Jane Haining: The Only Scot to Die in Auschwitz

Written by: Josh Minister

In the summer of 1944, a woman, unknown to many, stood out from the misery and suffering of those about to enter the barracks at Auschwitz. Her pale skin and bright blue eyes indicated that she was not Jewish. She had been transported from a holding camp in Budapest to Auschwitz where she died, supposedly of ‘cachexia following intestinal catarrh,’ however, it is unknown whether this is the truth, or whether she died in the gas chambers. She died only within a few weeks of arriving. She sacrificed herself helping and protecting Jewish children in her care. Her name was Jane Haining.

She was born in Dunscone in 1897, and her mother died when she was only five years old. As a result, she assumed her mothering role from an early age as she took on much of the care of her younger sisters. This is where Jane’s nurturing side stemmed from, and arguably spurred her on to join the Scottish Mission in Budapest, to assist Jewish schoolgirls.

Jane was immediately adored by the hundreds of children whom she looked after. Many children were orphans, or from impoverished families and so she assumed a maternal role to them. In a letter she talks of a new girl arriving at the school which reflects Jane’s gentle and loving nature:

“She seems to be a lonely wee soul and needs lots of love. We shall see what we can do to make life a little happier for her.”

She bravely stayed in Budapest when war broke out, and disobeyed orders from the Church when told to return for her safety. Haining stated that ‘If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?’ This quote has become synonymous with Jane as it deeply reflects her bravery, and her love for her students. In the years after the war, her former students said that she was not able to recognise that she was working in what the Nazi party considered evil work.

In March 1944, Nazi troops marched into Budapest. It is said that Haining wept as she sewed on the yellow stars that branded her children as Jews. Her open sympathy for the Jews put her in danger, and the morning after scolding the cook’s son-in-law for stealing food intended for the girls, the Gestapo arrived at the school. Jane was arrested on suspicion of ‘espionage on behalf of England’. The words ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch’ still resonates with her former pupils to this very day.

Jane was a political prisoner and was taken to the labour camps where inmates were beaten and chased with dogs. She survived just two months and died at the age of 47. Over a million people were executed in Auschwitz, among them No. 79467, Jane Haining.

She was posthumously honoured by the UK government for ‘preserving life in the face of persecution’ and is the only Scot to be officially recognised at Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel. In 2017, she was the focus of a new exhibition in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest. Spokesman Zoltan Toth-Heinmann said the Church of Scotland said that Jane was a ‘unique and important’ figure. Her story had been neglected in the city and Mr Toth-Heinmann said he was determined to ensure that as many people as possible learned about her extraordinary story and bravery in the face of evil.

In Scotland, a heritage centre inside Dunscore Parish Church, now in part tells the story of Jane and has attracted many people who want to learn about her story. In Glasgow, where she attended church at Queen’s Park West in the Crosshill area, now has a stained-glass window in memory of a woman who was driven by her devout Christian faith.

Jane’s story is now known among many British Holocaust scholars and is recognised across Europe as someone who persevered through evil demonstrating the principles of love, generosity, and bravery.


Image: Photograph of Jane Haining

The Artificial Construction of Iraq

Written by: Martha Stutchbury

In 1921, the British combined three Mesopotamian vilayets (districts) into statehood under King Faisal I, establishing the geo-political territory that we recognise as present-day Iraq. This article briefly considers the ethnically and religiously diverse composition of Iraq in 1921, and the subsequent attempts of British and Iraqi authorities to engender a national identity amongst the divided population.

Guiditta Fontana claims that the British initially intended to construct Iraq as a predominantly ethnically homogeneous state. It was hoped that this would ease the country’s transition into nationhood, and aid the development of a national or cultural identity during a period of such geo-political upheaval. Indeed, Arnold T. Wilson – British Civil Commissioner of Mesopotamia in 1919, claimed that the frontiers of the future state “should, as far as possible, be racial” as opposed to geographical or economic. However, Fontana argues that it was subsequently decided that “financial demands” associated with maintaining the Mesopotamian region undermined this aim for her Majesty’s government. London ‘pushed ahead’ with the construction of the Iraqi state, with regional and ethnic compatibility as a decreased priority.

Subsequently, the state of Iraq was constructed from three key regions: each with distinct economic and cultural allegiances: Basra, orientated towards the Persian Gulf and located close to the country’s borders with Kuwait and Iran, had a history of trading primarily with India; Baghdad, which became the nation’s centrally located capital city, traded and identified predominantly with Iran; and Mosul, in Northern Iraq, maintaining economic links to Anatolia and Greater Syria. In 1921, Faisal – a monarch selected by British authorities and without a popular mandate for rule amongst his citizens, was coronated in Baghdad to the soundtrack of Britain’s national anthem – a ceremony and choice of music that epitomised the complete absence of national identity in the new country. Iraq was absent of many symbolic and functional representations of statehood, including an army.

What is fascinating in the construction of Iraq is the ethnic and religious composition of its population. Arabs made up approximately 80 percent of the population at the time of Iraq’s formation, of whom slightly over half were Shi’a Muslims, culturally ‘tied’ to and aiming to maintain their links with the Shi’a-dominated Iran. The remainder of the Arabs were Sunni Muslims, who were proportionately over-represented in the government of the new state, generating a cycle of protest and repression that has come to characterise much of Iraq’s modern internal conflict. Contributing even further to the divided population in 1921 was the presence of both an Assyrian Christian minority in the North of the country, and the existence of a substantial Jewish community in Baghdad. Particularly impressive in Britain’s construction of the state was their failure to appreciate the complete ethnic and cultural divergence of the population’s remaining 20 percent, who were Kurdish, and uninterested in the enforced development of a national identity.

It is the dysfunctional composition of this population that leads Fontana to such a cynical analysis of Iraq’s history. She argues that we can characterise much of Iraq’s past through: “the persistence of tensions between different ethno-religious groups,” as well as “the efforts of Sunni dominated central governments to impose their…authority over the Kurds”. To this day, the Kurdish population seeks independence from the Iraqi state, marking the continued failure of Iraq’s government to acknowledge their cultural autonomy.

Perhaps surprisingly, considering the state’s lack of national unity, Iraq achieved its admittance to the League of Nations – signifying its independence, in 1932. This was before other, arguably more unified, British mandates in the Middle East (such as those in Lebanon and Syria) had achieved such status. This was due in part to attempts at state unification that took place quickly after 1921, such as the creation of a national curriculum. Indeed, by 1930, the number of secondary students in Iraqi state education had increased from just over 200, to over 20,000. But perhaps most significant in the short-term development of nation-statehood was the creation of the Iraqi army in 1921. The army was to become a significant symbol of national identity within the new state and, after Faisal’s death in 1933, played a consistent role in opposing the four Sunni elites that came to dominate and divide Iraq’s government.

Faisal himself must be considered instrumental in the attempted creation of nation-statehood within Iraq. Despite his allegiance to the British government, who had appointed him King in 1921, he played an important role in contesting the British acquisition of oil concessions; becoming increasingly sceptical of Britain’s obtrusive efforts to obtain oil monopoly in Iraq. However, the fragile state remained desperate for the royalty funds that would accompany a British concession.  Therefore, in 1925, a 75-year concession was awarded to the firm that would come to be known as the ‘Iraq Petroleum Company’ – a ‘turning point’ in Iraq’s political and economic relationship with the UK. Faisal’s death in 1933 resulted in significant regression regarding the political unity of the state, whose elites persistently bickered without the King’s skilful mediation. This arguably caused a return to increased levels of the divided sectarianism that first presented itself in 1921, and remains a dominant feature of Iraqi politics today.

Image: Photograph of King Faisal I of Iraq, early 1900s.


Fontana, G. (2010). Creating Nations, Establishing States: Ethno-Religious Heterogeneity and the British Creation of Iraq in 1919–23. Middle Eastern Studies, 46(1), 1-16.

Zubaida, S. (2002). The Fragments Imagine the Nation: The Case of Iraq. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 34(2), 205-15.

The Nazi Party: A Seeming Modernisation

Guest article written by: Stefan Bernhardt-Radu. 4th-year history student at Coventry University.

Whilst it is usually believed that the Nazi Party was antithetical to modernity, or in a philosophical line assonant with it, it is strongly argued that the NSDAP seemed a force for modernisation to the people at the time due to specific conjectural settings. A complex extra-national and national context generated a distinct spin to the meaning of ‘modernisation’, an argument which is visible when three elements are analysed in relation to why they seemed modernising: the Volksgemeinschaft, social welfare, and Wehrwirtschaft (defence-economy).

The building of a ‘national community’ precludes and influenced the German project of societal improvement. When the State could not contain the situation, it became an element of modernisation. It is forgotten that during the interwar period many countries rejected liberalism in a complex international context, indeed that ‘parliamentary democracy […] was a feeble plant growing in stony soil’, especially due to the aftermath of the ‘Great War’, the economic crises and, amongst others, Germany’s authoritarian-inclined society. Thus, there was a need for social harmony, but also quasi-religious salvation. In Ian Kershaw’s words, Germany needed an ‘ethnically pure and socially harmonious ‘national community’ and a ‘project of national salvation’. Therefore, the Volksgemeinschaft acquires both a national and somewhat transcendental character.

An example will show that control and unity got confused, and it became even more blurry when most had their desires satisfied despite the collaterals and the full consequences of Nazi actions. On 2 May 1933, various SA detachments occupied the divisive Free Trade Union Offices, and was replaced by the Reich Trustees of Labour – this was done to gain control of the workforce. Though not to socialists or communists, this was seen as a necessity to deal with unemployment. Erwein Freiherr von Aretin, a Nazi-opposing monarchist, wrote in March 1933 that ‘In the struggle against need and hunger there can be no parties’ and that in dealing with unemployment ‘no one can refuse [the Nazis] active assistance’. The use of force was legitimated as unemployment slowly declined until it hit below a million in 1937. After all, the Bruning cabinet in 1932 also led to the need for central, decisive control – it put the pressure of dealing with unemployment on the shoulders of the local authorities, while cutting funds and diverting them to the central government, intentionally sabotaging the local representatives.

Pre-existing anti-Semitism was a way to fuel this ‘national community’ – in Zygmunt Bauman’s words, this was a ‘garden culture’; the fall of binding religious sentiments and the rise of enlightened nationalism gave way for the need to create an artificial ‘national’ or ‘racial’ order. Furthermore, the ‘Hitler Myth’ stitched any problematic dissent together – the idea of Hitler’s heroic persona magnetising support to his image even while people were critical of the NSDAP itself. As Smesler argues, one can say the Nazi government was a ‘very ‘modern’ form of tyranny’ as many dismissed the idea that a liberal democracy could be modern, let alone modernising. Michael Burleigh argued: ‘under the impact of ontological crises, [Hitler and other demagogues] rapidly burgeoned into masses of people … [and] espoused politics of faith’.

Faith, however, needs visible improvements to survive – and projects of social welfare played precisely this role. Considering the dire economic crises and the profound social disorder immediately before the Nazi ‘seizure of power’ in 1933, these did not have to be fully successful or liberal, but needed to be apparently and limitedly appealing. The investment of thousands of Reichsmarks into the unemployment reduction laws, for instance, meant that jobs could be created and ambitious projects could be planned, such as the Autobahn programme – under Fritz Todt, 3.500 km of highway was already completed in 1938. Along came an ambition for a Germany of affordable cars for everybody. Health provision increased in quantity, such as factory physicians, but typically decreased in quality. On top of that, they implemented well-known programmes such as ‘Strength through Joy’ or ‘the Beauty of Labour’ which gave the impression of a better life, as these allowed people to have holidays and better facilities.

It mattered little whether these projects were incomplete or faulty, due to two factors. One, much of the population had narrow goals. For instance, one wife of a communist stated that: ‘when you’re unemployed for four years you become radical. For two years [now, however] my husband has been working in Toging. […] Every day my girl has to say an Our Father for the Fuhrer, because he has given us our daily bread’. Secondly, even if there were high expectations, those remained prospects for the future. Richard Grunberger argued that ‘in the sphere of consumption, psychologic [sic] affluence did not so much reflect material prosperity as precede it’. And besides the Volkswagen project, there seemed to be much potential for the future even while wages slightly decreased. For instance, ‘voyages of technology’ were made to present future technology, such as household appliances like washing machines or refrigerators – the idea being to accept this technological advancement as the future for all. Moreover, there were extensive plans for a post-war complex Beveridge-like welfare state, which included a mass consumer society, ‘progressive’ labour legislation, preventive medicine, training to match the advance of technology, programmes to suit sudden retirement etc. And some of these were gradually implemented, such as a low-budget universal health-care system in 1941. Of course, this was done to appease people during the war at the Nazi zenith, but it only serves to support the argument: as long as there seemed to be a good future, limited social programmes resembled elements of a specific way to reach a better future.

Lastly, there are many indications that expansion and rearmament seemed as elements of modernisation. Indeed, in 1939, at the height of anti-war rearmament, one report, undoubtedly ideologically influenced, stated: ‘Trust in the Fuhrer and pride in German policy among the population is boundless. Everyone is sympathetic’. There are a number of reasons for this. In the first place, the army high command, having learnt from the ‘Great War’, wanted to connect the economy with the military, in a union called the Wehrwirtschaft, and in 1934 they were looking for the ‘economic dictator’ that would make the military machine truly national – and Hitler and Goring were only eager to combine the Volksgemeinschaft with the Wehrwirtschaft. Colonel Georg Thomas argued that ‘modern war is no longer a clash of armies, but a struggle for the existence of the peoples involved. All resources of the nation must be made to serve the war’. Again, this needs to be seen in context: Revanchism, the ‘Diktat’ of Versailles, and a tradition which made the army a normal component in the society were all contributing factors.

Among the population, too, conscription in 1935 was also seen as a way to cement a man’s education through discipline, while it was equally thought to eliminate idleness. And despite the focus on rearmament, the NSDAP did allow businessmen to maintain private property and gave firms a free hand in their doings. A total military expenditure of 17,247 million Reich marks in 1939 was then not utterly absurd. What is more, the Nazi state did not face insurmountable social and economic problems in 1939, despite this grand rearmament, for after all the Nazi control machine was able to manipulate inflation, prices and even the shortage of skilled labourers by calling for Eastern immigration.

However, this future depended too much upon an unequivocal ‘momentum of success’. According to Kershaw, Max Weber’s conception of the charismatic leader is one in which the leader both cannot lose, and neither can have his rule become ‘routinised’ – as stabilization is contradictory to the image of heroism, and thus to firm, swift change. This explains Nazi Germany’s swift expansionism from 1938. Indeed, Hitler went to war in 1939, as Richard Overy argues, because the economy and his political base were stable enough – both to fuel his charisma and the economy to establish international power which could enable the creation of the Nazi vision.

Overall, the Nazi party was a force for modernisation because many people, including its own members, confusedly believed they would improve the society. This ‘modernisation’, born out of ‘mass stupidity’, dazing and over-stretched ambitions, and a complex international context insufficiently accounted for today, consisted in the creation of a somewhat transcendental, united national community; visible, albeit ephemerally limited, social welfare programmes and a defence and foreign policy to pin Germany strongly on the European map again. Considering the use of the terms fascism and Nazism today, terms for consumption rather than reflection, and the rise of the far-right in Europe and elsewhere, this exercise of trying to apprehend the ‘modernisation’ of 1930s Germany is ever more important. As Bertrand Russell stated somewhere, one should not try at once to prove something wrong, but first understand why it might have appeared to be true.

Image: Adolf Hitler reviewing model of Berlin with Albert Speer, http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/speer.html?fbclid=IwAR1AEUReAUU3uBY4JZhuC6lLlWS7uyrYp5J6jhWodH2wGDMPYvNvpJMuZ5s, accessed 27.01.2019.


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Cognitive Science Talk Review: Dr Jerome Lewis’ ‘Music First: hunter-gatherer ethnography and the evolution of language’

Written by Toby Gay

On Friday 30 November, Dr. Jerome Lewis from University College London delivered a talk entitled ‘Music first: hunter-gatherer ethnography and the evolution of language’ in front of a packed lecture theatre in the Psychology building.

Before commencing, Dr. Lewis warned that although the lecture would be listed as a ‘Cognitive Science’ talk, he would be drawing heavily from other disciplines, namely Anthropology, Psychology and Archaeology, to support his argument. Indeed, his opening remarks could have been those of a Linguistics professor, as he pointed out the difficulty of defining ‘music’, placing it on the spectrum of ‘communication’, before distinguishing this latter term from ‘language’. After this densely theoretical introduction, Dr. Lewis transported his audience to West Africa, where he conducted his case study on a contemporary hunter-gatherer society called the Baka. From here on, the line of argument became slightly muddled, as he started focussing on the heavily gendered and yet incredibly egalitarian nature of this group which, admittedly, was fascinating.

Despite this, his presenting style and handling of multiple forms of media to demonstrate the lives of the Baka and the significance of their songs in cultural and practical settings were excellent. He continued in the same vein when answering questions on the possible connections between virtuosity in singing and prestige varieties in language.

On more than one occasion, Dr. Lewis had to reassert that he had found this group to be completely averse to notions of personal property or ambition, suggesting that all human beings share an innate psychological quality that attracts us to communal egalitarianism. An attempt was made to establish a link – through the material culture of honey containers – between today’s hunter-gatherers and their European predecessors 27,000 years ago, but this was not fully pursued. This was unfortunate for, as Graeme Warren of University College Dublin pointed out earlier this year:

‘We cannot reach back into deep time without the insights of archaeology. So if we want to understand hunting and gathering throughout time and space, we have to use archaeological approaches to understand what may be widespread among hunters and gatherers, or what may be recent developments overall. So, the two disciplines [Archaeology and Anthropology] need to work together’.

Dr. Lewis could improve his analysis by applying the above principle to his work. Unfortunately, however, as the cultivated soil in many parts of Europe is often more than 10,000 years old, much of the material culture from our hunter-gatherer ancestors is lost, and establishing links with societies such as the contemporary Baka therefore becomes even more difficult.

In fact, the most famous archaeological site in England, Star Carr in North Yorkshire, provides evidence that our ancestors from approximately 8,000 BC led less nomadic lives than today’s hunter-gatherers. In addition, the plethora of skull-caps and projectiles apparently abandoned on the site suggests that its inhabitants enjoyed a surplus of resources. This would imply that this society was, by the end of the last ice age, starting to move away from the kind of egalitarianism which the subjects of Dr Lewis’s studies practice today.

Nevertheless, Dr. Lewis’s lecture was thought-provoking as well as highly entertaining. In light of the recent events regarding the Sentinelese, one of the last uncontacted tribes in the world, the talk was convincing in advocating the preservation of these societies with the objective of understanding the past, and possibly even the future of humanity.




An Antidote to Narrow Conceptions of Jewish History

Written by Josh Newmark

I left seven years of formal Jewish education with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the early Israeli-Arab Wars, but little knowledge of Jewish diaspora history – despite being a history geek on my way to a history degree. Aside from a bit about the school’s historical origins in the Jewish East End of London, centuries of Jewish experience were largely skipped over between the ancient events that are treated by our religious texts, and the post-Holocaust redemption in the establishment and development of the State of Israel. So, for me, the late William J. Fishman’s East End Jewish Radicals 1875-1914 (1974) offered a well-researched glimpse into at least one diasporic milieu, the Jewish working class of nineteenth-century East London.

The book opens with an account of the cruel nineteenth-century Tsarist persecution of the Jews: ‘the worst era of persecution in the annals of Jewish martyrology until the German holocaust’. Discriminatory policies to force more Jewish conscripts into the armed forces meant death so often that the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, was usually pronounced upon young conscripts. Decades of official cruelty provided the background for bloody anti-Jewish pogroms that broke out in the wake of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by socialist revolutionaries in March 1881: ‘between April 1881 and June 1882, 225,000 Jewish families fled from Russia.’ Most went to America, ‘but a substantial minority sought immediate refuge in the nearer land of promise. And so the stetl came to East London.’

But such promise was not instantly forthcoming. The ‘greeners’ (an Anglicisation of the Yiddish griner, a newcomer) were subject to economic exploitation and xenophobia. The Whitechapel ‘shtetl’ was a place of overcrowded housing, underpaid sweatshop labour, and periodic unemployment. The young female refugees who managed to avoid sexual exploitation were systematically underpaid. Antisemitism was rife, both at street level and in politics, as Tory protectionists beat the drum of exclusionism towards foreign ‘aliens’, often with the support of the English labour movement which made overblown claims about ‘pauper aliens’ holding down overall wages and conditions. An 1884 editorial in the Poilishe Yidl, a Yiddish-language socialist newspaper, could only put it in such simple terms: ‘the Englishman has no liking for the Jew.’

Moreover, a recurring, and crucial, theme throughout the book is a self-preserving ambivalence from the pre-existing Anglo-Jewish ‘establishment’ – the Jewish bourgeoisie, the Jewish Board of Guardians (forerunner to today’s Board of Deputies of British Jews), the Chief Rabbi, and the Jewish Chronicle – towards the plight of the Jewish refugees from the East. After spending decades carefully carving out a model minority position, the arrival of thousands of destitute Jews, foreign-tongued and foreign-cultured, was perceived as a huge threat to British Jews. In their desire to dispel any accusation of ‘Judaic sympathies in politics’, some of these well-established Jews supported restrictions on Jewish immigration: for example, the familiar names of Francis Montefiore and Lord Rothschild threw their financial weight behind the restrictionist Tory Thomas Dewar in the 1900 general election. And despite myths to the contrary, social stratification and trade disputes among Jews ‘were as sharp and bitter between master and men as elsewhere’. Here too, the Chief Rabbi and other influential figures were loath to speak out on behalf of Jewish sweatshop workers on strike.

Against these prevarications, Fishman treats the reader to well-researched and richly-textured descriptions of efforts from below to ameliorate the suffering of the Jewish workers. The Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter, founded by the baker Simha Becker, himself an immigrant, provided temporary respite for greeners upon arrival: this ‘provided more than an ad hoc palliative […] it gave some form of welcome to those already demoralised by the recognition that they were universal pariahs.’ And the radical activists, whose stories are followed in the later chapters of the book, gained their influence in this context. Like many radicals in the era, they stumbled over the conflict between revolutionary militancy or fighting for short-term amelioration of the workers’ condition, and the related sectarian division between Anarchism and Social-Democracy. Moreover, their militant atheism was sometimes repellent to the majority of immigrants who still carried their faith.

Yet radical activists oversaw successful Jewish communal actions. For example, in 1904, the Jewish Bakers’ Union stamped each loaf made under trade union conditions with a union label, and Jewish immigrant housewives duly only bought union-approved loaves, soon forcing all masters to concede better conditions. After an unsteady couple of decades, a Jewish workers’ club, open to all, was opened in 1906. Millie Sabel, a comrade who often prepared Jewish dishes like gefilte fish and chopped liver for the club café, recalled seeing Lenin on several occasions come in to eat alone in a corner. And a 1912 strike of 13,000 Jewish immigrant tailors, orchestrated by the ‘goy’ anarchist Rudolf Rocker, was a ‘severe blow’ to the sweatshop system and put paid to the image of Jewish workers as ununionized blacklegs. Fishman’s strength is in his prolific infusing of his archival research with humanising memoirs and memories, so that the book’s pages are filled with personalities in all their quirks, such as:

“the little cobbler Rubinstein […] who used to come running straight from work to wait until the [Yiddish workers’] paper was ready, so that he could help to take it over to the various booksellers […] should there be a hold-up by the printer, he would prance about as thought he had lost his head.”

Readers seeking a broader overview of British Jewry may be disappointed in East End Radicals’s focus on one particular wave of immigration, and a minority of radical agitators within it. But Fishman’s book does well to place those radicals in context, which in turn helps us to understand the extent of diversity within the British Jewish experience, and the internal divisions and conflicts among British Jews. With the Jewish Chronicle’s 2018 Chanukah gift to progressive Jews, a printed Melanie Phillips editorial proclaiming that Liberal/Progressive Judaism and social justice are anathema to ‘authentic’ Judaism, a better awareness of this diverse history is all the more relevant. During over a millennium of exile we had to do our fair share of struggling for social justice, and to ignore that is to ignore Jewish history itself.


Image: Photograph of Professor William “Bill” Fishman, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11480782/Professor-Bill-Fishman-East-End-historian-obituary.html


Research Seminar Review: Emily Brownell’s ‘Concrete and Bricks: Materialising the Future in 1970s Tanzania’

Written by Carissa Chew

Although the 1970s have been somewhat overlooked in the historiography of Tanzania, the second decade of independence in fact constituted an important era of nation-building and identity formation. For post-independence Tanzania, the 1970s was a turbulent decade defined by mass rural-urban migration; the height of ujamaa; forced villagisation; the 1973 oil crisis; the relocation of the capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma in 1974; drought and famine; and the 1978-79 war with Uganda. On 9 October, as part of the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History lecture series on ‘Space’, Dr Emily Brownell presented her research on the urban environment of 1970s Dar es Salaam. In this talk, titled ‘Concrete and Bricks: Materialising the Future in 1970s Tanzania’, Brownell proposed that an examination of urban building practices offers an insightful framework through which to discuss the tensions of nation-building in post-independence Tanzania.

From a distance, 1970s Dar es Salaam appeared to be a place of privilege. For many Tanzanians living on the rural peripheries, Dar es Salaam was an alluring and rich metropolitan centre. The hundreds of rural migrants who poured into the city to escape the rural development schemes, however, soon discovered that it was also a place of disadvantage, disparity, and urban poverty. Despite the influx of people into the city, money continued to be channelled almost exclusively into rural areas. After all, the state was explicitly anti-urban in its stance: ideologically speaking, ujamaa and urbanity were incompatible. As the city became more densely populated, therefore, its inhabitants found themselves struggling to survive. The slums expanded in size, many residents were forced to work several jobs to earn a living, and the growing urban poor found themselves desperately queuing for basic goods.

Against this backdrop, Brownell’s research explores urban life in 1970s Dar es Salaam by looking at the use of different building materials in the city’s architecture. Building materials, Brownell explained, were ascribed different statuses in Tanzanian culture according a modernity/tradition binary. Modern materials, such as concrete and bricks, were characterised by the quality of permanency. Traditional materials such as mud, wattle, and palm leaves, on the other hand, were defined by their impermanency (although they could in fact survive for decades). This distinction had its roots in the colonial era, when the racial segregation of housing was visually reinforced by the use of different building materials. Whilst Europeans and Asians had access to permanent building materials, Africans did not. In fact, the colonial authorities only granted liberal building regulations for African landlords on the premise that they used impermanent building materials, so that the poorly planned and overcrowded African settlements could be cheaply destroyed in the future.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, TANU’s rhetoric on housing echoed colonial ideas about permanent and impermanent building materials, as well as the European belief that permanent materials possessed ‘civilising’ properties. The African elite built their own permanent residencies during the 1960s, and concrete and brick came to be understood as cultural symbols of modernity and development. Throughout the 1960s, the majority of Africans in Dar es Salaam continued to build using impermanent materials, however, and for Julius Nyerere this appeared as a visual reminder of the inequality that colonialism had produced. In an attempt to eradicate urban disparity, Nyerere envisioned that all the slums would be replaced by concrete houses. Although this proved financially impossible, Nyerere nevertheless persisted with adult education schemes which oversaw the publication of pamphlets that informed residents of the best building techniques and advised them not to live in poorly built houses, which would lead to their ill health. This housing campaign included slogans such as ‘Aluminium yes! Makuti no!’.

Nyerere’s development plans, which included a new airport and a hydro-electric plant, demanded large quantities of cement. To overcome the expense of importing cement, TANU built the Wazo Hill Cement Plant, which was located just outside of Dar es Salaam, where a 25-year supply of materials was available. Nyerere sought self-sufficiency for Tanzania’s development, and hence the plant relied on a local labour force and proudly branded its cement products with the location ‘Dar es Salaam’. Various issues soon arose, however, given the lack of local expertise. For example, following the oil crisis, outages and stoppages became increasingly frequent and the African workforce became concerned that spirits were meddling with the machinery. In light of this, politicians concurred that a witch doctor should be brought in. To rid the plant of its bad spirits, the witch doctor performed a sacrifice, smearing the blood of an ox over the different machines. According to the account of the Yugoslavian worker, the ritual was immediately effective. The plant did not continue to run smoothly, however, and newspapers even began to spread rumours that expatriate workers had abandoned the plant or were trying to sabotage it. Despite the plant’s nationalisation in 1974, productivity failed to improve.

Given the problems of production, cement did not become as widely available as Nyerere had hoped. A black market for cement developed, but even for those families who could afford to buy cement, it could take years to obtain a large enough quantity for the building of an entire house. In this way, cement continued to be recognised as a symbol of privilege and was only available to the elite. By 1977, Nyerere had become disillusioned with the idea that cement was the solution to Tanzania’s problems. Reversing his stance on cement, Nyerere shamed people for using the material, accusing them of having an ‘unhealthy addiction to European soil’. In line with his belief that ‘third world’ countries should not simply adopt ‘first world’ technologies, Nyerere urged Tanzanians to end their reliance on foreign goods.

TANU began to search for a local alternative to cement, funding new research projects such as the building research unit at the University of Dar es Salaam and the inaugurate ‘build a better home’ campaign. Soon, a new ‘vernacular’ Tanzanian alternative was discovered: the burnt brick. With a brick factory under construction, TANU portrayed the burnt brick as the building block to a socialist utopia. For Tanzania, the brick seemed to offer an ideal solution to the cement problem, as it was a permanent and reputably ‘scientific’ material yet its production required little expertise. Using the brick, communities could become self-sufficient, building permanent residencies without relying on foreign products. Despite TANU’s excitement about the burnt brick, however, Brownell explained that the brick-building project was not a complete success. Cement continued to hold its cultural status, and brick manufacture had detrimental impacts on the environment, with the production of 25,000 bricks requiring the felling of approximately 70 trees.

By examining the urban landscape of Dar es Salaam at a material level, therefore, Brownell’s research highlights the important relationship between building materials and the struggle for national identity in 1970s Tanzania. TANU’s official discourse on permanent building materials reveals the persistence of colonial ideologies. The architecture of the city of Dar es Salaam is a visual reflection of the tension between modernity and tradition that is central to 1970s nationalist discourse. The construction of permanent housing alongside the impermanent slums is testament to urban inequality. The transition away from cement is a reminder of the contradictions in Nyerere’s nationalist rhetoric. Furthermore, the continued use of cement alongside burnt bricks is indicative of the reluctance of some Tanzanians to abandon their belief in the superiority of foreign technology, reminding us that the residents of Dar es Salaam did not share a single united vision of Tanzanian modernity.


Cover image: Chen Hualin’s 2011 photograph of the aerial view of Dar es Salaam