Monday, 17 September 2018

Back to Russia!

The second talk I did at the IAJGS Conference in Warsaw last month was Back to Russia!, about the experiences of my grandfather Louis Frankenstein and his cousin Jack Schwartz during the First World War. They had both emigrated from Gombin in Poland to London in 1913, Louis was around 20 years old, Jack a couple of years younger.

During the War they were both caught up in an episode about which little appears to be known, even by historians of the period. This was an agreement between the British and Russian governments for a reciprocal exchange of conscripts, so that Russian subjects living in Britain, and British subjects living in Russia, would be liable for military service in the country they were living in. This agreement was known as the Anglo-Russian Military Service Convention, 1917.

I have only been able to find one book which deals with this episode, War or Revolution: Russian Jews and Conscription in Britain, 1917written by Harold Shukman, a historian whose father went "back to Russia" under the Convention. Apart from Shukman's book - which is excellent - and a couple of unpublished PhDs, which were also very helpful, I found just a chapter here, a few quotations there, and nothing else. I have even drawn a blank with a number of historians whose main focus is the contribution of British Jews to the First World War, and the effects of the War on the Jewish community - even the specialists were not able to provide any useful leads.

So the story told in this talk is based on what I have been able to glean from these sources (listed at the end of the Handout, which you can read or download), and on documents found as part of my own research into the lives of my grandfather Louis and his cousin Jack. This involved, amonsgt other things, pursuing Freedom of Information requests with the National Archives, and with West Yorkshire Police.

I must say at this point that neither my family nor the Schwartz family had the faintest idea what our respective grandfathers "did during the War". We have a photo of my grandfather in some sort of military uniform, but I couldn't find any record of his military service; he doesn't appear in the British Jewry Book of Honour, which is a thoroughly researched roll-call of thousands of Jews who served in the British Forces in WW1. There is a Jack Schwartz listed in the Book of Honour, indeed there are several, and his family thought he fought in France. He didn't.
Here's the Presentation I used for the talk. Click on the image below, and you will be taken to the Presentation page. You'll be asked to give yourself a name - it doesn't matter what name you use. Then you just click on the 'Slideshow' icon - it's the blue triangle, just left of centre above the slide.  This gives you the Slideshow in all its full-screen majesty. 
You can play through it using the Spacebar, the Return/Enter key, or the right-arrow key. Most of the slides have two or three components that appear in sequence, one at a time. You'll just have to imagine the commentary that goes with them. Jan did an audio recording, but we haven't got round to processing it yet, let alone matching it up to the slides. 
When you get to the end, or feel you can't take any more, just press the Esc key.

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