Dame Margaret Hodge MP has described the “amazing” moment this week when she saw, for the first time, a portrait of her engineer grandfather who fled the Nazis.
Hodge, a former minister who was born in Cairo, saw the painting of her grandfather Wilhelm Hollitscher at a London exhibition and recalled how his wife never made it out of Austria.
The portrait was bought in 2016 by London’s Ben Uri Gallery, which profiles Jewish and immigrant artists, but which had no idea that the man in the portrait was Hodge’s grandfather, until one of her sisters saw it.
Wilhelm was the chief engineer of the Danube Steamboat Shipping Company and was interned in Liverpool as an “enemy alien” shortly after arriving in the UK, despite being in his 60s and with poor health.
Incredibly moving to see my grandfather's portrait in the @BenUriGallery exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery, Europe House. Many other powerful artworks displayed from artists that fled from tyranny in Europe before and during WW2. Thanks to all involved in this wonderful project. pic.twitter.com/yhB2yMg6ND
— Margaret Hodge (@margarethodge) August 8, 2019
“It is a horrible, horrible story,” said Hodge, speaking to The Guardian. “His wife was 55 and she thought they wouldn’t touch people who were really old.”
Hodge said she had read her grandfather’s diaries and learnt about a man who loved music and politics, but who was deeply unhappy in the UK. “He doesn’t speak the language so he feels very isolated and depressed,” she said.
Wilhem’s portrait is on display at an exhibition titled ‘Art-exit 1939 – A Very Different Europe,’ which is being staged by the Ben Uri Gallery at the 12 Star Gallery in Westminster.
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