Zdenka Fantlova’s The Tin Ring and Vasily Grossman’s The Road – remembering the realities of the Holocaust.

Before attending a performance of the powerful drama, The Tin Ring, brilliantly brought to life by Jane Arnfield in the intimacy of Mr.Speaker’s House at Westminster, I hadn’t known that Zdenka Fantlova would be in the audience.

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

Zdenka Fantlova with Jane Arnfield

It would be impossible not to be profoundly moved by the poignant and harrowing story of this now elderly woman. And where better to be challenged to affirm life over death and love over hate, than in the heart of the British Parliament – a building which also survived Nazi attempts to destroy it, along with the democratic values it represents.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

As The Tin Ring unfolds we learn that, somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the concentration camps, and somehow survived.

Somehow, she had retained and never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.

And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring

The Tin Ring takes us into Dante’s Hell but here is someone who has survived and emerged to give the lie to Hitler’s confident belief that he could act with impunity and never be held to account; someone who is able to speak for the countless mothers, sisters, wives, and lovers whose kith and kin were slaughtered; someone able to channel the suffering, pain, and their shocking loss into a defiant testimony.

Zdenka’s story reminds us how great is the power of true humanity; the greatness of the power of love; the triumph of life over the ideology and culture of death. Here is a love story to rebuke the evil hate story of the Shoah.

Arno’s tin ring comes to represent love, hope, truth and life itself.

The narrative reminds an all too easily forgetful world of the savagery of the Holocaust: the indifference, the silence, or collaboration of so many; and the danger of “never again” happening all over again in our own times.

The political and moral consequences of this collective amnesia – let alone the catastrophic human consequences – are appalling.

The Tin Ring uses the powerful medium of drama to address this danger of collective forgetfulness and obscene attempts to rewrite or minimise the history of those times.

But if collective memory is to have any purpose it must surely prompt us to reflect on reports, at home, of anti-Semitism and the scapegoating of minorities.

What, too, does it say to us about contemporary and horrific genocidal events overseas, from Sudan to North Korea, from Syria to Burma. Or do we mimic Neville Chamberlain’s infamous remark, as Hitler invaded Zdenka’s Czechoslovakia, that it was “a far away country about which we know very little.”

After the Holocaust world leaders declared “never again” – and after every subsequent genocide, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo, Burma, Kosovo, and the rest, they have said exactly the same thing.

We need to understand gross inhumanity precisely because it has, does, and will happen all over again.

Not long after watching the Tin Ring a friend gave me a copy of Vasily Grossman’s book, The Road.

It’s a collection of essays and short stories. Some were written after he had written first hand reports of the Battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press. Grossman – from a Russian secular Jewish background – sees the Communist USSR as the only hope in the struggle against Nazism. After Stalingrad he travels West with the Red Army and takes first hand accounts of the  industrial scale inhumanity which characterised Treblinka. My friend rightly says that The Road “should be compulsory reading for those for whom World War Two is ancient history – as a reminder of how lucky we are to be living in era of relative tranquillity.”

The Road is an amazingly powerful account of the sheer depths of evil to which man can sink. The Treblinka narrative is poignant and disturbing and Grossman’s belief in the Red Army and Lenin’s legacy, now entrusted to Stalin, is touched by a naively optimistic view of Communism. The later stories in his collection, affected by Stalin’s Great Terror and Purges, the Gulags, and the suppression of his own writing, leaves Grossman with a more realistic view of Stalin’s Soviet Union: and he was fortunate that Stalin died just before Grossman himself was about to be arrested.

Stalin died just before Grossman's intended arrest

Stalin died just before Grossman’s intended arrest


In reading The Road and watching The Tin Ring I was reminded of the remark of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, who said “do not ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man.” That same question is at the heart of Zdenka’s story, and Grossman story.

If we are to find the correct answer t0 Sack’s question “where was man?”  we will need to immerse ourselves in accounts like those contained in The Road and how good it would be if  plays like The Tin Ring were staged more widely and seen in universities, civic halls, churches and popular venues – prompting us to raise our voices and to take action on behalf of today’s Zdenkas and Arnos and challenging those who promote their own versions of twentieth century xenophobia and hatred of minorities.

Building Bridges – Links to Interviews, North Korea Freedom Week, Ooberfuse, and Ann Shin’s “The Defector” shown in the British Parliament – and mark the anniversaries of the Korean War

Tuesday June 25th, 2013 marks the anniversary of the outbreak, in 1950, of the Korean War. On July 27, it will be the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, signed in 1953. Over those three bloody years around three million people were killed – including 1,000 British servicemen, more than in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands combined. …read the rest of this article at the foot of this page…

Ann Shin, who made the movie The Defector, gave a recent talk in the British Parliament and screened the film. The meeting was attended by parliamentarians, human rights activists and several North Korean refugees now living in the UK. Ms.Shin provided links to The Defector along with links to some similar documentaries:




The Defector - shown in the British Parliament by Ann Shin - who made the powerful documentary

The Defector – shown in the British Parliament by Ann Shin – who made the powerful documentary

Salvation Army - War Cry Interview on North Korea

Salvation Army – War Cry Interview on North Korea



Join the 101,000 people who have watched “Vanish The Night” by Ooberfuse – which pleads from liberty and freedom in North Korea. Members of the band attended the screening of The Defector and their song, which features the voice of Shin Dong Hyok, pleading “do not forget us” was played :


See also:


North Korea at a crossroads:


 BBC World At One Interview about North Korea


 Vatican radio Interview on North Korea



 Liverpool Daily Post interview on North Korea by Peter Elson:


“Building Bridges – is there hope for North Korea?” (Lion)

Article for The Church of England Newspaper

David Alton.

Tuesday June 25th, 2013 marks the anniversary of the outbreak, in 1950, of the Korean War. On July 27, it will be the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, signed in 1953. Over those three bloody years around three million people were killed – including 1,000 British servicemen, more than in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands combined.

At the end of the war, at the 38th Parallel, a militarised wall was erected, dividing the peninsula. The Communist north became an isolated Stalinist State – replete with its own purges, reign of terror, and gulags – and the south a military dictatorship. Years of dangerous aggression and acts of provocation have followed – and while the south has evolved into a vibrant, thriving, democracy the northern dynastic dictatorship is known for its nuclear tests, a missile launch which cost £500 million, a vast standing army, egregious abuses of human rights and mass starvation.

Sixty years after the signing of the Armistice, the north remains formally at war with the south and with the United States. They have even managed to so antagonise their powerful Chinese neighbour that Beijing has taken to casting its Security Council vote with the United States, both censuring Pyongyang and supporting the imposition of further sanctions.

For Britain, the war with North Korea ended in 2001 when we created diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors.

In 2003, after a speech I made in the House of Lords highlighting the degrading conditions in the north’s prison camps – where 200,000 people are held and 400,000 people have died in the past 30 years – the North Korean Ambassador in London called me and protested. This led to Baroness (Caroline) Cox and I travelling to North Korea to see the situation first hand, to the subsequent formation of the Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I chair, and to the publication of several reports which Lady Cox and I have authored.

We have patiently attempted to create dialogue without appeasement; to undertake constructive but critical engagement; and to make human rights abuses a central concern. For the first time in many years the north and south have just held some face to face talks. It’s what we have been calling for.

I have now been to North Korea on four occasions and also to the River Tumen crossing in northern China where many defectors lose their lives, shot as they try to escape from a country where the 1990s famine took the lives of 2 million and where there are reports of malnutrition and even cannibalism.

At Westminster I have chaired regular sessions, taking evidence from escapees. Their accounts are recorded in the book, “Building Bridges – is there hope for North Korea?” – which I have written with Rob Chidley, and which is published by Lion.

“Building Bridges” also tells the story of Korea’s 8,000 Christian martyrs and recounts the courageous role which the churches played in leading the south to democracy. It tells the story of Robert Jermyn Thomas who took bibles to Korea and was executed; how his executioner became a Christian and how, at the place where he died in Pyongyang, there is a new university founded by a South Korean Christian, Dr. James Kim – the story of which is nothing short of miraculous.

It tells the story, too, of another event sixty years ago: the largely forgotten story of a group of Christians seized by the Communists and taken on an epic forced march.

Marched from place to place, they were given starvation rations, and frequently left exposed to the elements.

They included the Catholic Bishop, Patrick Byrne, and 76-year-old Mother Beatrix, the provincial superior of a community of French Carmelite nuns – who both died on the march; the Anglican Bishop, Cecil Cooper – who survived ; the Reverend Charles Hunt; members of the Methodist mission; Herbert Lord, head of the Salvation Army in Korea; and a clutch of South Korean politicians.

When Commissioner Lord protested that many of the group were elderly or infirm “…but they will die if they have to march” the Korean major responded “Then let them march until they die.” And most of them did.

Fr. Philip Crosbie, an Australian priest, one of the few who lived, later wrote:

“And so I came to freedom…. …All this I prize; but I have gained a still greater and more precious freedom. It is the freedom to believe in God and openly profess my faith.”

“Building Bridges” was written to ensure that these stories of great sacrifice and suffering are not forgotten but also to inspire and challenge its readers to get involved and to pray and work for much longed for change in North Korea.

David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer; is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University; was a founder of Jubilee Campaign; and is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

North Korea Freedom Week – Hear Radio Merseyside interview on launch of Building Bridges www.bbc.co.uk/radiomerseyside/programmes/a-z/by/d/current

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radiomerseyside/programmes/a-z/by/d/current Radio Merseyside interview about Building Bridges.


David Alton War Cry


Listen to Vanish The Night by Ooberfuse (featuring the voice of Shin Dong Hyok who was born in Camp 14 and witnessed the execution of his mother and brothers):

See also:


To order, use your local bookshop or Amazon:


Op-Ed article for The Catholic Herald April 2013

Last month I was in Burma. In the past I had entered the country illegally but this time I had a visa. This time I was able to meet freely with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with Government Ministers, and to speak at an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy. This time I was able to meet with members of the country’s ethnic minorities, some still at war with the regime. This time I was able to travel freely and see the first signs of Burma’s Spring.

Eighteen months ago none of this would have been possible…

View original post 1,144 more words

Claire Tomalin’s Roscoe Lecture Celebrating The Bicentenary of Charles Dickens

An audio download of Claire Tomalin’s brilliant lecture can be found at:


Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin

Dickens Bicentenary – 2012


October 31st 2012

It is especially appropriate that Ms.Tomalin should deliver this Roscoe Lecture on the life of Charles Dickens –not simply because it is the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth but also because of Claire Tomalin herself.

The subject of her first book, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, was the eighteenth century writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s education and rights, Mary Wollstonecraft who was a good friend and correspondent of William Roscoe.

After Wollstonecraft died of septicemia, in 1797, her memory was perpetuated by poems written by Robert Browning and William Roscoe. One, entitled, “Wollstonecraft and Fuseli” (Henry Fuseli, painter, who visited Roscoe at his home at Allerton Hall) includes these words:
Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life
As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife;
But harder still, thy fate in death we own,
Thus mourn’d by Godwin with a heart of stone

Roscoe’s literary reputation was greatly enhanced when, in 1796, after pursuing detailed research, he published his Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Claire owns an original first edition of that work.

Born in London in 1933 to a French father and an English mother, the Liverpool born composer Muriel Herbert. Her mother won a Liverpool scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1917, which set her on her path as a composer of songs.

Claire read English at Cambridge, graduated from Newnham College in 1954 and is now an Honorary Fellow of the college.

She worked in publishing and journalism, becoming Literary Editor of the New Statesman and later The Sunday Times before devoting herself to writing full time in the late 1980s.

Her first husband, the journalist Nicholas Tomalin, was killed reporting the Yom Kippurwar in 1973.

She has three children and three grandchildren.

She does occasional broadcasting and television, and made a South Bank Show film about Thomas Hardy with Melvyn Bragg. She has also organised exhibitions, one on Mrs Jordan at Kenwood, another on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley at the National Portrait Gallery, where she was a Trustee for ten years.

She has honorary doctorates from the following universities: Cambridge, UEA, Birmingham, The Open University, Greenwich, Goldsmiths and Roehampton.

She is married to the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn.

Claire’s connections with Roscoe and Liverpool and further underlined by the venue and the topic for tonight’s lecture.

Dickens was only 19 when Roscoe died in 1831 but he would have been very much aware of Roscoe’s role of as the father of Liverpool culture as he spoke in Liverpool several times, especially for the Mechanics’ Institute – one of whose founders was William Roscoe.

The year before his death, in 1870, Dickens came to Liverpool and was given a gala dinner here in St.George’s Hall, in April 1869.

In a letter which is dated April 4th, 1869, Dickens wrote from the Adelphi Hotel, where he was staying, to Miss Hogarth. He gives a touching account and is delighted by the warmth of the reception given to him by Liverpool people. He writes that “the town is full of festival”…and that “All the Liverpool notabilities are to muster.” He gives a list of others who will speak in his honour and they include Anthony Trollope. But it is the people of Liverpool who really take his fancy:

“One of the pleasantest things I have experienced here this time, is the manner in which I am stopped in the streets by working men, who want to shake hands with me, and tell me they know my books. I never go out but this happens. Down at the docks just now, a cooper with a fearful stutter presented himself in this way. His modesty, combined with a conviction that if he were in earnest I would see it and wouldn’t repel him, made up as true a piece of natural politeness as I ever saw.”

However, Dickens also complains about the length of the civic dinner and about the acoustics at St.George’s Hall (so some things never change!)

As a girl, and at some point during the war, Claire recalls staying at the Adelphi at some point during the war, when her great-aunt Clara Hornby used to live there for half the year. She was the widow of the man who invented Meccano. Claire says: “they were the rich side of the family, my mother’s side was poor but more interesting!”

In his street encounters we can see the raw material upon which Dickens relied for his brilliant novels.

With his extraordinary powers of observation he had the genius to transform everything he observed into both a cracking yarn and a transformative manifesto for social and personal change.

In this bicentenary year of his birth without doubt the best new biography of the life of Charles Dickens life is by Claire Tomalin. It is a deft and magisterial account which gives us new insights into the childhood traumas which shaped Dickens’ character and which he would overcome through his own efforts, passionately believing as Claire Tomalin puts it that “everything was possible to the will that would make it so” – itself a manifesto for modern citizenship and the desire to overcome the difficult things which life throws at us.

Who better and where better, then, to explore the life of one of our greatest English writers?

What Kind of Country?

What Kind of Country

David Alton

David Alton has attracted national attention with his private member’s Bill to halt late abortions.

In What kind of country? he takes a clear, uncompromising look at the state of Britain in Mrs Thatcher’s third term. He examines a country where the economy is based upon individual greed, where the words like compassion and care appear to have been erased from political textbooks, and where unemployment, inner-city decay and cuts in government subsidies are all evidence of a deeper moral and spiritual bankruptcy.

What Kind of Country? challenges the orthodoxies of all political parties, and promotes an alternative which comes from neither Left nor Right. It transcends party politics in advocating a new society of justice, equality and freedom.

He questions the values of a country which is neither Christian nor civilized.

Unfortunately a full copy of this book is not available – however visit the link below for a full copy of many other books by David Alton.

David Alton – Published books

Faith in Britain

Faith in Britain

David Alton

Who can doubt that we are living in an increasingly materialistic society? How are Christians to respond?”

Questioning whether Britain can any longer be called a Christian nation, David Alton issues a timely challenge to Christians across the political spectrum:

what can be done now and in the future to reclaim our Christian heritage?

One of the founders of the Movement for Christian Democracy, he devotes the core of his book to the movement’s foundational principles:

  1. Social justice
  2. Respect for Life
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Empowerment
  5. Active compassion and good Stewardship

At a time of great political and economic change, he argues, Christians need to grasp the new opportunities available, particularly in the light of closer ties with Europe where different examples of Christian democracy are already to be found.

“If not now, when?

If not us, who?”

For a full copy and many more books visit the link below:

Faith in Britain – David Alton

Whose choice Anyway?

Whose Choice Anyway? – The Right to Life
David Alton

AbortionHuman Life

Whose Choice Anyway? asks whether “the right to choose” can take priority over “the right to life”.

Liverpool MP David Alton led a nationwide campaign to end late abortions. On introducing his bill to Parliament, he affirmed that his principle objective was to challenge the attitudes and the climate which has led to 172,000 abortions a year.

Describing abortion as defeatist, he suggests radical alternatives based on more authentic human value.

Whose Choice Anyway? includes some of the 20,000 letters people have written to David Alton. These – and David Alton’s incisive commentary – provide a powerful close – up shot of the deep emotions aroused by the controversial Private Member’s Bill which has been placed before the House of Commons.   
Please visit the link below for the entire book and many others:

Whose choice anyway? – David Alton