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General 15 January 2024

One Life: A Personal Connection

Alison Strauss has written this blog post about watching One Life (PG) at the Hippodrome this weekend and about her very personal connection with the story. Alison is our Arts Development Officer (Film and Media) at Falkirk Council and is the programmer of the Hippodrome year-round and founding director of the annual Hippodrome Silent Film Festival.

Alison Strauss has written this blog post about watching One Life (PG) at the Hippodrome this weekend and about her very personal connection with the story. Alison is our Arts Development Officer (Film and Media) at Falkirk Council and is the programmer of the Hippodrome year-round and founding director of the annual Hippodrome Silent Film Festival.

I am the child of a refugee. My father, Kurt Strauss, was born in Stuttgart in 1930 to Jewish parents – Marianne and Victor Strauss (my Oma and Opa). Marianne and Victor were both born in Prague, but my paternal great-grandfather left Czechoslovakia to settle his family in Germany and took German citizenship in 1905. Growing up in Germany my dad had happy early childhood memories… of excursions into the country, winter sledging and skiing, and playing with the other children in the neighbourhood. Especially happy were his memories of annual holidays in a house in the Bohemian woods, just over the border with Czechoslovakia, where the family would gather in the summer months to escape the city for a few weeks before heading back to Stuttgart for the new term. Back at home, Dad’s former schoolmates no longer wanted to play with him and the teachers’ entry into class had lately been marked with a Nazi salute from all the children. After the summer break in 1938 dad didn’t think much of it when, instead of returning to Stuttgart, Oma took him to stay with his grandparents in Prague. Looking back, dad understood that this was his parents’ attempt to keep him safe. Opa stayed behind to look after his mother. When he did try to leave to join Oma, Victor was arrested and taken to Dachau Concentration Camp.

This moment in my dad’s life is dramatized in the new film One Life (screening this week at the Hippodrome One Life (PG)) – the story of Nicholas Winton who galvanised a small band of individuals to help hundreds of children escape Prague on the eve of World War II, and find sanctuary in Britain. Dad’s memories of those months are fragmented – he was only eight-years-old – but he recalls going with his mum to buy some baggage trunks, seeing the German soldiers marching up a main thoroughfare with Nazi flags flying from all the lamp posts… and then being on a train.

As depicted in the film, eight trains of children left Prague and arrived at Liverpool Street Station in London. My dad and my Oma were on one of those trains. By some near-miracle, Opa was waiting on the platform to greet them. Apparently, alerted to Victor’s arrest, the Germany Emergency Committee at (Quaker) HQ in London had sent a 20-year-old Case Worker for the Quaker Relief effort, called Kathleen Brookhouse, to “look into it”. By means lost to history she found Opa, got him out of Dachau and over to England.

Watching One Life at the Hippodrome last night was deeply moving – not just because the story was so close to me personally but because the cinema was unusually busy – full with people who were likewise moved by the simple story of good deeds done by ordinary people to oppose great wrongs.

Our Hippodrome screenings coincide with the week in which the TV drama series Mr Bates Vs. the Post Office has changed the course of a twenty-year public scandal. Proof, if proof were needed, that the Arts have the power to open our eyes, change our minds, prompt debate and even prompt political and historical change. As film critic Roger Ebert famously said, “film is “a machine that generates empathy”. Film – and all the Arts – can put you inside somebody else's head and show you the world through somebody else's eyes. It fills me with hope that the feeling of walking in others’ shoes that we get when we are immersed in the onscreen story of Mr Bates, or Nicholas Winton, or someone like Kathleen Brookhouse, can stay with us as we walk in our everyday lives. A story about the plight of refugees eighty-five years ago might open our hearts to refugees today and inspire us to good deeds and positive actions.

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