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Lost and found

10 July 2015

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GUNTER — now known as Gary — Wolff has too many shoes, and he has more food in the fridge than he can ever eat. Intense trauma can express itself in peculiar ways, even decades after the event. In Gary’s case, the trauma included frostbitten feet, and near-starvation.

For the two programmes that made up Lost Children of the Holocaust (Radio 4, Friday), Alex Last went in search of the 45 children featured in the BBC’s post-war appeal on behalf of Jewish orphans. The programmes started with the broadcast itself: a recitation, in clipped English, of names and provenance: Bergen-Belsen, Lodz, Birkenau. Only one of these programmes remains in the archive, and of the 12 children mentioned, Last managed to trace 11, and interviewed four.

After the horrific stories of separation and bereavement, last week’s programme dealt with life after the end of the war. There was a huge response to the BBC’s appeal, but the stories rarely ended with children being welcomed into the embrace of distant relatives. Hannah Katz was told that she needed to learn to stand on her own two feet — this after having endured years in concentration and then displaced-persons camps.

Of the individuals we met here, only Jakob Bessler found a loving adoptive family. But even he, now married for 55 years, admitted to a lifetime of loneliness.

The prognosis for Sonia at the end of the drama Road to St Davids (Radio 4, Monday of last week) was more optimistic. When you have an unplanned pregnancy in a Radio 4 drama, and ask a saint for advice, you tend to expect a reassuring ending. Such is the way with afternoon radio plays.

But, in other respects, Douglas Livingstone’s drama kept us guessing, as he managed to juggle two storylines and several back stories. David, visiting his dying father, encounters the pilgrim Sonia, whose history neatly mirrors that of St Non, the legendary mother of St David. Both are in search of spiritual guidance, but receive it in very different ways.

All this is lent greater authenticity by the sounds of real celebrations for St David’s Day: both Livingstone and the director, Jane Morgan, have a portfolio of dramatic pilgrimages of this kind. If Sonia’s narration sounded at times like a travelogue, it served only as a reminder of the delights of a day beside the seaside.

Many others in Sonia’s predicament might have just picked up the phone to a helpline or radio "surgery". One of the more prominent ones comes courtesy of Radio 1 — The Surgery with Gemma and Dr Radha (Wednesdays) — hosted by two charmingly complementary characters. Gemma Cairney has, by her own admission, "a massive gob", while Dr Radha Modgil has an excellent radio-side manner.

I might have caught it on a bad day, but the theme of "Power" was not igniting the telephone lines, and the presenters had only a few desultory texts to keep the mo-mentum up. Nor was I sure what "Cavewoman" was doing there: a nutritionist and powerlifter whose main contribution was on the importance of chia seeds in your diet. As a clarion call to female empowerment, it lacks something.

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