Bernard Hellreich Ingram
Title: Unfinished Symphony
Author: Bernard Hellreich Ingram
Publisher: Self Published
Place of publication: Newcastle
Year of Publication: 1991
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Tarnopol, Hluboczek, Czermna, Sweicany
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Unfinished Symphony is the story of Bernard Hellreich Ingram, a Polish Jew who survived the war thanks to his medical profession and his Christian partner. Pages 22-64 describe Bernard's life in Tarnopol under Soviet, then German, occupation. Pages 65-84 depict Bernard's stay at the Hluboczek work camp and position of esteem in the Tarnopol ghetto. Pages 85-127 detail his time as a medical practitioner in the small town of Czermna. Pages 128-147 outline Bernard's journeys across Poland following his liberation in Sweicany, while the remainder of the book, pages 148-176, describes Bernard's hardships upon arrival in Australia as well as reflections on wartime events. Unfinished Symphony was written late in life and was published privately in 1991.
Bernard Hellreich Ingram's story begins with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Feelings of unease had spread amongst the local population when Russian troops entered the western Polish town of Tarnopol. Illusions of a Soviet socialist utopia were soon shattered as the strangling regime of bureaucracy and secret police imposed themselves upon the town. After mistakenly telling the Russians that his father was a big businessman, Bernard was temporarily forced to leave town. On another occasion he was forced to participate in a propaganda march. It was during this period of Russian occupation that Bernard met his future wife and saviour, an attractive Christian girl named Irene who, ironically, was known as an anti-Semite.
When the Germans entered Tarnopol following the retreat of the Red Army, SS troopers murdered thousands of Jews. A Judenrat was established and forced to raise an enormous sum of money for the Germans. Irene was the only non-Jew to contribute to the fund. Soon Jews were forced into a ghetto and food became hard to acquire. Bernard, however, was an epidemiologist, and given the prevalence of disease during wartime, his expertise was in high demand. His profession granted him a position of importance and he was able to move around with relative freedom. Fortunately, he was still able to regularly meet with Irene.
Bernard was then transferred to run a medical centre at the Hluboczek work camp. Bernard was lucky enough to have a private residence where Irene soon joined him. After finding themselves in an impossible situation, whereby the commandant of the camp was infatuated with Irene, both Bernard and Irene managed to return to Tarnopol. Bernard provided medical treatment for one of the leaders of the Gestapo, thus gaining him a position of privilege in the ghetto. Deportations of Jews unfit for work had begun and Irene was convinced that not a single Jew would survive. Although reluctant to leave the perceived security of his position in the ghetto, Bernard obtained fake Aryan papers and began life on the outside in April 1942.
Through a network of Christian friends, Bernard and Irene were able to settle in the small town of Czermna, where Bernard was able to provide medical services in exchange for food. Under the constant threat of blackmailers and informers, Bernard was taught to imitate Polish mannerisms and customs, as well as the intricacies of Church ritual and confession. Bernard was occasionally suspected of being a Jew, once even accused of being a German collaborator, yet was always able to win over his accusers with persuasive words or effective medical treatment. As the German presence in Czermna increased in 1944, Bernard and Irene moved to Sweicany where they were soon liberated by the Russians. After liberation Bernard moved from place to place in search of a job, still careful not to disclose his true identity after seeing a Jewish farmer who had returned to his farm murdered. The Soviet security apparatus soon became suffocating, yet fortunately Irene and Bernard were able to immigrate to Australia to begin new life, which, despite its freedoms, was not without hardship.
Unfinished Symphony is a gripping and human story; that it is told without bitterness and rancour makes it all the more powerful. Written with eloquence and sophistication, Bernard's story provides a poignant portrait of humanity amidst a period marked by its inhumanity.