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Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

27 January 2020

Recording of the week: Trude Levi and Holocaust liberation

This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day, as well as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. The National Life Stories oral history project ‘Living Memory of the Jewish Community’ includes many Holocaust survivors describing their experience of Auschwitz and of liberation. In this recording of the week Oral History Archivist Charlie Morgan looks at the testimony of Trude Levi.

Trude Levi and her husband Franz, London, 1989. Courtesy of Trude Levi.
Trude Levi and her husband Franz, London, 1989. Courtesy of Trude Levi.

Gertrude Levi (1924-2012) was born in Szombathely, Hungary, the daughter of a Hungarian father and an Austrian mother. Her parents were Jewish, irreligious, and socialist; her father, a gynaecologist, would perform abortions without payment at a time when this could land you in prison. Trude describes Szombathely as “the most antisemitic town in Hungary”, and when Hungary joined the Axis Powers in 1940 life became increasingly difficult for the Levi family. Then in March 1944, fearful that Hungary would abandon the war effort, the German army invaded Hungary.

Prior to 1944 Hungary had passed antisemitic laws, deported thousands of Jews, and been an active ally of the Third Reich, but it was after the German invasion that a concerted attempt was made to implement a ‘Final Solution’. In July, when Trude was twenty, she and her parents were forced into a ghetto, then to a local concentration camp and finally were placed onto a cattle truck and transported out of the country. On 7 July 1944, they arrived at Auschwitz; Trude was immediately separated from her parents and never saw them again.

When it became clear the Allies would win the war, the Nazi regime committed itself to ensuring as little evidence of the Holocaust remained as possible. Trude, like tens of thousands of others, was placed on a death march to Riesa, a town in Saxony, and around her the war effort collapsed:

“Anyway, I didn't, I think I didn't want to die by that time, I mean, the, not that I wanted to die before, but I didn't care. But by that time I, I decided that I really would like to survive, because, I mean, the Russians were here, the Americans were here, you heard them, you knew that it was the end, and you saw the Germans fretting, and so you knew it was the end, so now that was the point where you felt, "Well, there is no point in dying any more. And we won. So, one should remain alive. But I couldn't go on, I couldn't walk on in spite of it, and I knew that I would be shot, but they didn't shoot me, they said, "Dies keine Kugel mehr wert" - "She's not worth a bullet any more", and so they left me on the road, next to the bridge.”

After dragging herself away from the road, Trude managed to hide in a barn before she was liberated by Allied troops. In this recording of the week Trude explains some of complexities of liberation; she was adamant that she would not return to Hungary, but “somehow we were still in Germany”. Furthermore, even though she had escaped from German troops “I wasn’t yet sure whether it was really the end,” and although smoking a cigar “was freedom… I think the real freedom came when I arrived in France, when I felt that I was out of Germany”.

"Everything was still unsure, everything was chaotic”

Trude Levi’s story of liberation is different to other survivors of Auschwitz, but her sentiments are common. While liberation is often presented as a singular, joyful moment it was in reality a lot more complicated and harder to pin to one specific point in time. Trude’s oral history is just one way in which Holocaust survivors have been able to express these experiences in their own words, and even after her death her testimony remains.

Trude Levi was interviewed by Gaby Glassman for Living Memory of the Jewish Community in 1989, and she is featured on the online web resource ‘Voices of the Holocaust’. Her full life story interview can be found on sami.bl.uk, and can be listened to in Reading Rooms at the British Library in St. Pancras or Boston Spa.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 January 2020

Recording of the week: night in a várzea forest by boat

This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Rainforests are noisy places, even after dark. This recording was made in one of the Amazon’s many várzea or floodplain forests, in the dead of night, by wildlife sound recordist Ian Christopher Todd. Based in a boat in the middle of the Amazon River, our recordist found himself surrounded by a cacophony of sound.

Night in a várzea forest recorded by Ian Christopher Todd (BL shelfmark 201326)

Giant Marine Toad

The rattling calls of Giant Marine Toads (Bufo marinus) can be heard alongside the calls of other amphibians. In the distance, unknown sounds emerge from the darkness beyond, creating a multi-layered soundscape. And, as with many recordings of this type, the more you listen the more you’ll hear.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 January 2020

A Life Lived and Seen: a tribute to Anna Teasdale

The Bath-based landscape artist and long-time art tutor Anna Rose Frances Teasdale, has died aged 88. For those fortunate enough to have studied with her, or to have spent time with her (as I did, when I recorded her life story for Artists’ Lives, National Life Stories), she was a magical, extraordinary woman whose loss makes the world a meaner place.

Black and white photograph of Anna Teasdale holding a painting

Anna Teasdale, 1962, photographed by Anthea Sieveking. Courtesy Denny Family Collection

Anna Teasdale never received proper recognition for her painting practice. She certainly enjoyed sharing her pictures, but she was driven to paint not by career ambition, but by an innate need to practice, and she viewed the art market with unease. Anna was honest about the project of living, and her art, she used to say, came out of her life. Reflecting on the trajectory of her work, she observed that ‘it was almost as if I had made a covenant with the future’. Indeed, her life story recording is all the more compelling because, as a social document, it offers rare insights into the condition of being an educated, working-class, figurative, woman artist in mid-twentieth century England—when none of those attributes gave you a start in life. Because Anna was visually astute, her observations often have a sharpness of focus: ‘It’s not what a thing looks like, it’s what it is, and when you find out what it is, you know what it looks like’. She saw the order underlying the landscapes she painted, and this understanding ran alongside her Catholic faith—a close concert between the seen and the unseen that imbued her landscapes with myriad emotions. In her view, the process of painting takes the painter through the gamut of emotions, and, like an afterimage, the memory of these emotions remains within the painting; she experienced life from the solitude of the easel, ‘because it all happens’ in the process of seeing.

Anna Teasdale’s decision to become a painter, C466/379, Track 18 [00:01:38 - 00:03:31]

Anna’s life intersected with many of the century’s important British artists and movements, yet she proudly remained out of step with them all. She was unusual for a woman of her generation and means because she sustained her painting practice throughout her life. For Anna, painting was not a choice, but a fundamental necessity—‘the only thing I could do’. Anna was unconcerned with, and suspicious of, contemporary art; its quest for new forms of expression and conceptual underpinnings seemed to stray from the ‘true faith’ of figuration. For her, painting was almost a spiritual act, her own inner resource that gave shape and meaning to her life. As she wrote a few months before her death: ‘I am jogging on trying to be kind and helpful! My painting is going well but slowly and is still the joy of my life. I look at my painting and climb into it and tranquility (and terror) take over.’

Anna Teasdale on being a landscape painter, C466/379, Track 9 [00:59:02 - 01:00:42]

Anna ran away from a penurious and abusive childhood home as a teenager to follow her dream of attending art school. Enduring poverty and sometimes homelessness, she enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art, where she displayed a rare facility for drawing and subsisted by working as an art school model and living (illegally) in a semi-derelict bomb site. By the end of the 1950s, Anna had met and married fellow student and rising art star, Robyn Denny, and for a time, Anna became an integral part of the Swinging Sixties art set. Among her closest friends in the early days were Pop painter Peter Blake and abstract Pop painter Richard Smith, as her bohemian life settled into a more secure round of art world gatherings. Beside her husband’s glamourous accolades (Denny represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1966), her achievements were modest, but they were real: by the mid-1960s her paintings were included in exhibitions at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery and the ICA among others.

When Robyn Denny was lured to the West Country by the offer of a lucrative teaching position at Corsham, Bath Academy of Art, in the mid-1960s, Anna and Robyn bought a Georgian town house in Bath which was frequented by a coterie of successful artists who relocated from London to Wiltshire (their friends included Howard and Julia Hodgkin, Joe and Jos Tilson, Richard and Betsy Smith). Anna continued painting when she could, supporting her famous husband and juggling the domestic demands of motherhood.

When Denny left his young family, Anna was again plunged into self-reliance and financial straits, but always used her art to sustain herself and her two children: entrepreneurially if informally, establishing an art school in her own home—‘The Seymour Road Academy’, as she wryly referred to it. Anna understood the fundamental differences of approach behind her and her husband’s approach to art making: ‘I drew and he thought’, she demurred. In her reflection upon these different modes of art making, Anna defines the schism that shaped contemporary art in the second part of the twentieth-century.

A close friend reflected on Anna’s life with the clear-eyed observation that ‘she lived a rackety life’. But a bit like the rhythmic structures that order and shape her landscape compositions, her life’s outward racket concealed an inner order, strengthened by the twin pillars of faith and humour. She did not withdraw from her artistic commitment even when pinned by duty; she took heart in an aesthetic view of life that allowed her—almost incomprehensibly today—to see motherhood not as an obstruction but as an extension of the creative life. Considering one of her landscapes, she noted what is a fitting epitaph: ‘it was a whole life painting this picture’.

Written by Hester R. Westley.

Hester R. Westley interviewed Anna Teasdale for Artists’ Lives in 2016-2018. The full life story interview is available for researchers at the British Library and can be found by searching C466/379 at sami.bl.uk