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In Response to Robin Lustig’s Piece: “My Father Was An Illegal Immigrant”

August 10th, 2015 Posted by Uncategorized 2 comments

It’s good to see so many people engaging in the debate – although some seem to have as much of a problem with the BBC as with the issue of Immigration!

The subject of immigration has been much on my mind too, not least as, somewhat akin to Robin, I too have a parent who came to Britain in search of refuge.

My father is an ethnic German. His family were Germans living – until 1944 – in what is now part of N Serbia. The family and their ethnic German neighbours were called colonialists and had lived in the region since the late 18th century.
As Nazi forces began to withdraw from the Balkans in 1944 and Tito’s Partisans headed north to ‘deal with’ the Germanic Colonialists, my grandmother (then 35) decided to leave with her two small children and head for the relative safety of first Budapest, then Vienna, then Salzburg; then Bavaria — and finally the UK.
For the first 6 months they lived on lorries, in the cattle trucks of trains, in railway stations and in farm sheds. Then, despite being ethnic Germans, they received a less than warm welcome in Bavaria once they were billeted there a little while after the end of the war.
They struggled to make ends meet in post-war Germany, but made a go of it for 5 years.
Then almost out of the blue they discovered that my grandfather – presumed dead in the war – was in fact alive and living in England.

With no English, little money and two malnourished children (both of whom had serious leg injuries – another story), my grandmother, my father and my aunt made their way to England to be reunited with my grandfather. (In pre-EU Europe, it took the best part of a year to organise this.)
On arrival in Dover, all three travellers underwent a medical. My father and aunt were in fact so unwell they were immediately sent for treatment to a nearby hospital (just 3 years after the establishment of the NHS).

Despite various obstacles and hardships along the way, the family settled in the UK (not that it was easy being a German in 1950s Britain), learned English very quickly, became fully integrated, paid all their taxes and contributed considerably to the UK economy; and benefitted too from all that Britain has to offer.

So somewhat like Robin, it is this narrative that I keep in mind when seeing the plight of the migrants in Calais and elsewhere in Europe (and yes, I have seen it first hand – both now and in the Sangatte camp days).

And when even some members of my own family – I am ashamed to say – veer towards negative and disparaging remarks about the current immigration situation, I remind them of how well they were treated when they first arrived in the UK; I remind them of what the UK has given them and what they have contributed in turn.
It does tend to pull them up short – and is also a chilling reminder, if one were needed, of just how powerful and pervasive the threads of thinking provided by some of the more right-wing press really are.

There’s no easy solution. But remember there’s ALWAYS a human story too behind every single migrant’s case.

#Immigration #Calais #EU #Germans #BBC

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Maria says:

Sean, so heartwarming to read your comments. People do too easily forget that they, or someone in their family, were migrants. I first met you grandmother, your father and aunt very shortly after they came to England and when I was less than three years old. My parents, also ethnic Germans but from Romania, were making a life for themselves in England. So many years ago, and so much achieved through hard work in our country of opportunities.

Sean Klein says:

Dear Maria
Many thanks for your kind words – I really appreciate you taking the time.
I remember your Mum very fondly and how she and my grandmother always loved to share and compare their similar stories of ‘Heimat’. I hope you are all well.
Fond regards to you and yours. Liebe Grüße, Sean

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