The Victor Hugo Papers

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Josselin Blieck, who is completing an MA in Archives and Records Management at the University of Burgundy (Dijon), undertook an internship at the John Rylands Library this summer. Josselin has catalogued our collection of papers relating to Victor Hugo. Several attempts have been made to document this important archive over the last thirty years, so we are immensely grateful to Josselin for completing the work. We hope to publish his catalogue online shortly. He writes:

The John Rylands Library holds a major collection of papers related to Victor Hugo (1802-1885), one of the most famous French writers in history.

Victor Hugo, c.1884. Wikimedia Commons image.

Victor Hugo, c.1884. Wikimedia Commons image.

Hugo is now celebrated for his epic novels the Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) and the Misérables (1862), but in his time he was mostly known as a prolific poet and a romantic playwright who broke the classical rules of theatre.

Hugo also had a considerable political role. Initially a Royalist, he became a Republican after having been elected deputy during the Second Republic (1848-51). He logically refused to condone the military coup of President Louis Napoléon Bonaparte in December 1851 and went into a long exile in Jersey and Guernsey with other Republicans. The collapse of the Second Empire in 1870 allowed his triumphal return to France, and he became known as the ‘father’ of the young Third Republic; he was elected senator for life in 1875. His funeral cortege in 1885 was attended by an immense crowd of two million people, equalling that of Napoleon in 1840.

With more than 1,200 letters and manuscripts of Hugo and his correspondents, the Rylands collection is perhaps the richest on Victor Hugo outside France and Belgium. It surpasses the collections in the Morgan Library in New York, and in the libraries of Yale, Harvard, and Syracuse universities, and the collection of letters from Juliette Drouet at the University of Leeds. The Rylands materials were mostly collected by Jean Gaudon, a French academic who worked at the University of Manchester in the 1960s. Gaudon then moved to Yale in the 1970s, and was partly responsible for building their smaller Hugo collection.

The collection does not have any thematic unity and instead reflects the outstanding range of activities embraced by Hugo. There are large numbers of letters from actors asking for a recommendation or a role in his plays, journalists and art critics congratulating him on his works, publishers dealing with his publications, amateur poets sending their verses to Hugo for his appraisal, or simply anonymous people requesting theatre tickets or his protection. Besides these lesser-known people, the collection boasts letters to Hugo from famous personalities of the nineteenth century, such as Alexandre Dumas, Sainte-Beuve, the poets Alfred de Vigny and Théodore de Banville, scholars like Villemain, Victor Cousin, Guizot and Boucher de Perthes (the “inventor” of prehistoric archaeology), the Romantic sculptor David d’Angers and the Realist painter Jules Breton, early feminists such as Eugènie Niboyet, Flora Tristan, or Amable Tastu, and many others.

Letter from Alexandre Dumas to Victor Hugo Hugo, written after their reconciliation in 1836 when they were hoping to open a new theatre in Paris, since the Romantics didn't have many venues in Paris in which to stage their plays.

Letter from Alexandre Dumas to Victor Hugo, written after their reconciliation in 1836 when they were hoping to open a new theatre in Paris, as the Romantics did not have many venues for staging their plays.

The letters produced during Hugo’s exile in the Channel Islands probably form the best part of the collection. Indeed, as he was the most famous French exile in the UK, his house in Guernsey tended to be the headquarters of the French opponents to Napoléon III.

The most valuable item in the collection is without doubt a bound book of 37 letters of Hugo to Noël Parfait, a Republican MP who fled to Belgium after Napoleon’s coup and was the secretary of Alexandre Dumas in Brussels. The last letter of the book was written at Waterloo, where Hugo travelled in 1861 to write a chapter telling the famous battle in the Misérables, published the following year.

There is an interesting exchange of 14 letters with Louis Blanc (a socialist thinker who lived in exile in London), mostly about the Shakespeare tercentenary in 1864. Hugo was noteworthy puzzled to see that the British Government did not want to pay for a monument to Shakespeare and only relied on a private subscription (to which Hugo contributed).

Letter from Victor Hugo to Louis Blanc, offering a subscription of 250 francs towards the Shakespeare monument.

Letter from Victor Hugo to Louis Blanc, offering a subscription of 250 francs towards a Shakespeare monument at Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Hugo was also in touch with French exiles who had crossed the oceans after the coup, and gave him accounts of their foreign adventures. We therefore have letters from New York (Aimé Malespine), Rio de Janeiro (Antoine Adolphe Hubert), and Constantinople (Ange Pechméja).

In addition, we can mention a letter written in 1865 from Victor Schœlcher – author of the decree abolishing slavery in the French colonies in 1848 – asking Hugo to contribute to a fund for the recently freed American slaves, or an unpublished poem by Hugo’s father, called ‘La Révolte des Enfers’, humorously describing a battle of daemons in Hell.

Finally, the Library holds a watercolour drawing by Hugo, who was also a skilled draughtsman and produced about 4,000 works. His drawings usually display ruins of churches or castles in a dark, Gothic atmosphere. Some of them were sent as greeting cards, on which he added his name in red capital letters (this one is dated 1 January 1856, at Guernsey).

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Watercolour drawing by Victor Hugo, Guernsey, 1 January 1856.

The recent cataloguing of the collection should shed a new light on these fabulous and mostly unpublished materials, as it seems they have been forgotten for several decades.

The Devil Man Springs to Life

Originally posted on Reading Race, Collecting Cultures:

Image of a pair of glasses on a book

The Roving Reader Files

Come with me on a journey of discovery into the bowels of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library on Deansgate! Armed with our AIU Centre roadmap of race relations insights, let’s astonish ourselves amongst the wealth of treasures just lying there waiting to be discovered!

Feast your eyes on the image below. You, I and some intrepid Heritage Imaging adventurers are the first people to clap eyes on the contents of this amazing lantern slide for possibly eighty years or more… And you saw it here first  –  thanks to another of those incredibly kind archivists.

Lantern slide photograph of a group of African men, one of whom is dressed in a ceremonial outfit made from leopard skin and feathers Copyright of the University of Manchester

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Armenian Manuscript Digitisation

Originally posted on CHICC Manchester:

Often items from The John Rylands Library are loaned to other institutions for exhibition purposes. In these instances, before the items are delivered to the borrowing institution, we digitise them in their entirety. This can be anything from a single image of say a painting or photograph, or a complete item. Recently the team have digitised two beautiful Armenian manuscripts from our collections before they are transported to an upcoming exhibition at The Bodleian Library in Oxford.

MS 20 7v-8r opening showing God resting on the 7th day, and Paradise Armenian MS 20 7v-8r opening showing God resting on the 7th day, and Paradise

The two manuscripts in question are Armenian MS 3, The Romance of Alexander, dating from 1544, And MS 20, a Gospel Book from 1587. Both manuscripts are highly illuminated, with an incredible amount of colour and gold leaf throughout. Before any items leave the Rylands, our Collection Care team provide a comprehensive report, and painstakingly go over every page…

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The Fabrica of Vesalius: An exploration through our copies

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Sara Mansutti, Mary O’Connor and Christine Stahl write:

In response to a request to take part in a census of all known surviving copies of Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, a team from Collection Management and Special Collections (Rare Books and Maps) has recently taken the opportunity to collaborate on enhancing our catalogue records.

This major atlas of human anatomy was produced in two large folio editions, in 1543 and 1555, by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), an anatomist and physician from Brussels. The text and illustrations are not based on animal dissection as used by Galen (born CE 129) but on the dissection of human bodies. The title-page shows Vesalius himself carrying out the dissection, leaving the barber-surgeons, who would previously have performed this work under the supervision of a doctor of medicine, with nothing to do.

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1555, title-page (Medical pre-1701 Collection 2500b)

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1555, title-page (Medical pre-1701 Collection 2500b)

The text is liberally accompanied by woodcut illustrations attributed to Jan Stefan van Calcar. The blocks were cut in Italy and transported over the Alps to Basel where the renowned printer Oporinus operated.

The illustrations of muscle men and skeletons are shown in stylised human pose against a background of the Euganean Hills near Padua.

De humani corporis fabrica, 1555, signature s6 verso, skeleton image (Medical pre-1701 Collection 2500a)

De humani corporis fabrica, 1555, signature s6 verso, skeleton image (Medical pre-1701 Collection 2500a)

The Library is fortunate to own three copies of this work: one of the 1543 edition and two of the 1555. While enhancing the basic catalogue records, first working on the bibliographic information and then the copy-specific details (ownership, annotations, censorship, condition and binding), it was discovered that all our copies have a medical background and have been used as medical textbooks.

The earliest provenance of the 1543 copy (R51228) is undecipherable because the inscription is faded. Can you help? Click/tap on the image below for a more detailed view.

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, spectral image of undecipherable inscription on the title-page (R51228)

De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, spectral image of undecipherable inscription on the title-page (R51228)

Later this book passed through the hands of William Lloyd M.D.; the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; and finally to David Lloyd Roberts. In 1920 David Lloyd Roberts bequeathed part of his book collection to The John Rylands Library but most of his medical books went to the Royal College of Physicians in London. We are fortunate to have received this rare copy.

Of the 1555 edition one copy (2500a) was owned by Carl Ernst Emil Hoffmann (1827-1877), a German physician, anatomist, physiologist and university teacher, and at some point came to the Manchester Medical Society. The other copy (2500b) was owned by Manchester Royal Infirmary and later by Manchester Medical Library.

The three copies have different styles of bindings. R51228 has a 16thcentury plain parchment binding, obviously well used, with many annotations and underlinings. 2500a has a contemporary German panel-design binding. In contrast 2500b is in a 19th-century rebinding, so the original is unknown.

There is so much current interest in Vesalius that an annotated English translation of both editions was published in 2014.  Another work by Vesalius (the Anatomia of 1604) is currently featured in our latest exhibition Darkness & Light: Exploring the Gothic at The John Rylands Library on Deansgate. Please try to visit!

De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, signatures R1 verso-R2 recto, muscle man (R51228)

De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, signatures R1 verso-R2 recto, muscle man (R51228)

Behind the Headlines: documenting the people in the Guardian Archive

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We are delighted to announce that the Library is the proud recipient of this year’s Business Archives Council Cataloguing Grant for business archives.

Readers of this blog may have seen some of our recent posts about the stories being revealed through the Guardian Archive’s Foreign Correspondence, the subject of a cataloguing project funded by the John Rylands Research Institute. Correspondence and dispatches like this make up a large part of the archive. However, there is also a comprehensive set of records relating to the Guardian as a business concern, and these records form the primary focus of our BAC-funded project.

Delivering the Manchester Guardian, from the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

Delivering the Manchester Guardian, from the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

The Guardian archive is a rich source of information for a huge range of topics. As well as its obvious value for documenting the newspaper’s coverage of specific events and issues, the archive can also tell us about the people behind the headlines – whether that’s the editors, contributors, illustrators, journalists, compositors, cleaners, cooks or others. Our project aims to unlock this information about people by enhancing the descriptions of business records in the archive. There are a range of records which relate to people associated with the Guardian and its sister paper, the Manchester Evening News. These include bulky ledgers recording payments to contributors (sometimes the only source for identifying the writers of anonymously-published articles), staff lists, wage books, photographs and more. These records aren’t uniform, and can vary considerably in the usefulness of their content. It can therefore be a time-consuming, and sometimes frustrating, process to try and track down information about any particular individual.

One of the project’s outputs will be a handy online guide outlining how to use the archive to trace individuals associated with the Manchester Guardian (as it then was) and the Manchester Evening News. This will focus largely on the period from 1880 to the 1940s, which are the decades covered by the bulk of the records.

The Manchester Guardian and Evening News Advertisement Office on Cross Street in Manchester. Dated to 1948 based on the teams playing in the FA Cup Final! From the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

The Manchester Guardian and Evening News Advertisement Office on Cross Street in Manchester. Dated to 1948 based on the teams playing in the FA Cup Final! From the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

We also plan to digitise in its entirety the rather wonderful centenary photograph album featured in a previous blog post. This album was presented to the Guardian’s famous editor C.P. Scott in 1921, to mark both the 100th anniversary of the newspaper and the 50th anniversary of his editorship. It depicts almost 500 people who made up the Guardian workforce of the day, and every one of them is named. We will make the digitised album available via our image library LUNA, and it will be searchable by the name of each staff member represented in it.

Our new project will be running for six weeks from Monday 28 September, so watch this space for updates!

The Manchester Guardian newsroom, c. 1950s, from the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

The Manchester Guardian newsroom, c. 1950s, from the Guardian Archive. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

 

 

Breaking News from the Guardian Archive

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Jane Speller, Project Archivist for the Guardian Archive foreign correspondence cataloguing project, writes:

Following our visit earlier this year to the Guardian News and Media (GNM) Archive, we were happy to host a return visit by Acting Head of the GNM Archive, Philippa Mole, and Archive Trainee, Helen Swainger.

Philippa and Helen are based at the GNM HQ in London’s King’s Cross. Material in the GNM archive dates largely from 1971, the year that the Guardian newspaper moved the bulk of its operations from Manchester to London. It was also the year that the archive of the newspaper, dating from its inception in 1821 up until 1971, was acquired by John Rylands Library as a gift from the Guardian.

Yesterday’s visit was designed to facilitate knowledge sharing about the two Guardian archive collections and to open up discussions around partnership working. We were interested to hear that plans are already being made for the celebration of the bi-centenary of the Guardian in 2021; and that the Guardian archive in London had recently acquired owner/editor C.P. Scott’s desk which was originally located in the Manchester office.

l to r: Fran Baker, Philippa Mole and Helen Swainger examine the Peterloo relief fund account book. Photograph by Jane Speller.

l to r: Fran Baker, Philippa Mole and Helen Swainger examine the Peterloo relief fund account book. Photograph by Jane Speller.

After taking our visitors on a tour of the Library, we went behind the scenes to show them some treasures from the John Rylands’ collections. These included Elizabeth Gaskell’s original manuscript for her biography of Charlotte Brontë, William Caxton’s English-French dictionary (an aid for merchants travelling abroad) dating from the late fifteenth century, and Queen Victoria’s glove. The glove is one of the curios from the Isabella and Linnaeus Banks Collection (part of the E.L. Burney Collection). Philippa and Helen were fascinated to see the Peterloo relief fund account book which records payments made to the injured and the families of the dead, resulting from the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819. Peterloo was one of the catalysts for the launching of the Manchester Guardian. The paper was intended as a mouthpiece for liberal voices in Manchester.

Treasures from the Manchester Guardian Archive included the 1821 Prospectus which set out the ideals of the newspaper and the 1821 Agreement signed by John Edward Taylor (1791-1844) and the other founders of the paper. The agreement promised that the founders’ investments would be returned should the paper fail.

Agreement between J.E. Taylor and a group of Manchester merchants and gentlemen for financing the launch of the newspaper in 1821. Guardian Archive, GDN/260/4. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Agreement between J.E. Taylor and a group of Manchester merchants and gentlemen for financing the launch of the newspaper in 1821. Guardian Archive, GDN/260/4. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

We also looked at the wonderful Manchester Guardian centenary album which was presented to owner/editor C.P. Scott (1844-1932) in 1921. The photographs in the album were taken by staff photographer Walter Doughty (1876-1958) and each page features a different department of the paper, from editors and sub-editors, to secretaries, porters, stable boys, cooks, and cleaners. Every member of staff is named, and anyone who was absent on the day of the shoot was photographed later and pasted in. The album is a complete record of the 500-odd people who worked for the newspaper at that time.

Manchester Guardian cleaners and porters dressed in their Sunday best, 1921. Guardian Archive, GDN/140/2. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Manchester Guardian cleaners and porters dressed in their Sunday best, 1921. Guardian Archive, GDN/140/2. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Manchester Guardian dining-room staff and cooks, 1921. Guardian Archive, GDN/140/2. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Manchester Guardian dining-room staff and cooks, 1921. Guardian Archive, GDN/140/2. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

We look forward to forging closer links with our Guardian archive colleagues in the future.

 

 

Representations of Jews and Judaism in the Works of the Methodist theologian Adam Clarke (1762-1832)

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In another fruitful collaboration between the University’s Centre for Jewish Studies and the John Rylands Research Institute, Dr Simon Mayers has been working for two months on the Methodist Collections at the John Rylands Library. The subject of the project has been Adam Clarke’s discourse about Jews and Judaism. The study was conducted with the help of the rare books librarian and curator, Dr Peter Nockles, and was funded by a John Rylands Research Institute Seed Corn Fellowship. “This is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Jewish Studies related research proposals using the unique Methodist Collections,” said Daniel Langton, Professor of the History of Jewish-Christian Relations and co-director of the CJS.

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Adam Clarke (1762-1832) was a prominent Methodist theologian, preacher, and biblical scholar in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was elected three times to the Presidency of the Methodist Church’s main governing body, the Methodist Conference, and is probably best known for his eight-volume commentary, the ever so succinctly named: The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present authorized translation, including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a commentary and critical notes, designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings (1825).

Adam Clarke

Portrait of Dr Adam Clarke, 1806, ref. Meth.Arch./PLP 26/11/24

Adam Clarke’s early nineteenth-century bible commentaries and sermons provide an illustration of how theological representations of Jews and Judaism continued into nineteenth-century English discourse. Whilst some of Clarke’s stereotypes of Jews and Pharisees were reasonably traditional, some were quite unexpected and even peculiar. For example, in his ambivalent construction of Judas Iscariot in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles, Clarke stated that Judas was one of the most “infamous” and “vile” of men, and “a thorough Jew”, but he also argued that Judas could have been far worse, and that “much of the wisdom and goodness of God” was to be found in his subsequent repentance and remorse. Another example was his anachronistic projections of contemporary deism and atheism onto the Sadducees. Clarke was in line with the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the New Testament, and even some rabbinic texts, when he asserted that the Sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead, and an afterlife with rewards and punishments. However, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and in a couple of his sermons, he made a leap from that reasonably firm ground to the assertion that they were thus “materialists”, “deists” and “atheists”. According to Clarke in his commentary on Matthew, “from every account we have of this sect, it plainly appears they were a kind of mongrel deists, and professed materialists.”

One of the more traditional theological ideas in his discourse was that following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE, the Jews of subsequent generations have become an eternal witness people to the truth of Christianity (he asserted that the Jews were “preserved as continued monuments of the truth of our Lord’s prediction, and of the truth of the Christian religion”), and their role in bringing the “light for the illumination of the nations” has been transferred to “the Gentiles”. However, Clarke went further, stating in a sermon outline that God’s new representative people were even closer to home. He stated that it was “probable that the British nation is now the representative people, by and from whom all the nations of the earth are to receive the knowledge of the true God.”

The findings from this study have already been presented as a paper at the recent British Association for Jewish Studies Conference (July 2015), and are currently been written up as an article.

The Great Escape: as told by the reporters of the Guardian newspaper

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Jane Speller, Project Archivist for the Guardian newspaper foreign correspondence cataloguing project, writes:

The archive of the Manchester Guardian contains countless reports of refugees desperately fleeing Germany to escape persecution and often murder at the hands of the Nazis. From early 1933 onwards much of the foreign correspondence is dominated by these accounts.

Many refugees had no real plan of escape beyond getting across the German frontier. Reading their stories brings to mind the classic World War II film, The Great Escape (1963). Based on a true story, The Great Escape follows escapees from the infamous German POW (Prisoner of War) camp Stalag Luft III, as they desperately attempt to reach neutral Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain. Of fifty men, only three succeed in escaping; the rest are returned to prison or shot. Two men row to freedom, eventually stowing away on a Swedish merchant ship. The third man bicycles through the countryside to France, where he is guided by the Resistance to Spain.

Allied propoganda image, ‘French resistance partisans fight alongside Allied troops to retake their cities’ (around 1944) © Wikimedia Commons

Allied propoganda image, ‘French resistance partisans fight alongside Allied troops to retake their cities’ (around 1944) © Wikimedia Commons

Disappointments…

Berlin correspondent Frederick Voigt writes to his editor W.P. Crozier about the plight of the Socialist workmen who have had to leave Germany because of their political views. On 29 August 1933, he comments, that they fought against the ‘Brown Shirts’ and are now destitute and starving. There are hundreds of refugees in camps or barracks round Paris. Some quarters are alright others are squalid. More refugees are arriving all the time. Robert Dell reports from Geneva on 6 April 1933 that several thousand refugees, Jews and others have arrived at Basle and Zurich. No official measures have been taken so far to accommodate them.

As the Nazi regime progressed, it became harder to get out of the country. The majority of refugees fled illegally which meant that they arrived with few possessions, no identity papers and no money (it was forbidden to take or send money out of the country). On 27 May 1933 Alexander Werth reports from Paris that the Reuters news agency account of 25,000 Jewish refugees in Paris is incorrect. There are in fact 25,000 German refugees, of whom 5,000-10,000 are Jewish. On 27 Jul 1933 Voigt draws Crozier’s attention to a Daily Telegraph article about the 1,500 penniless refugees currently in Britain.

On 30 May 1933 Voigt writes to Crozier about the relief efforts for German refugees. He says the Hospitality Committee in England is doing good work, but its scope is limited. On 19 June 1933 he reports that in Paris suicide, venereal disease and crime are beginning to spread amongst the refugees.

Refusals…

On 30 May 1933, Voigt says he believes that less than 5% of the refugees are coming to England, due to the restrictions. Dell, Werth, Voigt and Marcel Fodor, the Vienna correspondent, all report on relief efforts for the refugees and the problems surrounding the issue of Nansen passports (refugee travel documents).

On 7 July 1933, Werth tells Crozier that Valerian Dovgalevsky, the Soviet Ambassador, has said that the Soviets might employ some of the doctors and engineers who are refugees; they might also give refugees land for settlement. Dovgalevsky was however a little sceptical in view of the ‘bourgeois’ mentality of most of the refugees, commenting ‘if they were workmen, we would take them like a shot’.

Voigt writes a letter on 23 October 1933 regarding the treatment of German fugitives who are landing in England. On arriving, several have been shocked to have been asked if they are Jewish. He suspects one particular workman who he knows personally was turned away because he is poor, even though he his papers were in order.

…and Deaths

Dell reports on 10 April 1933, that Rudolf Breitscheid (1874-1944) a leading member of the Social Democratic Party and member of parliament, has come out of Germany legally. Voigt reports on 8 April that Breitscheid would like to work, but he is too noticeable (very tall and thin, with striking features) and would be arrested immediately. Breitscheid says he is thinking of going to London to start life afresh. He is an old friend of the Manchester Guardian, and former editor C.P. Scott used to refer to him as ‘the only German Liberal’.

Rudolph Breitscheid, German Stamp, 1974 © Wikimedia Commons

Rudolph Breitscheid, East German stamp, 1974 © Wikimedia Commons

Breitscheid and his close colleague Rudolf Hilferding (1877-1941), a Marxist economist and Socialist theorist, flee Germany to the South of France. Efforts were undertaken by the Refugee Committee to get them to Spain, but they both refused to leave illegally. In 1941, they were arrested by the Gestapo.

The situation for many refugees seemed hopeless. On 30 May 1933 Voigt reports on two suicides last week in France. The situation for refugees in the Saar and in Czechoslovakia is just as bad.

On 4 April 1935 Voigt telegrams Crozier a breaking story. Dr Dora Fabian (1901-1935) and fellow political émigré Mathilde Wurm (1874-1935) have been found dead in their Bloomsbury flat, ‘a bottle which is believed to have contained poison was lying near the bodies and a mass of correspondence in foreign languages was strewn across the floor’ (The Age newspaper, 6 April 1935). Fabian was an anti-Nazi activist, writer and journalist, described by Ellen Wilkinson as ‘one of the most brilliant brains exiled from Germany by the Nazi revolt’. Wurm was a socialist, feminist and passionate anti-Fascist. She had been a close friend of the Marxist theorist and revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919).

Mathilde Wurm, Lore Agnes and Clara Zetkin

Mathilde Wurm (right) with political activists Lore Agnes (left) and Clara Zetkin (middle), in front of the Reichstag, Berlin (1919) © Wikimedia Commons

Wurm and Fabian were connected with Socialists all around the world and actively helped refugees escape from Nazi Germany.

The women became friendly with Dr Hans Wesemann (1895-1971), a German refugee in London, who unbeknown to them was a Gestapo agent. It is believed that the information gathered by Wesemann led to the arrests of a number of the women’s friends and colleagues in Germany.  Writing on 7 April 1935, Voigt suggests that the knowledge of this inadvertent betrayal drove the women to a suicide. There was however a suspicion that they were murdered by Gestapo agents, as their apartment had been burgled on two previous occasions and papers removed. This and other refugee stories are examined in The strange case of Dora Fabian and Mathilde Wurm: a study of German political exiles in London during the 1930’s by Dr Charmian Brinson.

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