Oral history interview with Nandita Sen
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
2017 April 06
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
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn560382
Also in Oral history interviews of the India Documentation Project
Oral history interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust who lived in India during or after WWII.
Date: 2017 April 06
Flower Silliman, born on April 20, 1930 in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, describes her grandparents who immigrated to India from different parts of Iraq; attending a Jewish girls’ school; her mother, who was kindergarten teacher; her father, who worked in the port commission of Calcutta; her two brothers; moving around Calcutta a lot; the Baghdadi Jewish community; not being encouraged to spend time with non-Jews; keeping kosher; attending Lady Irwin College in Delhi beginning in 1946; getting a degree in teaching; the chaos of the time, including the fight for independence, the Partition killings in Bengal and Delhi, and the refugee wave from East Bengal and Punjab; her parents’ views of her adopting Indian customs; learning about the situation for European Jews during the Holocaust in 1945; Jews in India assuming the concentration camps of Europe must be like the internment camps that were in India; the Zionist families in India; a small number of Baghdadi Jews in India going to Israel in 1945-1946; celebrating all of the major Jewish holidays with family; her leisure activities as a child; the worry of Indian Jews that they would not do well in an independent India; many Jews leaving India after independence; staying in India with her husband; hearing first-hand stories of Jews escaping from persecution during the Holocaust (she describes several of them); the European Jewish refugees who came to Calcutta and their integration into the Baghdadi Jewish community; how it was common for women in the Jewish community to marry British and American GIs; two Jewish military chaplains she met in Calcutta, David Seligson (American) and Chaplain Bloch (British); visiting Israel for the first time in 1975; the Bengal Famine and the Hindu-Muslim riots and the influence of the events on the feelings in the Jewish communities of India; her humanitarian efforts during college; being in New Delhi at Independence in 1947; meeting Mahatma Gandhi several times; her support for Independence; Pamela Mountbatten, the teenage daughter of Viceroy Mountbatten, visiting the women of Lady Irwin College in the evenings; and the power of the Holocaust museums that she has visited.
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, born on December 13, 1937 in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, describes his father, who was a civil servant in the East India Railways; the outbreak of WWII and his father’s office moving to Benares (modern-day Varanasi); the family’s move from Calcutta to Benares to Lucknow and eventually back to Calcutta; growing up in a Bengali, anglicized, middle-class family; his family’s history of receiving educations in England and returning to India after; his brother and sister; attending Le Martiniere School for Boys in Calcutta; the little interchange between parents and children in his family growing up; being raised Hindu but not religious in a conventional orthodox way; the Chinese and Armenian communities in Calcutta; his friendship with a Baghdadi Jewish boy named Justin Aaron; how towards the end of the war there was “vague disquiet at home” about a possible Japanese victory; his family’s thoughts on Subhas Chandra Bose; his family’s move to Benares in 1941 and return to Calcutta in 1943-1944; the Partition in 1947; encountering a certain sense of pride among some Indians relating to Hitler’s claims of Aryan mythology; not being aware during the war of Hitler’s persecution of Jews; learning about antisemitism from his mother when he was a child; his father’s devotion to Sri Aurobindo; his father’s travel in the 1940s to Pondicherry to visit Aurobindo’s ashram; being in Pondicherry with his family on August 16, 1946, the “Direct Action Day”; arriving home the next day and the horrors they encountered; how these memories have influenced him as a journalist and editor in India and Singapore; the numerous refuges coming in from East Bengal after the Partition; attending Manchester University in England; returning to India; working for the periodical “The Statesmen” for 30 years; the Jewish Holocaust refugees in Calcutta; the Naxalite movement; and his experiences with diversity in Calcutta in his youth.