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: 2020-05-04 15:49:56
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.
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.