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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Stumbling Across My Mother

Last year I uploaded two photos of my maternal grandfather to this blog. I did it because, although he was slightly famous in his field, Google Image Search can't find a single photo of him.

It took a few weeks, but Google did eventually index the photos--but only for a few days. Since then a search for 'Georg Pniower' will bring up numerous images, including just about every other image on this blog of mine, even screen shots, but not those. I really have no idea of what algorithm Google uses that could exclude photos labelled 'Georg Pniower', while including one of me on the grounds that it lives in the same blog as a post mentioning Pniower.

I tried the search again last week. Still no photos of my grandfather, but imagine my surprise to see my mother, Renate, staring out at me, aged 12: a photo I'd never seen before.

Georg Pniower was half-Jewish, and when the Nazis came to power he and his family came under increasing threat of persecution. For safety he sent his daughter to a boarding school in Surrey set up for the children of refugees from Nazism. Stoatley Rough was a name I remember my mother mentioning often, though I don't think she ever visited it again, even though we only lived in Kent. Someone has created a web site about the school, with photos of the pupils, and so Google have included it in the results for 'Georg Pniower'.

Despite my grandfather's efforts to protect my mother, war broke out during the summer holidays in 1939 when she was back in Germany. Pniower thought twice about bringing her home, but the British Foreign Office reassured him that it would be safe. As we saw in Libya this week, competence is still something the FO aims for.