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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

8th November 2017 Vienna, Austria

Vienna – London: Extremes of Good and Bad Luck

The youngest of the four men is 82.  He left when he was four years old.  The oldest is 98.  They cheerfully sign autographs and chat about their experiences.

I’m at the launch in Vienna of a terrific book: Vienna – London: Passage to Safety: Emigré portraits in photographs and words, edited by Austrian photographer Marion Trestler.  Those portraits depict 21 survivors of the Kindertransportetrains which rescued Jewish children in 1938 and 1939, bringing them to safety in Britain.  Nine of those depicted have died since the project began.  But four Kindertransporte survivors have come to the book-launch, with accompanying exhibition, at the Bellearti Gallery in Vienna.

A gallery in the basement depicts suitcases carried by the children, many of whom never saw their parents again and nearly all of whom lost relatives in the Holocaust, and items they took with them.

The story of the Kinderstransporte is impressive.  Nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War, the British Government facilitated the transport of around 10,000 Jewish children from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland to the United Kingdom. The first train from Vienna left on 10 December 1938, carrying 600 children.  Altogether 2,844 Jewish children were able to leave Austria in this way.

Today, statues at the Westbahnhof in Vienna and at Liverpool Street Station in London commemorate the Kindertransporte.

At the book launch Sir Erich Reich, knighted for his charity work in the UK and featured as a child in the statue at Liverpool Street, describes his delight at picking up a copy of the book.  “I opened it, and there I was, aged 4, in the frontispiece,” he says.  The book depicts the British document permitting his entry “for educational purposes under the care of the Inter-Aid committee for children”.  “The book also shows a stamp on that document,” Sir Erich says, “saying leave to land granted at London this day on condition that the holder does not enter any employment paid or unpaid while in the United Kingdom.  But I was only 4 years old!”

I find it moving to talk to the men.  Eric Sanders was born in 1919 and volunteered for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942 to fight against National Socialism.  A video produced by Marion Trestler to accompany the book shows him accompanying himself on the piano as he sings Bring meine Grüße nach Wien (“Say hello to Vienna for me”) a song he composed in 1939.  Karl Grossfeld, aged 91 and at the presentation, says in the book “My life included extremes of good and bad luck, of good fortune and misfortune.”

The exhibition at the Bellearti is on until 7 December, and worth a visit.  The video is worth a watch.  I am struck by the comment of Otto Deutsch, who died in January 2017 aged 89.  “I think the message I’d like to pass on,” he says, “is that you cannot fight hate with hate.  Hate only brings more hate.”

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.