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Witness History

Author: BBC World Service

Subscribed: 23,861Played: 803,976


History as told by the people who were there.
1170 Episodes
In 1988, a group of Jewish feminists demanded the right to pray as freely as Jewish men at one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They called themselves the ‘Women of the Wall’. The organisation is made up of every Jewish denomination including reform, conservative and orthodox Jews. Its focus is one of the holiest sites in Judaism - the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Rachael Gillman has been speaking to Anat Hoffman, one of the founding members of 'Women of the Wall'. (Photo: Members of 'Women of the Wall' praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, holding their prayer shawls. Getty Images.)
In the summer of 1967 more than 100 cities in America were caught up in riots. US Senator Fred Harris urged the President, Lyndon B Johnson, to investigate the causes. He set up the Kerner Commission and appointed Fred Harris as one of 11 members to find out why America was burning. The final report shocked many Americans when it blamed white racism for creating and sustaining black ghettos. It said the US was dividing into two separate and unequal societies - one black and one white. Claire Bowes has been speaking to former US Senator Fred Harris. Photo: Members of the Kerner Commission giving final approval to the panel's report on 28th February 1968. Senator Fred R. Harris, (D-Okla.) third from left. Credit: Bettmann/Getty
The death of Frida Kahlo

The death of Frida Kahlo


The great Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, died on July 13th 1954, at the age of 47. The art critic, Raquel Tibol, lived in Frida's house during the last year of the artist's life. In 2014 she spoke to Mike Lanchin for Witness History about the pain and torment of Kahlo's final days. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Frida Kahlo with her husband Diego Rivera in 1939. (Copyright Getty Images /Bettmann /Corbis)
When Montreal's police force went on strike for one day over pay in 1969, there was looting and rioting in the streets. But the city's problems leading to the unrest had been building for more than a decade. Organised crime, militant separatists and commercial rivalries all erupted on 7th October, just as police officers decided to protest that their pay was much lower than officers in other Canadian cities. Sidney Margles was a local reporter, and described the scene, and the underlying problems, to Rebecca Kesby. (PHOTO: The scene at the Murray Hill Limousine garage as rioting left several buses on fire and damage to property, following a police strike in Montreal. Getty Images)
The black former soldier choked to death in handcuffs on the floor of a British police station in 1998. CCTV footage taken from the police station showed the 37 year-old father of two gasping for air as officers chatted and joked around him. It took 11 minutes for him to stop breathing. An inquest found he was unlawfully killed but no-one has been held accountable for his death. Farhana Haider speaks to Janet Alder about her long fight to get justice for her brother. Photo:Christopher Alder an ex paratrooper who died in a police station in Hull on 1 April 1998. Credit Alder family hand out.
In the 1800s cholera was a mysterious disease killing millions around the world. No-one knew how to stop it till an English doctor, John Snow, began investigating the outbreak of 1854. At a time before germ theory was properly understood, many public health experts thought disease was carried on what they called "bad air". John Snow was alone in thinking cholera was spread through contaminated water and by the time of his death - in 1858 - his theories had still not been fully accepted. Claire Bowes spoke to Dr Nigel Paneth, a biographer of John Snow, about the skills he brought to the developing science of epidemiology. Photo: Portrait of John Snow (Science Photo Library BBC)
In 1990, South Africa became the first country in the world to ban skin-lightening creams containing the chemical compound hydroquinone. For years the creams had caused an irreversible form of skin damage called ochronosis for the black and Asian South Africans using the products. Rachael Gillman has been speaking to Dr Hilary Carman, one of the activists who worked to ban the creams and Dr Ncoza Dlova who became one of the country's first black dermatologists. Photo: A woman applying a skin-lightening cream to her face. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
In 2012 a stunning, secret collection of art was found in Germany. Much of it had disappeared during Nazi rule in the 1930s and 40s. It had once belonged to one of the Nazi's top art dealers, Hildebrand Gurlitt. It was found by chance in the Munich apartment of his elderly, reclusive son, Cornelius. It contained lost works by Renoir, Matisse, Chagal and the masters of the German expressionist movement. Many of the works had been confiscated during the Nazis "Degenerate Art" campaign in the late 1930s, when the Nazis stripped thousands of works of art from public display. Alex Last spoke to Dr Meike Hoffmann, an expert on Nazi art policy, who was one of the first to examine the collection. Photo: One of the art works discovered in the Gurlitt collection was Pferde in Landschaft (Horses in Landscape) by famous German expressionist Franz Marc.
What it was like to be a child quarantined in a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in the 1950s. Ann Shaw was nine when she was first admitted to the Craig-y-nos sanatorium in Wales and 13 when she was finally allowed home. Until antibiotic treatments came along, to stop the disease spreading, TB patients were kept apart from the general population and their families, often for years. This included babies and children, leaving many traumatised. Ann Shaw tells Louise Hidalgo about the half-life they lived in the sanatorium. Picture: boys on the balcony of the Craig-y-nos TB sanatorium; fresh mountain air was regarded as one of the best treatments for TB (Credit: from the private collection of the family of Mari Friend, a former patient at Craig-y-nos)
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went on trial for drugs offences in June 1967. The case attracted attention around the world, and sealed their reputation as rebels. The men were originally sentenced to prison but on appeal their sentences were drastically cut and the trial came to symbolise Britain's changing values. Photo: Mick Jagger (left) and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones walk in the garden of Redlands, Richards' Sussex house, after the disclosure of their sentences for drug violations, July 1967. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A people’s movement called Jana Andolan brought an end to Nepal’s absolute monarchy in the spring of 1990. Political parties worked together with students, workers and civil society groups to organise strikes and street protests – but although the king eventually agreed to their demands, it was the beginning of a long period of political instability. Lucy Burns speaks to activist and writer Devendra Raj Pandey about his memories of the first Jana Andolan. PHOTO: Jubilant protesters take to the streets on April 9, 1990 in Kathmandu after the government announced an end to the 30-year ban on multi-political parties. (DOUGLAS CURRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Chaos and hardship hit Russia with the rapid market reforms in early 1992, just weeks after the collapse of the USSR. In 2018 Dina Newman spoke to one of the architects of this “shock therapy” - Andrei Nechaev, who was then the Minister for Economic Development. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Old women selling cigarettes on the streets of Moscow in 1992. Credit: BBC.
Following the violent military coup that overthrew Chile's socialist government in 1973, the new regime led by General Augusto Pinochet began a radical overhaul of the economy. It was based on a free-market economic plan created by a group of economists known as the Chicago Boys. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to one of them, Rolf Lüders. Photo: General Augusto Pinochet (L) poses with socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende (R) in Santiago, just after Allende appointed him the head of the army, and only three weeks before Pinochet's military coup in September 1973. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
In the late 1960s Tanzania's first post-independence president, the charismatic Julius Nyerere, believed that endemic poverty in rural areas could only be addressed if peasant farmers relocated to larger villages and worked collectively. It was part of a new experimental form of socialism, known as Ujamaa. In 2016 Rob Walker spoke to two Tanzanians who remember it well. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Tanzanian women cultivating the soil (AFP/Getty Images)
An eyewitness account of how a poor, war-ravaged nation became a global economic powerhouse. We hear the memories of Dr Kongdan Oh, who grew up in South Korea in the 1950s, in the aftermath of the Korean War. The country had been left devastated by the conflict. Then, in the early 1960s, South Korea's new military leader, General Park Chung-hee, launched an ambitious national drive for rapid economic growth. For many, it marked the start of South Korea's economic transformation. Photo: South Korean labourers balancing baskets of coal, while working inside the grounds of a factory. Busan, 1967 (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The New Deal

The New Deal


When Franklin D Roosevelt became President in 1933 he promised to spend his first 100 days rescuing the USA from the Great Depression with one of the biggest public spending projects in history - the New Deal. Photo: Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935. Credit: Getty Images.
When Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, US school teacher, Jane Elliott, decided to try to teach her all-white class about racism. She decided to segregate them according to the colour of their eyes, and treated them differently. Although controversial from the start, the “blue eyes/brown eyes” teaching exercise has been adapted in schools and workplaces for diversity training ever since. Jane Elliott has been explaining to Rebecca Kesby why she still thinks the model has value today in defeating racial prejudice.
The friendship train

The friendship train


The passenger train service between India and Bangladesh was resumed after more than 40 years. The train service had been suspended after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan of which Bangladesh was then a part. Partitioned in 1947, Bengal was divided in half between Hindu majority India and Muslim majority East Pakistan. Families were torn apart. East Pakistan later become Bangladesh after gaining independence in 1971. The Maitree or Friendship Express was the first passenger train service to connect the two Bengals in 43 years. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Dr Azad Chowdhury who was on board the inaugural train journey. Photo: Calcutta-Dhaka Maitree (Friendship) Express in Calcutta station, India, 14 April 2008, before its inaugural run to Bangladesh. Credit: EPA/PIYAL ADHIKARY
In the late 1990s, whistle-blowers implicated UN peacekeepers and international police in the forced prostitution and trafficking of Eastern European women into Bosnia, which was just emerging from a bitter civil war. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to one of those who sounded the alarm, British human rights lawyer, Madeleine Rees, who was then working for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia. Picture: the United Nations Peacekeeping Force patrols the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in March 1996 (Credit: Roger Lemoyne/Liaison/Getty Images)
During the early years of Cultural Revolution in China, all European music was banned. Even enjoying traditional Chinese music and art was illegal. Anyone found with old instruments or recordings could be imprisoned. But that didn’t stop some musicians and enthusiasts from playing or listening to the music they loved, sometimes as an act of rebellion. A favourite during those times in China was the German composer – Ludwig Van Beethoven. Conductor, Jindong Cai tells Rebecca Kesby how he decided to become a musician after listening to an illegal recording of one of his symphonies. (Portrait of German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) by German painter Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)
Comments (23)

Nay E.

16th street church bombing and Brown v board episode were hard to listen to....blacks should’ve fought to not have their towns burned down and not try to be integrated with white people... it still didn’t do us any good til this day.

Jun 9th

Abhishek Kokate

amazing podcast, Dr Utah has explained it so well. Debunking the earlier theories of bad moms and making sure that Autism is neurological or genetic glitch. Amazing smilies like looking at a sky with dirty telescope.And the presenter Louisa has arranged the podcast so well. Kudos to BBC team, you guys rock in all situations. thanks for choosing such a topic 😁

May 25th

Alex K.

22nd April 1945 was 2 days after Hitler's 56th birthday, not his 50th birthday (2 mins 55 seconds into podcast)

May 7th

Tom Thring

I had a moment of panic when I read "the earth when it left the solar system". At least global warming would be fixed.

Feb 22nd

Oleksii Yaresko

good to know that story

Dec 7th

Kenny Milne

barbaric sport , he no doubt slaughterd many bulls

Sep 27th

Michael McGrath

English? Lewis was from Northern Ireland.

Sep 22nd
Reply (1)

Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz


Aug 28th

Thanaam Thanaam

Perfecto podcast!

Jun 16th

Katie Hone

great podcast.

Apr 14th
Reply (1)

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

I'm shocked if not surprised that the BBC stood by equating left-wing kidnapping of senior fascist military leaders with government tied assassinations of lawyers for defending workers rights

Mar 23rd

Liam Garland

It's a same there is no mention at the beginning of the hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses who were murdered due to their refusal to support the Nazi movement.

Feb 5th

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

Direct action gets the goods #antifa #punchnazis

Feb 2nd

Simon Hastings

We used to call them plastic pigs!

Nov 16th

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

This episode is a terrible (and completely one-sided) piece of apologia for Pinochet. The BBC doesn't even discuss why every British court ruling was in favour of Pinochet facing criminal trial

Oct 24th

Vee N

such an amusing tale

Sep 17th

Vee N

what a wonderful story

Sep 17th

Linus Moses

Really interesting podcast

Jul 29th

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

No idea that anarchists in Amsterdam started first bike share project, but makes sense

May 28th

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

How revealing that the BBC happened not to mention "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher" let alone that whole "covering up pedophilia to control votes" thing. 🤬

May 27th
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