Exhibition remembers wartime refugees

An exhibition hosted by the Institute of Archaeology  is to remember the experiences of refugees who sought shelter in Oxford during World War II. 

The exhibition called 'Persecution and Survival: A wartime refugee's story' opens at Oxford Town Hall on Monday. The exhibition is the culmination of a project started in May 2010. It focuses on one Jewish refugee in particular, Professor Paul Jacobsthal, an eminent archaeologist who left Germany and worked as an academic at the University of Oxford until his death in 1957.

Since the launch of the project, many people from Oxfordshire have approached the Institute researchers with their accounts of the war years, either as refugees or because they had provided homes for refugee families. Their memories have been recorded and their personal letters, luggage labels and photographs are also on display in the exhibition.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Reva and David Logan Foundation, aims to show the contribution of refugees to Britain's cultural life through the example of Paul Jacobsthal. Their momentos and testimonies, displayed at the exhibition, highlight the largely forgotten stories of the very many refugees who came to Britain just before the war. On display will be Professor Jacobsthal's personal letters dating from 1920-1957, which reveal his experiences of worsening conditions in Germany, his escape to Christ Church, internment during the war, and rebuilding and reconnecting with the Continent afterwards. Other personal items include photographs of him and his wife, their works of art and even his typewriter. Professor Jacobsthal made his name as a leading expert in Celtic Art, publishing the book Early Celtic Art in 1944. The book was controversial at the time as the pan-European origins of Celtic art did not fit with Nazi Germany's own nationalistic doctrines.

There are also contributions from the Association of Jewish Refugees and the Oxford City of Sanctuary movement, a group promoting safety and inclusion to people seeking refuge in the city.

Project Directors Dr Sally Crawford and Dr Katharina Ulmschneider, from the University's Institute of Archaeology, said: 'One of the main themes to emerge from the interviews we did with the survivors was that no-one had taken an interest in their stories before. We hope this exhibition will illustrate that these stories are worth recording and are still relevant today. We were struck by the number of people who said they had been warmly welcomed by the people of Oxford during the war years.'

The exhibition will run from Monday 16 January until 10 March.

Researchers from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford have catalogued Professor Jacobsthal's letters and made them publicly available online.

Later this month, the Institute will also be hosting a debate for Oxfordshire secondary schools at Christ Church, Professor Jacobsthal's old college. Sixth-formers will be taking part in a public speaking competition to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.