The British Empire Library

No Fixed Abode: A Jewish Odyssey to Africa

by Peter Fraenkel

Courtesy of OSPA

D'Arcy Payne (Northern Rhodesia 1957-1967)
Sub-titled 'A Jewish Odyssey to Africa' this is the autobiography of a young man who left what was then (1939) German Silesia to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews and ended up in Northern Rhodesia. The first hundred pages describe Peter Fraenkel's life in Germany up to the age of twelve, and the dramatic effects the Nazis' assumption of power had on his extended family who until then had regarded themselves as Germans rather than Jews.

Helped by an uncle who had earlier settled in Johannesburg, the Fraenkel family arrive in a Northern Rhodesia still recovering from the effects of the depression. Life is tough, and as German Jews they feel isolated - too proud to associate with Lithuanian Jews, not a part of the small settler community, not accepted into 'Government circles' - in a no man's land between whites, blacks and Asians. Father starts up a dry cleaning business. Mother works as a dressmaker and young Fraenkel goes to the local all white Government school, but is profoundly affected by the treatment of black Africans.

The dust jacket blurb has the book describing "the author's transition from persecuted Jew and 'enemy alien' to assimilation into colonial society", but his experiences in the last year in Germany and his first years in Northern Rhodesia have left scars and it is his antagonism to, rather than his assimilation into, that way of life that pervades the second part of this book. He reserves his most stringent criticisms for British colonial rule, and overseas civil servants in particular. This despite the fact that his studies at Witwatersrand University were paid for by the Northern Rhodesia Government and that he in fact worked as a civil servant in the Information Department - locally engaged yet enjoying overseas terms and conditions.

The author's description of his time as an Assistant Broadcasting Officer with the Central African Broadcasting Service is a valuable contribution to the history and development of information services in the Colonial Service. He was in 'on the ground floor' of developments in vernacular broadcasting programmes and the invention of the saucepan radio which did so much to open up the remoter parts of colonial territories. He finds himself facing the dilemma of having to disseminate information about the proposals for the Central African Federation, whilst being utterly opposed to the idea himself and recognising that the vast majority of the local population are also opposed. He is critical of the Provincial Administration for its 'neutral' stand on the issue, and mistakenly interprets this as support for the Federal concept.

Peter Fraenkel is a born story teller and the book is full of anecdotes, which are written in an easily readable style, though there are so many anecdotes that the thread of his story sometimes gets lost. Sadly, many of the stories he retells about events in Northern Rhodesia, whilst good tales, contain many inaccuracies. As he is a professional journalist one would have hoped that the author would have taken the trouble to access original source material to check accuracy.

The author himself describes his book as an Odyssey - he did indeed wander into and then out of Africa - he touched its skin, but he did not get under it. His observations are interesting as they are from a perspective very different to that of most expatriate temporary residents.

British Empire Book
Peter Fraenkel
I B Tauris
1 85043 626 6


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by Stephen Luscombe