Apr 2005 Journal

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Richard Grunberger on Richard Grunberger

Extracts from an interview conducted by Bea Lewkowicz

An appreciation of the life and contribution to the AJR of Richard Grunberger, whose sudden death occurred as the March issue of the AJR Journal was going to press, is presented in this special issue of the journal. Dr Bea Lewkowicz provides extracts from an interview she conducted with Richard in September 2001 when filming interviews for 'Continental Britons: Refugee Voices'. The extracts focus on how Richard perceived himself as Editor-in-Chief of the AJR Journal, as a writer, and as a Continental Briton. Ronald Channing, a close colleague of Richard over many years, writes an appreciation, and Dr Anthony Grenville, a colleague and personal friend of Richard, has written an obituary. In addition, we include two articles which Richard, a prolific writer, prepared for publication but, owing to the demands of space, did not appear in earlier issues.

How do you see your role as the editor of the AJR Journal?

I see my role as the editor as somebody who is trying to bridge the gulf of where the refugees came from and where they have found themselves for the last 60 years. I want them not to lose contact with what they have left behind because there was a very rich German cultural Jewish life of which they are the last representatives. On the other hand, I want them to be more acculturated to English life and English culture. I am trying to act as a mediator between the two and as a propagandist for the amalgam of the two cultures. This is how I see my function. I want to point out to them that there is a rich cultural life, particularly in the field of literature. The fact that there are so many literary prizes is a perfect example. It so happens that the person who won the Whitbread Prize, Matthew Kneale, is the grandson of Alfred Kerr, who was the leading drama critic in Germany in the 1920s and before. This is the type of double focus that I am trying to give the journal: keeping a spotlight on Jewish-German culture and on the way the refugees have contributed to British culture - but also on the vast body of culture with which many refugees are insufficiently related. I want to be a guide in that direction.

How would you describe yourself?

When I was growing up there was a cliché expression: 'Weltbürger'. I see myself as a European. I am very much in favour of the integration of Europe. Partly because it solves my own problem of identity, but I also feel that there is something to be said for abolishing the narrow confines of the nation-state, the little England mentality. I want people to broaden their outlook and their sense of identity. Even if they are not British-born, they can still partake in this new, involving British identity.

Do you consider yourself British?

The fact that I have kept my old surname - which gives me problems every day on the telephone - shows that I am not quite British. There is no way of getting round the fact. But I feel fully in tune with what this country stands for, both politically - as a haven of freedom and tolerance of dissenting groups - and in terms of culture.

What is the most important part of your Continental identity?

The Jewish contribution to Austrian and German literature. When somebody called me the poor man's Karl Kraus I took that as a compliment.

How has your life been affected by being a refugee?

I have been at the receiving end of the whole experience as somebody who was totally passive - none of these things have I made a deliberate contribution to. I was thrown around by the tides of history. I thought I could find some anchor in Communism and I was gravely disappointed. On the other hand, I feel very strongly for Israel but nonetheless I can no longer call myself a wholly committed Zionist because a Zionist identity somehow would involve shedding the important Central European and English aspects of my identity. So I am a mixture of all sorts of things.

How different would your life have been had you not been forced to emigrate?

This is an unanswerable question. I would have loved to turn into a Kaffeehaus Literateur, rubbing shoulders and exchanging aphorisms with the likes of Karl Kraus, Alfred Polgar and Egon Erwin Kisch. That's how I would have liked to have grown up. That period was actually drawing to a close in the thirties but this is my fantasy.

What do you see as your most important contribution?

My book The Social History of the Third Reich. It has been translated into four languages and published in six countries. It has been in print ever since the seventies, both in this country as a paperback and in America as a paperback. If I am going to be remembered for anything, it will be for that.

It is very gratifying to me that although I was asked to be the editor of the AJR Journal for 10 years, I am still there after 14 years and the readership has not really slumped, as one would have thought. I find that the readers' letters are of a very high standard. I hope I have managed to raise the level of intellectual and cultural debate carried out in the columns of the paper.

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