6C Text

My parents were enduringly grateful to the British for giving them sanctuary and for defeating the Nazis. They gave my oldest brother (the three of us top right, circa 1959), born just after the end of the war, the middle name Franklin in tribute to the American President Roosevelt. Whatever reservations they may have had, my parents loved Britain, the landscape, the humour, the lack of intrusion and that they could be private citizens. My father treasured a copy of the ‘Helpful Guidance to Refugees’ (bottom left), which encouraged the behaviours and good qualities he so appreciated in his new homeland.

Like the unaccompanied children who had come on the Kindertransport (statue at Liverpool Street Station, centre left), at the end of the war many refugees found out about the fate of their family and friends in Europe, most of whom had died in the camps. As far as I know, the last communication
my father had from his family in Holland was a letter from Westerbork in August 1943 notifying him of the birth of the twins Robert and Elisabeth. The facts about individuals were slow to emerge and my father went back to Germany in 1946, both to do business and to see and find out for himself. On his 1946 trip back to Germany he went to buy up the detritus of war and sell it as scrap. Few refugees wanted to return to a devastated and divided Germany and most applied for British Naturalisation and Citizenship. Thekla Hess, by then in her 60’s and still living in Leicester (bottom right), became British, as did her family and all of my family (my Grandfather Erich’s identity card centre top and his blue passport bottom right). Our small family prospered, and by the time I was born in 1953 Harry had a steadily growing metal business based in Camden Town, dealing in aluminium and stainless steel.

The first note of concern I recall from my parents about living as ‘foreigners’ in Britain was with the Conservative Minister Enoch Powell’s (top left) widely reported and inflammatory 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, which included lines such as; ‘We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre’. I remember my parents, horrified by its racism and xenophobia, switching their newspaper order from the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph to the more liberal Guardian, a change which was never reversed. Their anxiety was not about their status, which was settled, but more due to an undercurrent of fear based on current events and past experience, which we can still recognise today.

Unlike the refugees from Europe who had to apply for, and were sometimes refused, asylum, those who came after the war on the Windrush (centre right) and other boats from the Caribbean were British citizens. They were encouraged to come as a solution to the postwar labour shortage. The 2018 ‘Windrush scandal’ is linked to the Home Office ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. Implemented in 2012, these administrative and legislative measures were calculated to make staying in Britain as difficult as possible for those without the correct ‘leave to remain’ papers, in the hope that they would leave voluntarily. Citizens of the Windrush generation without the stipulated papers were denied legal rights, threatened with deportation and in some cases wrongly detained or deported. Due to the uncertainty generated, some lost their jobs, homes or were denied benefits and
medical care to which they were entitled. The campaign group Liberty was one of many organisations to challenge this government policy (see lorry in centre).

The book ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ (new version, centre right) prepares those wanting to become residents for the citizenship test. A multiple-choice exercise with 24 questions, the test covers some challenging subjects. A candidate is expected to know the aims of the Chartists (see print 5B), who built the Tower of London, and who first won an Olympic medal in the 10,000 metres. I particular liked the question ‘What is not a fundamental principle of British life?’ With a choice from: 1) treating others with fairness. 2) looking after yourself and family. 3) driving a car. 4) looking after the environment’. I did not pass the mock examination first time.