Hats off to Monica Bohm-Duchen for the inspired idea of a year-long festival to celebrate the contributions to British culture and public life made by refugees from the Nazis (Report, 31 December). Reading obituaries in the Guardian over recent years, it has been remarkable how often people who greatly enriched British society – in education, the arts, science, law, social work, architecture, human rights, community development and much more – came in this wave of refugees. I hope many more around the country will get on board and reflect how their communities have also benefited. We certainly need an antidote to the poison infecting much public comment about asylum seekers and refugees. What can we do to reset our values to ensure a humane response to refugees?
• How good to highlight the contribution to culture of wartime refugees. Culture takes many forms. As well as the artists (and let’s not forget Kurt Schwitters), designers and musicians, there were scholars who settled in the UK, transfusing intellectual brilliance into their research and teaching, and enthusiasm into their students.
From the 1960s through to the 1980s and 1990s, three historians of the ancient and medieval worlds, Arnaldo Momigliano, Walter Ullmann and Karl Leyser, contributed hugely to their discipline. I and many others will never forget them.
• Your correspondents urging compassion for those attempting to cross the Channel are quite right (Letters, 31 December).
I’m reminded of Steinbeck’s great novel The Grapes of Wrath, based on the migration within the United States in the 1930s, in which people were forced to flee a hopeless existence in search of a better life. Those migrants too were often exploited, reviled and dehumanised. Most people read the novel and sympathise enormously with the Joads and their fellow refugees. Yet we only need to change the time and geography and that understanding and sympathy vanishes.
• In 1958, aged 10, I stood on the beach in Vlissingen with my Auntie Julie. She talked to me about the day in October 1914 when, as a five-year-old refugee from Antwerp, she had crossed the Channel in “a very small boat” with her mother, brother and sister. She had been very scared – the boat was so small and her father had been left behind. In Britain they were housed, fed and resettled, and my grandfather was able to rejoin them. In 1914, while mobilising for war, Britain took in and helped some 250,000 refugees. In 2018, a few hundred are a “crisis”.
Mary Radoux Gomez
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