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The LektorInnentreffen programme
(Hinsley Hall, Headingley, 28-30 July, 2000)

Taking part: Gerti Billes, Fred Bridgham, Richard & Lilias Byrn, Douglas Cossar, Annemarie Goodridge, Christa Hartwig & Ottokar Ullrich, Traude Heckel, Ika Eisenbarth, Ann Heilmann, Verena Jung & Stephan Timphus, Dieter & Lilo Kerl, Rosemarie Krockenberger, Iris Lamparter, Sibylle Metzger, Anette Nübel, Adelheid Petruschke-Abramovici, Brigitte Reischle, Brigitte Scott, Linda Speidel & Christopher Burley, Erich Speidel, John & Irmgard Tailby, Sheila Wilkie.
A further 29 former and present colleagues sent greetings and good wishes.

On the first evening we had the pleasure and privilege of listening to Stella Rotenberg reading from her work, published and unpublished, and answering questions. She started with the autobiographical piece Ungewissen Ursprungs, then read some 32 of her poems – short, limpid flashes of insight, moderated indignation, and occasional quiet laughter. Those of us who never had to escape the Holocaust and live in exile, not succumbing to bitterness, can only marvel.

Born in Vienna in 1916, her medical studies cut short by the Anschluß, she herself managed to emigrate, reaching England in August 1939. Here she met and, in 1940, married a medical fellow-emigré – a Polish-Viennese fellow-‘friendly alien’ – and she followed his postings around England with the British Army. After the war she learnt that virtually all her relatives had perished in the Holocaust. She took British nationality in 1946 and has been living in Leeds since 1948.

She began writing in 1940: poetry and prose. Her first collection, Gedichte, appeared in Tel Aviv (1972). The second, Die wir übrig sind, was published in Germany (Darmstadt, 1978). Her third volume combines these two along with prose pieces and a set of eight black-and-white illustrations by Yehuda Bacon: Scherben sind endlicher Hort (Wien, 1991). Her most recent publication is ‘gesammelte Prosa’ – Ungewissen Ursprungs (Wien, 1997).

Dichterin im Exil:
“Ich bin nirgendwo zu Hause. Meine Heimat ist die Sprache.”

(back to Scott)

Saturday’s weather allowed a splendidly nostalgic outing to upper Wharfedale. Clouds burst over Halifax, Headingley and Harrogate, but Douglas Cossar’s walking-party enjoyed lovely sunshine from Burnsall to Grassington via lunch at Hebden, and the coach-party was equally happy pub-lunching in Linton, then visiting Buckden and Hubberholme.

The evening was ‘bunt’, featuring contributions from a re-constituted German Choir (membership-dates from 1956 to 2000) and readings from the reminiscences which form the basis of this booklet.

We were joined for the occasion by John & Lucy Arnison, Gordon Humphreys and Ernest Kirkby.

Sunday: With one quarter of its members already involved in the Reunion (Gordon Forster lecturing; John Buckler, contributor; Richard Byrn organising), it seemed appropriate to invite the rest of the Ransome-Grant Literary Club (founded 1889) and their spouses to join us.

The following were able to accept: James & Kathleen Ashcroft, John & Jayne Buckler, Peter & Margaret Churley, Michael & Margaret Coles, Gordon & Mary Forster, Alan & Gill Griggs, Donald & Pauline Hood, John & Elizabeth Morrish. Also present was Nancy Hill.

The morning’s first lecture was given by Gordon Forster – a witty and wide-ranging survey of developments in Yorkshire and Leeds over the past 50 years. (The print-version summary appears here.)

Tadcaster-born, a graduate of and, in the fullness of time, Chairman of the Leeds University School of History, Gordon Forster is now a Life Fellow of the University of Leeds. He is a past President of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and of the Thoresby Society; Council member of the Royal Historical Society; prime-mover of the volume on Cheshire in the Victoria County History series; founder-Editor of Northern History; author of The East Riding Justices of the Peace in the Seventeenth Century (1973); and recipient of Essays in Honour of G.C.F. Forster (1995).

And so to the weekend’s moving climax – the final session given jointly by Robert Lee and David Heaton, drawing on material in Part III of Robert Lee’s autobiography: The Enemy my Friend. Robert Lee spoke about life as a POW in Freital (Dresden); David Heaton about the ethical and practical implications of the US and British bombing of Dresden in 1945.

Born in Bingley in 1915, Robert Lee now lives nearby in Harden. He trained at Bradford College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. A career teacher of Art, all his posts (1947 to 1983) were held in and around West Yorkshire, where he has also mounted most of his exhibitions – his principal medium is wood.

In 1940 he was called up to the Royal Artillery Signals and was taken prisoner during the Western Desert Campaign in 1942. Initially held in Italy, he was transferred to the Arbeitslager in Freital (Dresden) in 1943. With the collapse of Germany in 1945 he and his fellow-POWs made their way to the Sudetenland where they were liberated by Soviet troops.

Dresden means a very great deal to him: he carved a Friedensengel for the crypt of the recently rebuilt Frauenkirche. Besides experiencing a wonderful sense of re-education in Art and Architecture thanks to that city’s Baroque and Rococo heritage, he also witnessed the heavy bombing of the city in 1945.

Of his relationship to his captors, he writes:

‘The most significant experience of my life took place during my time as a POW in Freital. In August 1944 Freital was bombed, and over 200 people were killed in the raid, mostly women and children. The decision that the consequent burial should be conducted entirely by my POW group was a Nazi propaganda device which backfired. The Freitalers were shocked by the event and ashamed that they had not had the opportunity to bury their own dead. This incident drove them even closer to us and was a decisive step in our becoming part of the local community.’

Since retirement he has collaborated with his nephew David Heaton in writing an account of his experiences, entitled The Enemy my Friend. As yet unpublished, copies of the manuscript are held at the Imperial War Museum (London) and The Second World War Experience Centre (Leeds).

An account of his time in Freital has appeared in Everyone’s War. The Journal of the Second World War Experience Centre, issue no.2 (July 2000) under the title ‘Death comes in a Day or Two’. This title is drawn from Llewellyn Powys, Apples be Ripe (inscription on a Dorset gravestone):

Butterflies are white and blue
In the fields we are passing through.
Suffer me to hold your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.

Privately one of our Lektorin colleagues recollected the sense of transient happiness inspired in Hermann Hesse also by a small blue butterfly:

Flügelt ein kleiner blauer
Falter vom Wind geweht –
Ein perlmutterner Schauer,
Glitzert, flimmert, vergeht.
So im Augenblicksblinken,
So im Vorüberwehn
Sah ich das Glück mir winken,
Glitzern, flimmern, vergehn.