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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Segregation and Bullying

My novel, The Keys to Heaven, which covers the lives of Eliza and her family, from 1918-1939, is part one of two. I have laid down five chapters in book two, The Keys to Peace, and, as it opens in 1939, my characters live through the second world war. One character, Daniel, escapes Nazi Germany and manages to travel to a safer life in England, and is cared for by Eliza's sister.  

But his own sister, Janina, avoids the Berlin Gestapo by hiding with Aryan friends in the city. As Daniel's been moving through Switzerland and France to get the last boat to England, with Eliza's sister, she can't get word to him. Eventually, at the end of the war, he discovers, from the Red Cross, that in 1942, she had been sent by train from G├╝terbahnhof Moabit (freight station in Moabit) fairly close to Berlin city centre. Here, a platform was used that was separated and parallel to the S-Bahn tracks. The S-Bahn was the city's rapid transit system. But her journey from that platform ended in Thereseinstadt. 

The vile crimes against the Jews during the war are well documented. However I am still shocked by the racism against black men and women in Virginia, USA, which took place as late as the 1960s. I didn't get to see the excellently titled Hidden Figures when it was Oscar-nominated last year. I have recently seen it, however, courtesy of Sky Movies. 

Before 1933, in Germany, wealthy, professional Jews, who were teaching, running businesses and living full, mostly unhindered lives, were, in many cases, masters of all they surveyed.
By 1939 they weren't allowed to walk on a pavement nor sit on a park bench. Jews were segregated.

In Virginia the opposite process took place. People of colour had to sit at the back of public buses, the section was labelled coloreds only.  At NASA, both black and white women were employed but they were segregated. They worked in separate buildings. 

In Hidden Figures an extremely gifted black mathematician was allowed to do the number crunching in order to plan the trajectory of a manned space capsule. But she had to walk miles from her desk to get to a coloreds only lavatory for women. That was only one of the humiliations she endured.

Her friend, equally talented, had to go before a county judge to request that she be allowed to study engineering at a whites-only college. Although such segregation had been outlawed by Washington Virginia kept its racist laws. In fact the gifted, black, female engineer persuaded the court to let her study. She was the first black woman to attend a whites-only college.  But that was on the strict ruling that she went there for night school only. So she worked doubly hard: she worked at NASA all day, but had to work and study hard all night. She wasn't given leave to mix with the whites at college in the daytime. 

In other words the women I mention were as clever as their white, male counterparts but the struggle to get their abilities recognised and become promoted was almost as segregationist as the Judenfrei laws of 1930s and 1940s Berlin.

In Virginia segregation prevented progress for the race that was looked down upon. 
In Germany segregation actively removed opportunities for Jews who were used to being fully integrated and unhampered in the sciences, arts, education and commerce.

Is it worse to be denied what others have by right and stay at the bottom of the heap, or is it more awful to have everything you've achieved and enjoyed ripped away from you?  In the first case if you've never known freedom there is always hope that one day the glass ceiling will crack. In the second case annihilation was too often the outcome. 

The loss of hope, I venture, must be worse. Suicides in Berlin after Kristallnacht meant there were fewer Jews for the Nazis to murder.

The blacks in 1960s Virginia were still escaping slavery. The Jews in 1930s Germany and invaded territories were being forced into it.  Enlightenment and respect for others is a precious commodity and is as valuable as gold dust. 

In an increasingly divided West race may not always be the great divider, although the figures show poverty, generally, is worse for blacks. We are becoming more intolerant of those who have very little. So prejudice is against the poor. Gender issues are not going away either. 

At the BBC bias against women presenters and broadcasters is becoming unfortunately a business-as-usual state of affairs. I wonder who suggested John Humphrys et al took a pay cut? And, who needs to earn £600,000 to interrupt politicians daily, at 6:00 am, thereby sending listeners into a depression before their working day as a bus driver, plumber, banker, teacher or any other job not 'worth' £600,000, has even begun?

I would love to see Today run by people who enjoy life, respect others and don't have to harangue the people they are interviewing. It's just another form of bullying. And such bullying behaviour, as endured in 1930s Berlin and 1960s Virginia, should be well behind us. 

When will the human race become civilised? 


For Holocaust Memorial Day 

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