Friday, 19 February 2010

Papers and papers and papers: a document trail

The beginnings
Spent two thirds of daylight hours putting my father's documents into order, beginning with my mother's Romanian birth certificate (born 17 February 1924), as supplied in 1965. But then my father's school report from school year 1932/33. Religious and moral education: Distinction. Only Satisfactory on Law and Chemistry & Technology. The matriculation certificate 1934/5: Merit. The 1937 paper that classifies him as Jewish. Another one saying the same thing, only more so, in 1939 for his father. Another certificate permitting him to be a plumber's mate in 1940. His work permit papers of the same year. Then, after the labour camps in the Ukraine and Belarus, the change of name certificate of 7 July, 1945.

An ID of the same year in both Hungarian and Russian. The party card of the Social Democratic Party (a far more left wing organisation than we understand here, and soon to be absorbed in the Hungarian Workers' Party, ie the Moscow Communists). The wedding certificate of my mother and father, giving my mother's name as Magdolna. My own birth certificate. My father's pass of 1949 stating his occupation as 'general mechanic' (a photo with it, a fag drooping from his mouth). By 1950 he is in the Ministry of Works as Department Leader. This involves a new photo, the address the one where I remember living. In 1954 a letter from the deputy minister complimenting him on being an outstanding worker and announcing a pay rise. A little certificate (no. 1186) in card form to declare him an outstanding worker of the building industry. In 1955 another letter, typed on yellowed paper, giving him another pay rise. Two hard-covered IDs, one from 1951, one from 1954. My mother's ditto, her photograph very Katerina Brac. My younger brother's diphteria certificate.

Revolution and Emigration
Then the revolution. And, after the failure of the revolution, a small signed ID permitting him to travel to Györ near the border on official work. That is when he takes us with him, and we move on to a border village, from which we walk the rest of the way into Austria.

Leap forward - two British Home Office forms permitting my mother and father to "land in the United Kingdom on condition that he registers at once with the Police". On the reverse side, hand written, a list of basic household and hygiene items in English. Also 10 December a Registration Form from the Hungarian Refugee Department of the British Council, based at the Carlton Hotel in Haymarket, giving basic personal details.

The Australia Question
Next the Australia saga of 1957-58 - a series of letters from Australia House responding to my parents' requests to emigrate to Australia where my father's cousin has been living since 1948. The first (13 March, 1957) asks for a medical examination. The next is very strange indeed. It is not from Australia House but from the Jews' Temporary Shelter on Aldgate, who must have been in charge of the arrangements. Two letters of the same date (13 May), from the same place, signed by the same person. One says a reservation has been made for the family to sail on the SS Sidney on 25 May. All we need is a visa. The other says the visa cannot be issued so we cannot sail on the SS Sidney after all. 'However', the letter ends, 'you can be assured that as soon as visa is issued to you transportation to Australia will be arranged'. Then on 10 July Australia House insist on a second medical inspection. On 30 July from Australia House a rejection of the application. Our address at this time is the maisonette in Hendon in a now-demolished house. (A wasp flies into my ear one night and stings me. Terrible pain.) One more letter, this time by air, directly from Australia (25 Sept) turning us down again, but not saying why. The correspondence is continued on 18 November, with a final appeal on 3 April 1958.

This sounds dry stuff - but it's a life, in fact four lives.

Maybe a little more of this next time.

Yellowed papers, carbon copies, names misspelt, letters offering employment, letters offering furniture and household items. Naturalisation papers. Papers cheered and wept over. Papers stuck in files, in envelopes, between other sheets of paper, some falling to pieces.

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