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War of Shadows

As World War II raged in North Africa, General Irwin Rommel was guided by an uncanny sense of his enemies’ plans and weaknesses. In the summer of 1942, he led his Axis army swiftly and terrifyingly toward Alexandria, with the goal of overrunning the entire Middle East. Each step was informed by detailed updates on British positions. The Nazis, somehow, had a source for the Allies’ greatest secrets.

Yet the Axis powers were not the only ones with intelligence. Brilliant Allied cryptographers worked relentlessly at Bletchley Park, breaking down the extraordinarily complex Nazi code Enigma. From decoded German messages, they discovered that the enemy had a wealth of inside information. On the brink of disaster, a fevered and high-stakes search for the source began.

War of Shadows is the cinematic story of the race for information in the North African theatre of World War II, set against intrigues that spanned the Middle East. Years in the making, this book is a feat of historical research and storytelling, and a rethinking of the popular narrative of the war. It portrays the conflict not as an inevitable clash of heroes and villains but a spiralling series of failures, accidents, and desperate triumphs that decided the fate of the Middle East and quite possibly the outcome of the war.

Gershom Gorenberg is an American-born Israeli journalist and blogger specialising in the Middle East and the interaction of religion and politics

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Beyond a Jewish yoke: the egg importers of Hull. A family story

he east European Jewish immigrants who settled in Britain from the 1870s to 1914 are remembered for their work in the clothing trade, and for furniture and shoe making and shop keeping. A less known but often successful occupation was their role in importing eggs from the Baltic and, more remarkably, Egypt. This talk will explain why this trade developed and why it is that I am not the great grandson of a multi-millionaire egg baron, but one that wasn’t quite so successful

Tony Kushner is Professor in the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations and History Department at the University of Southampton. He has written widely on the British Jewish experience, especially social history and comparative migration. His most recent books are The Battle of Britishness: Migrant Journeys since 1685 (Manchester University Press, 2012) and Journeys from the Abyss: The Holocaust and Forced Migration from the 1880s to the Present (Liverpool University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a study of a Jewish triple murderer and, with Dr Aimee Bunting, Co-Presents to the Holocaust. He is co-editor of the journal Patterns of Prejudice and deputy editor of Jewish Culture and History.

Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore: Between tradition and Modernity

Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century—and one of the first truly global celebrities. His wife, Judith, too was a remarkable woman who dared to venture where European few Jewish women were able to tread. Drawing on her acclaimed biography of Sir Moses, Abigail Green will discuss the life, work and legacy of this extraordinary couple – and reflect upon what it tells us about the place of Jewish men and women in the modern world

Abigail Green is Professor of Modern European History at the University of Oxford and Tutor and Fellow in Modern History at Brasenose College. She is the author of a prize-winning biography of Sir Moses Montefiore, and writes regularly for publications like the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. Abigail is currently writing a history of international Jewish liberal activism for Princeton University Press, entitled Children of 1848: Liberalism and the Jews from the Revolutions to Human Rights. She is also leading a major collaborative research project on Jewish country houses, in partnership with the National Trust.

Ich bin ein Berliner: (re)uniting 5 half-siblings from 4 different mothers

During the Covid19 pandemic in the UK in July 2020 a woman asked for help in identifying her newly-discovered (via DNA) Jewish birth-father. She could not imagine the story about to unfold. In the next three weeks, following the DNA trail and building family trees for each of 8 significant DNA hits on 3 different websites, her ties to four half-siblings were identified, all sharing the same father but with four different mothers. To be certain of the connections between the DNA matches and the half-siblings, it was necessary to use the JRI-Poland database to create family trees going back to the late 1700s. In the process the accuracy of the DNA-estimated family relationships could be compared with the true family relationships and the impact of any endogamy could be analysed.


Michael is a co-founder and Board Member of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (1995-); Vice President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB 2019-); Honorary Research Fellow – Genealogical Studies, University of Strathclyde (2020-); Former Vice President, Programming of JewishGen, Inc (1995-2018). He was Database matching consultant to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.  Michael was awarded the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Lifetime Achievement award in Washington in 2011. He was awarded the OBE for services to the Jewish Community in the Queen’s New Year Honours List 2021.




A number of attendees have asked for copies of the first group of slides from Michael’s talk giving details of the organisation involved in DNA analysis


Here is a link to these






Ten Days

Wolf’s recently-estranged wife Miriam passes away suddenly, leaving him and their teenage daughter, Ruth, behind. They travel to New York from London to scatter Miriam’s ashes in the Hudson River during the ten High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But Miriam’s conservative Jewish family are adamantly against her choice of burial. Wolf must balance these complex tensions while at the same time attempting to reconnect with his daughter, from whom he has kept a devastating secret.


A hugely moving novel about family bonds under strain, Ten Days asks fundamental questions about life and death that will stay with you a long time after the final page.

AUSTIN DUFFY’s debut novel This Living and Immortal Thing was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, was Runner-Up for the McKitterick Prize and was highly commended for the BMA Medical Books Awards. Duffy grew up in Ireland, studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and is a practising medical oncologist. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.


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The SS Officer's Armchair

It began with an armchair. It began with the surprise discovery of a stash of personal documents covered in swastikas sewn into its cushion. The SS Officer’s Armchair is the story of what happened next, as Daniel Lee follows the trail of cold calls, documents, coincidences and family secrets, to uncover the life of one Dr Robert Griesinger from Stuttgart. Who was he? What had his life been – and how had it ended?

Daniel Lee reveals the strange life of a man whose ambition propelled him to become part of the Nazi machinery of terror. He discovers his unexpected ancestral roots, untold stories of SS life and family fragmentation. As Lee delves deeper, Griesinger’s responsibility as an active participant in Nazi crimes becomes clearer.

Dr Robert Griesinger’s name is not infamous. But to understand the inner workings of the Third Reich, we need to know not just its leaders, but the ordinary Nazis who made up its ranks. Revealing how Griesinger’s choices reverberate into present-day Germany, and among descendants of perpetrators, Lee raises potent questions about blame, manipulation and responsibility.

A historical detective story and a gripping account of one historian’s hunt for answers, The SS Officer’s Armchair is at once a unique addition to our understanding of Nazi Germany and a chilling reminder of how such regimes are made not by monsters, but by ordinary people.

Paperback edition now out

£7.79 via Amazon

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A military lunatic asylum in Buckinghamshire – the Jews at Bletchley Park

Maybe unsurprisingly, Britain’s top-secret WW2 decoding centre at Bletchley Park had a hugely disproportionate number of Jews working there. Yanky describes some of the Jewish decoders and other personnel, and also explores some unexpected links between Bletchley Park and the future State of Israel

Laughing all the way to Freedom

In his autobiographical trilogy, lively, evocative, and rich with humor, Hunter College Russian professor Emil Draitser describes his life as a Jew in the Soviet Union. Shush! Growing up Jewish under Stalin opens with the author’s startling discovery: many years after making his way to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine, every time he uttered the remark “Jewish”—even in casual conversation—he lowered his voice.

This behavior was a natural by-product, he realized, of growing up in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust, Soviet Union when “Shush!” was the most frequent word he heard from his parents trying to keep a low profile. The compelling memoir provides a unique account of mid-twentieth-century existence in Russia as the young Draitser struggles to reconcile the harsh values of Soviet society with the values of his working-class Jewish family.

In Jaws of the Crocodile covers Emil’s adult years in the Soviet Union, focusing on his work for Krokodil, a major satirical publication, which was allowed “to ridicule things the state apparatus has proved wrong and worthy of criticism.” The book explores what it means to be a satirist and a Jew in a country lacking freedom of expression. His experience provides a window into the lives of a generation of artists who could poke fun and make readers laugh, as long as they toed a narrow, state-approved line.

Farewell, Mama Odessa is devoted to the travails of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union and adjustment to life in a totally different culture. Drawing on the rich tradition of Odessan humor, this autobiographical novel explores the most powerful innate motivation that drives many people to leave the country they were born and raised, about their hopes and dreams, their aspirations to achieve their full human potential.



The thrill of new technology 1914-1919; Jewish Flyers in the First World War

Young men were attracted to aviation during WW1 because it was new, thrilling and glamourous. Keen and energetic, the young recruits were drawn to aeroplanes, the latest technology and a new type of warfare; keen to do their duty for King and Country, the thrills of flying outweighed the dangers of aerial combat.

Dr Ronnie Fraser will tell the stories of some of the three hundred young Jewish pilots and observers who served with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War.



Dr Ronnie Fraser is a researcher for the website ‘British Jews in the First World War-We Were There Too’

A River could be a Tree

Angela Himsel’s memoir is about change or the possibility of change, and that rejecting your parents’ teachings and beliefs doesn’t mean rejecting them.
Angela Himsel’s memoir, A River Could be a Tree, received the NYC Big Book Award for memoir, 2019. Her Rockower Award-winning column, “Angetevka,” appeared weekly at ZEEK.net. “Angetevka” juxtaposed her current, Jewish world of kosher Coke and Kabala on the upper West Side of Manhattan with her fundamentalist Christian upbringing in Jasper, Indiana, as the seventh of eleven children waiting for Jesus to return.
Himsel’s writing has been published in the New York Times, the Jewish Week, the Forward, Lilith, BOOK, the Partisan Review, Shmate, BOMB, and online at beliefnet.com, ducts.org, and Damemagazine.com. Himsel studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for two years, earning her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Indiana University. She also holds an MA in creative writing from City College

The Northern Line: The History of a Provincial Jewish Family

Lies and secrets. Secrets and lies. All families have them. When Judy Simons discovered a locked box of papers after her mother’s death, she also unearthed a gripping family saga with secrets that had remained unspoken for over a century. Yet writing about the past is like trying to do a jigsaw when half the pieces are missing. This talk explores how we can discover the truth hidden in our own past. Judy’s research took her into immigrant ships, Manchester sweatshops, Victorian lunatic asylums and to Sheffield’s Paradise Square, once the heartland of the city’s Jewish life, where gangs of youths waited in the shadows armed with stones ready to throw at the “Jewboys” as they left cheder each evening. Drawing on diaries, letters, photographs and family heirlooms, The Northern Line forms a conversation between generations, part memoir and part forgotten Jewish social history.

Judy Simons is Emeritus Professor of English at De Montfort University Leicester and a Research Fellow at the University of London. Her books include Diaries and Journals of Literary Women and What Katy Read. She was born and brought up in Sheffield and for many years was editor of Sheffield Jewish Journal. Judy is Chair of Buxton Opera House and a trustee of the Girls Day School Trust

Jew(ets): Jewish-Christian Disputation in the Age of Enlightenment

I Want You To Know We’re Still Here

Mine is a family of readers and writers. Our house is filled with books. There are contemporary design books on the coffee table in the living room, legal books in my husband’s home office, and piles of children’s books for when my grandchildren visit. However, the side table next to my bed is piled with books about the Holocaust. Framed maps of shtetls line my office walls and pictures of relatives killed in the Holocaust are displayed on our family gallery walls.

Sometimes I feel like I exist across two polarized realities, experiencing great fulfilment from family, friends, and a meaningful career, and, at the same time, finding the joy of my life tempered by its shadows. In the darker corners of my mind live ghosts and demons who visit me from the shtetls in Ukraine where my family came from. Some of the details that make these visions so vivid are imagined because I grew up in a family where memories were too terrible to speak of.

This is the true story of four generations who have been dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath. We are four generations, survivors and survivors of survivors, storytellers and memory keepers. And we’re still here.

Esther Safran Foer is one of the most well known and influential women in Washington, D.C. Most recently she served as the executive director of the Sixth & I historic synagogue for nearly 10 years, revitalizing the cultural relevance of the historic building. Before taking over at Sixth & I, she was the president of FM Strategic Communications, a public relations firm that advised top law firms and Fortune 500 companies. Her first job in politics was on the staff of the George McGovern campaign for president in 1972.


American Heiress Peggy Guggenheim, and her Venice Modern Art Museum

This presentation by Vera Grodzinski sets Peggy Guggenheim’s art collection and patronage against her personal life that was always played out in the public eye. Born 1898, Peggy Guggenheim’s tempestuous life spanned the most of the volatile years of the twentieth century. As an American heiress she made Europe her home during the interwar years, but as a Jew she took refuge in New York to escape Nazi persecutions across a warn-torn Continent. After World War II, she returned to Europe, and settled in Venice where she created one of the best -loved modern art museums in Italy. Since her death in 1979, she has been revered as a modern art icon and her Venice ‘Modern Art Collection’ remains her unique legacy.

Vera Grodzinski is a historian of Jewish social and cultural history; she has lectured widely, and has written for academic and cultural publications here and abroad. Her scholarly interests lie with the Jewish contribution to the western cannon of modern art, whether Jews were private art collectors, commercial art dealers or public art patrons.

At present she is finishing her Memoir, set in the wider context of her family’s history:

Seven Languages, Eight Passports, Nine Lives.

Jewish Journeys, Jewish Memories.

(Her manuscript is still searching for an agent and publisher)  

The Bolsheviks, Jewish Socialists and Antisemitism

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they announced the overthrow of a world scarred by exploitation and domination. In the very moment of revolution, these sentiments were put to the test as antisemitic pogroms swept the former Pale of Settlement. The pogroms posed fundamental questions of the Bolshevik project, revealing the depth of antisemitism within sections of the working class, peasantry and Red Army. Brendan McGeever’s new book Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution offers the first book-length analysis of the Bolshevik response to antisemitism. Contrary to existing understandings, it reveals this campaign to have been led not by the Party leadership, as is often assumed, but by a loosely connected group of radicals who mobilized around a Jewish political subjectivity. By examining pogroms committed by the Red Army, McGeever also reveals the explosive overlap between revolutionary politics and antisemitism, and the capacity for class to become racialized in a moment of crisis.



Dr Brendan McGeever is Lecturer in the Sociology of Racialization and Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London and is a Research Associate at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, which is based at Birkbeck. His research examines antisemitism and other racisms, past and present. He is the author of Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2019) which is winner of the 2020 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize for History, and was given ‘Honourable Mention’ for the W. Bruce Lincoln Prize. He is a 2019 BBC ‘New Generation Thinker’.


This is talk is held jointly with the Leeds Branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England