The Artists’ Open House project, a major element of the annual Dulwich Festival every May, goes from strength to strength. The full programme now has nearly 100 pages! And the area covered reaches from Peckham Rye down to Crystal Palace and from Loughborough Junction across to the fringes of Forest Hill and Sydenham.
This year, we have an open house here on Fawnbrake at number 73 where Alan and Jorge are opening their house to show Jorge’s landscape, portrait and abstract paintings. There is more information about his work on his website www.sanchezart.co.uk
Here, as across the festival, the artists open their houses for visitors on 14–15 May and 21-22 May, normally between 11 am and 6 pm
The website for the whole of this year’s Artists’ Open House programme can be found here.
Yes, it’s not in Herne Hill, and certainly not in Fawnbrake Avenue, but many of us know and treasure Sydenham Hill Wood, and it became a precious haven during successive lockdown periods.
In inevitable consequence, however, the paths and neighbouring areas got heavily trampled, and are now being restored by volunteers. Some vulnerable species have been put under real pressure, and without this vital work, they may not recover.
The wood is a rare remnant of the renowned Great North Wood which stretched in ancient times from beyond Croydon, over the Norwood Ridge (now Crystal Palace) right down to Dulwich and Herne Hill and even to Deptford. It is cared for by the London Wildlife Trust (LWT). The adjoining Dulwich Wood is cared for by the Dulwich Estate, but with support from the LWT.
There is currently an appeal, where public contributions will be matched by larger donors, to raise the money towards the restoration task.
In these tense times there are so many calls on our generosity, but this appeal for Sydenham Hill Wood feels hugely worthwhile. Click hereto read about the appeal.
Perhaps it’s not generally known that the Metropolitan Police have a Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) explicitly for Herne Hill Ward.
They have asked if members of the community could please complete a short questionnaire, for which the link is given below.
Herne Hill SNT is formed of a Sergeant, two PCs and one PCSO. The team is responsible for keeping Herne Hill safe as well as dealing with any ongoing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) issues and concerns raised by the local community. They have regular meetings with a panel of community representatives, and aim to issue monthly reports on their activities locally.
The latest report reads as follows:
“The team this month [March] have focused on several community deployments aimed at targeting what have been identified as key priorities on the ward.
“The first tasking undertaken was a bike marking event at Brockwell Park utilizing smart water. This was following several reports of bike thefts. This was incredibly successful with over thirty bikes marked.
“The team then undertook two days of community speed watches on Herne Hill Road and Milkwood Road. This involved the use of a speed gun and saw many community volunteers participate. This led to several speed warnings being issues and one male being arrested for traffic and drug related offences.
“Finally, the team undertook a weapons sweep on the Thorlands Estate (comment: this lies to the north of Coldharbour Lane) with council community enforcement officers. This again was very successful with four knives recovered.
“The team will take on feedback from the ward panel meeting and will be looking to replicate this again in the coming months.”
Following our report last December, it has now been announced that The Cambria will reopen next month. It has been through an extensive and expensive repair and refurbishment process since November.
It will definitely be serving meals, too: a necessary feature for most successful pubs these days.
Being so close to one of the entrances to Ruskin Park should also be an advantage to the new operators.
Although it will be run by an independent pub company, Prospect Pubs & Bars Ltd,, The Cambria is ultimately owned by the giant global beer company Heineken, which augurs well for its financial stability, we must hope.
There was some concern locally about the pub’s application for very late opening hours, but the opening times announced seem to indicate that – after local objections – Lambeth has wisely denied permission for this: normal closing times are 11 PM , which seem appropriate for a pub in the middle of a residential area.
They have a useful website, marred only slightly by predictable gushing PR speak.
In their report, the excellent Brixton Buzz expressed regret that The Cambria is not offering a wide range of independent locally brewed beers, but concedes that this was probably unlikely since Brixton Brewery, whose products will be on regular supply, is itself now owned by Heineken.
There’s plenty of good stuff to read in the latest issue of “Herne Hill” magazine: a beautifully illustrated article about the treasures to be seen in Saint Paul’s Church; an interview with the owners of the new and already popular bubble tea shop, Cuppo Bubbo; a revealing survey of a unique 1935 house on Dorchester Drive; and a snapshot of the very cosmopolitan population of Herne Hill at the end of the 19th century and on the eve of the First World War – with an unexpected preponderance of residents of German origin. Also an affectionate review of the major exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, featuring the work of Helen Frankenthaler – a show that has been widely recognised in the national media as of major significance.
Members of the Herne Hill Society get the magazine automatically, of course. Non-members can buy it at Herne Hill Books, or can get it (along with future issues), by easily joining the Society online.
International Holocaust Memorial Day is celebrated annually on 27 January, in accordance with a decision by the UN General Assembly.
This date was chosen because on 27 January 1945, Russian forces advancing towards Germany reached the extensive Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration, labour and extermination sites in occupied Poland.
They first entered Auschwitz III, the IG Farben camp at Monowitz: a soldier from the 100th Infantry Division of the Red Army entered the camp around 9 am on Saturday, 27 January 1945.
The 60th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front (also part of the Red Army) arrived in Auschwitz I and II around 3 pm.
They found 7,000 prisoners alive in the three main camps, 500 in the other subcamps, and over 600 corpses. The rest had been dragged onto the infamous death marches, on which many were killed or expired, though some survived.
The total number of victims can never be determined precisely. 6 million is the generally accepted total of Jewish victims deliberately murdered in the Holocaust; up to 5 million others (non-Jews) is often suggested – brutally starved, deliberately worked to death, shot or gassed.
For some background to Nazi Germany’s advance towards this nightmare, see the two immediately previous posts here.
We are encouraged to put a lighted candle (if safe to do so) in in our windows on the night of 27 January.
The UK Commemorative Ceremony for HMD 2022 will be broadcast online on Thursday 27 January 2022 at 7pm. The narrator will be Sandi Toksvig OBE. We can register to join the Ceremony by clicking here.
This blog not normally a platform for non-local historical or political musings. So feel free to look away if you’re not in the mood for this – or if it becomes too painful to read. But I’m giving myself permission to make an exception, provoked by an important and partly-personal coincidence of dates.
Also, it’s in two parts, because of the length.
An infamous date – 20 January 1942
Yes, before most readers of this blog were born.
20 January 1942, 80 years ago this week, saw the holding of the infamous Wannsee Conference in the gracious western suburbs of Berlin. The house was a luxurious villa acquired by the Reich Security Main Office, mainly the SS, for use as a guest house and conference centre. The meeting was summoned and chaired by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.
Aimed specifically at dealing expeditiously with the ‘problem’ of Europe’s Jewish communities, this highly secret meeting of senior bureaucrats was called to agree and accelerate the logistics and timing of the Holocaust – the Final Solution – in a manner sadly typical of the highly bureaucratic and efficient Nazi state. Thereafter the senior officials and state authorities attending the meeting were implicated in its decisions and consequences: there could be no turning back.
And the personal coincidence? 1942 was also the year in which I was born in wartime England (though not in that January; not in fact until October). Perhaps because I was born then, around the midpoint of World War II, but also because I lived for a short time in Berlin in the 1960s, I’ve perhaps been more preoccupied than many of my generation with the tumultuous events of that era, which of course for many people alive today is of mainly historical interest, if that.
I guess some outlines of the Holocaust are taught in UK schools, but the details are probably left to professional historians and, of course, Jewish and other groups representing and remembering those who were massacred so brutally. It would not be surprising if many people today struggled to get their heads round the scale of what happened. (Though there have of course been subsequent holocausts on a much smaller scale (Bosnia, Cambodia and some of the less blessed parts of Africa) – smaller but no less terrible.) A quick survey tells me that many people alive now, including the highly educated, haven’t heard of Wannsee at all, or only vaguely.
The point of Wannsee?
It was sometimes thought that the conference, convened on the orders of Himmler and with the approval of Hitler, instigated Nazi government plans for the Holocaust. (The term “Holocaust” is normally applied just to the killing of Europe’s 6 million Jews; but is often stretched to include other deliberate victims like gypsies. It is not normally used to encompass the millions of others, such as Russian and Polish civilians and prisoners of war who were caught up into the same process.)
But … Wannsee did not launch the systematic murder of the Jews – that policy had already been decided and the early steps had been taken.
By the end of 1941, it was already being implemented in a deliberate but only partly coordinated fashion, along with the imprisonment and ultimately killing of other unfavoured people – Poles, Gypsies, Russian military and civilians, disabled people, political opponents from within Germany, resistance workers from the occupied territories, and of course thousands of others. The Jewish community inside the Reich was already enduring savage persecution.
But the capture of Poland in late 1939, and later (in summer 1941) the invasion of Western parts of the Soviet Union, immediately placed millions more people – combatants and civilians, and particularly Jews, as well as other nationalities – under the brutal regime of the German forces, notably the SS and its murder squads. In the end, some 3 million Polish Jews – approximately 90% of Poland’s pre-war Jewry – and between 1.8 and 2.8 million ethnic Poles were killed during the German occupation of Poland.
Mass shootings in Poland, Ukraine, Russia and the Baltic states were initially the method used to eliminate Jewish and other victims, to be followed by mass displacement where the Jews transported from the West joined those in Poland, Russia and the Baltic regions. Here, “special treatment” methods could be devised and tested. The scale of the ‘problem’ now required better methods.
By late 1941, before Wannsee, some more “efficient” killing centres and methods had already been set up in occupied Poland, the Baltic states and elsewhere. The first small-scale gassings at Auschwitz took place in early September 1941, when around 850 inmates—Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates – were murdered.
Another infamous example was in the Western part of Poland which had been formally incorporated into the Reich. Chełmno, 30 miles northwest of Łódź, was the first of the pure extermination centres and had been set up in December 1941 in order to annihilate the inhabitants of the ghetto in that town. It was the first stationary facility where poison gas – in that case, carbon monoxide in enclosed trucks – was used for the mass murder of Jews. Other similar extermination camps that quickly followed in 1942 (Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka) used fixed gas chambers fed by large carbon monoxide engines. All four existed purely for the purpose of murder, chiefly of Polish Jews. They paved the way for the much bigger extermination facilities that were quickly established in mixed labour/extermination camps and their numerous satellite sites across Poland and other territories, fed by an elaborate rail transport system from all over Europe. Notably, of course, Auschwitz-Birkenau and its vast complex of industrial workshops and extermination facilities: over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives here. But there were many other sites.
What Wannsee did achieve for the Nazi regime, on that day 80 years ago, was that it brought together a representative group of very senior officials and military/SS officers (including one, SS-Standartenführer Dr Rudolf Lange [see below], who had personally developed the killing methods at Chełmno just a week or two earlier) to decide and impose an enhanced, ambitious and accelerated method of moving Jews out of the Reich and the occupied territories, assembling them in ghettos where necessary, and then exterminating them in large numbers in dedicated sites. The meeting also discussed different treatments for different levels of ‘Jewishness’; but any categories that were thereby spared were later included anyway, on Heydrich’s orders.
The proceedings at Wannsee were deemed particularly secret. Only a limited number of copies of the highly-redacted and deliberately vague 15-page minutes (“Protocol” in German) were typed and circulated under the authority of the secretary of the conference, SS-Obersturmbannführer (= Lieutenant-Colonel) Adolf Eichmann. All but one set of minutes were deliberately destroyed, or lost in the chaos of 1945.
But one set survived in the archives of the German Foreign Ministry and was discovered by the US occupying forces after the war.
Only then did the existence and significance of this key historical event come to light.
In these minutes and on countless other occasions when the subject arose, orders to assemble and kill Jews were generally issued verbally, not written down. If on paper, the language was kept deliberately vague, but used well-understood phrases and hints that all would have understood.
For example, Wannsee minutes Chapter III (English translation):
“III. Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Fuehrer gives the appropriate approval in advance.
These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question.”
Participants and later readers of the minutes will have understood “evacuation to the East” to mean deportation to labour camps and/or killing centres in occupied Poland, designated as the epicentre of the Holocaust. They will also have understood the ominous realities behind the innocuous term “practical experience”. Another circumlocution used in many documents and conversations about the same topic was “special treatment”: it simply meant systematic mass murder, usually by units of the SS.
After January 1942, as agreed at the conference, the extermination campaign gathered pace and became the “final solution”, pulling in Jews and other victims from all over the Reich and the conquered territories. It only faltered when the allies invaded Germany from both East and West and the programme collapsed in the final months of the war in 1945 as the concentration and labour camps in the East and in the Reich itself were progressively emptied – by hasty summary executions, by starvation and ill-treatment or by forced ‘death marches’ of prisoners (many directed towards Bergen-Belsen in Germany itself) which also resulted in thousands of deaths.
So there can be no doubt, once its existence had been revealed, that the Wannsee Conference opened a new and decisive chapter in the Holocaust. As one of the first great historians of this catastrophe, Professor Sir Martin Gilbert, wrote in his book “The Holocaust – the Jewish Tragedy” (1986): “What had hitherto been tentative, fragmentary and spasmodic was to become formal, comprehensive and efficient. The technical services such as the railways, the bureaucracy and the diplomats would work in harmony, towards a single goal.… By the end of January 1942, the Germans needed only to establish the apparatus of total destruction…”.
The total number of victims can never be determined precisely. 6 million is the generally accepted total of Jewish victims of the Holocaust; up to 5 million others is often suggested, probably without counting the millions of Russians and Poles – civilians and prisoners of war – who were brutally starved, deliberately worked to death, shot or gassed.
The aftermath: Heydrich &co
SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who summoned and chaired the conference on the orders of Himmler, had been head of the RSHA (the Reich Security Main Office) since 1939. A leading architect of the Final Solution, he was directly answerable to Heinrich Himmler in Himmler’s dual capacity as Chef der Deutschen Polizei (Chief of German Police) and Reichsführer-SS, the head of the Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS). Earlier, in autumn 1941, Heydrich had been appointed acting ‘Protector’ (i.e. Governor) of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, a task which he executed with deliberate brutality. Five months after the Wannsee conference and back in Prague, he was mortally wounded in an assassination attempt by UK-trained Czechoslovak resistance operatives. The Nazi reprisals in Czechoslovakia were extraordinarily savage, while Heydrich was given a state funeral in Berlin. At the end of the war, HeinrichHimmler escaped from Berlin under assumed identity but was caught by the British forces in northern Germany and committed suicide.
And RudolfLange, the most junior official at the Wannsee gathering? From occupied Poland he went on to Riga to supervise mass killings in Latvia. By the end of the war he had been promoted to SS-Standartenführer (colonel) and, back in Poland, was head of the SD in Poznań, shortly to be captured by the oncoming Russian forces. His fate is unknown, but he probably died during the conflict or committed suicide. After the Conference, AdolfEichmann and his staff became responsible for Jewish deportations to extermination camps, including the deportation of most of Hungary’s Jews. When the war ended he eluded capture and escaped to Argentina, whence he was abducted by the Israelis in 1960 and ultimately, after a long trial, hanged.
And today the villa in West Berlin, Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, after some prevarication by the German authorities, is a Holocaust commemoration centre.
There have been one or two films about the conference of which probably the best is “Conspiracy” (2001), written and directed by Frank Pierson and featuring Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich, Colin Firth as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart (Interior Ministry legal counsel) and Stanley Tucci as Eichmann. The dialogue in the film is of course invented, as the minutes of the meeting were deliberately not verbatim or, for the most part, attributed to particular speakers. But it sort of rings true.
This note is of course only a non-specialist’s attempt to pick out some key points and consequences of this extraordinary moment in European history. The Holocaust, and the significance of this Wannsee meeting within that narrative, have been researched, examined, debated and interpreted in recent decades by probably hundreds of professional and conscientious historians – British, American, French, German and Jewish and of course others.
The Final Solution, and the parallel killing of millions of non-Jewish people, was the greatest human catastrophe: to grasp the historical facts, let alone sum up in a few lines, is almost impossible. But this is hopefully a useful reminder of something that can never be forgotten or ignored.
Holocaust Memorial Day: 27 January
in accordance with a decision by the UN General Assembly, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated annually on 27 January.
This date was chosen because on 27 January 1945 Russian forces reached the extensive Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration, labour and extermination sites. They first entered Auschwitz III, the IG Farben camp at Monowitz: a soldier from the 100th Infantry Division of the Red Army entered the camp around 9 am on Saturday, 27 January 1945. The 60th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front (also part of the Red Army) arrived in Auschwitz I and II around 3 pm. They found 7,000 prisoners alive in the three main camps, 500 in the other subcamps, and over 600 corpses. The rest had been dragged onto the infamous death marches, from which some survived.
We are encouraged to put a lighted candle (if safe to do so) in in our windows on the night of 27 January.
The UK Commemorative Ceremony for HMD 2022 will be broadcast online on Thursday 27 January 2022 at 7pm. The narrator will be Sandi Toksvig OBE. We can watch the Ceremony by clicking here.
News about Fawnbrake Avenue & neighbouring streets in Herne Hill, London