Thursday 21 December 2023

Britain's teachers say "Farewell" to their towering beacon of light, the brilliant, charismatic educationalist, Tim Brighouse

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Tim, who has died at the age of eighty-three, was recognised, in his fifty year career, as a giant among 20th century educationalists said in 2005 :

"There's a two-fold purpose to education. One is, kind of, are we going to make life better economically whether, as an individual or collectively as a society ? And the second and in my book the far more important purpose of education - it's a moral one. If you don't have an educated people they can't be free. There's a form of mental slavery which is as real as any economic one. We're pledged to destroy it. Educationalists have to do that and they do it by unlocking kids' minds".(link)

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Born  in the market town of Loughborough in Leicestershire in the first full year of the Second World War on a day in January 1940, when it was -4 degrees c, in the coldest month on record for almost 50 years. The son of Mary and Denison, he recalled that he was : "Influenced by an event at the age of ten. I went to a pretty prestigious boys grammar school in the Midlands and was a school phobic". The school in question was Loughborough Grammar School and he said that he became a phobic : "Because smiling just wasn't part of the curriculum". "I would weep at night, I would be physically sick in the morning – this lasted for half a term until my dad lost his job, he sold televisions and we moved to Lowestoft”.(link)

In the coastal town in East Suffolk where, o
n the first day at his new school, his eldest brother agreed to check on him at break time, Tim recalled : “But when I met him I said, "You can push off, I’m perfectly happy here, I like this place". "I remember the first school in black and white, the second in colour”. He described it as a : "Sleepy country kind of school with no prep at all, but amazing interpersonal relationships". He might have added that it wasn't single sex. Tim said : "There was a relaxed expectation, and I went from being miserable, to loving school". At the first school he was tested each week. Students sat in rank order and were treated that way too. The second did none of this: “They made everybody feel they were special. They were fantastic teachers”.

At Lowestoft County Grammar School his favourite teacher, Mr Spalding, taught history and inspired him to study it further. “He was a terrific person. He was the archetypal after-the-War, been-in-the-War, rode a sit-up-and-beg bike, smoked a pipe, you never knew quite where he was coming from; he would argue one thing one lesson then come in the following lesson and argue the exact opposite; made you do this and that; ran the school debating society, collected stamps, was a fisherman as well, an angler. I kept in touch with him until… well maybe probably a year or two before he died. I thought he was a fantastic guy”.

Although Tim didn't know it at the time, this experience of school was to determine what he did for then rest of his life. He said : "I'm sure that at that very early age I was thinking 'eh, eh, eh ?' What is the difference between schools that work well and schools that don't work well ? Is it about individuals, group or whatever ?" 

After taking his 'A' levels in 1958 he gained and thanks to Mr Spalding and after several attempts, a place to read Modern History at St. Catherine's College, Oxford and thoroughly enjoyed his time there, though initially he felt out of his depth. He recalled : “Nobody went from my school to Oxford. I remember being horrified, rolling into an Oxford college to find these hundreds of public schoolboys, all of whom read everything that you could ever read, and I’d only ever read about two or three books”.

 graduation approached he said : "I really wanted to be a journalist, but my parents said it was too hazardous" and "I suppose I decided : 'Well I'd like to be a teacher and I might do a bit of History as well and that turned 
out to be true"He stayed on in Oxford as a post graduate in the Department of Education and gained his certificate in teaching in 1961 and taught history in grammar and secondary modern schools, winding up in Monmouthsire. He aspired to be a headteacher because he thought they : "Can shape schools and make them different". With his ability and potential clearly manifest, he moved into his first post in school management as a twenty-six year old Deputy Head Teacher at Kingsmark Secondary Modern (now Chepstow School). 

He said however, that he got knocked off course when : "The guy in the school down the road from me said : "Why don't you apply for this job in Monmouthshire ?" which was to be an administrative assistant looking after sites and buildings. I said : "That's just the exciting thing I'd love to do. It was an opportunity to shape how Monmouthshire went comprehensive". Tim got the job and effervesced with enthusiasm and said : 
“Educational administrators after the War, there was a number of them and they were amazing. I wanted to do that sort of thing. It looked fun!” He said of the leader of the administrative team that from him he : "Learnt a tremendous amount. You've got certain people you measure yourself against" and asked himself the question : "Can I be that sort of administrator who is creative and makes a difference and gives the professional lead ? And I was really lucky that I've had job opportunities that have given me that".

In the early 1970s moved to Buckinghamshire County Council's Education Department and teamed up with the equally charismatic, Geoff Cooksey. Their joint project was the creation of Stantonbury Campus, 
the first purpose-built comprehensive school for Milton Keynes New Town where Geoff was to be its first director. Together they designed state-of-the-art buildings focused on a magnificent resource area and theatre with the arts central in school life and as a community school, it was carpeted throughout. Like some other secondary schools built at that time, Stantonbury espoused unashamedly progressive ideas and the curriculum featured interdisciplinary work. For some, most radically, uniform was rejected and teachers and pupils were on first-name terms as a sign that they were all in it together.

In 1993 he took his post as Chief Education Officer in Birmingham and later said that it was : 
"The best time of my life. It was a job I prayed I would get, because I was over fifty and I thought I was finished". When he was scheduled to start work he turned up to the office a week late. He had, he told amazed officials, spent the week visiting schools there to find out what was going on. Birmingham at that time was at such a low ebb that thirteen schools had opted out of the local authority in the year before Tim started and joined the Tories' new grant-maintained sector. He said : "They wanted to write targets into my contract. They asked me what would be a reasonable number of schools opting out in my first year. I said: what about none?" Needless to say, Tim met his self-imposed goal.

Tim went visiting schools and held workshops - eleven of them in his first year - in which all the city's headteachers participated. His aim was simple : School improvement. He wanted to examine the processes and practices that made the huge differences in schools with teachers and share what worked with everyone. He said : "I wanted to find good practice in Birmingham and open the window and say 'My goodness, look at this. Are we not energy creators in this place?'"

He had been only been in the job for a short time when John Patten, the Government's Education Secretary, launched an extraordinary attack at a Tory party conference fringe meeting and said of Tim : "I fear for Birmingham, with this madman let loose, wandering the streets, frightening the children".  Tim recalled : “He made it within three weeks of my arriving in Birmingham and don’t forget, I was going back into local authority administration, so within three weeks, that was all over the press”. 

Tim felt he had no choice but to pursue a complaint in court. In the event it did him a bit of good because he said : “The fact that I won it and gave the settlement money to inner city education and the fact that during the ten months of the case, the politicians in Birmingham said : "You don’t want to tangle with him, he takes on Secretaries of State, so if he says something – listen". He said : "It did mean that I could take lots and lots of risks and I knew the politicians wouldn’t try anything”. It was typical of Tim that he used some of it to set up the University of the First Age, to encourage out of hours activities to enrich school children's learning.

During his time, Birmingham school results constantly increased and he became renowned for kindnesses, sending perhaps as many as 10,000 letters of congratulations and thankyou to teachers, and even turning up with champagne to one school after a tough Ofsted inspection after the ordeal was over. All was evidence of his belief that people work well when they are happy and engaged and he would do his bit to enhance that and said : “Blooming hell…that’s about being human! It isn’t that I won’t confront difficult situations where people have made a balls-up of something, because I have, and I do, and I would. But I do think they deserve dignity. And if somebody has not made a success of a particular school, they may have made a success of it earlier on. They may have been a very good head in another place or they may have been a fantastic deputy or they may be fantastic with difficult kids”.

During his tenure in Birmingham in 1999, he clashed with the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead who 
was infuriated after Tim gave evidence to the Government's Education Select Committee's inquiry into Ofsted that questioned the accuracy of its inspections. Tim was tired of being caricatured as championing 'trendy' teaching methods, while Woodhead was represented as the guardian of traditional values. He said : "I do believe in inspection, though I think we should have a better inspection system. I do believe in raising standards". Tim was thought to have been angered by an anonymous article in the Mail on Sunday written by an 'education insider' which parroted the views of Woodhead and attacked Tim with large parts of the article were very similar to speeches made by Woodhead.

It is not an exaggeration to say that his achievements in what had, by general consent, been the worst education authority in England, changed the debate on big-city schooling. As Ofsted put it in an almost lyrical report in 2002, two years after Woodhead left his post, Birmingham was : "An example to all others of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environment". Tim's role was recognised when it said its success was attributable above all, to : "The energising and inspirational example set by the Chief Education Officer".

Education expert, Professor Ted Wragg said : "He is outstanding. He works with people rather than against them. He gives teachers a great sense of belonging rather than making them feel they are victims of policies. Birmingham teachers are much more positive than teachers elsewhere, they are not beleaguered. They see themselves as part of a great crusade. When I did my inquiry a damn good city was being badly let down on its education. Now it's a model for the nation. If I was asked to do an education commission anywhere else, I would not bother with taking evidence. I would produce a three-word report which would say: 'Appoint Tim Brighouse'".

In his book 'How Successful Headteachers Survive and Thrive' Tim suggested that Heads should greet children and teachers as they enter school. They should go on a daily walk, talking to kitchen staff and cleaners as well as teachers, and sometimes follow a pupil through a day's lessons. They should be not 'scolds' but 'skalds' - a Scandinavian word for poets who inspire warriors before battle - recalling great deeds and anticipating further triumphs. They should sa
y "we", not "I". And they should spend two hours a week doing "acts of unexpected kindness", remembering birthdays and writing appreciative notes.

Tim's next move was to London in 2002 where he was the G
overnment-appointed London Schools Commissioner or "Tsar". Stephen Twigg who, as an Education Minister, worked with Tim in his role said :  "He exceeded expectations. He brought incredible energy".Tim himself said at the time : "I've been deliberately not visible in London. I've made an impact on schools, but not on the public. I didn't think the London media, particularly the Evening Standard, would give me a fair crack of the whip. It would have been a time and energy trap".

He instituted the 'London Challenge', a scheme to make the capital 'A  world leader in education" by offering extra support to 70 disadvantaged schools and five low-performing boroughs. He was asked, in a meeting, by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, if there was anything he wanted to add to the London Challenge prospectus ?  Tim said his suggestion that they should include something about the chaotic state of secondary school admissions in the capital was : “Greeted with an audible silence”, after which, he admits, he backed off the subject. He reflected : “I have no idea how often I spoke truth to power; I am not sure I did enough. I didn’t fight hard enough over admissions and I am conscious now that I should have done more". He was pleased with what he had achieved but this nagged at him and he said : "Because we didn’t address admissions or exclusions and you see the results of that now in the children who are effectively forgotten by the system”.

Interviewed in 2015 when he was seventy-five, Tim said : "I keep in touch with teaching because I always hankered after being a head teacher and I really, really, really wanted to be a head teacher, That's my greatest regret and the headteachers I've worked with and there have been many, have always said to me : "That's your problem really - frustrated head teacher".

Inspiring young teachers in a meeting in Northern Ireland he deployed George Bernard Shaw with his : 

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations”. (link)

His son, Harry Brighouse, who works as political philosopher at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the U.S.A said : “He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and a towering figure in the word of education. He never wavered in his belief that teachers and schools change children’s lives for the better”.

In the final chapter of his last book, 'About Our Schools', published last year, he expressed the same hope that had ­sustained him throughout his career, looking forward to the dawn of :

“A new educational age — a time of hope, ambition and collaboration”.   


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What you said about my post : 

Harry Brighouse : 'This is a very nice and accurate account of Tim Brighouse's life : lots of detail and some pictures !'

Tony Gallagher : 'Many thanks for this wide-ranging tribute to one of the greatest educators of our time. Anyone who met with Tim Brighouse will recognise his qualities and inspiration in this tribute'. 

Helen Salmon : 'Wonderful inspirational man. He inspired so many of us. We need more like him in education now'. 

Seb Schmoller : 'I enjoyed reading that. One of the greats : tremendous presence, easy to take risks with, uncompromising, committed, convincing'.

Colin Pettigrew : 'That's marvelous, thank you for sharing John and I will certainly hope that 2024 and one of Tim's many legacies will be : "A new educational age - a time of hope, ambition and collaboration "'.

Dr Karamat Iqbal : 'Thank you. Added to my reading list between Christmas and new year; will be useful in my own writing about Tim'.

Carol Atherton : 'This is a lovely tribute. Such an important figure and a genuinely inspiring man'.

Primary Head : 'A lovely article!'

David Jones : 'That was a great read'.

Sonya Lanckham : 'What a beautiful tribute. May you rest in peace, Sir Tim'.

Juliet Robinson : 'A lovely tribute'.

Dr Jill Berry : 'Loved it. Thanks for sharing John'.

Mel Ainscow : 'Don't miss this splendid account of Tim's journey'. 

Juliet Robinson : 'Thank you for sharing ! A lovely tribute'.

Matthew Crawford : 'This is a wonderful tribute, thank you for sharing'.

Walkerdine : 'Thanks John. That's excellent'.

Tidbury Green School : 'Thank you. A wonderful read'.

Maureen Hunt : 'That's amazing - well done'.

Dr Kenny Frederick : 'A fabulous tribute. No more that he deserved ! Thank you !'

Brian Lightman :  'A wonderful tribute to a great educationalist'.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Britain once again remembers the work of Nicholas Winton who saved the lives of so many children before the Second World War

Nicholas, who was a wonderful example of what can be achieved by selfless determination, died at the age of 106 in 2015. The previous October he had flown to the Czech Republic to receive the country's highest honour, the 'Order of the White Lion', from the President, in recognition of his saving, though his 'kindertransport', 669 Jewish children from certain death under the Nazis in 1939.(link)

Now, bringing Nicholas back into view, we have the World premier of the film, 'One Life' starring Anthony Hopkins as the older Nicholas having its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and its European premiere at the 2023 London Film Festival, followed by a theatrical release in the United Kingdom on 5 January 2024 by Warner Bros. (link)

Although this extraordinary man outlived many of the children he saved, 6000 people are alive today because of the success of his efforts in Central Europe on the brink of the Second World War, 84 years ago. His motto had been : 


Nicholas was born in 1909 in Hampstead, London, the son of German Jewish parents, Babette and Rudolf Wertheim. Due to anti-German feeling in the First World War, the family changed their name to Wortham. Babette became Barbara and both Lottie and Nicky (Nicholas) were christened. After the war they changed back to Wertheim but in 1938 to avoid seeming German once again, they changed one last time to Winton. Nicky, captured on camera with with sister Lottie and brother Bobby in about 1917. His was a favoured childhood and his father, a successful banker, housed his family in a 20-room mansion in West Hampstead, London. 

At the age of 14 in 1923, his parents sent him to board at the fee-paying public school for boys, Stowe School in Buckinghamshire which was newly opened. Although he only attended for three years, his time there had a huge influence on his developing character. He was inspired by the enlightened, charismatic principal, J. F. Roxburgh, and stayed in touch with him for many years.  It was also where he learnt and developed his love and skill at fencing, a sport he excelled at and continued into his 40s.  He regularly attended the school chapel and became confirmed in March 1925.

Then on leaving school, without qualifications at the age of seventeen, he followed in his father's footsteps and began his apprenticeship in international banking working first for Midland Bank, then Behrens Bank in Hamburg, followed by Wasserman Bank in Berlin. 

In 1931, at the age of 22, moved to France and worked for the Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris, then returned to London and became a Stock Exchange broker. Witnessing the devastating effect of the Great Depression on British workers and their families in the early 1930s led him to politics. He joined the Labour Party, becoming friendly with influential centre-left MPs like Aneurin Bevan, Jenny Lee, Stafford Cripps and George Russell Strauss. His connection with them continued through the 1940s. It was their lively discussions about Hitler’s true intentions and the futility of appeasement with Hitler prepared him for understanding the situation in Czechoslovakia as it developed.

At the age of twenty-nine, before Christmas 1938, he was planning to travel to Switzerland for a skiing with his friend, Martin Blake, working for the 'British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia' trying to help those perceived 'opponents' of the Nazis fleeing from the recently German occupied Sudetenland region of the country.

He cancelled the holiday after a phone call from Martin who said : "I have a most interesting assignment and need your help. Don't bother bringing your skis" and at his request, joined him in Prague. They now visited Jewish families, fleeing Nazi persecution and living in appalling conditions in refugee camps. Finding no plan the get the children out, Nicholas set up office using the dining room table in his hotel room in Wenceslas Square in Prague.

He then set up an office with the young Latin school teacher, Thomas Chadwick, used to distribute questionnaires and register the children. When Nicholas was knighted in 2003, he said Trevor, who stayed in Prague to organise the evacuations, was the real hero. He arranged forged documents and had to befriend Nazi officers in Prague to fool them.(link)

He returned to England, visited the Home Office and found each child had to have a £50 guarantee to pay for re-immigration and a foster family to take them in and on receiving photos and names of children, advertised in papers and worked with organisations, like the Quakers, to find foster families while continuing to work at the Stock Exchange.

He now devoted late afternoons and evenings to rescue efforts, often working deep into the night, with his Mother as secretary and a few volunteers and pretended to be more 'official' by taking stationery from the 'British Committee' and adding 'Children's Section' to its header, making himself 'Chairman'.

Nicholas found that : "Officials at the Home Office worked very slowly with the entry visas. We went to them urgently asking for permits, only to be told languidly, 'Why rush, old boy? Nothing will happen in Europe.' This was a few months before the war broke out. So we forged the Home Office entry permits" and also paid off officials : "It took a bit of blackmail on my part. It worked. That's the main thing".

He now successfully organised 8 transports, the first by plane and then train and on September 1, 1939 found the biggest, cancelled when Hitler invaded Poland and all borders controlled by Germany were closed. He carried with him the picture of hundreds of children waiting eagerly at the station in Prague. He recalled : "Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared. None of the 250 children aboard was seen again. We had 250 families waiting at Liverpool Street that day in vain. If the train had been a day earlier, it would have come through. Not a single one of those children was heard of again, which is an awful feeling".

With the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany in September 1939 Nicholas served as an ambulance driver in the Army, before serving in the Royal Air Force and then trained pilots. After the War, he became involved with working for the mentally handicapped and building homes for the elderly for the Abbeyfield Society. In 1983 he was awarded the MBE for his work and saw the retirement village in Windsor, appropriately named 'Winton House'.

He said of his War work : "I didn't really keep it secret. I just didn't  talk about it". This remained the case until he was 57 in 1988, when his wife, Grete, found the scrapbook he had been given after the War in the attic, with the children's photos, list of names and a few letters from parents of the children to him and shared the story with Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust historian and wife of newspaper magnate, Robert Maxwell, who arranged for the Sunday Mirror to publish articles on his deeds.

He made an appearance on Esther Rantzen's BBC tv programme, 'That's Life', in 1988 who asked : "Whether any in the audience owed their lives to him ? and, if so, to stand", at which point more than two dozen people surrounding him rose and applauded and because the programme was aired nationwide, many other rescued children wrote to and thanked him.(link)

Nicholas saw his story become the subject of two films by Czech filmmaker Matej Mináč: 'All My Loved Ones' and the award-winning 'Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good'. He met Bill Clinton at the New York Premier when he was 93 in 2002, who, as a luminary, Nicholas said, was his favourite, because : "You could have a proper conversation with him".

In  2003, a bronze statue put up outside Liverpool St Station, depicting the children he rescued and a thousand kilometers away and in 2009 a bronze statue was installed with Nicholas holding two of the children in Prague Central Station. Also, in 2010, a bronze life sized statue placed on the platform at his local Maidenhead Railway Station, showing him reading a book with images of the children and the trains he used to save them.

He added commentary to a 96 minute long documentary 'Nicky's Family' released in 2013 when he was 104 years old.(link) In the same year 120,000 children in the Czech Republic signed a petition to request he be awarded the 'Nobel Peace Prize'. In his last year he had his story told by the US tv programme '60 Minutes : Sir Nicholas Winton "Saving the Children".(link) He also received the Anna Politkovskaya Award. (link) Just before he died his daughter Barbara published his life story : 'If it's Not Impossible'. 

Nicholas said : 

"I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help. If people lived together, for the moment, their religion : the fundamental ethics of goodness, decency, love, honour. The world we be a different place".

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On the death of Nicholas in 2015 I tweeted a link to the post I had composed for Nicholas to Roger Cohen, a journalist at the New York Times, for which he thanked me and the next day produced a moving article in the Times entitled :

An Old Man in Prague

The Discretion of Nicholas Winton

'An old man went to Prague this week. He had spent much of his life keeping quiet about his deeds. They spoke for themselves. Now he said, “In a way perhaps I shouldn’t have lived so long to give everybody the opportunity to exaggerate everything in the way they are doing today."

At the age of 105, Sir Nicholas Winton is still inclined toward self-effacement. He did what any normal human being would, only at a time when most of Europe had gone mad. A London stockbroker, born into a family of German Jewish immigrants who had changed their name from Wertheim and converted to Christianity, he rescued 669 children, most of them Jews, from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. They came to Britain in eight transports. The ninth was canceled when Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The 250 children destined for it journeyed instead into the inferno of the Holocaust.

Winton, through family connections, knew enough of the Third Reich to see the naïveté of British officialdom still inclined to dismiss Hitler as a buffoon and talk of another war as fanciful. He raised money; he procured visas; he found foster families. His day job was at the Stock Exchange. The rest of his time he devoted to saving the doomed. There were enough bystanders. He wanted to help. Now he has outlived many of those he saved and long enough to know that thousands of their descendants owe their lives to him.

Back in Prague, 75 years on, Winton received the Order of the White Lion, the highest honor of the Czech Republic. The Czech Air Force sent a plane. He was serenaded at Prague Castle, in the presence of a handful of his octogenarian “children.” The only problem, he said, was that countries refused to accept unaccompanied children; only England would. One hundred years, he said, is “a heck of a long time.” The things he said were understated. At 105, one does not change one’s manner.

Only in 1988 did Winton’s wartime work begin to be known. His wife found a scrapbook chronicling his deeds. He appeared on a BBC television show whose host, Esther Rantzen, asked those in the audience who owed their lives to him to stand. Many did. Honors accrued. Now there are statues of him in London and Prague. “I didn’t really keep it secret,” he once said. “I just didn’t talk about it.”

Such discretion is riveting to our exhibitionist age. To live today is to self-promote or perish. Social media tugs the private into the public sphere with an almost irresistible force. Be followed, be friended — or be forgotten. This imperative creates a great deal of tension and unhappiness. Most people, much of the time, have a need to be quiet and still, and feel disinclined to raise their voice. Yet they sense that if they do not, they risk being seen as losers. Device anxiety, that restless tug to the little screen, is a reflection of a spreading inability to live without 140-character public affirmation. When the device is dead, so are you.

What gets forgotten, in the cacophony, is how new this state of affairs is. Winton’s disinclination to talk was not unusual. Silence was the reflex of the postwar generation. What was done was done because it was the right thing to do and therefore unworthy of note. Certainly among Jews silence was the norm. Survivors scarcely spoke of their torment. They did not tell their children. They repressed their memories. Perhaps discretion seemed the safer course; certainly it seemed the more dignified. Perhaps the very trauma brought wordlessness. The Cold War was not conducive to truth-telling. Anguish was better suffered in silence than passed along (although of course it filtered to the next generation anyway.)

But there was something else, something really unsayable. Survival itself was somehow shameful, unbearable. By what right, after all, had one lived when those 250 children had not? Menachem Begin, the former Israeli prime minister whose parents and brother were killed by the Nazis, put this sentiment well: “Against the eyes of every son of the nation appear and reappear the carriages of death. ... The Black Nights when the sound of an infernal screeching of wheels and the sighs of the condemned press in from afar and interrupt one’s slumber; to remind one of what happened to mother, father, brothers, to a son, a daughter, a People. In these inescapable moments every Jew in the country feels unwell because he is well. He asks himself: Is there not something treasonous in his existence” '.