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Oral history interview with Nandita Sen

Oral History | Accession Number: 2017.168.1 | RG Number: RG-50.978.0001

Dr. Nandita Sen, born in March 1929, discusses growing up in Calcutta (Kolkata), India; living together with her paternal grandparents, an uncle, and cousins; the Bengal famine of 1943; her father’s and paternal grandfather’s journalism careers; her grandfather’s anti-British political views and writing; the different branches of Hinduism; the caste system; her three sisters; her family’s belief in the importance of education; her family’s friendship with Rabindranath Tagore, the 1913 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature; her mother’s musical talents; the Calcutta School of Music, which she, her sisters, her mother, and her aunts attended; being educated in both the Indian and Western traditions; Calcutta’s large Jewish community; her maternal grandfather’s interactions with many different Calcutta communities, in particular the Jewish community, through his work as a doctor; her and her sisters’ interactions with people of various backgrounds at the Calcutta School of Music; her private tutor Mrs. Levy, a Jewish woman who had converted to Catholicism; her Jewish neighbors and friend; the integrated neighborhoods in Calcutta; not being aware of any antisemitism before the war; having knowledge of what was happening in Europe; the huge influx of British and American pilots to Calcutta during the war; meeting American pilots who volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1940, before America entered the war; a branch of the America Office of War Information stationed in the apartment above her family’s; the South-East Asian Theatre of the Pacific War and its effects on India; the lasting friendships she and her family developed with British and American soldiers, in particular with American Jewish soldier Harold Leventhal; meeting Harold through a cousin; Harold’s time in Calcutta from 1941 to 1945 and the very positive, wide reputation he earned; Harold’s music career in the US; meeting Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe as they passed through Calcutta; refugee camps established for refugees outside of cities such as Asansol and Darjeeling; her and her family’s interactions with refugees who were doctors, such as a Dr. Handel, a Dr. Goldmann, and a Dr. Feldman; musicians who came to Calcutta before and during the war; political events in Europe during the 1930s, such as the Spanish Civil War; Calcutta’s absence of Burmese refugees fleeing the Japanese advance; meeting her husband after the war; the Partition of India in 1947, which resulted in the creation of India and Pakistan; Direct Action Day (also called the Great Calcutta Killings) on August 16, 1946 and its impact on various parts of Calcutta; Mahatma Gandhi; the Muslim communities in India; Great Britain’s historic colonization; India’s independence in 1947; getting married; living in England; the mental impact of the war; traveling the world; working for volunteer agencies for decades; her two sons; her love of New York; the book about her grandfather’s journalism career; communal unrest in the 1970s; her lasting fondness of Calcutta; and the different ethnic groups in India today.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Nandita Sen
Olivia Rosen
interview:  2017 April 06
creation: Hyderabad (India)
1 digital file : WAV.
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, courtesy of the Jeff and Toby Herr Foundation
Record last modified: 2023-11-16 09:41:05
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