Remembering the Holocaust – and the disabled victims who died in the T4 programme

In this extract from my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello, 2011), on Holocaust Memorial Day, I am sharing my analysis of how the T4 Nazi killing machine was inspired by eugenics enthusiasts in the UK and the US. It’s a grim read, I’m afraid, but important to remember why so many people died. Never again.

Extract from: Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello, 2011)

by Katharine Quarmby

The legitimisation of eugenic views through Europe and American ended in a logical, if horrifying outcome: the systematic murder of thousands of disabled people in Germany, after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The National Socialist Party wanted to create a pure Aryan nation, and eradicate the taint of the Jewish people (as well as homosexuals and gypsies) But a lesser known part of their moral thought was that “degenerate”, impaired Aryans should also be eliminated. In some ways what happened to Jewish people was a tragedy foretold in the slaughter of innocent disabled children and adults, used to perfect the killing technology that was then practised on the Jews. Racial hygiene, as Hitler called it, started with the social cleansing of disabled people.

The artist, Liz Crow, has spent the last two years investigating the process that lead up to what was known as the T4 killing programme, for her art installation, Resistance. She has identified a systematic “softening up” of the population so that they would be prepared for the programme.

One part of that campaign was to open asylums to the public (as in the Victorian freak-shows), to promote the racial hygiene laws. Thousands visited in the mid 1930’s, including many members of the SS. Each tour, Liz Crow says, “culminated in a lecture illustrating, via the inmates, symptoms and the necessity for eugenic measures.”

Another strand of the campaign was through film and posters, stressing the cost of disability (similar to the less systematic, but no less brutal campaign in the US). One example she has found, from a sequence in a Reich propaganda ministry film, shows disabled people lying in cot beds, with the strap line: “Life only is a burden”. Another, which combines the Nazi attitude towards minority ethnic groups and disabled people, is of a film of a black man holding out a begging bowl, with the strap-line: “Mentally ill negro English, sixteen years in an institute costing 35,000 Reich marks.” As Liz Crow comments: “what happened to this (disabled) community served as a prototype for everything that came later….Had people intervened at that point, presumably, what came next would have been, in some way, different…disabled people were the guinea pigs for the next phase.”

The first law that the Nazis passed on coming to power was the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, instituted on July 14, 1933. Those with deafness, schizophrenia and other “malformations”, such as learning difficulties were prevented from breeding by sterilisation. The law was based on the laws functioning in Chicago, drafted by Henry Laughlin. Indeed, there was much admiration in 1936 of Nazi doctors for American eugenicists – even awarding one an honorary doctorate.

Hitler and other leading Nazis were also much influenced by Sparta, where he admired “’the exposure of sick, weak deformed children, in short their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which seeks to preserve the most pathological subjects.” Nazi propaganda against disabled people increased, labelling them “unworthy of life”, “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden on society in print and films. Hitler’s Strength Through Joy campaign prioritised getting rid of the “syphilitics, consumptives, hereditary degenerates, cripples and cretins”. He wrote in Mein Kampf that “the lame and the defective are a scourge on humanity”.

The decision to eradicate disabled children started with Gerhard Kretschmar, and accelerated shortly afterwards, apparently when other families with disabled offspring also petitioned Hitler for permission to kill their children (although some German writers were advocating this solution as early as 1920). It is estimated that at least 5000 children, from newborn babies up to juveniles, were murdered. Some were starved, others gassed.

In July 1939 planning of the T4 programme (so-called after the street address in Berlin where it was co-ordinated) of mercy killings began. An experimental gassing procedure was carried out in the winter of 1939, and the Reichs-Committee for the Processing of Serious Genetic Diseases was also formed that year, collecting data on infants and ‘deformed newborns”. German doctors took part voluntarily in the programme, and the earlier, related programme of sterilisation. The German paediatrician, Hartmut Hanauske-Abel, who has examined many of the official documents relating to both programmes, suggests that they did so because they were convinced of the rectitude of eugenics, the programme was profitable for them and it released corpses for medical experimentation. (When he first published his findings in the Lancet in 1986, he was suspended from practising as a doctor in Germany. He later won an appeal against his suspension. )

He writes about the programme thus: “The practical experience obtained in the killing hospitals of T4 provides the core for the annihilation technology of the death camps, often implemented by the same technical and medical personnel.” He concludes: “Changes which today are interpreted as causing the downfall of the German medical community were at that time warmly welcomed by the widest segments of that highly educated biomedical and scientific elite.”

One nurse involved in the children’s killing programme, at the Hadamar facility, in northern Germany, one of the six institutions where disabled people were murdered, Chief Nurse Irmgard Huber, said at her trial in 1947: “The lives…are just as valuable as my life, but I couldn’t change anything there. I didn’t have any say. I couldn’t report anything. I avoided the matter.” Instead, she distributed sweets to the children before they went to the gas chamber.

No-one abroad seemed much interested – except other euthanasia enthusiasts.
In 1939, when Germany started to practice euthanasia against disabled children and adults, one officer in the American Eugenics Society commented it showed “great courage”. Indeed, it is estimated that by 1941 the numbers of those sterilised in the US had reached nearly 36,000. One doctor, Joseph Dejarnette, a doctor from the state of Virginia, commented that “the Germans are beating us at our own game.” In 1942 an article in the journal of the American Psychiatric Association called for the killing of all “retarded” children over five.

Hitler signed the order to start killing disabled adults on September 1, 1939, giving permission for those who were “incurable” to be “accorded a mercy death.”

Grey buses, with blacked-out windows, would arrive outside villages, local asylums and hospitals to take disabled people away. They were known to children as “the murder box” and mothers would frighten their children, saying that they would be taken away in them if they were naughty.

By the end of the war it is thought that around 200,000 disabled citizens had been murdered, among them the insane, the disabled, the tubercular and the retarded, as the Nazis called them.

The killing, one writer, Hugh Gregory Gallagher, commented, was methodical and scientific. “What was interesting and important about the killing program is not the mad-dog killers, but rather the careful, orderly and quite medical manner by which the full Germany medical and scientific establishment proceeded to kill its patients over a period of years.”

One witness recalled that when the killing first started, beds were made with fresh linen and warm blankets. When people arrived to be killed, they were given hot coffee and warm rolls. Of course we will never know whether this was genuine compassion for their fate, or a desire to make the killings easier to achieve. Soon, however, the numbers of those due for killing rose and the system became stressed. The Nazis started to reuse coffins (by designing them with a flap that opened in the bottom to allow the corpse to fall out) and started to dig mass graves, especially for children.

Some churchmen remonstrated. The Bishop of Limburg protested in 1941, writing to the minister of justice: ‘the citizens of Hadamar watch the smoke rise out of the chimney and are tortured with the every-present though of the poor sufferers’. Another, the bishop of Paderborn, said “among those unhappy beings who are destined to be killed or who have already been killed, there are many who aside from partial disturbances are mentally completely clear and who know what is going to happen to them.” However, one influential Catholic, Joseph Mayer, became an apologist for the Holocaust, writing: “moral law applies only to the mentally normal, rational individuals. Mental patients do not belong in the moral order, neither as subjects nor in terms of implementation.” Later he prepared a report saying that there were reputable moral arguments for and against sterilisation on both sides.

Before long, the regime was even killing World War One veterans and even shell-shocked veterans fresh from the Western front. However, this policy was short-lived, partly because it affected troop morale.

There were poignant scenes. In one village, Absberg, the villagers and abbess protested against disabled residents of the abbey being taken away in 1940. The abbess said a special mass for them, and one eye-witness reported: “They were seen as stirred up, like animals”, and refused to go. One woman said “I don’t want to go.” The people of the town gathered, and waved goodbye to their friends causing wide-scale disgust as the news spread. In another village, not far away, in Bruckberg, those who were about to die visited almost every house in town to say goodbye.

But the Absberg and Bruckberg protests, such as they were, did have an effect. The secret of the grey buses was secret no longer. The villagers of Absberg protested to their Bishop, Von Galen, who thundered from his pulpit that what was happening must stop. T4 was cancelled officially shortly afterwards, in August 1941. But unofficial killing continued thereafter – in what is known as the “wild phase” of the programme.

The banality and playfulness of the evil often perpetrated against disabled people, is best exemplified in what Hugh Gregory Gallagher claims happened when the staff of Hadamar were assembled, in the midsummer of 1941, to celebrate the 10,000 murder in the institution. The staff celebrated the anniversary with beer and wine, in the same room where the people had been put to death. The body of the murdered man was adorned with flowers and laid on a gurney, decorated with small Nazi flags. The hospital book-keeper, Mr Merkle, in the words of one witness, “turned his collar about, put his coat on backward, and intoned a burlesque eulogy of the deceased insane person.”

The physicians who participated in the euthanasia campaign have mostly never been successfully prosecuted. They did not stand trial at Nuremburg, unlike other Nazi mass murderers because their crimes had been, in the main, perpetrated against other German citizens, rather than foreigners. As a result, Professor William Seidelmann writes, “Absent from the dock were the leaders of the medical profession of the Third Reich, in particular the academic and scientific elite. It was this elite who legitimised the devaluation of human life and set the stage for medical crimes—crimes in which leading academics and scientists were either principals or accomplices.” There may have been another reason, too, for the paucity of trials. Liz Crow argues that the Nuremburg prosecutors were clear in their minds that what happened to the Roma, the Jews and other groups was abhorrent. “But they were confused about whether killing disabled people was a public service. The prevailing attitudes about disabled people, that they were inferior, pitiable and burdensome, defined their judgement.”

Back in the UK, the return of the war wounded did increase public sympathy for the physically disabled and those with shell-shock and other mental health conditions. Churchill, too, had mellowed. One of his last acts as a war-time Prime Minister was to commit the so-called “mental millions” to support those returning from war, with their nerves in shreds. One third of servicemen invalided out of the army had been discharged on mental heath grounds. Disabled people had gotten angry at last: veterans from both world wars lobbied for the right to work through organisations such as the National League for the Blind and Disabled, holding sit-ins to force government to ensure their right to employment.

The end of the war did achieve two things for disabled people – it confronted Britain and America with the ugly reflection of their own ideas in Nazi Germany – and it created more sympathy for some categories of disabled people – though not all within British society. The many disabled war veterans, in particular, normalised physical impairment for many. And the end of the war was also the beginning of the end for the institutions – but with numbers reaching a record 150,000 in 1950, it was to prove a very long journey.


As for Gerhard Kretschmar, his identity was concealed from us for over fifty years, known only as child K in official terminology. His short and miserable life was hidden in the Stasi files in East Germany, and only came to light when a German historian, Ulf Schmidt, unearthed it, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and wrote about him in his biography of Hitler’s physician, Karl Brandt. Gerhard’s murder was recorded, not as euthanasia, but as “heart failure”, like so many others. He, of course, like those victims of mercy killings today, did not consent to his death. Few know of Gerhard’s life, or death. If it had not been for Ulf Schmidt we would not even know his name. Many of the other victims of T4 remain nameless even now. Astonishingly, those responsible for murdering their “patients” could escape responsibility – by claiming that the patients they had killed had a right to medical confidentiality.
The last victim of T4, Liz Crow says, was a four year old disabled boy, Richard Jenne. “The American forces moved into Bavaria, the last area they liberated, and they put a protective ring around the local institution for disabled people, not knowing about T4. He was killed. Four weeks after peace was declared.”

Too many of the victims of T4 remain nameless. And naming the dead, and what was done to them, matters. I believe that Gerhard’s story, Richard’s story, and those of other disabled people murdered like them, should be known and taught in British schools. They were human beings, not beastly burdens who should be put out of their misery. We owe it to them to remember them, and to give them their rightful place in our common history. For if we do not learn from history, we cannot guarantee that it will not be repeated.

2021 in review

The pandemic dominated journalism this year and last, but I wanted to use this last post of 2021 to give a round-up of the work I’ve been lucky enough to carry out this year, what I’m doing next year – and to thank everyone with whom I’ve worked – whether as a collaborator, an editor or as an interviewee.

I’ve written on subjects ranging from disability, to environmental justice, to the history of forced migration, as well as the plight of Afghan nationals, both here and stuck in Afghanistan, in a rapidly deteriorating situation. I’ve worked increasingly on the rights of Gypsy and Traveller communities, in a year in which the right to live a nomadic life has been put under extreme threat by the Johnson administration – and looked at the effect of hostility on community members. I wrote a long-read about the ten year anniversary since the eviction of Dale Farm, considering its lasting legacy.

I was also lucky enough to be asked to work with the veteran disability rights campaigner, Alicia Wood, in co-creating a new website, Dying to Matter, which aims to memorialise the deaths of those dying in institutional care. Our launch article was my long-read about the death of Danny Tozer. It’s a hard read, and I want to thank Danny’s family for being so generous with their time. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to a much loved son. Do visit the website if you’d like to read more, or post a memorial of a loved family member who died in care. We will start to post them as soon as possible.

Friendship and family has been a real comfort this year. Books too, so I’m including a link to some of the books I’ve reviewed. I enjoyed books by Pat Barker, Nigel Farndale and Meg Keneally, among many others.

I also reviewed three books that, in different ways, explored the rich experience of disability and family – by Jan Grue, Jessica Moxham and Melanie Pearson. All recommended.

Talking of books, I spent much of my spare time this year finishing off my first novel, The Low Road, which tells the story of two young women who were convicted of grand larceny and eventually transported to Botany Bay in the 1820’s. It is based on a true story I uncovered in my Norfolk home town – more news on the book next year. This year I also looked at the history of transportation in a long read for Byline Times, asking why it has largely been forgotten in the UK, whilst it is remembered in Australia.

Turning to next year, I’ll be continuing with my work on environmental justice and looking at how health intersects with planning and housing for my project for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. You can read more about that work in my previous post from just a month or so ago.

I’ve also teased out some of the intersections between low traffic neighbourhoods, environmental justice and marginalised communities, in an article for the Times – I hope to look at this area of work again, in my wider work on what environmental injustice looks and feels like.

My dad and me, as a very young adopted child

I’ve also returned to my own roots, thinking through my own family history of trans-racial adoption and asking more urgent questions about this government’s handling of children at risk of harm, abuse and neglect, and interrogating whether the profit motive is a fit one for boosting protection within our care system. I looked in detail at concerns around transparency, independence of the ongoing review of care and accountability in my latest article. In other articles for Byline Times I looked at the recent murders of two small children and asked about what good system change would look like.

Lastly, I want to point up an article I wrote for the Guardian in December 2020, just over a year ago. It looked at the effect of hate crime on Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and other related communities, including the high levels of suicide.

I hope that next year will be a happier, easier one for everybody. This year has been hard. Unfortunately it has convinced me even more that we need investigative journalism more than ever, as we live through dark times, with political mismanagement, to say the least.

Three books on disability, family and rights

In this post I’m going to briefly review three books that look at family life and disability. I’ve grouped these three together because disability affects individuals but also determine and impact life in a family. It’s easy to feel sometimes that the voices of those who live with people with a disabilty become segregated from disabled people themsleves, meaning that life in all its richness isn’t told in the round but as a series of separate stories. 

I feel that our life as a family has been changed and enriched by all our family members – Great Uncle Henri, a French war veteran who was blinded in the First World War and ran an association of blind former soldiers, another French family member who had a spinal condition and my lovely great aunt Cecile, who had schizophrenia. Nearer to home my granddad was deaf, and in more recent generations family members are autistic. I don’t want to romanticise our experience of disability though – it’s not easy, dealing with stigma, poor social support and the impact of particular conditions on family life. One that has shaped my immediate family life most, depression, remains particularly poorly understood.

So I”ve been itching to look at these three books that all take a clear sighted look at disability, family life and the gaze of outside, which can other and stigmatise, making life harder than it needs to be.

Jan Grue’s memoir, I Live a Life Like Yours (Pushkin Press, 2021) is a beautifullly written memoir of Grue’s life as a journey through disability, translated by Becky Crook from the Norwegian. Grue, a Professor of Qualitative Research at the University of Oslo, draws on art, fiction and the lives of other disabled pioneers, such as the writer Mark O’Brien, to explore themes including family life, the body and relationships. It is a thoughtful meditation on how to be fully human with a disability when the external gaze is clinical or stigmatising – and how relationships with others, including his wife and son, restore a sense of subjectivity, rather than being objectified – and even judged. Grue makes the point that his life is similar to others in his family, but is experienced as different in a way that is often uncomfortable.

“I follow a timeline that others might have followed. I live in the same city where I grew up. I am an academic, a child of academics. I live a life like theirs. I am married and have a child with Ida, who is a woman who writers…These are the threads that hold my life together. This is the fabric.”

But as Grue says, when people meet him who knew him as a child, there is a sense of surprise, because he has “surpassed expectations”, prognoses. There is another sense too, that to live a life like everyone else’s, there is struggle – against the gaze, against the threat of institutionalisation, so that Grue and other disabled people are accepted, just as they are in a world of barriers where everything must be planned. “It is hard to be human beneath the institutional gaze.” Grue’s exploration of O’Brien’s own exploration of the troubled landscape of sex surrogacy and competing rights is particularly sensitive. 

This is an outstanding book in which Grue’s experience becomes a fulcrum around which he explores a disabled life lived in connection with other people, both those who objectify and those who support and are supported by him being in the world, navigating it and peeling away the shame and stigma that still cling to disability like a burr on wool.

In The Cracks that Let the Light In, by Jessica Moxham (Octopus, 2021), the writer explores the subtitle  – What I learned from my Disabled Son. Moxham explores how she and her husband, James, have raised their three children whilst supporting their eldest child, Ben, who uses a wheelchair and needs assistance to communicate. Life in a family with a disabled child is one where you take on the state in all its guises. Whether you like it or not you become an advocate, a campaigner for equal rights, and even pushing to raise a family becomes a political act. Life isn’t what you imagine, and Moxham feels her way through some of the thoughts that are often linked with life with a disabled child – that there is grief, even though your child is alive, for instance. Like Rue, she explores the idea that the young disabled child’s body should be put through exercises to change it, when she sees how her second son rolls and moves. “No matter how much time I had spent helping Ben roll or sit, he would not have been able to overcome the essentiall wobbliness and involuntary movement of his muscles. I am relieved rather than sad…Ben’s impairments cannot be taken away.” One vivid passage explores the fact that Ben’s disability means that he dribbles. A child at her son’s nursery calls it disgusting. There were surgical options and other interventions such as Botox. “All of these would involve recovery periods, side effects, disruption. We decided we wouldn’t intervene, but had he noticed the girl saying he was disgusting? I didn’t know whether we should reduce his dribbling to make him more acceptable to strangers…My aim is for our children to grow up thinking they are enough…I don’t want him to feel like he takes up more space than he is worth, or to force him to be a certain way because it’s perceived as more palatable.”

Moxham’s clear sense that some bodies work differently and that’s OK is nuanced, but challenging in a good way. She says she has got bolder over the years – but is also just getting on with life. “Sometimes I’m considering the careful use of particular words and tone, sometimes I’m policing other people’s language and sometimes I’m just shouting “Bum!” at my kids. 

There is such a clear sense of family life going on, accepting each child’s idiosyncrasies. “We have pitched our tents on the undulating landscape of uncertainty and we’re making the most of it…we are all doing our best.”

Lastly, I wanted to mention Somebody Up There Likes Me: Living with the Threat of Huntington’s Disease (Amazon, 2021), written by Melanie Pearson about her family’s experience of being affected by the condition. Her mother and brother both had the condition, and she supported her brother through the condition. Pearson’s book is an exploration of how ignorant so many medical professionals are, and how poor the support is for those with the condition. Despite the hardship and bereavement, Pearson is very clear that this isn’t a misery memoir, but more of a road map through a condition that is hugely misunderstood, leaving families to support their members with it and the difficulty of choosing whether or not to have a test for it, knowing what your future might be. 

Empathy Day

It’s Empathy Day today, and I’m delighted that one of the books I co-wrote with Richard O’Neill, last year, illustrated by Hannah Tolson and published by Child’s Play, is on the list of 21 recommended books for the day (and beyond).

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro is the story of a young girl from the Traveller community, who longs to be a musician. She isn’t very good, yet she perseveres and has adventures on her travels with her loving family. We very much hope that this story shows that whilst people from a variety of backgrounds, such as the Romani and Traveller communities, may seem different, at heart people often have a lot in common. It was a lot of fun to write with my co-writer, the English Traveller Richard O’Neill, whose stories have been handed down in oral form through many generations.

Good books open doors onto other lives; they show the humanity in all sorts of lives (yes, even when authors shape-shift and become cats, dogs or aliens). We are experiencing migration across the world in increasing numbers, as people flee war, environmental crisis and terrorism. My own mother fled from Yugoslavia with my (then pregnant) grandmother after the Second World War, to escape Communist rule. They had lived through bombing, under Nazi occupation and had lost close family members. They had been internally displaced and, by the war’s end, had been deprived of almost everything. When they arrived at Croydon Airport they had one small suitcase (the size of Paddington’s suitcase) between them. They were lucky to be welcomed when they arrived here, with the assistance of the Red Cross, by distant family members and strangers alike. (You can read my mum’s story, ‘Becoming English’ in A Country of Refuge, published last year) So building bridges between cultures is very close to my heart and the natural, heart-felt kindness that children feel and show towards strangers is always a joy to see.

I hope that the books I have written for the last ten years all show an attention to empathy – whether it is towards disabled people, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers or yes, even wilful girls like my very own Fussy Freya (my first book for children) who refuse to eat!

Happy Empathy Day and congratulations to all the authors on the list, and heart-felt thanks to Empathy Lab for all their hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

Disability hate crime motivation survey – results

About a month ago, I designed and sent out a short survey about disability hate crime, concentrating on motivation, but also covering a few other questions such as location of incidents, gender and race of attackers and nature of the incident or attack. This was done under the auspices of the Disability Hate Crime Network, for which I work as one of the pro bono co-ordinators. Grateful thanks to all the co-ordinators, for all their input – it was so valuable – particularly Simon Green’s thoughts in the very early stages, when we came up with the idea, and later Anne Novis, Stephen Brookes, Mark Cutter, Mel Close, Rosemary Irwin, Sarah Hewitt and Beverley Smith.

We are all very grateful to everyone who has done the survey – it is only a small survey, but we believe it does shed some light on the motivation for some attacks, and hopefully it will lead to more detailed research in the future.

Thanks also to the Guardian newspaper, which has commissioned me to write a short comment piece on the research in Guardian Society. Thanks to Survey Monkey for the survey template. It’s appreciated. It allows not-for-profit organisations like ourselves, with no funding, to carry out small bits of research for free (except for our time). We hope it contributes to the wider debate on what fuels disability hate crime.

Below is a longer summary of the results. Please feel free to share widely and discuss. But bear in mind it is a self-reporting survey, of just 100 disabled people, who we found through personal contacts, the Disability Hate Crime Network, and social media. It’s a start to further research – not an end.

Summary of key findings from disability hate crime motivation survey

Question 1: do you define yourself to be a disabled person?

89% of those completing the survey defined themselves as disabled people.

Some of those who didn’t self-define were completing the survey because other family members had experienced hate crimes.

65 shared their conditions, with some explaining they had done because they felt it had triggered an attack.

One person, who had a number of conditions including anxiety and depression came home after suffering a horrific sexual assault and murderous attack. They wrote: “My neighbours had seen my facial injuries and saw I had lost my front teeth and had put two and two together after watching the local news on TV. They could see how vulnerable I was, and this was when everything escalated so badly that I sold my house to a landlord, moved out and had to rent for a while…I did this as I was desperate to escape the bullying for my daughter and myself.”

Another, with rheumatoid arthritis, causing impaired mobility, was targeted because of their blue badge, as was an amputee, who was shouted at for using a disabled parking bay and called a ‘scrounger’. Another wheelchair user felt they were targeted for having a visible disability.

Question 2: have you experienced a hate crime or hate incident?

87.2% of those responding had experienced a hate crime or incident.

11% had not.

61 explained more about their experiences, which were wide-ranging. Some flashpoints, however, were familiar – public transport, disabled parking bays, jealousy about perceived ‘perks’ and ‘not looking disabled’:

One person said: “I have had cars parked close to the rear of my car to make it difficult for me to load my wheelchair…I’ve experienced a number of incidents. I’ve been chastised

for managing to walk to my front gate without my walking stick, (it’s only a couple of steps). I’ve been insulted for using a disabled toilet and slapped on a bus for using a designated seat. I’ve twice been reported to the DWP for being a ‘bogus’ claimant…had my car repeatedly scratched (16 reports to police), had my car spat on and an egg thrown on it.

Another said: “I was having much needed repairs to our conservatory when a neighbour shouted over the hedge ‘if I was living on benefits I’d have a conservatory too!’ The conservatory came with the house and was over twenty years old.

Another reported: “I’ve had a man trying to take away my walking stick saying I was “too young and beautiful” to use it. I’ve had two men try to shove me out of the way on a pavement because I was walking too slowly and they were trying to get to a pub,

On occasion, children were involved: “I was deliberately barged into by more than one of a group of 8 year French old children who were on the same site as a convention I attended. The children from this language school were harassing disabled attenders of our convention, kicking sticks/crutches out from under people and barging into them “accidentally”. Their supervising adults weren’t supervising properly. My friend who was with me didn’t see the first child bash into me, but she heard them making remarks about my arms and saw the second child bash into me. I was furious as I had noticed the children barging adults off the paths around the site. I complained to the university venue who were useless and my convention organisers who were superb and reported it to the police alongside a number of other disablist, LGB and T phobic hatecrimes our bi convention got on that site. The police took a statement and went around pestering the university venue management till the children’s supervisors were found and doing their supervising which reduced the harassment a bit. The police then didn’t follow up as promised which I found frustrating and I knew no charges could be pressed as identifying the specific children would be hard.”

Another talked about public transport: “I was travelling on a bus to shopping one day and the bus was quite full but a guy who had a pram wanted to sit with his partner and wanted to sit at the front where I was sitting and demanded I move. I said no, and tried to explain about my disability. He called me a ‘spas’ and a ‘mong’ and said I should not be left out.

A lack of understanding of disability is evident:

“I was asked why I use a wheelchair some times but had been seen using sticks on others days, I tried to explain that my condition varies from day to day and on days when I can walk I try to do so. I was then told I was just fat and lazy and was doing it to get benefits. I have been abused for using a blue badge. Been called a spastic, and to go to bloody work…I have been spat at.”

Of the 61 who gave further details about their experience, 11 mentioned being called ‘scroungers’ or being told to get off benefits, or that they were too lazy to work.

Question 3 – What was the location of the hate crime or incident?

The locations chimed with places that both the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and I, in both Getting Away with Murder and in my book, Scapegoat, have identified as flashpoints for disabled people in previous research.

24% of attacks happened at home; 57% on the street, 4% in care environments, 20% on public transport, 12.8% in schools or educational establishments, 3% in hospitals and more than one place – 28.5%. This last category allowed people to name other places where attacks took place as well. 26 people added extra comments. A small number reported being attacked or harassed on social media or at work.

Other attacks happened in pubs, supermarkets and in the car. One person said: “This is not a single incident, rather an accumulation of incidents that are very similar. It makes you dread using public transport at times.” 6 out of 26 said that attacks happened in supermarkets and shops.

Question 4: What do you think the motivation for the attack was?

67 answered, and 33 skipped this question.

Interestingly, few people – two – pin-pointed ‘scrounger rhetoric’ as behind disability hate crime although it is important to stress that a larger number had mentioned it in previous answers. 34 said ‘disability hate’ or ‘disability’ without going further. A number – 7- felt that ‘vulnerability’ – a feeling that the attacker could ‘get away with attacking them without any come-back had increased the hatred towards them. There was also a clear theme of jealousy toward perceived ‘perks’ of disability – which some non-disabled people had tried to either exploit or had attacked the disabled person for, out of hostility. One person felt they had been targeted because of their ethnicity and disability.

One person said: “I think the main motivation is “because they can” .. I am in no position to defend myself.. Although the harassment escalated when I took over the tenancy of a local authority garage located on an access road these people believe to be “theirs” (it isn’t)….After taking on the tenancy I started to experience an increase in frequency of incidents of abuse, threats and harrassment culminating in me no longer using the garage, hardly ever leaving the flat and if I do getting in the car and going away from here, no longer sitting in the garden with a book/the radio, constantly being jumpy and nervous, etc..”

The person who experienced the sexual assault wrote: “They saw me ill following the serious assault and I believe the motive was my vulnerability (I had had no problems with these particular neighbours when my health had been normal).”

Another felt that they had been exploited and targeted:

“They saw my disability and were aware of benefits I received. One person became my boyfriend and would threaten to finish with me or harm himself if I didn’t give him money, or buy him mobile phone s. I ended up with eight mobile phone contracts, which I later found out he was selling and using the money for drugs.”

Another wrote:”I wish I knew. People are just plain spiteful. I was an easy target who could never fight back physically, so, I was a punchbag, both physically and mentally.”

One person felt it was a mixture of motives: “exploitation of vulnerable people, attacking someone who can’t fight back, your word against theirs, sadism”.

Another felt it was partly due to the benefits crackdown: “Bigotry, fuelled by propaganda against people on benefits”.

Another person saw it as mixed too: “Venting a prejudice is I think the main motivation. There’s usually some kind of ‘useless’ part of the labelling, a bit of ageism, a bit of disablism, and a very unpleasant bit of invective. Plus a ‘get out of my way, or why are you blocking everything up’, or some such. A typical one, ‘get out of my fucking way you old hag’, or ‘bitch or get back to your shithole you geriatric cow’.”

There was a sense of the perceived uselessness and invisibility of disability. One person wrote: “On one occasion when I fell a man just stepped over me like I was vermin… I have been shoved backwards into the lift as I attempted to leave. Two women walked past me – instead of allowing me to move forward they just carried on walking, pushing me backwards back into the lift door. I felt ignored and overall humiliated.”

Another wrote: “Most of the abuse is from strangers , who now think that every one who is disabled is lying about being ill. Because this government are spreading so many lies, regarding us. Also relations who think you can be better and go to work as you are not ill every day. Also I am sorry to say at church through ignorance. Also benefit assessments. I have also been pushed off of sticks by a stranger who was very abusive.”

This was echoed by others, along with a strong sense of jealousy:

“Disability hostility, resentment as think I get money, that I don’t work or worth helping. Jealousy of adapted car, irritation as may be in their way on street, young people think its funny, therefore worth ridiculing me, some truly believe we are drain on society, should never be allowed to be born or live, others think easy target.”

Another identified a freak-show element: “Mockery of disability. The teenagers concerned were known to the police and to local school teachers as perennial troublemakers.”

These came up again: The perpetrators were three young women who were shouting at a middle-aged man with Down’s Syndrome and calling him brain dead….Their motivation appears to be ignorance and/or perceived comedy value.”

Question 5: What gender was your attacker?

69 respondents answered this question and 31 skipped it.

30% of sole attackers were male, and 17% female. Interestingly, there was more than one attacker in 49% of cases and in most of those women were involved (accounting for the rest of the attackers). It’s worth mentioning that in the latest Crown Prosecution Service Hate Crime Report, women are defendants in around 25% of disability hate crimes, but only around 13-15% of other forms of hate crimes, except crimes against older people, where they are also defendants in around 22% of the cases. Clearly, as I have written before, there needs to be far more research on the role of women in disability hate crime (and older people, a cross-cutting group).

One person recalled:

“Pushed from chair by women, verbally abused by both men and women. Usually older people.”

Another said: “Male in most incidents, some verbal incidents have included females in group (at least one group appeared to be a family with adult children), one verbal incident involved a female only.”

Another wrote: “Worst incident – an older white woman. Otherwise, mostly men.”

Another wrote: “Two separate incidents attacked by black male gang of young men, attack on street Young mother with child abused me in shop car park.

Question 6: What was the approximate age of your attacker?

Age of attackers: 61 answered this, and 39 skipped it. The percentages did not add up to 100%, because of group attacks.

Under 16: 19.67% (12)

16-20: 18.03% (11)

21-30: 32.79% (20)

31-40: 32.79% (20)

41-50: 29.51 (18)

51-60: 11.48% (7)

61 and over 11.48% (7)

Prefer not to say 3.28% (2)

Many pointed out they were attacked by more than one person, so more than one age group but perhaps there is a small chink of light that the percentages of attacks by younger people are slightly lower than people in the midrange for age.

Question 7: What do you think was the ethnic group of your attacker?

63 answered and 37 skipped

90% of attackers were white, 5% were mixed heritage, and other counted for 5%

White people are slightly over-represented as attackers in this survey – the last census found that 86% of the population identify as white.

 

Question 8: What is your gender?

71 answered and 29 skipped.

53% of respondents were female, and 45% male, with others preferring not to say.

Question 9: What is your ethnicity?

94% were white, 1% were mixed heritage, 1% was a highly identifiable racial group (so I am not including it here) and the remaining preferred not to say.

If you would like to join the Network and have an interest in disability hate crime, please go to:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/disabilityhatecrimenetwork/

If you would like to know more about disability hate crime, you can read the first report I wrote:

Click to access Getting-away-with-murder.pdf

If you would like to read my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people (Portobello, 2011), an investigation into disability hate crime in the UK and further afield, you can buy it in good bookshops or online at:

Disability hate crime motivation survey

Over the last few years many disability hate crime campaigners have called for perpetrator analysis. I am one of those: I have been advocating for it since 2008, when I wrote the disability hate crime report, Getting Away With Murder, (for the UK Disabled People’s Council, Disability Now magazine and Scope). At the (British) Disability Hate Crime Network, run on email and Facebook, of which I am one of the co-ordinators, we believe that perpetrator analysis is important because without knowing more about why people commit this crime, it is very difficult to design programmes that prevent it from happening or dissuade offenders from committing similar crimes again in the future.  (I recommended it again in my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people, published by Portobello Books in 2011.)  The Equality and Human Rights Commission recommended it in its report, Hidden in Plain Sight, published in the same year. The government promised to carry it out – which we joint coordinators at the Disability Hate Crime Network welcomed.

But it hasn’t happened, much to the frustration of many working on disability hate crime. It has been promised, through the National Offender Management Service and the College of Policing, but as far as we have been told, has not yet been published, despite many requests to see the data.

Simon Green, a co-ordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and I were talking about motivation recently. He was talking about the crimes against him, and how it was clear what the motivation was. So we came up with the notion: if the analysis of offenders is not going to be published, why don’t we ask victims and survivors of disability hate crime whether they know why the crime against them was committed? Often people who have experienced this crime have very useful thoughts to feed into our knowledge of the crime – but at the moment, that knowledge is not being tapped.

We decided to do a short snapshot survey of people who have experienced disability hate crime to ask them this question and a few other questions that might throw light on the crime – such as location of the crime, gender, age of the attacker and so on. We hope the results may throw some light on disability hate crime and possibly lead to a longer and more detailed study, if there is funding available.

Please do complete the survey – but only if you are living in the UK and have experienced disability hate crime. We hope that the results will tell us more about motivation – the missing part of the jigsaw. In so doing, it may aid prevention of this crime in the future.

I would like to thank all the co-ordinators for helpful comments on the design of the short survey. All identifying details will of course remain anonymous; only non-identifying details will be shared and once analysed the data will be destroyed.

Please go to our Facebook page to do the survey:

Facebook.com/groups/disabilityhatecrimenetwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operation Traveller Vote – and No Place to Call Home

In 2013, when my book, No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers came out, I interviewed some elders from the community about the importance of taking part in elections and what they intended to do. Of course things have moved on since then and Operation Traveller Vote has grown far bigger than anyone could have anticipated. But I thought the extract might be interesting for people to read anyhow. Whatever you do, please vote…..

Extract from No Place to Call Home, Revival:

 

Religion is hugely important to many in the communities, but the struggles that Gypsies and Travellers are facing require not just spiritual answers, but political ones. For all its flaws, it seems as though the Pentecostal church will be the most likely source of political leadership in the coming years. ‘There will still be a community in one hundred years’ time, but they won’t speak much Romani, and many of them will be living in houses, with

270 NO PLACE TO CALL HOME

a Romani Bible they can’t read. The music and songs will go on,’ Donald Kenrick, the Romani scholar said. ‘Many of them will be Pentecostals.’14 Could a Martin Luther King arise out of this new church, and harness together the cords of political and religious strength? For other passions are stirring at the grass roots of the community, and though they have links to Light and Life, these passions are directed at a very different agenda.

Just a handful of English Gypsies and Irish Travellers have made it into political life in the UK over the past forty years. These include the late Charlie Smith, who was elected a Labour council- lor in the 1990s and went on to become mayor of Castle Point in 2003; a year later, he was the only English Gypsy named to sit on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Candy Sheridan too, had twice been elected a councillor for the Liberal Democrats in North Norfolk, but stepped down just before the 2010 election. A number of organisations were becoming increasingly vocal, as well, with well-respected spokespeople, such as Candy and Joe Jones at the Gypsy Council, Siobhan Spencer at the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group, Helen Jones at Leeds GATE and Yvonne McNamara at the Irish Traveller Movement. Some young people, including Blue Jones and Nadi Foy, were standing up to articulate the voice of the community.

They had allies, of course, including many of the activists from Camp Constant, who had since formed the Travellers Solidarity Network and launched the ‘Fight for Sites’ initiative. Some in the communities had welcomed this support, but just as many felt that this outside intervention would only worsen their situ- ation. In October 2012, for the one-year anniversary of the Dale Farm clearance, the activists had staged a demonstration outside the Department of Communities and Local Government. Most of the Dale Farm residents were by now sick of the media coverage, and some said they were tired of the connection with the activ- ists and felt it was not useful to their cause. In the end, although the Travellers Solidarity Network sent a minibus to Dale Farm to collect residents living roadside, only three women had come out – and all three turned pale and shocked when some of the

REVIVAL 271

activists allowed the demonstration to become physical, and police began arresting people. The network remains active, and many in it are genuinely committed to greater equality for the com- munity. However, whether the network will ever be trusted by a critical mass in this very disparate grouping of peoples, bound by strong family and historical ties that are difficult to penetrate and understand, remains to be seen.

Billy Welch, for his part, wants to build on the enthusiasm from within the Gypsy and Traveller community – particularly in his hometown of Darlington. At least eleven per cent, and up to fifteen per cent, of Darlington’s population self-declare as Gypsies or Travellers. The real figure may be higher, nearer to a third, as many have moved to houses in town and may not identify them- selves for fear of harassment. Nearby Doncaster and York also have significant populations of Romani Gypsies and Travellers. This is where Billy said he intends to start his initiative, in the next round of local elections.

‘We have gathered together influential people in the Gypsy and Traveller community, the shera rom, and the big men from the Irish Traveller community,’ he explained. They had recruited, for instance, ‘Big Dan’ Rooney, a one-time bare-knuckle boxer who was now a prominent preacher with Light and Life, as well as the Irish Traveller Alexander J. Thompson. Billy’s cousins, Davey Jones and Jackie Boyd from the Light and Life church were part of the conversation too. ‘We are all talking to each other about what needs to change,’ Billy said. ‘We have all these Gypsy and Traveller organisations, around 120 all around the country, and yet they aren’t run by people like us, the elders. The government loves a “yes man”, so they have built up a white man’s structure. We are going to change all that.’ His big dream is that his people do it for themselves by being less secretive and engaging more with settled society. He wants to launch an Obama-style ‘Yes, We Can’ political campaign among his people, starting with getting people to the polls. ‘We need a voice,’ he says, ‘So we need to vote.’

Billy estimated that close to a million people in the UK could claim some Gypsy or Traveller origin – a potential electorate

272 NO PLACE TO CALL HOME

that he said was all but ignored. Even if the figure were nearer to the official estimate of some 300,000, if the community voted together, this number could tip seats to preferred candidates in some areas. ‘Eighty per cent of our people live in houses now, and they don’t put that they are Gypsy on the census. We think the gorgers [settled people] can do what they want with their world; we live in our own world. My people aren’t interested, but they will have to be, the world isn’t the same place it was fifteen years ago. They are smothering us with laws and restrictions. We’ve got no voice in Parliament. When the authorities come down on us, I want my people to vote; I want the government to know how many of us there are. When there is a tight election, we could be the difference to someone getting kicked out. That is the only way we will get treated as equals, have some value in society. We need to register to vote. We are going to have to get involved in their world as well.’

He decided to launch his voter drive at the Appleby Fair in June 2013. Twenty people, some from the Light and Life church and others from clans from around the country, would distribute leaflets and talk to people as they wandered the fair grounds. ‘I’m the shera rom of my tribe, and I’m talking to the heads of all the other families. Some of them cover big areas, some small, but they are all influential. The communities will listen to us. We will decide which party is the best for us and this will be a collective decision. In some areas, with around one million of us, we can swing a vote; round here we can definitely swing it.’ He had heard from families in Scotland and Wales who supported his political campaigning as well.

Billy was motivated to become politically engaged by an expe- rience some twenty years before. He was on his way home from a business trip to Germany, and was set upon by a National Front gang. He was beaten so badly that his family didn’t recognise him when they visited him in hospital. Yet no action had been taken against the perpetrators of the attack. Then, in 2011, his outrage was renewed when he was barred from his local pub on the grounds that he was a Gypsy. Billy fought that case with the

REVIVAL 273

aid of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but he was aware that, up and down the country, Gypsies and Travellers were being targeted for their ethnicity and routinely refused access to hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs. He wanted to change that – make a stand, not just for himself, but for the community.

The attitude of Gypsies and Travellers needed to change, he explained. ‘Our people have had a very coloured view of author- ity. The wider world has been out there and we have lived in our little world and thought, What they do doesn’t concern us, that nothing that we would ever do would influence anything in the community, so we have just got on with our life. But things have changed. A lot has happened in the wider world. It’s about time we started taking charge of our own destiny, started to influence. If we don’t vote, we will never improve the situation,’ he said.

‘We live in a democracy and we don’t use it. Because we don’t vote, we don’t have a value. Until we become worth something in electoral terms, to both local government and national govern- ment, they will continue to privilege the settled community over us. We are our own worst enemy, and that needs to change.’ Other groups were also planning to help – Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote, fresh from working on the Obama re-election campaign, had offered advice. The Gypsy Council was helping to register the residents roadside at Dale Farm too – in an auda- cious plan to vote in Len Gridley onto Basildon Council in 2014, to question the eviction and the money spent.

Buy No Place in any good bookshop, or online at Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Place-Call-Home-Travellers/dp/1851689494

Romani and Traveller music – extract from No Place to Call Home

It was great to hear Sam Lee talk about his project, collecting songs from Irish Travellers and the Romani people, on Radio 4 this week. This is such important work, and Sam’s been patiently doing it for some years now. Romani and Traveller singers have kept the flame of our common folk music alive, for many decades, if not centuries. We all owe them so much. Here’s an extract from my 2013 book, No Place to Call Home, where I write about Romani, Roma and Traveller music and its importance, with an interview with Sam. The chapter, Revival, also looks at literature (poetry being something else and well worth following at the moment as well), religion and art generally.

Romani and Traveller music – extract from Revival, Chapter 14
No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers
Katharine Quarmby (Oneworld, 2013)

PLEASE APPLY TO THE PUBLISHERS IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO REPRODUCE – NO REPRODUCTION WITHOUT PERMISSION. UNDER COPYRIGHT.

Identity was also in the mind of the Scottish singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl, whose ballad ‘The Travelling People’ has become almost an anthem. Without Gypsies and Travellers, MacColl argued, the traditional folk music of Britain and Ireland could have died out. These communities passed the old lyrics and music down, generation after generation, for centuries. In his day, MacColl had patiently collected field recordings of both songs and speech in Gypsy and Traveller encampments. Other singers, including June Tabor, soon followed his lead, as well as people from the communi- ties themselves, such as Sheila Stewart, Thomas McCarthy and the Orchard family. Now, some twenty-five years after MacColl’s death, such cultural preservation work is being honoured and valued. The young musician Sam Lee was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2012 for his debut album, A Ground of its Own, featuring songs collected from Gypsies and Travellers. Though not a Gypsy or Traveller himself, Lee had trained for four years under the legendary ballad singer Stanley Robertson, a Scottish Traveller.
The resurgence of interest in so-called folk music is not a peculiarly English phenomenon. New bands with Roma roots have formed across Europe, including the Romanian Gypsy bands Taraf de Haidouks and Fanfare Ciocarlia and the Macedonian brass band Kocani Orkestar. The annual Guca Brass Band Festival in Serbia hosts many up and coming Roma bands who perform in the traditional style, but there are also new fusion groups combining Gypsy and Traveller sounds with rap, punk and jazz, including Jewish klezmer. Night clubs play records by the Shukar Collective, Besh o droM and Balkan Beat Box – including a special Nuit Tsigane (‘Gypsy Night’) in hot spots such as Le Divan du Monde in Paris. Often, at Appleby and Stow, the young Gypsy men driving cars rather than ponies are listening to this rap or punk-inflected music out of Eastern Europe.
Sam Lee, however, has been more focused on the traditional string music beloved by the older members of the travelling com- munity – songs like ‘On Yonder Ill’ and ‘Goodbye, My Darling’ – that he had collected from all over England, Scotland and Ireland. Many of the songs touch on matters of love and separation – but also tell of a steely will to survive. As a young Jewish man from North London, he had been inspired to collect these songs in large part because of learning about the treatment of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain. ‘Many are the indigenous people of this country – although Gypsies are not originally from here, the Irish and Scotch Travellers are pre-Celtic, as old a community as you will ever get in Britain. But the treatment they have had was very [similar to] what happened to Native peoples in other places. For instance, in 1968, when sites were opened up here, that was the same year that the Canadian government forcibly settled the Canadian peoples, such as the Inuit … So there is that amazing time contiguity. There is also the nature of the lifestyle of the older Gypsies. Many were born in tents, and so many have lived outdoors, and because of that, they have this amazing affinity with the outside. To have that regularly enforced on such a deeply ancestral level, is quite a … nature–man relationship that many tribal peoples have.’
Lee had begun by patiently knocking on doors on sites where he didn’t know anybody. Mostly he’d had been welcomed, albeit with some caution, and as families got to know him, he experi- enced great warmth and hospitality. The fact that he was Jewish – ‘another wandering tribe’, as he termed it – seemed to help. During his apprenticeship under Robertson, his role was ‘keeper of songs’. Most folk singers raid the archives of field recordings gathered by other musicians, most notably those housed in Camden’s Cecil Sharp House, considered the home of English folk music. But Sam wanted to hear it from the Romani people themselves – they were not dead, just because their songs had been collected. He said that simple fact came as a surprise to some in the folk scene. ‘None of them believed there were any singers out there; they thought it was dead. They didn’t know about Gypsy culture; they thought that the precious oral tradition was dead, but actually it’s still there. I have recorded songs from fell-pack huntsman, farmers, not just Gypsies – music is alive everywhere. The folk music world just wants its safe world on Radio 2 … It likes soft, fluffy, comfortable stuff. I have brought loads of Gypsy families down to Cecil Sharp House and it’s terrifying for them. They sit down in the library and sing these ballads that they have no idea are hundreds of years old. And some people say, “Wow, it’s lovely,” but they have no idea what to do. It’s like bringing the dinosaur into the Natural History Museum and saying, “Hey, watch it dance,” and they say they only know about bones.’
He went on: ‘Mahler said, “Tradition is tending the flame, not worshipping the ashes,” and I think there is a huge amount of ash-worshipping in the folk world … Nobody is putting much effort into keeping the flame alight, and we mustn’t let it die.’

FROM: NO PLACE TO CALL HOME: http://www.amazon.co.uk/No-Place-Call-Home-Travellers/dp/1851689494/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Also available, as a Newsweek Europe e-book about the rise of Evangelical Christianity amongst Europe’s Romanies: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Romani-Pilgrims-Europes-moral-force-ebook/dp/B00O9EZVCK/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

NO REPRODUCTION WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE PUBLISHERS. UNDER COPYRIGHT.

Gavrilo Princip and my great-grandfather, who may have blessed his bloody enterprise

 

This new short story, published as a Thistle Single on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Priest-Assassin-Archduke-Franz-Ferdinand-ebook/dp/B00LAECAQW/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1403768284&sr=8-3&keywords=katharine+quarmby

is my third Single, as they are now called, to come out in the last couple of years. The first was an exploration of my search for my Iranian birth father, Blood and Water. The second was a short story, loosely fictionalised, about filming in Rwanda, after the 1994 genocide, called Aftermath. This is the second in my very loose family trilogy – this time a story about my mother’s family history (my adoptive mother), who is half Serbian, Spanish and a little bit English (less than me, as she delights in saying). This story is about her Bosnian Serb grandfather, Dean Kosta Bozic, who was rumoured to have known, and blessed Gavrilo Princip, if not his bloody enterprise, just before the fateful assassination in 1914 that became the trigger for the First World War. We do not know if this is true, but my grandmother always used to say that there was, somewhere, a photo of Kosta Bozic and Gavrilo Princip together. It is true, Tim Butcher, the brilliant author of The Trigger told me, that Princip lodged with members of the Bozic family – whether they were close relatives of Kosta is also not recorded. Kosta was also arrested, in 1916, charged and found guilty of high treason. Like Princip he contracted TB and died of it – in his case, just after leaving prison. It is also true that he is buried, and then dug up to be buried again with greater ceremony by a grateful Serb nation. It was then found that his right arm was miraculously whole – the rest of him was bones. This was probably due to the aromatic spices in the censer he swung, day in, day out, as an Orthodox priest, and which preserved the flesh, but was hailed as a kind of miracle.

Anyway, I have taken the ‘facts’, as related to me by my grandmother, researched historical facts, and fused them into this short story. I hope it works. The next and last part of the trilogy is my dad’s story (my adoptive dad), who is from Yorkshire farming and hunting stock. His family, from way back, used to be keepers of hounds for hunting folk. They were the Smith family, and I will be telling their story, with much embroidery, and bodice ripping (and some real diary entries, honest), next. My dad is quaking in his boots and keeps on trying to divert me to other stories….

 

Wadham Human Rights Forum talk

I enjoyed doing my talk at the Wadham Human Rights Forum at Oxford University, on how human rights journalism is evolving in the age of the Internet – and how to fund the new human rights journalism. The Forum has had some wonderful thinkers visit – from Clive Stafford-Smith to James Harding, former editor of the Times and some great human rights scholars. I was honoured to be one of their number. 

Lord Macdonald, who is now the Warden of Wadham, is also the former Director of Public Prosecutions and a really doughty defender of human rights. His work within the criminal justice system, to uphold the rights of the individual against the state, remains so important and ground-breaking. Now, at Wadham, he is encouraging young people from modest backgrounds to aspire to Oxbridge – also a radical aim – and also encouraging disabled students to reach high.

You can see it here – I’ve also suggested some links to some interesting thinkers on the future – both journalists and techies. 

http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2014/march/an-uncertain-future-for-human-rights-reporting