A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov

By Donna Krolik Hollenberg | Go to book overview

2
“When Anna Screamed”
Levertov’s Response to Nazi
Oppression (1933–1939)

Olga’s influence upon Denise was not confined to the arts. Her brilliance, energy, and magnanimity, as well as her increasingly distressing behavior, left a complicated legacy of pride and sorrow that Denise would later express in her “Olga Poems.” Like her parents, Olga was committed to peace and justice, and when Hitler became chancellor in 1933 and the first German refugees arrived in England, she engaged in anti-Fascist activities. By this time, Beatrice participated in the League of Nations Union, which tried to win support for the league by informing the public, and Paul spoke regularly at the Hyde Park “Speaker’s Corner” in London. He had spoken there in the past, but by the time Mussolini invaded Abyssinia in 1935, he was passionately engaged in anti-Fascist protest. From then on, he and Beatrice, and for a while Olga, devoted considerable energy to rescuing people from Germany and Austria and finding homes and sponsors for them in England. In 1933, Denise was still too young to fully understand the implications of the rise of Nazism, but as she wrote later, in a story about an excursion with Olga and two Jewish refugee children, “Growing Up, or When Anna Screamed,” it seemed then that, as in some dreams, everything was “tuned a pitch higher.”1 Fear and anti-Semitism were in the air, a noxious, unforgettable odor.

On his frequent trips to Germany before World War II, Paul Levertoff watched apprehensively as the Nazis and the effects of their propaganda grew in strength. He saw families divided and Jews beaten and arrested as the SS became increasingly ruthless. Yet emigration difficulties, ranging from economic harassment and government obstacles to psychological paralysis, prevented many Jews from leaving until 1938, when the situation became desperate following the annexation of Austria. By 1939 it was clear that anti-Jewish policies were being accelerated;

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