewees are selected because of their involvement with science and technology, their memories cover a wide range of topics outside these areas, ensuring that they will provide a resource for historians and other users with interests that have nothing to do with science!
Among our interviewees have been three, Frank Land, Stephen Moorbath and Stephanie Shirley, who as children fled from Germany during the late 1930s along with some, but not all, of their family members. These interviews contain poignant accounts of childhoods and families disrupted and relatives left behind. They compliment a substantial body of existing oral history that the British Library already holds on this topic and I would be interested to know whether our accounts differ from those that were collected with an explicit focus on this aspect of interviewees lives, and if so how.
Stephen Moorbath, who was interviewed for the Changing Planet strand for his work in geochemistry, was born in Magdeburg in 1929. When he was nine his father, a Jewish doctor, was interned. Here he discusses how his family coped with his father’s internment, and the moment of his release.
Stephen Moorbath, C1379/36 Track 2 (00:10:52 - 00:12:35)
Soon after this release Moorbath and his father left for Britain, arriving on 24th May 1939. His mother was left behind, but arrangements were in hand for her to leave Germany when war broke out, as he explains here.
Stephen Moorbath, C1379/36 Track 2 (00:15:28 - 00:16:52)
Soon afterwards Moorbath’s father was interned on the Isle of Man as an enemy alien, leaving Stephen to be cared for with other Jewish refugee children by a series of hosts, some of them far from sympathetic to their charges.
Stephen Moorbath, C1379/36 Track 2 (00:18:32 - 00:22:37)
Frank Land, interviewed for Made in Britain as a member of the pioneering LEO computer team at Lyons, also experienced the internment of his father on the Isle of Man. Unlike Stephen Moorbath, however, he had been fortunate enough to arrive in England with his twin brother, Richard, and his mother, Zoscha and to have a number of relatives already resident in Britain. With the family breadwinner absent Land’s mother established a successful business which she continued once her husband was released.
Frank Land, C1379/17 Track 2 (00:02:13 - 00:03:43)
Land also recollected the impressions he had gained from his father about the experience of internment, which was far from being wholly negative.
Frank Land, C1379/17 Track 5 (00:02:17 - 00:03:32)
Unfortunately our project has come too late to include émigré scientist from Germany and central Europe who came to Britain during the 1930s, but earlier NLS projects carried out extensive interviews with two of them, Joseph Rotblat and Max Perutz. What several of our interviewees do mention is the impact of the conviction for spying of one of these émigrés, Klaus Fuchs on security procedures, particularly at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. Stephen Moorbath worked at Harwell between 1948 and 1951 and so was there when Fuchs’ activities became public.
Stephen Moorbath, C1379/36 Track 4 (00:05:43 - 00:07:22)