Rabbits Addressed by a Stoat
Where would you have found, in 1940, ‘the most elite university in the world in terms of the pool of scholars it contained’? The answer, according to the editors’ introduction to Ark of Civilisation: Refugee Scholars and Oxford University 1930-45, isn’t any of the great institutions that may come to mind, but Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. As the result of a slightly panicky policy of interning ‘enemy aliens’ after the fall of France, large numbers of refugee German scholars – most but not all of whom were Jewish – found themselves in this unlikely spot. They immediately set about giving lectures and conducting seminars. Activities for the week beginning 21 October 1940, for instance, included Dr Unger on ‘Greek Philosophy: Plato (continued)’, Mr Stadler on ‘History of Medieval Culture (continued)’, and Professor Marx, ‘Study Group on Goethe’. The exiled journalist Rudolf Olden was also interned there, and ‘in the exceptionally fine summer of 1940’ delivered ‘memorable political analyses on the Hutchinson Square lawns to audiences of 300-400’.
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Vol. 39 No. 15 · 27 July 2017
Stefan Collini’s essay on scholars displaced by the Second World War mentions that Eduard Fraenkel’s seminar on Aeschylus’ Agamemnon was described in one account as ‘a circle of rabbits addressed by a stoat’ (LRB, 13 July). I was one of Professor Fraenkel’s ‘rabbits’ from my first week in Oxford. Unusually for Oxford in the 1950s, Fraenkel treated young women as equals, and savaged us equally, which was refreshing at a time when lectures often started with ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’ We progressed at a rate of between ten and twenty lines in two hours. Each session was the responsibility of a single student, who would establish each word of text from a variety of manuscripts and then its meaning with the help of any and every tool known to literature, history, art and scholarship. The bit one ‘did’ was engraved on the brain for months. When I joined, Fraenkel had finished Agamemnon and was working on the Cena Trimalchionis.
Collini asks whether ‘the historical record will contain a comparably positive balance-sheet about our contemporary response to the plight of, for example, scholars displaced from Iraq and Syria.’ In my current role as chair of the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara), the successor to the Academic Assistance Council/Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (active from 1933), I think it only fair to pay tribute to the very generous response of many universities, including Oxford, and that of many individual academics, to the plight of their colleagues from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere who have been forced into exile, or have tried to carry on at home despite the obvious dangers.
Working with our 117 partner universities in the UK and others abroad, Cara’s fellowship programme acts as a lifeline to academics globally, helping them to escape from immediate danger and to reach a place of sanctuary where they can continue their research and teaching. Most plan to return home when the situation allows, but they need support in the meantime to develop their skills and build the networks to help them when that day comes. Cara helps them to identify a host institution, agrees all the funding issues, and assists with immigration formalities and the many travel and arrival arrangements. As of July 2017, Cara is working with some 260 fellows, and has another 350 or so dependants; the host university waives any fees, and covers some or, increasingly, all of the other costs as well – a substantial commitment. From 2006 to 2012 Cara also ran an Iraq Programme, to help academics still in Iraq or the surrounding region, to which many universities and individual UK academics contributed pro bono. In 2016 Cara launched a regional programme for Syrian academics, again with the support of many universities and individual academics.
There is always much more we could do, given more resources. Anyone who would like to donate can visit our website at www.cara.ngo.