Saturday, 15 October 2011

History is not quite bunk

An email arrives from one Nick Murray, asking to be put in touch with our Bill Fishman, author of East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914, one of those steady backlist sellers that is so nice to have on the list. Nick had found a reference to his paternal grandfather, Otto Shreiber in the book. Otto was an emigre friend of Rudolph Rocker, the (gentile, Yiddish-speaking) leader of the Jewish anarchist movement. Both had been living in London for years. With the usual logic of governments, Otto and Rocker were arrested as German nationals when the war broke out. That Otto was in Britain to escape the Kaiser was ironic, but no defence, and he was interned on the Isle of Man, where he died, details unknown. His Irish companion (many people in the anarchist movement did not marry) was Kathleen "Dolly" Murray who had two children. Dolly was unable to cope with the children in Otto's absence and Nick's father was put in the care of Edward and Constance Garnett. Edward was a writer, editor and critic (instrumental in getting DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers published), while Constance was one of the first translators of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. The decades roll on, Nick having been born in 1940. His father - Otto's son - moved in the 1970s to St Ives to a house once occupied by the author and naturalist William Henry Hudson, by then long dead, but whose published letters included some to Edward Garnett way back when Otto's son was living with him.
I'm not sure if there is a moral in this rounded tale other than we are connected to history by very small steps. Which we all know.

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