This month BookMarks welcomes guest reviewer Peter Franklin, whose book The Mindful International Manager we reviewed in this space a few months back. Peter’s review choices here reflect his own story to some degree: he is an Englishman, graduate of Cambridge, who has lived almost all his professional life in Germany, where he now teaches at Konstanz University of Applied Sciences and at that institution’s Lake Constance Graduate School, where Peter helps business students master intercultural communication and intercultural management. (Craig Storti, Book Review Editor)
Fred Uhlman: The Making of an Englishman, published in 1960 by Victor Gollancz
Peter Gumbel: Citizens of Everywhere, published in 2020 by Haus Publishing
A review by Peter Franklin
These two books, separated in their writing by 60 years, share the starting point and some of the path on the intercultural journeys they describe. The journeys finally lead to two very different destinations – one of them - my adopted country - over many years engaged in a slow and steady process of societal development for the better; the other – my country of origin - recently catapulted into a process of change, which many fear can only lead to something worse.
Fred Uhlman was a German Jew, born in 1901. He escaped the fate of his parents in Theresienstadt by ultimately finding refuge in England. All of Peter Gumbel’s grandparents were also Jewish. Like Uhlman, Gumbel’s grandparents fled to England. But Peter Gumbel’s final destination much to his sadness was not to remain England but to his joy became Germany.
Fred Uhlman’s memoirs are a very readable account of a remarkable man – the story of an intercultural journey from Germany via France and Spain to England, where he achieved modest fame as an artist and writer. It begins as a fascinating tale of a German childhood and youth in the early years of the last century. But it is also a story of a Jewish life in Germany at a time of increasing anti-Semitism. Uhlman didn’t opt to keep his head down but practised from 1927 as a lawyer in Stuttgart, mainly, as he put it, defending the defenders of the Weimar Republic relentlessly under attack, and taking on a leading role in the SPD. In March 1933, after most of his political friends had been arrested, he received a tip-off from a sympathetic Nazi judge that Paris was very nice now, meaning he should flee to France immediately as he was about to be arrested.
In Paris, unable to practise as a lawyer, Uhlman taught himself to paint and achieved remarkable success as an artist. Tiring of pre-war Paris and wanting to devote himself entirely to painting, in 1935 he continued his intercultural journey and moved to the Costa Brava in Spain, where with other artists he believed he could fulfil his artistic ambitions. There he fell in love with Diana Croft, the daughter of a right-wing, British Conservative member of parliament and later minister, followed her to England and with Diana made the country his home. Knowing nothing of the country, culture or language, he experienced the difficulties of many a migrant or refugee, compounded as it was by his father-in-law’s stern disapproval of his marriage to his daughter and by a six-month internment in 1940 as an undesirable alien.
Undoubtedly helped by his wife’s network, Uhlman exhibits his work as the book ends in the early 1940’s with renowned artists such as Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore. And he is able to appreciate his new-found home in the book’s final pages as one characterised by tolerance, politeness, political maturity and fairness – all attributes he failed to experience in Germany.
This was a very different England from the Brexit-inflamed country that compelled Peter Gumbel to seek German nationality - not as a resident of Germany but as a citizen of everywhere as his book’s title has it – a deliberate contrast to the term ‘citizen of nowhere’ which the then prime minister Teresa May disparagingly used to refer to the supporters of continued membership of the EU.
Peter Gumbel’s Jewish grandparents, like Fred Uhlman, made England their home as well. What the author describes as an essay - of 60 short pages – begins with the tale of how his Jewish grandparents on both sides of the family, well-established, commercially successful and recognised in their respective communities, were forced little by little by the institutionalised discrimination and persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany to give up their livelihoods, flee to England and start all over again in a foreign country.
Peter Gumbel’s family remained stateless in England for the war years and his father, like Fred Uhlman, was interned before studying law and going on to pursue a successful career in international reinsurance. As Peter Gumbel puts it, his family was ‘a poster child for successful immigration and integration’, an example of interculturality, acquired not through overt education and training but through a lifetime’s journey. His father was decorated both by the English Queen and by the German state for services to his profession.
Growing up in such a family, Peter Gumbel describes how as a young man he also embarked on an intercultural journey of coming to an understanding of the burden German history places on its citizens. Living a professionally mobile life in the spirit of the European Union and settling in Paris, he gives a sensitive account of how Brexit also challenged his sense of identity (as it did that of the current reviewer), such that after the Brexit referendum, he wanted to use the right guaranteed by the German constitution to descendants of those whom the Nazis had deprived of their citizenship to have their citizenship restored.
Fred Uhlman was fortunate to find a home and also the political maturity in England that Peter Gumbel (and many others) before and after Brexit failed to find and which prompted him to identify with a Germany which today more obviously represents his values – despite his grandparents’ experiences in Nazi Germany. An intercultural journey indeed.