Posted on Nov 18, 2019 in Editorial.
Brexit will change the relationship of the UK with the EU, as well as with the rest of the world. In many different ways, it will also affect UK and European citizens on a personal level according to individual circumstances. For the Goldsmiths, it led to changes as profound as identity.
At LifeBook, we have authors from every walk of life and every background and, similarly, the stories related within the pages of their autobiographies are as varied. Each author has his or her own reason for writing their autobiography but often the decision to start one comes about as a result of some kind of change, be it on a personal level or less specifically, foreseen or unexpected.
For the past three years, the UK has been in political turmoil following the referendum that has led to Brexit and for one author, Ian Goldsmith, it was that potential for unforeseeable change that provided the trigger for creating his LifeBook, which he wrote in conjunction with his sister Susan Ramsdale.
The siblings had always been aware of their German descent, as they knew their father had left that country during the Second World War. However, he had never spoken about his experiences nor was he certain that he was, in fact, a Jew who had been sent to England for his own safety to avoid Nazi persecution. Ian and Susan were convinced that there was an untold story behind his escape and, with the help of archives held in Germany, they carried out meticulous research to reveal a family history that had become lost in the mists of time and, in so doing, they discovered more than they had ever expected.
The research revealed a fascinating story, populated by remarkable individuals, who had faced Nazi Germany and the Holocaust with enormous tenacity and courage. However, it was also a difficult story, as many of them, it turned out, had been ‘exterminated’ in the terrible concentration camps, such as Auschwitz and Riga. Their father was one of the lucky ones for, via the Kindertransport, he had the chance to flee the horrors of the Nazi regime, and his subsequent arrival in the UK, as a young boy unable to speak a word of English, marked the start of a new life for him and, in due course, for his descendants also.
Born Salomon Robert Goldschmidt, Susan and Ian’s father was keen to assimilate into UK life. When he grew up, he changed his name to Bob Goldsmith and became a naturalised UK citizen, thereby making a conscious decision to distance himself from his German nationality in a post-war Britain where anti-German prejudice was still rife.
Time and attitudes have moved on since then and, today, Ian and Susan have no such qualms about their background; indeed, they are proud of their German-Jewish heritage. It was, therefore, a concern to them that, following the ‘leave’ result of the EU referendum, their status as Europeans might be compromised. Unsure as to what the future could hold and to secure their rights to travel freely throughout the EU and, in particular, to their fatherland Germany, they successfully applied for German citizenship, a status that is available to all people of German descent.
Given the fact that their father escaped a country that slaughtered so many of his compatriots, it might seem surprising that Susan and Ian felt so strongly about retaining their links to Germany but it was that back story to their family that they needed to hold onto and it was that same desire that spurred them on to write their LifeBook.
They also knew that the Germany of the 1940s was very different from the Germany of today, which has since faced up to its dark past and has tried to make reparation. They felt a strong connection to the country, one that could not be broken by the Brexit vote.
Susan and Ian readily admit that their father was a man of few words, especially when it came to his early life and ancestry, so when the family story was finally revealed, they were amazed at what they learned.
Furthermore, the challenge of unearthing it made them appreciate how easy it can be for this most personal of information to be lost forever.
By creating their LifeBook, they can be sure that the Goldsmith family story will be preserved for future generations so that they too will know where they have come from and will be able to share with their families that same strong link to their German-Jewish ancestry – whatever the final outcome of Brexit.
All opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by LifeBook.