Star in My Shadow

Star in My Shadow was inspired by Jane Haining, who was born in Dunscore, near Dumfries, Scotland, in 1897. She won a scholarship to Dumfries Academy in 1909. She worked in Paisley as a secretary for J & P Coats threadmakers for ten years, and lived in Forth Street, Pollokshields, Glasgow. Her local church was the Queens Park West United Free Church.  

She then worked as a matron at the Scottish Mission School for girls in Budapest from 1932 to April 1944. She was arrested by the Gestapo after the school housekeeper’s Nazi son-in-law reported her to them; Jane had admonished him for stealing from the pupils’ food rations.  She died in Auschwitz in July 1944.   

I thought the photo of Jane holding the girl in her arms really captured the essence of Jane's spirit. I don’t know if that little girl survived; I’m hoping that she did and that she was among the women who contributed to the BBC's film about Jane. They talked about how Jane was able to reassure the them while they were in the cellar sheltering from the allied bombers, and about her compassion and "the love that only a mother would know".  The womens’ recollections provided much of the material for my lyrics.   

I wrote the song from the perspective of the girl in the photograph, now an elderly woman. She is recalling the first air raid on Budapest, as she walks along the embankment, which is now named after Jane.   

I searched for accounts from other Hungarians who remember that first bombardment of Budapest. One of them, also a young girl at the time, described how she saw "these little silver crosses trailing long white ribbons in the sky, higher than the sun". She thought they were beautiful at first, but then their roar got louder and louder. The alarm in Budapest was sounded at 10.35am on Monday 3rd April 1944, so it probably cut the girls' playtime short. The routine was that the Americans would bomb during the day, and the RAF at night.  

The chorus quotes Jane. When directed by the Church of Scotland not to return to Budapest from her holiday in the UK in September 1939, she is reported to have replied, “If the girls needed me in days of sunshine, they’ll need me even more in days of darkness”.  

The star in the song’s title symbolises Jane’s spirit, which has shone through "days of sunshine... and darkness" for those who remember her.    

Here’s Jane's Wiki page:  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Haining 

The film about Jane by the BBC, presented by Sally Magnusson, includes contributions from surviving pupils and was broadcast in 2014:  

https://youtu.be/ocIDM3Pjjfw   

There is also a very informative five-minute segment about Jane from a special edition of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow:  

https://youtu.be/jIlXCCDAC6w   

There was a major exhibition about Jane's life at the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest in 2017, opened by the UK ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, who is highly regarded  there as he learned to speak Hungarian very well.   

Jane Haining was commemorated in Budapest on April 14th, 2019 during this year's March of the Living, which was led by Ambassador Iain Lindsay and Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell.  

https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/...   

The school is now a state run primary school but the church, St Columba’s, is still maintained by the Church of Scotland.   

Karine Polwart wrote a beautiful song about Jane Haining, Balearie Baloo, recorded for her 2009 album Scribbled In Chalk:  

https://www.amazon.co.uk/SCRIBBLED-CHALK  

Strings arranged for Innotet by Innes Watson  

Innotet are:   

Seonaid Aitken: First Violin  
Innes Watson: Second Violin  
Patsy Reid: Viola  
Alice Allen: Cello  

Backing Vocals: Seonaid Aitken  

Recorded, mixed and mastered at GloWorm and Carrier Waves, Glasgow, by Andrea Gobbi  

Photo Acknowledgements:  

B24 Liberator bombers over Budapest: Fortepan.hu - Hungarian National Archive  

Air raid on Budapest: Fortepan.hu - Ákos Schermann  

Propaganda posters,  ‘We don’t recognise mercy’,  ‘Am I also a military target?’: Fortepan.hu - Tivadar Lissák  

Photographs of Jane Haining with pupils: Budapest Holocaust Memorial Centre.

 

I remember silver birds 

Higher than the sun 

Long white fingers followed them 

Spring had just begun 

They looked so beautiful 

In the April blue 

Steel in place of feathers 

They thundered as they flew 

 

You helped me down the spiral stairs 

Banshees howled and wailed 

The musty cellar and the rats 

With their scary teeth and tails 

Your hand on my shoulder 

The smile in your voice 

You faced the terror with us 

Even though you had a choice 

 

You’re the star in my shadow 

In days of sunshine 

In days of darkness 

You’re the star in my shadow 

Shines the light 

Of your love on me 

 

We saw them take you in their car 

I couldn’t say goodbye 

We would follow in your tracks 

Sometime in July 

All these years later 

There’s a street with your name 

Where we walked together 

We walk together now 

 

You’re the star in my shadow 

In days of sunshine 

In days of darkness 

You’re the star in my shadow 

Shines the light 

Of your love on me 

 

We lost you in that valley 

But I heard your echo there 

You loved that song of David’s 

My refuge in the nightmare 

 

You’re the star in my shadow 

In days of sunshine 

In days of darkness 

You’re the star in my shadow 

Shines the light 

Of your love on me

 

Red Shades of Blue

I was inspired to write this song by a postcard I came across in a second hand bookshop during a trip to Budapest some years ago. The postcard is of the view from the Gellért Hill of the Danube taken before the war, dated December 1936.  

It was written in English and addressed, to a man in Bournemouth, but never sent. The woman who wrote the postcard was anxious to know why her gentleman friend wasn’t replying to her letters. What caught my eye was a solitary word in Hungarian in the bottom left corner, 'Szeretsz?' which means 'Do you love me?'  She must have thought better of sending it. This tugged at my heartstrings and I had to buy the postcard. 

It's signed Julia Spitzer. Her surname indicates that she was Jewish and her address was in a smart residential area near the Danube.  By 1936 the outlook for the Jewish population was getting worse. Hungary’s government was well in the thrall of Nazi Germany and the erosion of Jewish community’s civil liberties was well under way.  

Julia’s former apartment was just yards away from one of the Hungarian militia's, the Arrow Cross, riverside execution sites. Their victims were made to strip on the embankment and were shot into the Danube. Sometimes they were bound together to save ammunition. About 10,000 Jews were murdered in this way between mid October 1944 and January 1945. The bronze shoes on the embankment are a memorial to them. 

I have been searching for traces of Julia on the internet but without much success. I was at the city archives in Budapest last year and found out that she was living with her parents. The family was on the electoral roll for 1943 after which the I found no further records of them, or Julia, but I'm still looking.

 

December frost on the cobblestones  

Bridges cast in monochrome  

Naked trees on the boulevards  

Your words take me back in time  

Ice drifting through the city’s heart  

Floating islands of my thoughts   

About the heartbreak you revealed  

On a fragment of your past   

 

Was there ice that December  

When the eagle rode the flames  

Could you see the storm coming  

Did you face it on your own  

  

Julia, I’ve been looking for you  

I want to know   

You found a love that was true  

Julia, I’ll keep looking for you  

I won’t forget   

The red shades of blue  

  

I wonder if you found out why   

His replies never came  

He could count on his liberty  

While yours was stolen day by day   

Echoes from the courtyard  

Shadows in the stairwell  

Did you find salvation  

From hell’s carousel 

  

Julia, I’ve been looking for you  

I want to know   

You found a love that was true  

Julia, I’ll keep looking for you  

I won’t forget   

The red shades of blue  

  

Julia, I’ve been looking for you  

I want to know   

You found a love that was true  

Julia, I’ll keep looking for you  

I won’t forget   

The red shades of blue   

Red shades of blue

Red Shades of Blue

'Szeretsz?' Hungarian for 'Do you love me?' Julia's question inspired not only this song but also the whole album project.

'Szeretsz?' Hungarian for 'Do you love me?' Julia's question inspired not only this song but also the whole album project.

Nightingale

Vali Rácz (25 December 1911 - 12 February 1997) 

Vali Rácz was a classically trained singer from Hungary. She graduated from the Liszt Academy, Budapest, in 1932. She became a very popular chanteuse and movie star in the 1930s and 40s, and was regarded by many as Hungary’s own Marlene Dietrich. She was honoured by Yad Vashem, recognising her as Righteous Among the Nations in 1991. 

Rácz sheltered several Jewish friends and an army deserter in her villa in Buda for seven months during the Nazi occupation. All survived the war.  She was arrested by the Gestapo in November 1944 and was held by them at their headquarters, the requisitioned Majestic Hotel in the Buda hills. Thanks to her cool courage and the intervention of her film director colleague, who was also in the resistance, she was released two weeks later. Late on the night before her release, Rácz sang to her fellow captives in the Majestic in the hope that her singing would offer them some comfort and distraction from their predicament. She sang ‘My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean’ in English, which was daring as well as subversive given the setting.   
  
The Nazis had installed a puppet government, the fascist Arrow Cross party. The militia arrived at the Majestic the day after Rácz’s release and marched the captives to the banks of the Danube, where nearly all of them were murdered.  

This episode was just one of several other perilous encounters. She was nearly executed, just after the siege of Budapest ended, by the local communist council, accused of being a Nazi collaborator.  She was receiving her last rites when she herself was unexpectedly rescued. Rácz and her family left Hungary after the uprising in 1956. 

It wasn’t until 1980 that Rácz’s wartime rescue activities came to light. She was visiting her former home with her daughter, Monica Porter, a London based journalist. Monica was four years old when she was last in the villa, so her mother took her on a tour of the rooms. As they got to the basement her mother remarked, "…and this is where we hid the Jews".  

Monica Porter subsequently wrote Deadly Carousel, an account of her mother's life during these months. This resulted in her mother being honoured by Yad Vashem, as Righteous Among The Nations, in 1991. The book makes for gripping reading; it’s a remarkable story. Vali Rácz was a superstar but always lived by her values of integrity, compassion, and humility.  

I wrote the song from the perspective of a young Jewish woman, Vera Somló, who was thrown into the room where Rácz had been held since her arrest with forty others. Somló survived the march down to the Danube, thanks in part to the inability of the Arrow Cross militiamen to keep count of their prisoners. Her picture can be seen in the video, in the left hand panel of the newspaper page.  

Vali Rácz’s Wikipedia entry

Monica Porter talking about her book, Deadly Carousel, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London, 2014 

For Hungarian readers: Deadly Carousel is going to be published in Hungarian, as Halálos Körhinta, in June 2019 and can be ordered from these outlets: 

A website dedicated to Vali Rácz's life and work can be found at: 

https://www.valiracz.com  

Words and Music: Robert Severin 

Strings Arranged by Innes Watson 

String Quartet: Innotet 

Violin 1:  Seonaid Aitken 
Violin 2:  Innes Watson 
Viola:      Patsy Reid 
Cello:      Alice Allen   

Backing Vocals: Seonaid Aitken, Innes Watson, Robert Severin 

Recorded by and mixed by Andrea Gobbi at GloWorm Recording, West Regent Street, Glasgow.  

© 2019 Robert Severin

 

They called you the nightingale   

Of the silver screen  

I heard you on the radio  

You smiled from magazines  

The barbed wire on the window  

Was scraping at the pane  

When you sat down by my side   

I knew I’d see my home again  

  

Nightingale, sing to me   

When you sing, I am free  

Nightingale, sing to me  

When you sing, we are free  

  

They brought me to this fortress  

From their vipers’ den  

I couldn’t give them answers  

They’d have my friends condemned  

You saw my wounds wouldn’t heal  

We hadn’t slept for days  

You sang to us about the sea  

While searchlights prowled for prey  

  

Nightingale, sing to me   

When you sing, I am free  

Nightingale, sing to me  

When you sing, we are free  

  

You turned your back on limelight  

For the role of your life  

Death defying masquerades  

High stakes charades  

With the wrong kind of stars  

  

Nightingale, sing to me   

When you sing, I am free  

Nightingale, sing to me  

When you sing, we are free  

Nightingale, sing to me  

When you sing, we are free

The World Will Still Be Beautiful

The World Will Still Be Beautiful 

This song was inspired by a remarkable film I saw at the Glasgow Film Theatre in August 2018. It was made by a Glasgow based independent filmmaker, May Miles Thomas.  The link between Hungary and Scotland is embodied by May Miles Thomas’s mother-in-law, Erica Thomas. It is a compelling story. The film is beautifully crafted and the exquisitely detailed sound design is highly effective in adding to the immersive viewing experience. I drew the title of the song from the film’s last lines. 

The link to the website for the film is below. It also includes an excellent blog about the film's production process.  

https://www.voyageuse.co.uk   

Based on the life of my late mother-in-law, Erica Thomas, ‘Voyageuse’ is a mix of romance, science and conspiracy drawn directly from her archive of personal films, photographs, letters and objects. In a compelling performance by Siân Phillips, the film depicts Erica and her family’s role in the most profound events of the twentieth century: WW2, the Cold War and the decline of the British Empire; an era fading from living memory. 
From her birthplace in rural Hungary to Great Britain via the US, Antarctica and Outer Space, Erica’s journey takes place in fragments of time in her incisive but troubled mind. Seeking solace in the past, she conflates middle-class domesticity with a sinister blueprint for global domination, with her mother cast as a latter day Mata Hari; her father, a technocrat and the model for Ian Fleming’s Bond villains; her older brother and nemesis, Eddi, enlisted by MI6 at Cambridge, and her cousin, Thomas Polgar, ex-OSS and a leading light of the CIA. 
To make ‘Voyageuse’ – less a biopic than a psychobiography – I have followed in Erica’s footsteps, documenting all the places where she had lived, studied and worked. My aim: to recreate her state of mind, not as some cautionary tale of how not to live but to understand what it means when the future is outweighed by the past, a prospect faced by us all. 
This blog describes my journey and the many creative decisions involved along the way: from writing the screenplay to the shoot; through the many stages of post production to completion. During the next phase of this project I face a new challenge: to reach an audience. While I still have far to travel, I hope by making “Voyageuse” I’ve fulfilled my promise to Erica by giving her story a gentler and more redemptive ending. 


The film is available to rent through Vimeo at £5 for 30 days access.  

From Vimeo  

When Erica Thomas died in 2004 she left behind family photos, films, documents and objects dating back over a hundred years. They revealed experiences her children knew nothing of. 
Born in Hungary in 1933, Erica came to England in 1938. Despite her private schooling and studies at Cambridge and Oxford, she struggled to "become English" and to belong. Though always feeling an outsider, her career drew her to the dark heart of Cold War science. She faced a world of compromise, fear and betrayal; her psychological struggles increasingly reflected the trauma of world events. 
Spanning 70 years, travelling from Romania to Britain, via America, Antarctica and outer space, Voyageuse reveals one woman's ordinary life, lived through extraordinary times. 
Starring Sian Phillips, Voyageuse is entirely handmade by May Miles Thomas. 

From cruel Carpathia  

To cold Calton Hill 

By way of Jupiter  

An alien, still 

You made the pieces fit 

But I lost you so soon 

To make some sense of it 

I tried to believe 

 

The world will still be beautiful  

The world will still be beautiful 

When you are gone 

When you are gone 

 

Sunrise gold 

On the old limes’ new green 

Blackbird sings 

Its welcome to spring 

My voyage is near its end 

I’ll return to the stars 

Time has failed to mend 

This tear in my heart

 

The world will still be beautiful  

The world will still be beautiful 

When we are gone 

When we are gone 

 

I searched for you in my dreams 

I found you once in thirty years 

A moment’s joy in the void 

I miss you so much 

You made the pieces fit 

I miss you so much 

 

The world will still be beautiful  

The world will still be beautiful 

Beautiful 

Beautiful

 

Images used with the kind permission of May Miles Thomas

Words and Music: Robert Severin 

Strings Arranged by Innes Watson 

String Quartet: Innotet 

Violin 1:  Seonaid Aitken 
Violin 2:  Innes Watson 
Viola:      Patsy Reid 
Cello:      Alice Allen   

Backing Vocals: Seonaid Aitken, Innes Watson 

Recorded by and mixed by Andrea Gobbi at GloWorm Recording, West Regent Street, Glasgow.  

© 2019 Robert Severin

Work in Progress

 

Crimson Burned the Night

The song I’m recording just now is about another connection between Hungary and Scotland. It was inspired by something I came across while rummaging in a Budapest junk shop about 15 years ago.  

The shop was in Dob utca in the former Jewish Quarter in the 7th district, which is in now more often described as the party quarter, well known for its ruin bars such as the Szimpla, and a favourite with stag and hen parties from Britain. The junk shop had old kitchen dresser with a cupboard full of old magazines in which I found an old ledger type book. It turned out to be a register of residents from a nearby apartment building which still stands across the road from the main synagogue. photos  

The building was designated as a ‘Yellow Starred House’ in the summer of 1944. It stood within the boundaries of the Jewish ghetto which was surrounded by a wall, in November, until the arrival of Soviet forces in January 1945.  

The handwritten word for ‘air raid protection’ (Légoltalmi) on the front cover’s label that indicated that it was in use during WW2. It contained not only the details of the regular residents of Wesselényi utca 6, but also Jewish families who were ordered out their own homes to addresses designated by the authorities. This would make it easier to facilitate subsequent deportations to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.  It was not unusual for a three roomed apartment to be inhabited by up to and over 40 people during the ghetto’s existence. Budapest’s jewish community was the last one to remain after the provincial deportations of their jewish populations.   

It wasn’t until some months after returned home that I discovered two sheets of squared paper folded between the end paper and the cover of the register.  They were carbon copies of an inventory that a jewish resident had made, listing their household’s entire portable property, down to the last handkerchief.  

These inventories had to be typed in triplicate and submitted to the ministry of finance by the last week of June 1944. The goods then became the property of the state and had to be accounted for once the members of the household were deported. The inventories were checked and signed off by the building supervisor/concierge and had to retain a copy. The householders also were required to keep a copy, too.  I am going to donate the register and inventory to the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Centre in Budapest on my next trip to Hungary.

I was able to find the details of the family to which the inventory related in the register. My further research into the family members revealed an unusual connection with Scotland.  

A Google search revealed nothing about Dr Róbert Gábor and I have still not been able to find any record of him. I strongly suspect he died during the war, either at the hands of the Arrow Cross/Nazis or in the aerial bomb strike on the apartment building in early January 1945 by the Soviet forces. However a search using his wife's maiden name, Ibolya Drucker yielded an astonishing result (Ibolya is Hungarian for Violet):

82.Ibolya Robertne Drucker or Gabor, Wesselenyi 6, Budapest, Hungary

She began her journey to spend Christmas with her son in New York, from her long time home in Budapest. It came to an abrupt and tragic end over the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland, on the night of the 21st December, 1988. She was the oldest passenger on flight Pan Am 103

In Hungarian/Magyarul:

In memoriam lockerbie

Roncsok és holttestek záporoztak alá az égből a mit sem sejtő skót városkára

Ibolya's sons left Hungary in 1956 and settled in the USA. Her younger son, Ivan, taught at UCLA Medical School, where he specialised in pyschoanalysis, and later became a successful international business consultant. He died in 2007. I've not been able to discover anything about his bother, Peter.

 You can listen to a preview of the song inspired by Ibolya's story here:

Crimson Burned the Night demo verse 1

Those June days were dark as night  

She thought they’d be her last  

Making lists of all they had  

Of their stolen past   

Typed with carbons for death’s rubber stamp  

Count the teaspoons once more  

The children’s shoes and table lamps  

The doctor’s gown on the door

Crimson Gallery