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Now on BBC News it's time for Witness.
Hello and welcome to Witness with me, Tanya Beckett, here
We've got another five witnesses who have shared their personal memories
This month, we'll hear from the British
scientist who helped alert the world to an environmental tragedy,
one of the thousands of Danish Jews who escaped the Holocaust, and
But we begin with an assassination which shocked
In 1981 the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was gunned down
Our first witness is his widow, Jehan Sadat.
I knew from the beginning, since he took the decision, to go to Israel
and make peace with Israel, I knew that my husband would be killed.
He was the first leader, the Arab leader, to make peace with
Israel, and it was such a very difficult time for people to
absorb what he was saying, but he believed in peace as a mission that
Clouds of black smoke rose from piles of burning tyres and
piles of refuse, set alight by the Palestinians and the Lebanese
leftists in protest against the visit to Israel of President Sadat.
But my husband believed he was to bring up the new generation
Since my husband went to Israel, every time - everyday, every minute
he was out of the house meeting for something -
I always believed he would not come back, that he would be killed.
We received many threats telling him that they would kill him.
He knew it, I knew it, but we didn't talk about it because we didn't want
I remember he was saying, while we were walking, you know, Jehan,
I was watching the parades for the 6th of October.
That day, I told him to put on the bullet
He said, no, no, no, if the bullet comes to my head, am I
Then, as the parade was reaching its climax,
with most people distracted by an air display, two grenades exploded.
When it happened, my bodyguard pushed me, because the
bullets were coming in the window, and I said, what are you doing?
He said, this is my duty, Madam, and really he saved me.
When the bullets stopped and the fire stopped, I rushed to the
NEWSREADER: The assassins managed to cut down at least ten people,
President Sadat was rushed straight to a helicopter which took him
The hospital was crowded with people.
The chief of doctors was there, and I told him, why are you here?
He looked at me and he said, I can't bear it.
I knew what happened when he said, I can't.
I knew it would come, but when it came it was such a big shock,
to lose not only my beloved husband who I had loved
all my life, but he was my partner.
It was something very hard, to face life
After the fall of the Soviet Union, scientists were able to assess
environmental conditions behind the Iron Curtain for the first time.
And on a trip to Central Asia in 1990,
they confirmed that the Aral Sea was shrinking at an alarming rate.
Witness spoke to Professor Denys Brunsden, of King's College, London.
The Aral Sea is in a special category of its own.
It is the fourth biggest inland lake in the world, and it shrank
This is the greatest loss of water caused by human beings
A Russian professor invited us to go to a conference,
I think it was an adventure for any British academic to go
into the Soviet Union, let alone to go to Uzbekistan
As we flew over the Aral Sea, we began to realise there was
Stalin needed cotton for the army, for his tents and clothes,
so he introduced cotton growing in the area and
the only way you could do that was by irrigation in a semiarid area.
The result of doing that is that you do get salination
of the soils over time and the soils lose their fertility, so the obvious
thing to do if you are losing fertility is to use fertilisers.
You will use pesticides and then the next step is to
defoliate, get rid of the leaves, so that the picking is easier.
What happens when the sea level goes down is that it actually goes out,
and it exposes the sea floor, and that sea floor was salt and mud, and
silt and sand, and all the human waste from the Zardoya River, and
all the pollutants from all of the agriculture as well,
What then happens is that you have seasonal winds blowing,
and particularly the Northeast wind, which sweeps
right across this exposed sea bed, picks up a dust cloud, and it is
It goes over towns and it causes untold damage.
The young children were getting respiratory illnesses,
they couldn't breathe, there were problems with the women
I can remember walking from the hotel, and there were women just
sitting under loquat trees all the way down the road, they had nothing
and they looked very hungry and poor, so
with a few colleagues we went into a
nearby shop and bought a bag of goodies and took them back,
and chatted to the ladies and just walked on leaving the paper bags for
the food there, and the next day when I came back one of the women
was still sitting there and she had obviously wanted to give
us something back, and I can remember her just reaching up to
the loquat tree and picking a seed and just putting it in my hand.
It was all she had to give me, and I brought it home, and it is growing
A shorter line is the only place on earth where the land and the ocean
and the atmosphere meet, and it meets in a long narrow line, because
it is a shock absorber, absorbing all the energy of the sun, through
the wind, into the waves, and the beach goes, 'thanks very
If you haven't got the sea there, crumbs.
And now to the elegant world of ballet.
In recent years some of the most exciting dancers have
come from Cuba, and that is largely down to a remarkable prima ballerina
She founded the Cuban National Ballet company more
than 50 years ago, and she spoke to Witness in Havana.
NEWSREADER: Immediately following the
revolution in 1959, Alicia and her first
husband, Fernando Alonso, were given the money and support needed to
found the National Ballet company of Cuba.
A recent prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso, now in her 90s. Remember you
can watch Witness every month on the BBC News channel or can catch up on
over a thousand radio programmes on our online archive. Just go to our
website. Now to an incredible story
of survival. When Nazi Germany invaded Denmark
during the Second World War, the Jewish community feared
for their lives. But, miraculously, almost all of
Denmark's choose managed to escape to neighbouring Sweden. Our next
witness, Bent Melchior, was one of them -- Denmark's Jews. When we
closed the doors to our apartment, we did not know whether we would
ever come back. My father was then the acting rabbi of the Jewish
community and was therefore one of those that was first informed, when
the German Navy Aketxe gave away three days before it happened that
the Germans were going to deport -- Aketxe. If they were going to be
arrested, they should try to leave home and find a place where they
could hide. My parents decided to try to find a way to Sweden. The
fishermen that brought Jews over had to charge people, because besides
being in personal danger they also had the danger that there are boats
would be taken and they would not be able to have any livelihood. This
day on this boat was anyway on pleasant, but that was part of the
situation -- unpleasant. It was especially unpleasant for my mother
who, which I did not know at the time, was pregnant. There were a
number of miracles necessary, but we actually found their way to a place
in southern Sweden were no refugees had arrived before, and where is
little boy at the age of six was playing at the shore. When he saw
our little boat for a way. He was the son of the fishermen. The moment
when the father said, welcome to Sweden, welcome. That was the moment
where we could breathe. And it was unbelievable.
The fishermen himself and his wife died, but the little boy was still
alive and continued to live in the very same house so I have visited
again and again -- fisher man. Although we were well received, and
I often say that we were luxury refugees, I learned that the refugee
is a very difficult situation. You are nobody, so if you want to become
somebody you have to start from nothing. Denmark was liberated on
the 5th of May, 1945. Before the end of May, we actually came back to
Denmark. To come back and opened the door again -- open the door. It was
like opening the doors to heaven. That was rabbi Bent Melchior there.
Our final witness this month has made more of a contribution than
most to modern life. He is the Indian businessmen who had the
bright idea of opening the company 's first Coll centre in 1998. It is
still open today and we went to Delhi to visit. You know, I wish I
could tell you there was a Eureka moment, but there wasn't -- call
centre. It seemed so surprising nobody thought of it earlier. We
were the first one to start because centre in India. -- to start a call
centre in India. You could hire a chartered accountant for 14,000,
15,000. You could hire a Masters degree. It was just being able to
walk around the streets and find gold dust. It was very difficult to
convince people initially for the very simple reason that our phone
lines did not work. In those days we all had three phone lines at home,
or two, because one was down all the time. When we went to the telecom
authority, of course they laughed at us. We will let you have a full
miser you can dial people all over the world. It is not going to
happen. But I am by nature an optimist. That is what gave me the
confidence. Also foolishness, fundamental foolishness! For which I
am very proud. Slowly, doggedly, we got the phone line. Outside this
building, if you go, a true landmark of India. A giant satellite dish.
Getting that big satellite dish in place was the start, in some
respects, of the entire revolution. The first Coll -- call centre, we
did not have its own proved, so we brought saris and curtains, it was a
shambles. We had saris everywhere, about 18 people making calls. There
was an air of excitement and adventure, men and women working
together in a way that did not happen in India at the time much. It
was quite liberating, I think, on some level, and people were willing
to try. If calls did not go through, you would try again, people would
hang up. Clients would call was with a broken down supplies and our
people had never seen a washing machine before. You know that thing
at the back leaking in the washing machine... What? One customer was
kind of wondering where the hell this call was coming from, or what
was this funny accent. Lots of us still do. Then teaching our people
how to manage that. Don't let them be hostile. If they are, push back
after a while. Don't get upset yourself but if somebody is too rude
feel free to push back. You know, lots of cultural assimilation,
training and handholding. We had accent correction training going on
and then feeling out, you know, what do we call ourselves? If I say
hello, this is an Indian name, they don't know, but if I say, hello,
this is piqued, that is OK. When you are in the throes of it, you don't
realise what you've got and what we had was a tiger by the tail -- my
name is Pete. Many cities have been built around this industry because
these are young kids and if you look at them, they have money, they will
spend it. There are kids here who financed homes, tuition, for their
relatives. It has changed people's lives. I don't know of anything else
like that. You look every day and think, my God, what did we spawn
here? Indian businessmen Pramod Bhasin, still proudly working at his
call centre. And that is all from Witness this month, here at the
British Library, but we will be back next month with another round-up of
history, as told by the people who were there. Thank you for watching
and goodbye from me and the rest of the team.