Refugees from that Other War

What does it mean to be the last on one’s generation? As the last remnants of the young Europeans who experienced World War II die, what becomes of those memories? We have the good luck to know one of these persons. Her name is Susanne Bock and she is 97 years old. Though physically frail, she has a sound mind and is still an active intellectual. In fact, she just published her third book.
We had a chance to talk about one of the major features of the war years for her today, her residence in England as a refugee from Austria. She showed us the exhibition catalogue prepared by the director of Verein Kunstplatzl named Sonja Frank, who had interviewed Susi. The exhibition was entitled Austrian Refugees in Britain: The Fight Against Fascism in World War II. It was mounted at The London School of Economics’ Atrium Gallery between November 16 and December 11, 2015.
The refugees who were fighting against fascism were all members of a progressive umbrella organization called the Free Austrian Movement (FAM). This organization provided help to refugees from Austria, coordinated the antifascist actions among its component groups, the support of Austrian fighting in the British army, and assisting the BBC in its propaganda programs aimed at Austrian audiences. The component groups included the entire spectrum of Austrian progressive political organizations, with the conscious exception of the Democratic Socialists, who officially embraced the unification of Austria with Germany.
The exhibition was an effort to capture the experiences of as many individual refugees as possible by interviewing them or their children, by collecting photographs and refugee documents, and by extracting contextual stories from period English and German-language publications. Each refugee that Frank could find information on was given their own entry, with biographical information, activities while in Britain, and photos. As one read through the entries, the commitment and antifascist fervor was evident in every entry. These were the active resistors whose country had been stolen from them, and who were determined to get it back. It is a very different refugee story, one that emphasizes agency rather than victimization.
Sonja was particularly interested in leafing through the catalogue since both her parents were part of this group. She found a short citation about her mother, who was active in the London group before meeting her father.
Susi pointed out that the people featured in the catalogue were primarily the ones located in and around London. There were two other concentrations of young Austrian refugees,, one in Oxford and one in Brighton. By the time Frank was conducting her research, none of the people active in those locations was alive to interview. Sonja’s father, who died in 1993, was living in Oxford and associated with the Czech refugee equivalent of the FAM, even though he was a native German speaker.
Our attention was drawn to Susi when she repeated her statement that Oxford and Brighton were ‘lost.’ This was important enough to her that she wanted to make sure we focused on that. The picture of FAM that we were discovering through the catalogue was an incomplete picture. It would always be incomplete. The research had come too late. Oxford and Brighton were forever lost.

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