Dr Vivien Sieber (Biological Sciences, 1975, Furness) tells of her time at Lancaster and the recent publication of the true story of her European Jewish family (1880-2020) and their struggle to survive Nazi antisemitism and the holocaust.
"When I arrived at Lancaster back in 1972 the campus was only ten years old. Much smaller than it is today, parts were a muddy building site. I had applied because I wanted to go to a new university and to study Biological Sciences as a combined degree, rather than the then traditional Botany/Zoology. I appreciated the flexibility offered by the courses – I was even allowed to swap two units of biology for history. I concentrated on plant options; notably ecology and genetics.
I spent too much time discovering the beautiful local countryside and the Lake District and danced most nights. I learnt that fieldwork normally involved rain and saltmarshes. I was neither industrious nor a good student.
Despite my lacklustre degree, I was lucky and got a job as a botany technician and did a PhD in Ecological Genetics part-time. After a few postdoctoral fellowships (Manchester, Oxford, London) I got a permanent academic job at the University of East London. The web appeared in the mid ‘90s opening new ways of teaching. I moved into learning technology and information literacy at London Metropolitan, and subsequently the Universities of Oxford and Surrey.
Somehow the varied strands of my working life came together when I began to explore my family history. My father, Peter, and grandmother, Paula, came from Vienna where she ran a cinema. They escaped the Nazis and fled to England in 1938 as penniless refugees. Paula cared for girls saved by the Kindertransport in hostels in Tynemouth and Windermere whilst Peter was interned before becoming the first enemy alien to serve in the Royal Navy and intelligence. Few of the family left in Vienna survived the genocide.
In 1999 Peter contacted many of the girls, now mature ladies, who had been in the hostels. They wrote movingly of leaving their families as small children, adjusting to life in the hostel and a very different school system. Peter also left a box of photographs, along with some correspondence and notebooks 1939 – 1952 and a couple of unpublished manuscripts.
A trip to Vienna started my quest. I was lucky to meet some of the hostel women and Kino and Kinder: A family’s journey in the shadow of the Holocaust began to take shape. I constructed a family tree, something geneticists do, and sadly discovered how many of my relatives had died. The Vienna archives were incredibly helpful so I worked out what had happened to the cinema during and after the war.
Kino and Kinder is the true story of my European Jewish family (1880 – 2020) and their struggle to survive Nazi antisemitism and the holocaust. The terrible history of twentieth-century genocide is told through the lives and writings of the survivors with over 80 historic photographs."
Kino and Kinder: A family's journey in the shadow of the Holocaust
ISBN: 978 1 914933 17 2Back to News