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Play reveals secrets of when the British bugged Nazis in a Middlesex mansion

Posted on 18/05/2012
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2005-0133 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA

Senior Nazi officers pose for a photograph in the garden of Trent Park in 1943

A Media Arts academic from Royal Holloway, University of London is drawing on his family history to produce a play about the ‘secret listeners’ who spied on the Nazis during the Second World War.

German and Austrian refugees - many of them Jewish – who had fled Nazi Germany before the Second World War, were recruited by British intelligence to spy on top-ranking Nazi prisoners in a secret projectbased at an Enfield mansion.

Now this hush-hush work will be told in a dramatic play at Trent Park - the place where it happened. The project has been made possible by a grant of nearly £95,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Adam Ganz, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Media Arts and professional screenwriter, is working with the Pascal Theatre Company, Middlesex University, The Jewish Military Museum, The Jewish Museum and the Wiener Library, on the The Secret Listeners project.

Adam’s father was one of the original Secret Listeners for British intelligence and Adam, a professional screenwriter, has previously had a programme about Trent Park broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Twenty young volunteers, recruited from Royal Holloway, Middlesex University and from the North London Jewish community, will research the original transcripts of the recordings for use in the play, which will be performed at Trent Park on 22nd and 23rd July, 2012.

The Secret Listeners, will show how the refugees provided vital information because of their extensive knowledge not only of the German language but also cultural traditions. They recorded and made detailed transcripts of private conversations between Nazi senior officers, which yielded valuable strategic information to the Allies, including to what extent the German army was aware of and implicated in the Holocaust.

Nazi prisoners, including many generals and other high-ranking officers, lived a relatively comfortable existence in the mansion, previously the home of the Sassoon family, and where Charlie Chaplin and Lawrence of Arabia had once been house guests. The British plan was to make the POW’s feel relaxed enough to discuss issues among themselves, unaware that every room throughout the building was bugged.

Adam Ganz said: “I am very excited about the chance to work with volunteers to make a site-specific drama from the exact words spoken in the same rooms over seventy years ago. As their story echoes down the generations we can remember the terrors they were fleeing, and learn so much from what these refugees gave to their host country. “

Sue Bowers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “This is a fascinating but little-known slice of national history which underlines the vital contribution made by this group of refugees. The young people taking part will help ensure that the story is much more widely known while at the same time gaining a range of valuable skills.”

Further performances are planned at The Jewish Museum and a permanent record of the project will be available at Middlesex University and the Jewish Military Museum.



 
 
 

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