Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Culture

Embracing not only those who came from Germany and Austria, but also those from other European countries, notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, as well as Holocaust survivors who came to England after 1945 and members of the so-called Second (and even Third) Generations, the primary focus of the Festival was on the arts. However, events relating to the émigrés’ remarkable contribution to other fields, such as science, philosophy and psychoanalysis, were also included.

Insiders/Outsiders started life as a nationwide arts festival paying tribute to the indelible contribution of the artists, photographers, writers, architects, designers, actors, film-makers, dancers and musicians, as well as art historians, dealers and publishers, who in fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe in the 1930s so greatly enriched British culture. Running from March 2019 until March 2020, it comprised a dazzling array of exhibitions, concerts, performances, film screenings, walks, lectures, literary and educational events.

While in no way underplaying the émigrés’ experience of loss, dispossession and displacement, or the difficulties they encountered on arrival in Britain, the general tenor of the festival was affirmative and celebratory. With the plight of refugees and the rise of right-wing politics and racism being once again pressing and topical issues, 2019, as the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, seemed the ideal moment to take stock of Britain’s debt to an earlier generation who found refuge on these shores. It was also a fitting moment to pay tribute to those British-born individuals who, in welcoming and working with the émigrés, chose openness and internationalism over provincialism and xenophobia.

Projects about refugees now were also included, making important links between past and present. At a time when the issue of immigration is much debated, the festival served as a reminder of the importance of cultural cross-fertilization and of the deep, long-lasting and wide-ranging contribution that refugees can – and do – make to British life.

Since March 2020, an on-going series of online events on themes related to Insiders/Outsiders has ensured that the project continues to have a rich and relevant afterlife. Click here for further details.


A companion volume to the festival, focussing on the visual arts, was published by Lund Humphries.