Extracts from the Apr 2015 Journal
With a general election looming, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to look back on our journal’s reporting of general elections of an earlier era. AJR Information commenced publication in January 1946, which meant - unfortunately from a historian’s point of view - that nothing is recorded of the response of the Jewish refugees from Hitler to the landmark election of 5 July 1945: then the Conservative government, with wartime leader Winston Churchill at its head, had been turned out of office and a Labour government under Clement Attlee returned, having made a net gain of no less than 293 seats.
The first general elections covered in AJR Information were those of 23 February 1950 and 25 October 1951. This pair of closely fought elections resembled the two elections of 1974; but with the difference that in the earlier elections, the governing party, Labour, was returned at the first with a very slender majority, only to be ousted at the second, despite gaining almost a quarter of a million more votes than the winning Conservatives, while on 28 February 1974 the opposition Labour Party emerged as the largest party, albeit without an overall majority in parliament, and replaced the governing Tories. Labour then secured a tiny overall majority in the elections of 10 October 1974, after which it hung on precariously in government until Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives swept to power in May 1979, in the second great landmark general election of the post-war era.
The journal’s leading article in February 1950 set the tone for much of its coverage of subsequent general elections. The journal was studiously neutral as between the British political parties, expressing a view only on issues directly affecting the refugees from Nazism or Jews more generally. In February 1950, it took evident pleasure in informing its readers that in Britain, unlike in pre-Hitler Germany and Austria, Jews could vote for candidates of any of the political parties without fear that they were lending their support to organisations with anti-Semitic tendencies: ‘Whilst in Germany some parties [e.g. the German Nationalists, the Deutschnationalen, the Weimar Republic’s approximate equivalent to the Conservative Party] were out of bounds for Jews because of their more or less anti-Semitic policy, the Jews in Great Britain have the same choice between the major political parties as their non-Jewish fellow-citizens.’ [more...]
Earlier this year the Wiener Library launched an addition to its website - Refugee Family Papers: An Interactive Map http://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/interactivemap About 60 people attended the event, many of them contributors to the project and donors of material to the Library. The evening consisted of presentations by Wiener Library staff on the history and nature of the project and how it fits into their overall strategy of providing digital access to their collections.
So what exactly is this Interactive Map? On one level, it is simply a finding aid to the Library’s collection of family papers of former refugees from the Nazis. Instead of a merely textual description of the content of our holdings, which the Library has already made accessible via its website, this new product displays digital facsimile sample photographs and documents from the collections often along with audio content (extracts of interviews with protagonists). Each family is represented on a map of Europe using the co-ordinates to their last permanent address. The collections can be searched by the map itself, by one of eight main cities for which we hold a number of collections, and by personal/family name or keyword.
The Library holds approximately 500 family collections, which can vary greatly in size. Since many of the facsimile documents used are not in English (usually German), parallel translations are provided and people are encouraged to offer their own translations of documents. In addition, where precise map co-ordinates haven’t been obtained due to lack of address details, people are invited to provide proof of last permanent address. These last two features in particular will render the project truly interactive.
A significant portion of the content used (150 collections) stems from the AJR’s Refugee Voices project, created by Dr Anthony Grenville and Dr Bea Lewkowicz, whose voices can be heard on the interview clips. The Wiener Library has been making these recorded interviews and transcripts available to readers for many years already at dedicated work stations in the Reading Room. Now, for the first time, samples from all these interviews will be made accessible via this interactive map. Approximately two-minute extracts from these interviews have been used along with narratives and digital images from the families. As subjects of the snippets have been chosen for their variety as much as their interest value, you have descriptions of Viennese café culture, a picture of halcyon summer days by the Danube, accounts of violin lessons, and life in the Young Austria movement to mention but a few.
The common denominator of these hundreds of narratives is the suffering caused by the Nazis. Much of the content reflects this. However, it is the intention behind this project to show not just how Jews were persecuted but also how they thrived in Europe in the pre-Nazi era. So users of the website will be able to see and hear numerous examples documenting much happier days. The Wiener Library’s Interactive Map can therefore also be regarded as a memorial to those communities which have long since ceased to exist.
Howard Falksohn, Archivist, Wiener Library [link]
The connection between the subject of a painting and the painter who carries its weight is a theme that Tate Modern evokes in its latest exhibition Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden. Dumas, possibly inspired by her namesake Alexandre Dumas of La Dame aux Camélias fame, has taken the idea of burden from many aspects. There is the burden of condemned love, as in the fate of Dumas’s heroine, the burden of colour, of mixed marriage, of politics and of war.
There is a suggestion of something primeval in Dumas’s style. It often has a garish look-at-me quality, although, working in light oil or watercolour, she achieves a soft focus, sometimes evoking Picasso – notably in a deceptively simple line drawing entitled Imitations of the Moon – or Munch in her voiceless scream. Her faces in the section Evil is Banal include a girl with a shock of red hair, babies and pubescent figures, some evoked by snapshots of her daughter Helena, whom she chooses to present with a large, serious head and coloured hands.
But these waif-like figures are a bitter contrast with her brazen pornographic forms. One very moving painting, The Widow, painted at the time of the disintegration of apartheid in South Africa, features Patrice Lumumba’s widow Pauline walking bare-breasted, in a brave and public act of mourning, down Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) following the assassination of her husband, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo. Dumas deliberately paints the accompanying figures white – one like a clown – but we can’t be sure they’re white men: it is almost a trompe-l’oeil device which explores the relationship between colonialism and black aspirations. Grief is further explored in images which relate to her mother’s death in 2007, which clearly affected her deeply. This series, based on Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, which takes its title from a poem by 17th-century metaphysical poet John Donne, is very cinematic, particularly the close-up of the tearful face of Ingrid Bergman.
For all the physicality of her drawings, this artist is very concerned with the philosophy of living and dying. But although the exhibition explores her work from the early 1970s to the present day, little development is evident in over 100 paintings and drawings.
Born in South Africa in 1953, Dumas moved to Holland in 1976 and naturally explores issues of apartheid. But she is equally interested in sexual politics: her images of women present both a sense of the goddess and the ‘fallen woman’. Her examples are rather literal: Mary Magdalene, Amy Winehouse, Princess Diana, Naomi Campbell.
The series Against the Wall includes a sketchy view of Orthodox Jews at prayer, but her real interest is the wall as a concept. Between 1994 and 2014 she created the multi-part work Rejects – ink and graphite portrait heads pinned to the wall inspired by South African reject stores which sold clothes with imperfections. Her parody of imperfection is a comment on how society judges, accepts and excludes.
Gloria Tessler [link]
Second class soldiers LOYAL SONS: JEWS IN THE GERMAN ARMY IN THE GREAT WAR by Peter C. Appelbaum Vallentine Mitchell, 2014, hardcover 347 pp., £50, ISBN 9780853039488
Readers of this journal were reminded in August 2014 by Anthony Grenville that approximately 100,000 Jews served in the German forces during the First World War. Even more remarkable was the fervour with which they fought for their Fatherland: ‘We Jews all leave for war of our own wish, / joyful to throng around our country’s flag,’ wrote a lawyer named Emmanuel Saul in a poem addressed to his children, translated and cited by Peter Appelbaum as a motto for this book. To document the extraordinary range of Jewish war experiences he examines a wealth of diaries and memoirs, starting with the contrast between Kriegstagebuch eines Juden (War Diary of a Jew) by Julius Marx (published 1939 in Zurich) and Zwei lebende Mauern: 50 Monate Westfront by Herbert Sulzbach (Berlin 1935; translated under the title With the German Guns, London 1973).
These diarists share an intense German patriotism but their attitudes to their Jewish heritage could hardly be more different. Coming from a patrician family in Frankfurt am Main, Sulzbach served in the artillery and his narrative offers a distanced view of combat combined with sensitivity to the wider political conflict. Particularly impressive are his descriptions of the new ‘tank monsters’ that turned the tide on the Western front (cited page 87). But the most remarkable feature of his memoirs, according to Appelbaum, is that there is ‘no mention of the fact that he is Jewish’ (page 59).
Julius Marx, who came from a textile-manufacturing family in Württemberg, served for four years in the infantry, rising (like Sulzbach) to the rank of lieutenant. But Marx writes with a gritty realism that reveals not only the sufferings of the trenches but also the pressures to which Jews were exposed in an increasingly anti-Semitic climate. Jews, according to a striking passage about the Battle of the Somme, are ‘fighting on two Fronts – one for Germany’s victory, the other for our equality in Germany’ (page 78). Even more humiliating was the Jewish Census of November 1916, instigated by the authorities in response to rumours about Jews shirking front-line service: ‘Do they wish to degrade us to second-class soldiers and make us a laughing stock?’ Marx asks (page 265).
The analysis of that so-called Judenzählung is the most powerful section of Appelbaum’s book. Drawing on a compelling range of sources, he refutes the attempts by revisionist historians to downplay this example of state-sanctioned racial discrimination. In human terms, his documentation is even more poignant, culminating in a poem published in the Israelitisches Familienblatt, where a Jewish mother writes that ‘her son has been wounded by his own people more than by an enemy bullet’ (page 265).
The other Jewish voices brought to life by this moving book range from pilots like Jakob Wolf and Willy Rosenstein to a medical dog handler named Adolph Lehmann. As in the case of Appelbaum’s earlier book on Jewish chaplains in the German army, Loyalty Betrayed, there is an impressive range of historical photographs of Jews in military uniforms. Their loyalty was indeed betrayed. After Germany’s defeat, Jews were targeted as scapegoats – even though 12,000 had died in the service of their country. Emmanuel Saul was one of those killed on the Russian front. Those who survived had to cope with a climate poisoned by anti-Semites who published data claiming to prove that the German army had been ‘stabbed in the back’. By 1938 German-Jewish military veterans were being imprisoned and murdered by their own government.
Julius Marx was fortunate to find sanctuary in Switzerland, while Herbert Sulzbach escaped to England, was briefly interned, and joined the Pioneer Corps. As a footnote to Appelbaum’s fine book, it is worth highlighting Sulzbach’s career in the British army. He rose to the rank of captain and in 1944-48 masterminded an inspirational re-education programme for German officers at the Featherstone Park prisoner-of-war camp in Northamptonshire. For his services to Anglo-German relations he was honoured by both the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic. According to the obituary published in AJR Information in August 1985, he enhanced the work of reconciliation ‘by stressing his Jewish origin’.
Edward Timms [link]
A glorious old bookshop LOOSE CONNECTIONS: FROM NARVA MAANTEE TO GREAT RUSSELL STREET by Esther Menell Westhill Books, 2014, 320 pp. paperback, available from Amazon, ISBN 9780993008702
This autobiographical work was published in its final form when Esther Menell was in her 81st year and seems to have undergone as many trials as the author herself.
In the preface, Esther Menell, who had the huge good fortune to work with Diana Athill and other editors, describes showing her manuscript of this book to them - which they read ‘with varying degrees of pleasure. For some, it seemed a big muddle: they would have preferred a graspable chronology ....’ One can’t help thinking they were right. It is very much a book of two discrete parts - the first her Estonian family history, the second an account of her professional life, mostly with André Deutsch.
The family history is both fascinating and hard to follow: perhaps a family tree would have helped situate the very many aunts, uncles and cousins. Their family was complicated not only by the vagaries of diaspora, as with many Jewish families, but also by second marriages: both the author’s parents had been married before, so adding half-siblings to the mix.
But she recounts the history of Estonia as intertwined with that of her family and it certainly adds to the understanding of that complex and turbulent period. She quotes one of her uncles’s school friends summarising Fima’s life: ‘Poor jefim. On the wrong side of the twentieth century at every turn: despised by the Nazis for being a Jew, by the Russians for being Estonian, by the Communists for being bourgeois, by the Estonian nationalists for having fought in the Red Army ....’
Luckily for the author, her Estonian, German-speaking Jewish father had been persuaded to go to Britain the very moment war broke out in 1939, taking his wife and five-year-old daughter with him. The colourful and complicated family history makes for enjoyable reading. Less interesting are the passages about the author’s second husband’s American life: they seem like an afterthought in what is already a book of so many parts.
Esther Menell’s adult life as an editor, mainly for André Deutsch, is the Great Russell Street half of the subtitle. This is brought to life wonderfully: the cramped spaces beneath the stairs that editors worked under uncomplainingly; the terrible, unfair treatment at the hands of despotic publishers; the poor pay. But this is compensated for by the creative part of her work. There is the serendipity of finding good authors in the most unlikely ways - apart from the constant ‘slush pile’ of unread, unsolicited manuscripts which sometimes bear fruit, there was a number of books which came about through random encounters in shops and hospitals and through relatives and friends. Those were the days, when books were published in the full knowledge that they wouldn’t sell in any volume but simply because they told a tale worth telling! Fascinating too are the searches for the right titles, the process of editing, and the colourful characters, including the great Diana Athill, who worked in publishing after the war and seem to have come from central casting.
The account finishes with the author’s battle to save her pension, which risked being slashed by her employers and threatened to leave her impoverished after years of dedication to them. Although it was obviously a crucial part of her own story, trips to lawyers and the correspondence make for less than sparkling copy. One is tempted to say ‘Editor, edit thyself!’
This book brings to mind a glorious old bookshop - full of stories, places and characters, and well worth a visit.
Anna Nyburg [link]
The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, which houses archaeological artefacts from all the nations mentioned in the Bible, plus Rome, has recently inaugurated a new exhibition entitled ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’. The core of the exhibition consists of several dozen clay tablets bearing cuneiform inscriptions which were found at a site in modern-day Iraq. The site, known as Al Yahudu, meaning the city of Judah, was apparently one of several places where Jews exiled from Jerusalem and Judea by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE, settled and made their homes.
From the relevant passages in the Bible (Ezekiel 17:15; Jeremiah 37: 5-11, 52;12; 2 Kings 25:8), we learn that as a result of the rebellion by the Judean king Jehoiachin against the Babylonians who controlled the region, Nebuchadnezzar exiled Jehoiachin to Babylon and appointed his uncle, Zedekiah, in his stead. However, Zedekiah also rebelled a few years later, bringing upon himself Nebuchadnezzar’s terrible personal vengeance as well as the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Babylonian texts chronicling the annals of the kingdom confirm these facts.
After the long trek on foot to Babylon, during which many people died, the Jews were allowed to settle there in areas of their own, which were often named after the people living there, and presumably that’s how Al Yahudu got its name. The Jews remained in Babylon for approximately 70 years until that country’s conquest by the Persian king Cyrus, who allowed the Jews to return to their own country. Not all the Jews took advantage of this and many remained in Babylon, where the Jewish community continued to grow and flourish for many centuries. It was only with the rise of nationalism and fascism and of Nazi sympathisers in the Arab countries in the twentieth century, as well as the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, that Jews were forced to flee those countries, including modern-day Babylon, i.e. Iraq.
Among the hundreds of clay tablets found at excavation sites are several listing the names and genealogies of Jewish families, recognisable by their Hebraic names. Many others provide information about their daily lives, documenting marriages and births, lists of merchandise, sales accounts and similar records, written mainly in the Akkadian language but also in ancient Hebrew script.
The exhibition also displays artefacts contemporary to the tablets found at the site, such as clay amphora, cooking and eating vessels, oil lamps and decanters, further illustrating the daily life of the Jews. It was in Babylon, deprived of the Temple that had previously been the centre of Jewish religious life, that the Jewish tradition of prayer and learning evolved and became established, giving rise to, inter alia, the renowned text of the Babylonian Talmud, as well as producing many eminent rabbis and teachers.
In addition to displaying the clay tablets, the exhibition features short animated films illustrating aspects of life in ancient Babylon, as well as illustrations from mediaeval and modern sources. At the final point in the exhibition, the visitor is shown images of modern Jerusalem, while in the background we are treated to a modern rendition of Psalm 137, ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’, in the hit song composed in 1970 by the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians.
One could argue that the ability of the Jews to adapt to changing circumstances while adhering to certain aspects of their faith has enabled them to endure as a people and a religion while other, more powerful nations have not survived. What is certain is that the Jews who came to Babylon did not spend too much time moping for their lost land but got on with the task in hand of rebuilding their lives in a strange land, thus setting the standard for the countless instances of dispossession and exile that followed.
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson [link]