Towards the end of last year I took over from Dr Clare George as Archivist for the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Trust, based at the Research Centre for German & Austrian Exile Studies in the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies. As part of my work I will be curating an online exhibition, initiated by Clare, about the Laterndl theatre at the Austrian Centre in London.
The Austrian Centre opened in March 1939 at Westbourne Terrace, Paddington. It went on to become one of the most successful refugee organisations in the UK, with branches in Swiss Cottage, Finsbury Park, and Glasgow. Set up to provide support for refugees, foster Austrian culture, and promote relations with the British, the Centre offered a wide range of services including a café, library, performance space, and a weekly newspaper.
‘I quickly grew to value and love the new type of people who came together here. There was not a single one among them whom the new barbarism had not robbed of a vital aspect of their life: their livelihood, their means, their family ties. Children without parents, parents without children. And yet with a will and a courage beyond compare, all were setting about establishing a new life.’ (Wilhelm Jerusalem, in a letter written to the Austrian Centre, 18 January 1940)
The Laterndl theatre was founded later that year by three Austrian actors and directors: Fritz Schrecker, Franz Hartl and Franz Schulz and it became the best known of a number of German-language theatres run by exiles in London in the Second World War. Martin Miller outlined its aims in The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post: ‘By putting on this form of entertainment we hope to relieve to some degree the homesickness of the thousands of Austrian refugees in this country and at the same time keep alive this old Viennese theatrical tradition.’ (24 June 1939)