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Check Out My Tabs Above - All about books and about people with a passion for reading and writing books in all their forms - old and new. Books as love affairs, memories, surprises, identification and physical entities are part of the passion.

Friday, 13 April 2012

From Hamburg to Tantobie via Kindertransport.

Sylvia in her house in Tantobie
Last week, with my friends Gillian and Glynn Wales of The Writing Game I went to the small North Durham  village of Tantobie to visit Sylvia Hurst nee Fleischer in her small,elegant book- and picture-filled house. just down the street from the Hotel which she ran for more than a decade.

Before that Sylvia  lectured in fashion and design in a London, then a  Manchester college; before that for many years she ran a very successful couture dressmaking business -  which o supplied Harrods, among other companies, with fine blouses and skirts -  employing many people in this business; before that she worked for the American Red Cross at the end of the war, before that she injured her knees scrubbing floors for a relative; . before that she arrived in England from Hamburg on one of the last trains full of children - the Kindertransport - which rescued unaccompanied children under seventeen from Nazi Europe.

Gillian and Glynn and I were there to record an interview with Sylvia for May's Writing Game Programme. Glynn came along because,  although he is so well read in the Twentieth Century history and politics of Germany and Britain and has lectured and taught it at school and university level, he has never spoken to someone such as Sylvia who is is the living embodiment of this history.

Sylvia - now aged ninety - was the perfect hostess. There were cream scones and coffee and an Easter egg for Gillian and myself. Sylvia apologised more than once that she had not made the scones herself.

We know a lot about Sylvia because in 2006 she published her memoir  LAUGH OR CRY and she gave a talk at Bishop Auckland Town Hall and Arts Centre when Gillian was manager. And -  as I wrote on my blog at  that time - I chaired a session Sylvia held in Spennymoor Library where she talked to a large group of adults and children. The children loved her. She  had combed her curly silver hair out as she thought the children might to see her as a princess.

She mentioned her hair on this visit too, saying that she had had to plait it as it was so thick it came up like a cloud.

Sylvia's Story: The Young Sylvia
As well as charm, Sylvia has perfect recall - remembering times and details from the whole of her life in phenomenal detail. Her extended family were internationally successful as business people and entrepreneurs with distant relatives with names like Guggenheim and Rothschild.

 Her father was a world-famous maker of corsets of special design. This involvement in textiles and paper  was spread throughout the family in Europe and America and Sylvia's father fulfilled the family business expectations although his heart's desire was to be a doctor. In maturity he trained and studied  to be a homeopathic doctor for which he was known to have a true gift. As the Nazi grip tightened ,of course this had to be done in secret.

His medical gifts came in very useful in the prison at Dachau, where he tended injured prisoners and helped them to face their ordeal. He was taken to Dachau twice - first on the first big round-up but then he was allowed home on payment of an enormous fine and made to sign away his assets. Sadly, there was no getting out  the second time as he was taken again, this time with his wife and son Richard. Richard - who was not allowed on the Kindertransport because his father thought he was too young andit would be too dangerous - actually died and lived out a very long lofe in America. The Spennymoor children where releivec about that.

Sylvia's book is dedicated:

To my parents and Grandmother Hedwig Victims of the Holocaust and to the children of Germany, victims of Brainwashing.

In her forward Sylvia says:

 'In this book I am telling the story, right from the beginning, from my earliest memories. How it wa that Nazism could take hold in Germany, How ordinary good and honest people were gradually seduced into this criminal madness and the German nation made to great, superios, euphoric.
This book is not a holocaust memoir.
It is the story of our Jewish Community, and particularlty my family, which had paid  and omportant part in the development of the Town as well as the Country. It is a very personalstory of Jewish and Christian Children growing up together in Germany from 1925 t0 1939. The history (of this community)  dates back to  1771 when twenty (Jewish) families  came under the protection of the local Baron, the Lord of the Village.
Unfortunately everything is true.'  
Sylvia Hurst.

There is so many more aspects to this unique story, so much more to say, not least about the fact that in her seventies Sylvia  wrote with great insight and (to Glynn's surprise) relatively little  bitterness about this  significant experience.

Sylvia has always learned new things. He present study is the historiography of the Holy Grail.  (She has not time for Dan Brown...)  She gave Gillian a very useful reference !

Fortunately now  the whole long conversation was recorded on my magic machine and will be broadcast on Bishop FM at 12 Noon on May 6th. If you want to hear Sylvia talk of all this and much more  you can tune in then or listen afterwards on the Bisho FM Podcast or it will be available as well on iTunes.

I will flag it up on here and on Life Twice Tasted nearer  the time, to remind you.

Personal Note: Some people nowadays say why bother with books? Books such as this self published, very important memoir are just some of the reasons. WX

NOTE: For Glynn'a essay 

on the historical background 

to Sylvia's experiences click here 

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