European studies blog

13 posts from September 2014

29 September 2014

A Glider Pilot amongst the Mosquitoes

This year sees not only the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One (in case you missed it), it is also the 60th anniversary of the International Federation of Translators, the organisation that gave us International Translation Day which we celebrate on 30 September.

The IFT’s charter states that:

Translation has established itself as a permanent, universal and necessary activity in the world of today that by making intellectual and material exchanges possible among nations it enriches their life and contributes to a better understanding amongst men.

Curators in European Studies at the British Library know all about the importance of translations. We select original literary works in European languages,  and of course we receive English translations published in the UK under legal deposit law. We also sometimes buy foreign translations of works originally published in English. Cover of 'Arnhem Lift'

An example of this is Arnhem Lift, (London, 1945; British Library 9100.a.80). It is an eyewitness account from the battle of Arnhem by a glider pilot. (There’s another anniversary for you: this month saw the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem). Initially published anonymously in 1945 it saw three print runs in its first year. The British Library holds three copies from 1945; the copy mentioned above and copies at shelfmarks, X11/5678 [pictured right], and W5/3276.

Cover of 'Ik vocht in Arnhem'Then in 1946 Jules Timmermans translated the book into under the title Ik vocht om Arnhem (Nijmegen. 1946; X.808/41632 [pictured left]). Just before this translation went to press the author’s name was made public.

Sergeant Louis Hagen came from a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany. They moved in high circles and so Hagen met Prince Bernhard, husband of Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. (Hagen was mistaken for the Prince when in Arnhem in 1944.) In 1934 Hagen was arrested for writing a joke about Hitler’s Sturmabteilung on a postcard. He was sent to a concentration camp, but was freed after six weeks, thanks to the intervention of an old schoolfriend. This episode prompted the family to leave Germany. Mr and Mrs Hagen made it to the USA, but Louis ended up in England. Eventually he joined the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1943. Arnhem was his first battle, supporting the Mosquitoes and other planes of the RAF. The Pegasus Archive website gives a detailed account of his experiences during the week the battle raged.

Photograph of Louis HagenLouis Hagen. Image from the Pegasus archive

An illustrated second edition of Arnhem Lift appeared in 1953 (copies at 9102.b.39 and W53/9325). It includes a foreword by Sir Frederick A.M. Browning, one of the commanders of Operation Market Garden. A reprint followed in 1977 (X.809/42364).

Sketch-map showing landing areas near ArnhemMap of landing area from Arnhem Lift. 2nd ed., 1953, page 14. (W53/9325)

In 1993 an edition entitled Arnhem lift : and the German Version  (London, 1993; YK.1996.b.4977) appeared. It gives the German version of the story by a German Arnhem veteran, whom Hagen met at a dinner party in the early 90s. The latest edition is from 2012: Arnhem lift : a German Jew in the Glider Pilot Regiment. (Stroud, 2012  YK.2013.a.1146 [below]).

Cover of 'Arnhem Lift' 1993, with a photograph of the author and an image of planes flying over a windmill

What started off as a typed-up account of a soldier, solely to be distributed among his friends, became a very popular work indeed, or it would not have seen three editions with several reprints, nor would it have been translated into Dutch, German, French and Italian. Hagen not only continued to write four more books, but he also translated four German books about the Second World War into English.

As a translator he would not have received as much attention as an author. Translators are often the glider pilots among the Mosquitoes/authors of the literary world. So, on this International Translation Day let’s hear it for the glider pilots/translators!

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch and Flemish Collections

References and further reading:

C. Bauer, The battle of Arnhem: the betrayal myth refuted, translated by D.R.Welsh. (S.l., 1966 ) X11/7954

G. Freeman, Escape from Arnhem: a glider pilot's story. (Barnsley, 2010) YC.2011.a.3997

R. Gibson, Nine days  (17th to 25th September 1944): the authentic description of a glider pilot's experience at Arnhem, from take-off to his escape …. (Peterborough, 2012) YK.2013.a.4152

C.B. Mackenzie, It was like this!  = Zó was het! A short factual account of the battle of Arnhem and Oosterbeek … Translation: W. van der Heide … 2nd amplified edition.  (Oosterbeek, 1956) 9102.fff.61

R.J. Kershaw, It never snows in September (Marlborough, 1990) YK.1991.b.2242 

M. Middlebrook, Arnhem 1944 : the airborne battle, 17-26 September (London, 1995) YK.1996.a.6739 and  98/25541

J. Piekalkiewicz, Arnheim 1944: Deutschlands letzter Sieg (Oldenburg, 1976). F10/1896; English translation by H.A. and A.J. Baker, Arnhem, 1944. (London, 1977). X.802/10563

T. Plieviern, Berlin [translated from the German by Louis Hagen]. (London. 1969) H.69/634.

C. Ryan,  A bridge too far (Ware, 1999)  YC.2002.a.5467

W. Schellenberg, Memoirs , edited and translated by Louis Hagen. (S.l., 1956)  W54/3792

R. E. Urquhart, Arnhem. (London, 1958) 9103.d.26.

H. Walburgh Schmidt, Het Dertiende Peloton: levensverhalen rond zweefvliegtuig Horsa 166, Slag bij Arnhem 1944 (Soesterberg, 2004). YF.2005.a.23627 (

26 September 2014

Kazimir Malevich - pioneer of Russian abstract art

Caricature of a fat and ill-kempt German officer with his troops in the background“Look, just look, the Vistula is near”. Poster designed by Kazimir Malevich with caption by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Moscow, 1914). HS.74/273(3)

Having just viewed the excellent Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example the figure of an officer on one of the series of anti-German propaganda postcards in the “Works on paper” section with the caption “Look, just look, the Vistula is near” appears again on one of the lithographed posters Malevich designed for the project “Today’s Lubok” in the same year. In both the postcard and poster (which uses different colours) you can already see the tendency towards depicting the human figure as being made up of geometrical shapes, the use of bright colours (also found in Russian folk paintings or lubki) and the stylised patterns (e.g. to depict grass) of contemporary Primitivist paintings.

The British Library holds four lithographed First World War posters designed by Malevich.  One of these – “Wilhelm’s Merry-go-round” (HS 74/273(4)) – is also displayed in the British Library’s current exhibition Enduring War.

An abstract geometric shape

Kazimir Malevich, “Prayer” from Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh. (St Petersburg, 1913). C.114mm.28.

Also included in the “Works on paper” section of the exhibition is Malevich’s “Molitva” (Prayer). This appears in the lithographed Futurist publication Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh (known in English as “Explodity”). It is in the Cubo-Futurist style which combines the multi-viewpoints and cylindrical machine like shapes of Cubism (cf. Léger) with the dynamic approach of Futurism though here applied in the Russian manner to a static meditative pose rather than depicting movement.

During his Futurist period Malevich developed the theory of alogism where colour is divorced from the object that is being depicted. This combined with the irrationalism of the Russian Futurists can be seen in  An Englishman in Moscow (1914) where objects of different scale and unnatural colour are combined in a surrealistic collage.

Front and back covers of 'Pervyi tsikl lektsii' with abstract designs in yellow, black and blueNikolai Punin, Pervyi tsikl lektsii. (Petrograd, 1920). C.145.a.2.

There are several examples of book covers designed by Malevich included in the exhibition. One also held by the British Library is his cover for Nikolai Punin’s, Pervyi tsikl lektsii (First cycle of lectures). This cover exemplifies the use of bright colours and geometrical forms of Malevich’s abstract Suprematist  style for a book about drawing in modern art.

Page from 'O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve' with short pieces of text and a black square and circleKazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve. (Vitebsk, 1919). C.114.n.46.

In 1919 Malevich joined the art school set up by Chagall in Vitebsk. Here he began to produce books that promoted Suprematism as the correct method for modern art. His ideas were elucidated further in the manifesto O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New systems in Art) published in Vitebsk in 1919. This publication was hand produced in the Art School by transfer lithography with a linocut (see above) by El Lissitzky. It was republished in abbreviated form by Narkompros as Ot Sezanna do suprematizmu (From Cezanne to Suprematism) in 1920. (C.127.g.11.) 

Photograph of Stalin addressing a meeting overlaid with collage elements“A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin” from  Mikhail Karasik, Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva. (St Petersburg, 2007). HS.74/1966. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

An interesting use of Malevich’s Suprematist imagery can be seen in Mikhail Karasik’s artist’s book of 16 lithographs entitled Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva  (To the Affirmer of the New Art). In No.6 “A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin: Stalin calls upon the spirit of Malevich” his black square and a robotic looking figure together with the letters of the artists’ collective UNOVIS are merged into a contemporary photo of Stalin making a speech.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies


Other original works by Malevich held by the British Library:

Kazimir Malevich, Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika [God is not cast down: art, church, factory], (Vitebsk, 1922). C.114.n.33.

Kazimir Malevich, Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: novyi zhivopisnyi realizm [From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: new painterly realism], 3rd edition. (Moscow, 1916).

Artists books containing illustrations by Malevich:

Daniel Kharms, Na smert’ Kazimira Malevicha [On the death of Kazimir Malevich], (St Petersburg, 2000). Lithographs and commentaries by Mikhail Karasik. Cover decorated with a fabric design by Malevich. HS.74/1743

Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, Igra v adu [Game in hell], 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). Cover and 3 lithographs by Malevich. Cup.406.g.2 and

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Pobeda nad solntsem; opera [Victory over the sun: opera], music by M. Matiushin, (St Petersburg, 1913). A set design by Malevich appears on the cover.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Slovo kak takovoe [Word as such.], (Moscow, 1913). Cover illustration (Reaper) by K. Malevich.

Troe [Three] by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and E. Guro, (St Petersburg, 1913). Cover and drawings dedicated to the memory of E. Guro by K. Malevich. C.105.a.7

Zina V. and Aleksei Kruchenykh. Porosiata [Piglets], (St Petersburg: EUY, 1913). Cover (Peasant woman) and illustrations (including “Portrait of a builder”) by Malevich. C.104.e.21

Useful reference sources:

Malevich edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. (London, 2014.) [Catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition]

Leaflet text of Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern by Simon Bolitho.

24 September 2014

Silence is golden

Silence is out of fashion nowadays.  A recent report  found that:

‘Most people would rather be doing something than sitting alone thinking, a new study finds, even if it involves self-administering a painful electric shock ... What is striking is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.’

Early literature was all for silence. Religious writers recommended the potential contemplative who wished to get closer to God to cease inner monologue. M.J. Woods describes how in attempting to get into the mind of the sixteenth-century mystics such as St John of the Cross ‘I was aware of my liberation from another habit which had become so ingrained over the years that its presence had seemed an automatic fact of life, that of the inner monologue of verbal thoughts which had previously accompanied most of my waking moments’ (p. 43).

Moralists of a less religious hue, although they recognised that society would break down without speech, impressed upon their readers (often young and impressionable) that silence trumped speech any time. In the words of Cato: ‘nulli tacuisse nocet, nocet esse locutum’ [it never harms anyone to have been silent; it harms to have spoken].

‘Solon cum aliis loquentibus taceret interrogatus a Periandro utrum propter inopiam verborum an quod stultus esset taceret respondit: Nemo stultus tacere potest.’
[When he was silent while others talked, Solon was asked by Periander why he was silent: through a shortage of words or because he was stupid. He replied: ‘Nobody who is stupid can be silent.]

Martin of Braga, De Moribus (attributed to Seneca): ‘Qui nescit tacere nescit loqui’ [He who does not know how to be silent does not know how to speak].

In their study of mediaeval works on the sins of the tongue, Carla Casagrande and Silvana Vecchio list: blasphemia, murmur, mendacium-periurium-falsum testimonium, contentio, maledictum, contumelia-convicium, detractio, adulatio, iactantia-ironia [I’m not sure I like irony being a sin], derisio, turpiloquium-scurrilitas-stultiloquium, multiloquium, verbum otiosum-vaniloquium, and last and by all means least tacturnitas: one sin of silence against dozens of speech-sins.

A page of quotations on garrulityEntries for ‘Garrulitas’ (above) and ‘Silentium’ (below) from  Josephus Langius, Anthologia, sive florilegium rerum et materiarum selectarum … Editio postrema ... correctior ... auctior (Strassburg, 1631) 1075.h.10.

Two pages of quotations on silence

By way of visual illustration, we show pages devoted to ‘Garrulitas’ and to ‘Silentium’  from one of the many (and ever fatter) editions of the Polyanthea of Mirabelli issued between 1503 and 1681, a crib for many great authors such as the Swan (Shakespeare) and the Phoenix (Lope de Vega).

So remember that next time a librarian tells you to shush.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


M. J. Woods, In the mind of the Spanish mystics (London, 2000) YC.2000.a.12949

B. L. Ullmann, ‘Joseph Lang and his Anthologies’, in Middle Ages - Reformation - Volkskunde. Festschrift for J. G. Kunstmann (Chapel Hill, 1959),  pp. 186-200. Ac.2685.k/9.[no. 26]

Carla Casagrande and Silvana Vecchio, I peccati della lingua (Rome 1987). YA.1988.a.11900

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Silence : a Christian history (London, 2013) YC.2013.a.17221

22 September 2014

Dark blue world, little blue book: English for Czech servicemen

Cinema-goers may remember Jan Svěrák’s 2001 film Dark Blue World (Tmavomodrý svět), following the exploits of two Czech pilots, Franta and Karel, who escape to England to fight alongside the RAF in the Second World War. Lacking aircraft on which to practise manoeuvres, they are sent out on bicycles fitted with ‘wings’ to fly in formation until a sudden crash lays them low in a tangled heap of buckled wheels and broken balsa. Further humiliation awaits them in the classroom where, under the stern eye of Anna Massey, they are drilled in the niceties of English grammar and syntax and resort to such schoolboy tricks as passing notes and saucy pictures under the desks. What kind of materials, we may wonder, would have been available to real-life Czechoslovak servicemen undertaking a forced march through the English language?

A recent donation of books from the collections of the late Czech composer Bedřich Bělohlávek  provides a partial answer in the form of a little blue book entitled Vojáci, učte se anglicky! (‘Soldiers, learn English!’). Published by the Czechoslovak war office in London, it bears no date, but the Library of Congress record suggests that it was published in 1941. The limp cover (see picture below)  is adorned with a drawing of a smiling soldier leaning jauntily on his rifle with a tent in the background, belying the terse statement on page 31: ‘This site is too damp’.

Cover of 'Vojáci, učte se anglicky!' with adrawing of a soldier leaning on his rifle

The booklet aims to provide the basics of conversational English with, not surprisingly, a strong emphasis on military vocabulary, equipping the eager student with everything he needs to carry out his duties from basic drill to responding to enemy bombardment. Gas-masks, wire-cutters, sea-planes – nothing is forgotten. There is even a section for the cavalry, with useful terms such as ‘to shoe a horse’, and ‘a good horseman’ (conjuring up a random picture of the Good Horseman Švejk, ambling in search of his regiment on a borrowed nag). It has a briskly optimistic turn of phrase, as in ‘Our barracks have fine washing places’.

Despite the rigours of camp life, however, the anonymous author recognizes the need for rest and relaxation, and it is in the section ‘At a Restaurant’ that things become lively. ‘I should like fish and chips,’ our hero decides, determined to embrace British cuisine at its finest.  Indeed, the bill of fare seems positively lavish for wartime; where, we may ask, did the proprietor come by ‘Frankfurt sausage, pork, mutton…vanilla, strawberry, chocolate ice’? ‘In England, spirits are expensive,’ he sighs, concluding modestly ‘I would rather have a glass of water’. He is advised that ‘the best means of transport in London is the taxi’, and not surprisingly, things soon reach a serious pitch: ‘I cannot pay this bill,’ he prevaricates. ‘I am short of money’, and is reduced to appealing to his friend, ‘I have spent all my money. Can you lend me 10 shillings?’, ending with the sober adage ‘Time is money’.

Soon, however, he is back in funds and applying for three days’ leave, spurred on by the chapter ‘Amusements’ – and what a fun-filled time it is. ‘In the evening we will go for a walk in the park,’ he suggests. ‘We could go to the cinema, to the theatre […] The band plays well. I was at a concert yesterday. I am going to a party tonight.’ Soon, however, he ventures onto dangerous ground: ‘I don’t like cricket, I don’t understand it and it is too slow for me. It is a typically English game.’ Instead, he has another suggestion to make: ‘I think that we could play a football match with you.’ ‘We have some professional footballers here,’ he boasts. ‘They can provide a pretty good team.’ Away they go, but things soon turn nasty: ‘You play too roughly,’ he protests as the centre-forward of Sparta Prague  hits the ground, rolling and wailing. The referee may be short of red and yellow cards, but he has all the vocabulary he could wish, and there is no stopping him: ‘Charge!’ he yells as the two sides surge back and forth. ‘Free-kick! Throw-in! Penalty!’ All ends amicably, though, and our hero beams, ‘Let’s sing!’ promising his hosts, ‘We shall sing you some Czech folk-songs…We shall sing during the march.’ They may well need to keep their spirits up, for the weather seems to be extreme: ‘I am cold. I am wet through. It is freezing. The river is frozen’ – there is obviously no pleasing some people, for on the same page he is heard complaining ‘The sun is shining. It is too hot.’  Better not to ask, perhaps, how the evening ends, for we find him explaining, in the section ‘Washing, mending’, ‘A button came off my trousers and the edges below have got torn.’ He confesses, ‘Also my boots are beginning to wear down at the heels’ (it was a long trudge back to camp in the black-out).

Cartoon of a soldier drinking English tea while dreaming of Czech beer

Furnished with sections on grammar, weights and measures, abbreviations and some charming illustrations, the little book ends with a polite letter of thanks from one Jiří Novák for help received ‘when we first landed on English soil’, and even two jokes, ‘In the Protectorate’ and ‘The Royal Air Force’, painstakingly written out in phonetic spelling to enable Czechoslovak servicemen to entertain their British comrades in flawless Received Pronunciation – no estuary English for Jiří and his chums.

Page with an anecdote in Czech and English, and a drawing of a soldier trying to communicate with a British policeman

Just 65 pages long, the booklet leaves a moving impression of a genuine desire to communicate on both sides, not merely at a basic level but with courtesy and gratitude – to the soldiers and airmen for risking their lives to join the British war effort, and to their hosts for easing their transition in a country suffering scarcity and anxiety under the threat of invasion. One hopes that some of those who used it lived to retain happy memories of their time in Britain, and even of ‘Hampstead, London’s Central European quarter’.     

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak

19 September 2014

‘Sack of Louvain – Awful holocaust’ (Daily Mail headline, Monday 31 August 1914)

On 4 August 1914, the German army invaded neutral Belgium on their way to Paris and a speedy victory. In the event, the Germans met with unexpected resistance from the Belgian army which slowed their progress and allowed time for the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  Accounts from Belgium, Luxembourg, and Northern France of German troops engaged in the mass execution of civilians and the wilful destruction of towns helped mobilise support for the war in Britain as well as influence public opinion in neutral countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland.  The Germans countered that their actions represented harsh but just punishment for attacks on their troops by civilian snipers (‘francs-tireurs’).  In reality such attacks did not take place in 1914, but the Germans had indeed had to contend with civilian snipers in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and so were expecting to come under fire from civilians on this occasion too.

The German writer Arnold Zweig, best known for his later anti-war cycle, Der Große Krieg der Weißen Männer (‘The Great War of the White Men’), based on his actual experiences serving with the German army in Belgium, Serbia and at Verdun, began his literary career penning nationalistic stories fictionalising German propaganda about Belgian snipers. In Die Bestie (Munich, 1914;  012552.i.24/3), the eponymous ‘beast’ is a treacherous Belgian farmer who is justly executed for cutting the throats of three sleeping German soldiers. In Zweig’s later Erziehung vor Verdun (Education before Verdun), on the other hand, the German investigating judge Mertens discovers that ‘In Luxemburg alone over 1,350 houses had been burned, and more than 800 people shot. In Belgium and Northern France the same methods had led to even worse results’.

The ‘sack of Louvain’ (Leuven) and destruction by arson of the university library during the week 25-28 August struck a particular chord both at the time and in popular memory as a wilful attack on a cultured university town, the ‘Oxford of Belgium’. 

Cover of 'Remember Louvain' with an illustration of the bombed city in flamesJohn Neat, Remember Louvain. March (London, 1914) h.3827.x.(31.)  Cover illustration signed M.H.

Englebert Cappuyns, a lawyer from Louvain and refugee based in Kingston upon Thames, provided an early eye-witness account in his Louvain: a personal experience (Kingston upon Thames, 1914;, while the narrative of An eye-witness at Louvain (London, 1914; 09083.b.36(1)) by an anonymous Professor at Louvain ‘furnished through Father Thurston, S.J. of Farm Street’, concentrates on the execution of the Jesuit priest Father Dupiérieux. Albert Fuglister, a Swiss businessman based in Louvain, and present during 25-28 August, countered German propaganda in his Louvain ville martyre (Paris & London, 1916; 9083.f.14). In addition to the usual eye-witness accounts, Fuglister includes many photographs. In an appendix, ‘Comment j’ai  photographié leurs crimes’ (‘How I photographed their crimes’), he explains that he took photographs of Louvain in ruins from 2 September 1914 onwards.  He also reproduces photographs taken by others, in particular the two Arnou brothers.  Photographs from the Arnou album are on show in the 2014 Leuven exhibition Ravaged: art and culture in times of conflict

Illustration of soldiers being attacked by snipers in a narrow street
Fuglister reproduces a German propaganda postcard depicting the alleged Louvain snipers (above). The caption reads ‘The atrocities against unsuspecting German troops in Louvain’. Fuglister’s counter caption tells his readers that ‘this widely circulated postcard is intended to show the public how German soldiers were attacked by the population of Louvain. This street does not exist anywhere in Louvain except in the imagination of the author of this drawing’.

Here Fuglister uses before and after photographs of the Grand Hall in Louvain University Library  (below) to highlight the impact of the devastation wrought by the Germans.

The book-lined main hall of Louvain University Library (left) and the ruiined hall after the bombing (right)
The caption explains that the library ‘held [note the imperfect tense] more than 300,000 books, incunabula, manuscripts of incalculable value reduced to ashes in the space of one night. The fragments are found within a radius of five kilometres’.  

Fuglister’s book has a preface by the Belgian poet, and Louvain graduate, Emile Verhaeren. Verhaeren, himself a refugee in London and Wales from September 1914 to January 1915, and transformed by his shock at the fate of his country from a cosmopolitan man of letters into a ‘Belgian Paul Déroulède’ used his time in Britain tirelessly producing patriotic verse, and touring the country in support of his native land. His preface to Fuglister’s book mentions an earlier book by a citizen of a neutral nation, the retired Dutch professor L. H. Grondijs, author of The Germans in Belgium (London, 1915;

As for Louvain University Library, it was reconstructed after the war largely with American money (though see The reconstruction of the Library of the University of Louvain: an appeal for further contributions by Henry Guppy, the Librarian of the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester, 1919; 011903.d.16)). This new library and collection was in turn destroyed in the Second World War. Finally, the Belgians themselves dismantled the new post-Second World War collection when the French-speakers were evicted from the now exclusively Flemish university and the collection was divided equally between the old foundation and the new university at Louvain-la-Neuve.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator French Studies

References/Further reading:

Arnold Zweig, Erziehung vor Verdun (Amsterdam, 1935) 12557.y.11.  English translation by Edward Sutton, Education before Verdun (London, 1936) 12554.r.14.

Sophie De Schaepdrijver ,The ‘German Atrocities’ of 1914

Fernand Van Langenhove, Comment naît un cycle de légendes : francs-tireurs et atrocités en Belgique (Lausanne; Paris, 1916). 9083.ff.10.  English translation by E.B. Sherlock, The Growth of a Legend (New York, 1916)

 John Horne and Alan Kramer, German atrocities 1914: a history of denial (New Haven, 2001) m01/34099

Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War (Oxford, 2007) YC.2008.a.8001

Leuven University Library 1425-2000 edited by Chris Coppens, Mark Derez and Jan Roegiers.  (Leuven, 2005). LF.31.b.7798


17 September 2014

The Colour of Hope – Irina Ratushinskaya in the ‘Small Zone’

25 years ago, the first Russian edition of Irina Ratushinskaya’s prison memoirs, Seryi – tsvet nadezhdy (Grey is the Colour of Hope), came out in London, under the auspices of the Overseas Publications Interchange. Born in 1954 in Odessa (then the USSR, now Ukraine), at the age of 29 Ratushinskaya was convicted to seven years’ confinement for dissident activity (writing religious poetry), and served a sizeable part of her sentence in the female penal colony ZhKh-385/3-4 in Mordovia. There she was kept together with the prominent human rights activists Tatiana Velikanova, Tatiana Osipova, Raisa Rudenko, Galina Barats, Lagle Parek and a few others, who, unlike most ordinary criminals, were entitled to neither amnesty nor parole. The book’s title refers to the colour of the uniform that the colony’s political prisoners had to wear. As their only crime was hoping for the country’s better future (and trying to do something to bring it closer), the garb indicating their outcast status also came to symbolise, for Ratushinskaya at least, their defiantly optimistic expectations.

Cover of  'Seryi – tsvet nadezhdy'Cover of the first edition of Seryi – tsvet nadezhdy (London, 1989). British Library YC.1990.a.8192.

As prison literature goes, Ratushinskaya’s book is rather traditional when it describes the forced labour conditions, deliberately (and not always successfully) designed to deter offenders from further crimes. In the words of a colony officer (compared by Ratushinskaya to the infamous Else Koch, the ‘Bitch of Buchenwald’),  “with the kind of life you live here, you’d never want to come back”. To the best of their ability, Ratushinskaya and her fellow inmates try to defend themselves against their environment by equally traditional methods, from deceit and insubordination to hunger strikes. Among other forms of resistance are growing an illicit vegetable patch and reading.

(Readers of this blog may be curious to find out that Ratushinskaya’s colony had a library but no catalogue. Moreover, some books, especially modern ones – mostly about  ‘love’ and  ‘war’– were hardly identifiable. They lacked a beginning and end because other prisoners used the first and last pages as cigarette papers. Yet the colony’s political prisoners (never more than a dozen at any one time) did read the relatively undamaged 19th-century Russian classics, up to ten volumes a fortnight or so. Their jailers did not mind, believing that this was better than writing letters of complaint.)

The fact that Ratushinskaya serves her time in a women’s prison does not significantly alter the generally familiar picture of penal conditions for both genders. It is true that, overall and practically everywhere, “women are far less likely to be arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned than are men. … [Women] have less extensive criminal experience in … burglary, robbery, and larceny, and they less often have a long history of penal confinement. … They are more often involved in homicide cases where the murder victim is the husband or lover …, friend …, or child” (David A. Ward and Gene G. Kassebaum, Women’s Prison, (London, 1966), YC.1993.a.1109, pp. 59, 67, 62). Yet women’s sufferings in confinement are largely comparable to those of men, even though women apparently tend to “suffer more from separation from families and disruptions of familial roles” (ibid., p. 70).

Women are especially vulnerable in certain circumstances, and their jailers rarely hesitate to take advantage of these. For example, during her transfer from a Moscow train station to Lefortovo prison, two guards offered Ratushinskaya sex with either of them, claiming they were doing her a favour (if she fell pregnant she might be released early). When in Mordovia, she and her fellow inmates were blackmailed by a colony officer who threatened to send them to dangerously cold isolation cells: “Do you think you’d be capable of conception after that?” Other similar instances include a KGB officers’ visit to the showers area with naked women inside, and the embarrassing need to explain to a colony doctor, a colony chief and a state prosecutor how many sanitary towels a woman requires during her period. All this is, unfortunately, quite typical of reports about women in confinement – not only in the USSR.

Where the book does differ from many prison memoirs is in the nuances of Ratushinskaya’s attitude. Uncharacteristically, she and her fellow inmates do not hate their jailers: “We feel sorry for them, with a touch of contempt. Poor them – what is the principal difference between their lives and the prisoners’? Always in the same labour camp and wouldn’t dare say a word against an order”. Ratushinskaya explains: “Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to feel any hatred. Not that your tormentors don’t deserve it. But if you let the hatred in, there’ll be so much of it in all your years in jail that it’ll replace everything else inside you, and your soul will be disfigured and corroded”. She adds: “The only way to remain human in a labour camp is to feel other people’s pain stronger than your own”. Easier said than done?

405px-Evstafiev-Irina_RatushinskayaIrina Ratushinskaya (photo by Mikhail Evstafiev from Wikimedia Commons) CC BY-SA 2.5

For Ratushinskaya, her and other political prisoners’ sentences, unjust as they seemed, still served a particular purpose: if women could withstand prison conditions without giving up their principles (as Ratushinskaya and most of her fellow inmates managed to do), “cowardly men should be ashamed of themselves. And if my fellow countrymen stop being cowards, life may well change beyond one’s wildest dreams”. The disappearance of labour camps would signify such a momentous change for her (“Labour camps exist not to form but to destroy human personality ...  For how long will they remain in my land?” she says). Alas, the camps are still there. According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), as of 1 August 2014, there were 675,400 prisoners in Russian colonies and jails, 50,000 of them women.

Until recently, the first Russian edition of Ratushinskaya’s book could not be found in the British Library because of a cataloguing error, which has now been rectified. The book has been translated into French, German, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Italian, Dutch and Japanese. The translations in the blog are mine, but a published English version is also available (YC.1989.a.7849).

Andrei Rogatchevski, University of Tromsø

15 September 2014

A Teuton take on tartan: Sco(t)tland and the Germans

Although I have used the title ‘Anglo-German Centuries’ to describe this series of blog posts, the intention was always to look at cultural ties between Germany and the whole of Britain. With the Scottish independence referendum imminent, this seems like a good moment to reflect specifically on Scotland in this context.

The early Hanoverian monarchs showed little personal interest in Scotland; since they had replaced the Stuart dynasty (which had ruled Scotland since the late 14th century) and had faced various Jacobite attempts to regain the crown, a certain wariness is hardly surprising. It was not until George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822 that the increasingly anglicised Hanoverians also began to embrace their inner Scot and remember their Stuart ancestry. From here we can perhaps date the British royal family’s particular affection for Scotland, which continues to this day.

The man primarily responsible for this was Sir Walter Scott, who persuaded George IV to make his visit and the Scottish nobility to welcome him (and all concerned to don tartan kilts). But Scott was not just instrumental in introducing Britain’s ‘German’ monarchs to his country; he was also an important mediator of German culture in Britain. In his early twenties Scott had become fascinated with German literature – ‘German-mad’ as he later described it, His first published work was a translation of two ballads by Gottfried August Bürger in 1796 and the following year produced the first English translation of Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen

Portrait of Sir Walter ScottSir Walter Scott. Frontispiece from vol. 1 of  The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott  (Paris, 1840) British Library 12273.g.2

Scott maintained an interest in German culture and literature throughout his life, and was influenced by the activities of the German writers and scholars who were rediscovering and recording national folklore and mediaeval literature (he corresponded for example with Jacob Grimm). He also encouraged Robert Pearse Gillies, another Scottish enthusiast for German literature, to found the Foreign Quarterly Review (London, 1827-1846; 268.h.15.), a journal devoted to continental literature. Through its pages Gillies introduced Heinrich Kleist, among others, to British audiences.

Scott was among the 15 British admirers who presented Goethe with a golden seal on his 82nd birthday and was thanked in a poem addressed to ‘Fünfzehn englischen Freunden’. Chief among these ‘English’ friends was another Scot, Thomas Carlyle, who had begun a correspondence with Goethe after translating Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Carlyle was another great 19th-century champion of German literature and thought in Britain; indeed, in the words of the critic R.D. Ashton, he ‘became convinced that he alone knew anything about German literature … and that it was his duty to teach it’, and he continued in this mission for all his writing life.

Germans were also taken with Scotland and its culture. James Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ poems were influential to the writers of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ and Romantic movements (and of course play a climactic role in Goethe’s Werther).  A combination of Macpherson’s work and actual Hebridean scenery inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s overture known both as ‘The Hebrides’ and ‘Fingal’s Cave’, and the same tour of Scotland inspired his ‘Scottish Symphony’.

Both Scott’s and Carlyle’s own works were well-received in Germany. Richard Andree, a German traveller to Scotland in the 1860s, described Scott as ‘the man who has brought Scotland’s history closest to us Germans’. On arrival in Edinburgh he hastened to pay his respects at the Scott memorial, but when he visited Scott’s former home at Abbotsford he was somewhat disappointed by the stout guide who ‘smelt alarmingly of whisky’ and took quantities of snuff as she showed him round: ‘an unpleasant addition to the rooms where The Lady of the Lake was written’. 

In Edinburgh Andree almost immediately encountered fellow-Germans working there: three Swabian waiters at his hotel and a group of Palatine musicians busking in the street. This comes as something of a surprise as Scotland generally attracted far fewer Germans to work or settle in the 19th century than London or some of the northern English cities. Nonetheless, by the end of the century Edinburgh and Glasgow each had sufficient German populations to support a German church, so Andree’s waiters were part of a trend, if only a small one. (The musicians may have been a more itinerant group – he later encountered them again in Inverness.) A salutary reminder that sometimes the term ‘Anglo-’ is not enough when looking at British- German relations between 1714 and 1914.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies


Max Batt, ‘Contributions to the History of English Opinion of German Literature I. Gillies and the Foreign Quarterly Review’, Modern Language Notes vol. 17, no. 3 (March 1902) pp. 83-85. P.P.4970.i.

R.D. Ashton, ‘Carlyle’s Apprenticeship: His Early German Criticism and His Relationship with Goethe (1822-1832)’. Modern Language Review, vol.71, no. 1 (January 1976) 1-18 (p.7).

Richard Andree, Vom Tweed zur Pentlandföhrde: Reisen in Schottland (Jena, 1866) and available online [] 

Panikos Panayi, German immigrants in Britain during the nineteenth century, 1815-1914 (Oxford, 1995) YC.1996.a.721


12 September 2014

A nurse, a poet and a girl – women’s diaries of the Great War

In Russian cultural memory the First World War does not occupy the same place as in the  cultural memories of other peoples who fought this war. One of the reasons, of course, is that it was overshadowed by the events of the Russian Revolution. For the Russians, the Great War did not come to an end, as it did for the other nations, on 11 November 1918. Therefore, it was not properly reflected upon either in  Soviet or in émigré Russian literature.  Russian authors and poets had a very short time window to respond to the war, which they certainly did, but it proved almost impossible to reflect on it thereafter. As diaries and memoirs often manifest themselves as intermediaries between document and fiction, it was interesting to see what was written and published in Russian in these autobiographical genres. Not surprisingly, as with literature, there is no abundance of diaries or memoirs solely devoted to the time of the war and where wartime events, emotions and thoughts are at the core of the work. In any case, there are fewer diaries and memoirs left from the time of the First World War in Russian than, for example, those describing the Russo-Japanese war  of 1904-1905.  

The three examples which I shall present here are all created by women.

We do not know anything about Lidiia Zakharova, who in 1915 published a book Dnevnik sestry miloserdiia: Na peredovykh pozitsiiakh  (‘Diary of a wartime nurse: on the front line’;  X.700/19594). The book was published in the series Biblioteka Velikoi Voiny (‘The Great War library’) and of course was meant to be part of wartime propaganda.

Advertisement for books in the Russian series ‘The Great War library’An advertisement at the at the end of Lidiia Zakharova’s Dnevnik sestry miloserdiia, for other publications in the series.

When you read it, it is very difficult to believe that the diary was indeed written in field hospitals and trenches, although some scenes are very vivid and disturbing. However, the book is full of clichés, like the overwhelmingly forgiving attitude shown by Russian soldiers towards German prisoners, the good humour and modesty displayed by war heroes, or kind treatment of a Jew and a Polish girl which allowed them to demonstrate their profound gratitude to the Russians. In her narrative, Lidiia Zakharova also mentioned that she had somehow copied samples of soldiers’ letters which are quoted in the book as proofs of the heroism, courage, humanity and simplicity of their authors. Artificially sweet and lacking any individual character, they are reminiscent of a book of patriotic poetry created by Zinaida Gippius, a poet well established on the Russian literary scene by 1914 (photo below from Wikimedia Commons).

Photograph of Zinaida Gippius wearing a long white dress

 The book Kak my voinam pisali i chto oni nam otvechali: kniga-podarok  (‘How we were writing to warriors and what they were replying: a book-present’; Moscow, 1915), which is very rare and unfortunately not held at the British Library, consists of poems written in the form of letters from three ordinary Russian women to soldiers. The letter-poems and the replies were written in stylized folk-poetic language, but as one of the contemporary researchers puts it, “the soldiers clearly did not have the language of their own to express their feelings and thoughts, and the overall result was … stereotypical and banal … (Ben Hellman, Poets of Hope and Despair. The Russian Symbolists in War and Revolution (1914-1918); Helsinki, 1995,  YA.2002.a.8054,p. 148).

However, Zinaida Gippius’s own diary, published in Belgrade in 1929 under the title Siniaia kniga (1914-1917) (‘The Blue Book (1914-1917’);, is a very interesting  story of a poet and intellectual who undertook the task of documenting the times. In the preface to the 1929 edition Gippius wrote: “’Memoirs’ can give the image of the time. But only a diary gives it in its continuity”.
This correlates with the words of Gippius’s contemporary Virginia Woolf: “So they [memoirs] say: ‘This is what happened’; but they do not say what the person was like to whom it happened. And the events mean very little unless we know first to whom they happened” (Virginia Woolf. Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writing. New edition edited by Jeanne Schulkind. (London, 2003; YC.2003.a.4621), p. 79).

And the person “whom events happened to” is very vividly portrayed in the diaries of another woman – Ekaterina Nikolaevna Razumovskaia (née Sain-Vitgenshtein or in the German version: Katherina Sayn-Wittgenstein) (1895-1983), one of six children born into the old noble family of Prince Nikolai Sain-Vitgenshtein.

She was 19 when the war began and 23 when the family left Russia for good. Until 1973 the diaries were completely forgotten and kept among other old papers in sealed boxes.  Only after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn  had appealed to Russians abroad to send him their documents, memoirs and diaries to facilitate his work on the novel Avgust 1914 (August 1914) did Ekaterina Razumovskaia remember about her diaries. They were published first in German and then in Russian (1986) shortly after her death.  Her diary is not only a document of wartime life (in many ways her ‘experience’ was common to thousands of people and her ‘analysis’ of the events was entirely based on newspapers and the opinions of her family members), but it is also a coming-of-age narrative with the major events of the 20th century in the background. And because of that, a hundred years later we still can feel her fear and anxiety when reading: “What is the year 1915 preparing for us? How much sorrow, how much joy? Never before has the burning question about the future arisen so acutely as on this first night of the New Year. Never before have we felt such a sharp fear in front of the black abyss of unknown. I’m peeking into this abyss and my head is spinning and darkness arises in front of my eyes. Everything is in Lord’s hands, come what may!” (, p. 41).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Eastern European Curator (Russian Studies)

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator (Russian) - See more at:
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator (Russian) - See more at:

10 September 2014

Before the ‘Miracle of the Marne’ – what if the Germans had reached Paris in September 1914

In August 1914 the German army broke through Belgium into France and advanced towards the French capital. French troops under General Joffre, backed by the British Expeditionary Force, met the German army on the river Marne (6-12 September 1914) and successfully halted the German advance: Paris was saved! Popular memory in France now recalls how General Galliéni, the military commander of Paris, requisitioned a fleet of Paris taxis, the so-called ‘taxis of the Marne’, to ferry reinforcements to the front.

The widespread belief and fear that Paris would be taken and that the city would be destroyed has been forgotten.  On 2 September, the French government had relocated to Bordeaux in South West France. The US Ambassador, Myron T. Herrick (1854-1929), however, decided that ‘as the representative of the greatest neutral power I should remain in Paris and exercise all my power to save the art treasures of Paris from the fate of Louvain’. On 3 September, he had a ‘large number’ of posters printed in both French and German that he intended to be pasted on the houses of American citizens to safeguard their property. He then had a notice posted ‘in the Herald’ [presumably the New York Herald (European edition)] requesting American citizens to come to the Embassy between 4 and 7 September to collect them.

French-language safeguard poster for Americans in Paris, with a United States flag at the top
Sauvegarde. Avis est donné par l’ambassadeur des Etats-Unis d’Amérique que le local situé a Paris… (Paris, Imprimerie Herbert Clarke, [1914]). 63 x 40.5cm. British Library WW1.P/3 (1-22).

German-language safeguard poster for Americans in Paris, with a United States flag at the top
Schutzbrief. Die Botschaft der Vereinigten Staaten Von Nord-Amerika macht bekannt dass die in Paris… (Paris, Druckerei  Herbert Clarke, [1914]) 63 x 40.5cm. WW1.P/3 (1-22).

SAFEGUARD The United States Ambassador gives notice that the building in Paris situated at – is occupied by Mr. – an American citizen and hence is UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT. The Ambassador therefore asks that the Americans living in said building be not molested and that its contents be respected.  Myron T. Herrick.  Ambassador.  (Translation by Myron T. Herrick).

The British Library’s copies of these two posters come from a collection of posters, postcards and ephemera formed by Mrs Albinia Wherry (1857-1929) when she worked at the Women’s Emergency Canteen for Soldiers (‘Cantine Anglaise’) below the Gare du Nord in Paris from 1915-1918. Staffed predominantly by British women, it provided food, hot drinks, cigarettes, washing facilities and later sleeping accommodation for Allied troops. The collection was donated by Albinia Wherry’s daughter in 1962 and is kept the Library’s French and Philatelic collections. A photograph of Albinia Wherry and a postcard of the Canteen are now on display in our current exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery ‘Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour’.

The collection of posters and ephemera at BL shelfmark WW1.P/1 (1-51) to WW1.P/5 (1-15) in French Collections has recently been beautifully and expertly conserved by the British Library’s Conservation team. Bernard Wilkin, our collaborative British Library/Sheffield University PhD student, spotted these two posters and their significance when working on a project describing this collection in 2013.

A pencil inscription on the French poster, ‘Given me by the publisher. Never published’ indicates that Albinia Wherry obtained these posters directly from the printer, Herbert Clarke. Herbert Clarke was an English printer and publisher based in the rue Saint Honoré, and a long-standing member of the British colony in Paris, so this is probably how Mrs Wherry got to know him.  The pencil inscription on the German-language poster adds ‘printed in 1914 for use if [the] Germans entered Paris’ (below).

Detail of the pencilled inscription on the German-language poster
The Hoover Institution  also holds copies of these posters which they date ‘1940-1944?’  It would be interesting to find out whether any other copies are held elsewhere. Of course the posters were never actually used since the Germans did not reach the capital, but they provide vivid testimony to the widespread belief at the time that the Germans would occupy Paris.

 Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator French Studies


Lindsay Krasnoff . The Lives of Diplomats: Americans in Paris, 1914

Thomas Bentley Mott, Myron T. Herrick, Friend of France. An autobiographical biography. (Garden City, N.Y, 1929).

Réception de M. Myron T. Herrick… à l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris le 26 juillet 1920. (Paris, 1920) 10170.l.16.

08 September 2014

Andorra spans the Channel

On the occasion of Andorran national day (8 September, the day of Our Lady of Meritxell), we look at outsiders’ views of the mountain principality.

Statue of Our Lady of Meritxell, the virgin and child seated on a throne
The ancient statue of the Virgin and Child from the shrine of Our Lady of Meritxell in Andorra. This original was destroyed by fire in 1972 and has been replaced by a reproduction.

One of the pleasures of compiling the volume on Andorra for the Clio World Bibliographical Series was being obliged to read travellers’ tales, a genre which had never appealed to me.  

Black-and-white photograph of Andorra la Vella seen from aboveThe Andorran capital, Andorra la Vella, in the early 20th century; picture from Virginia W. Johnson Two Quaint Republics: Andorra and San Marino (London, 1909) 010106.g.10.

But here were some real gems, which I think contrast British and French attitudes.

James Erskine Murray in 1835 noted the primitive conditions: only the richest house had chairs rather than stools; the slates were held on the roofs by stones rather than nails.  ‘The women were in general handsome, and, indeed, many of them wanted the scrubbing-brush and soap to have rendered them beautiful’.  Hell-o: this is a constant strain of British travellers in Spain.

F.H. Deverell in 1881 was impressed by the mountains, the people and their non-interventionist form of government. He reports admiringly an example of Andorran independent spirit: when the French took it upon themselves to erect some unwanted telegraph poles, the Andorrans simply chopped them down.

In 1909 Hilaire Belloc  wrote: ‘In my time no wheeled vehicle had entered Andorra’.  He found that ‘The Andorrans have all the vices and virtues of democracy ... They are very well-to-do, a little hard, avaricious, courteous, fond of smuggling, and jealous of interference’.

Andorran peasant men in traditional costumes
Andorran pagesos in traditional costumes for the feast of Our Lady of Meritxell. From Marcel Chevalier, Andorra (Chambéry, [1925]). X.700/20046.

Claude Aveline  and Berthold Mahn visited in 1928. They were informed by a muleteer that the Andorrans looked more kindly on the French than on the Spanish and read the Dépêche de Toulouse. Although not without a sense of superiority (they were amused to see a car with the number plate AND 1) and tending to castigate the Catalan language, they were appreciative of the calm atmosphere. I’m reminded of Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France, in which he argues that for most of history the French intelligentsia were familiar with nothing but the centre of Paris. And that Catalan is the official language of Andorra, a status it enjoyed throughout linguistic marginalisation in the France of the Third Republic and the repression of the Franco decades in Spain.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic studies


Barry Taylor (compiler), Andorra (Oxford, 1993). Clio World Bibliographical Series. HLR 946.79
(It has no rival)

James Erskine Murray,  A Summer in the Pyrenees. Second edition. (London, 1837).  1050.h.2.

Hilaire Belloc, The Pyrenees ... With forty-six sketches by the author and twenty-two maps. (London, 1909) 010106.g.10.

Claude Aveline, Routes de la Catalogne, ou le livre de l'amitié [Illustrated by Berthold Mahn.] (Paris, 1932).  010169.g.65.

F. H.  Deverell, All round Spain by Road and Rail, with a short account of a visit to Andorra. (London, 1884).

Graham Robb, The discovery of France: a historical geography from the Revolution to the First World War (London, 2007). YC.2008.a.9040