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Apr 2011 Journal

Letters to the Editor

GERMANS AND JEWISH REFUGEES

Sir - Dr Grenville’s contributions to the Journal are invariably fascinating to read and inwardly digest, but his latest observations on Germans and Jewish refugees (March) brought back particular memories of Herbert Sulzbach. Shortly after my parents and I arrived in England, we found a room in Belsize Park Gardens, the house also occupied by the Sulzbach family as well as two or three other Jewish refugees from Germany. Sulzbach adored young people and he and I, then aged nearly nine, got on famously and he would often tell me exciting stories from his native Frankfurt am Main.

One day I came home from school to find the house empty, except for my mother (dad was still at work). Everyone had been taken away and transported to the Isle of Man. As Germans, they had been interned. Because my father had told the immigration officer at Harwich, where we had arrived at dawn on 3 September 1939, that we were ‘staatenlos’, he was told ‘We don’t have that here. Where were you born?’ My father said he was born in a part of Poland which had been annexed to Russia at the time. ‘Russia, eh! Then that’s what you are!’ Within a couple of minutes we had become Russians – and were never interned.

We had the Anderson shelter to ourselves and wept for the Sulzbachs, thinking they must have been taken to a concentration camp. But Herbert Sulzbach joined the Pioneer Corps, the only section of the British army open to ‘aliens’. He was quickly promoted to captain and, as explained in Anthony Grenville’s article, became closely involved in the de-nazification of prominent German POWs.

Many of the POWs were fully-fledged Nazis but, thanks to Sulzbach’s superb handling, they were genuinely re-educated. What the article did not mention was that, once the war ended and a new German embassy was opened in London, Herbert Sulzbach was appointed its cultural attaché – to my knowledge the first and only Jewish refugee to have landed such an appointment. He remained in this position until well after what should have been his official retirement.

His funeral, at the age of (I think) 80, was attended by a large contingent of the POWs he had ‘de-nazified’. He had, in fact, become their most treasured friend. Whenever we got together for a meal or just a drink, he would always introduce me to friends as ‘I knew this young man when he was just a little boy who spoke no English. Look at him now – the education correspondent of The Daily Telegraph! Would you believe it!’

John Izbicki, Horsmonden, Kent

Sir - I am of the first English-born generation of my father’s family. I have come across all the views expressed in your March leading article. My refugee parents seemed to have had no issue with re-establishing relationships with Germans, even though a silent question mark hung over those of a certain age who crossed their paths. My parents had many German relations who had lost their Jewish identities centuries earlier and lived through the war in Germany and live there today. I know they covered all extremes of attitudes, actions and empathies during the Second World War.

In my life I have found mainly, but not exclusively, Anglo-Jews to be the most virulent in their hatred of Germans, whether because of their ‘lost’ years having to fight against them or for some of the reasons expressed in your article. What strikes me most is the dehumanisation this causes and the unswerving prejudice this sort of thinking creates. We accuse the Nazis of dehumanising whole swathes of society in order to justify their programme of extermination, yet we are quite happy to accept similar concepts for ourselves.

People are individuals. They may belong to a race or nation: treating them collectively opens the door to racism and prejudice. There were, and still are, those who commit evil and, while it may taint those who are present in such places, it does not make everyone evil. People exist and interact as individuals not as races and we must treat everyone as a person. We become like our enemies if we start to justify hatred against groups of people and deny them individuality and identity.

Geoffrey Marx, London W14

Sir - Regarding Anthony Grenville’s article ‘Germans and Jewish refugees’, I have often wondered whether any estimate has been made of the number of non-Jewish Germans imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps and the number who died in them. I would be grateful for enlightenment.

Tom Schrecker, Val d’Isère

DOMESTIC SERVICE

Sir - I am most grateful to Anthony Grenville (‘Books of interest’, February) for drawing attention to the new book on the refugee domestic service scheme: Dienstmädchen-Emigration by Traude Bollauf. For anyone interested in migration studies, this will be essential reading, and it certainly deserves to be translated into English.

My personal reason for appreciating this book is that, as an infant in 1939-40, I was cared for by a refugee domestic named Hilde, who joined our family in Sunningdale in Surrey. Unfortunately we have no record of her surname.

The organiser of the local refugee committee was Mrs William Cecil Smyly. I wonder if any reader recalls that fondly remembered Hilde who came to Sunningdale under the domestic service scheme, or indeed Mrs Smyly?

Edward Timms, Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex

REFUGEES AND SCOTS

Sir - Like so many, my mother came to this country with a domestic permit and a job to go to on the outskirts of Edinburgh. She found it very hard to cope with work she hadn’t been used to. Fortunately, she was in touch with the Refugee Committee in Edinburgh, who gave an enormous amount of help to the refugees.

There were a number of women in similar situations to that of my mother. Somehow a house which offered a flat large enough for my whole family (parents, brother and me) became available. It also offered a facility for the women to meet on their days off on Sundays to have tea, and gave them an opportunity to exchange views, experiences and, above all, support. My mother was charged with this role, for which she was very suitable. Unfortunately, this arrangement lasted only until Edinburgh became an ‘alien protected area’: both father and brother were interned from there, and the women all had to leave, most of them going to Glasgow to find both work and accommodation.

A big thank you is due to all the Scottish people who did so much for the refugees.

Eva Frean (née Reichenfeld), Finchley

WILTON PARK OR LATIMER HOUSE

Sir – Could anyone who worked at Wilton Park or Latimer House in 1943-45 please contact historian Dr Helen Fry, who is writing a book on this subject, at hpfry@btinternet.com.

Helen Fry, London NW11

NO NOSTALGIA FOR THE BLITZ

Sir – I don’t remember the Blitz ‘with some nostalgia’ (Edith Argy, February), but with horror and sadness. My father’s entire family were killed by a direct hit on our house during the Blitz.

At the beginning of the war our family had all been brought over from Germany through the energy of my father, Martin Sulzbacher. Then he was interned, first on the way to Canada on the ill-fated Arandora Star, which was torpedoed. He survived but was then sent to Australia. My mother and we four children were sent to the Isle of Man.

However, my grandparents were too old, my uncle and aunt had already been naturalised as they had been in England five years, and my other aunt was classified C, so they all remained in London. But the Blitz was so dangerous that my uncle had driven to Chesham outside London and booked rooms there. As it was getting dark, he didn’t want to drive back in the Blackout so he returned to London by train hoping to bring the family there the next day. That night the whole family were killed and were buried in Enfield cemetery four in one row, and my aunt in the next row as her body was not found in the rubble until later.

My dear father did not hear of the disaster until Erev Yom Kippur in far-away Australia. Forty-one years later he himself passed away peacefully on Erev Yom Kippur, so that my brothers and I say Kaddish on that anniversary in memory of my father and of that tragedy in the Blitz so many years ago.

Max Sulzbacher, Jerusalem

Sir – Edith Argy’s ‘Business as usual’ article brought back memories. I kept a diary during the Blitz and I quote some of the entries to show what normal lives we led:

18.8.40: Two [air raid] warnings, then go swimming with [my friend] Lisl. In the evening, dancing at the Czech Club.

26.8.40: Warnings in the afternoon. Go to the pictures afterwards. See My Son, My Son and Teargas. 7 hours’ warning at night, hear bombs.

7.9.40: East End in flames. Warning at night.

11.9.40: Warnings day and night. 85 Jerries down.

20.9.40: Many warnings, fires and time bomb. Slept at Marble Arch Tube Station 2 nights as it is deep down.

We would walk home (I was 17) in the Blackout and not see the person next to us but were never afraid.

When my grandson did the Blitz at school the teacher was delighted to have such a factual account of what happened at the time.

Gisela Feldman, Manchester

Sir – Like so many events during the 1939-45 war, many personal lives were affected immediately but also for a lifetime. Edith Argy’s story of the Blitz resonates with my family experience. Bombed out of home and the family business in the Liverpool 20 December 1940 air raids, the family dairy built up over 40 years was totally destroyed.

And for me, it was a lost opportunity to continue to help my father, Borach, in running the dairy, often regarded as the ‘pride of Jewish Liverpool’.

Professor Eric Moonman OBE, London N7

IMPORTANT ROLE OF AJR

Sir – I hope it will be of interest to readers if I point out the increasingly important part the AJR plays in my life.

I suffered a heart attack and had an operation a few months ago. The MRI scan also revealed that I had a slipped disc, which makes standing up very painful and walking practically impossible.

I used to attend the AJR Centre on Wednesdays only. Now, I am there every day it is open – if I can manage. The importance of the AJR Centre as a meeting place for the elderly – with similar background, experiences and most of them living on their own – cannot be overemphasised. Many are also terribly lonely. Cleve Road is run smoothly, the staff are most helpful, the food is very good, and the entertainment is pleasant. I can make use of this only because transport is provided by the AJR for at least two of the days. Otherwise, it would be financially prohibitive.

The benefits I receive from the AJR are very much appreciated and most helpful to meet essential expenditure.

I am very grateful for the wonderful service provided and the work carried out by AJR staff for the benefit of the members.

Without the AJR, my life – and, I am sure, the lives of many other people – would be made much more difficult. Keep it going. Thank you.

Henry Grant, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middx

DENMARK AND THE HOLOCAUST

Sir - While I cannot comment on other countries, I would like to take issue
with Rubin Katz ( March, Letters) in respect of Denmark. Mr Rubin states that Denmark did not have any qualms about surrendering their foreign Jews who sought asylum there.

There was a considerable number of Jewish refugees in Denmark - among others, groups of young people who had gone there on hachshara (preparation for working in agriculture in Palestine). In common with Danish Jews, these Jews were also brought to safety when the Danish resistance rescued us to neutral Sweden in October 1943. It was there that I made friends with a youngster from Stettin, Germany who had been on hachshara in Denmark.

Walter Goddard, London SW7

BULGARIANS AND JEWS

Sir – Peter Block (February, Letters) highlights the Bulgarian Jews saved from the Holocaust.
Strong national pride is not a distinctive trait of Bulgarians and this particularly attractive characteristic seems to be one of the principal reasons for Bulgaria’s protection of her Jews.

Lack of race hatred was the cumulative result of Bulgarians living with other minorities under Turkish domination for over five centuries.

The saving of the Jews was not complete. King Boris authorised the deportation of Thracian and Macedonian Jews. Only 12 of the 11,343 sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka survived, whereas Jews in Bulgaria proper were saved.

The King acted only in national self-interest, collaborating in March 1943 and opposing deportation only when he saw the Allies gaining ground – and the chance of emerging from the Nazi period with Bulgaria’s reputation enhanced.

In 1940 Bulgaria already introduced anti-Jewish laws. This legislation was met with a howl of protest.

Having grown up among Armenians, Greeks and Gypsies, the Bulgarian finds no defect in the Jews that might justify special measures against them.

Did Bulgarians possess exceptional moral and political qualities? Bulgarians do not hold themselves in particularly high regard. Of course, they love their land, but when it comes to making value judgements, they are quick to maintain that those of other peoples are superior.

The 1934 coup d’état weakened the role of Bulgaria’s traditional political parties as well as that of the National Assembly. After the 1939 elections the regime was authoritarian, but not fascist.

Bulgarian Jews numbered 48,400. Half of them lived in Sofia. They were mostly workers or artisans. Although Bulgaria had its anti-Semitic traditions, they were never especially strong.

Kurt Winter, London NW3

RETURN TO FUERTH

Sir – ‘Return to Fuerth’ reads the heading of an article by the Rev Bernd Koschland in your February issue. Of all places, Fürth, my birthplace, which I left in 1933 and have never visited since! Fürth, how vividly I remember this sooty town with its tall factory chimneys and the nauseating smell of hops at almost every street corner. Fürth is where my mother was born, as was her mother and my great-grandmother. I think we’re probably some of the original inhabitants of the town!

The Jews once played a prominent role there, with numerous institutions bearing the names of their founders, the great benefactors of the place. The very street where I was born and bred was named after one of them: Königswarterstrasse. Later – after we had moved from there – to be changed to Adolf Hitler Strasse, but changed back to its original name after the war.

Germany’s first railway, the Ludwigsbahn (not Ludwigseisenbahn as stated in the article), named after the king of Bavaria, was still in service when my sister was a little girl, but had been replaced by an electric Strassenbahn (tram) by the time I was born.

I sometimes wonder how much Fürth may have changed since my early childhood and if I’d still find my way around.

Henry Kissinger’s father was my sister’s maths teacher - the best she’d ever had, she claims. He taught her to write her numbers neatly. He had already, as a young man, held a job as a Hebrew teacher in my mother’s school!

As for Frank and Beri Harris, I too am a recipient of his annual newsletter. He is a very active man despite his age and has done a lot of good work.

(Mrs) Margarete Stern, London NW3

FIXATION WITH JEWS

Sir – Regarding the article ‘The fixation with Jews’ (March): listening to BBC Radio 4 a few weeks ago, I heard crucifixion was established practice during the rule of the Greeks and Romans. In fact, further refinements in the art of this cruelty to prolong the agony, especially reserved for Jews, were the order of the day.

Laura Selo, London NW11

Sir – The Jews gave the world the Ten Commandments. The Jews gave the world Jesus Christ. The Jews have never been forgiven!

Hans Hammerschmidt, Oxford

HUNGARIAN JEWS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD

Sir - A propos ‘Hungarian Jews who changed the world’ (March, Letters), it is perhaps not generally known that they all came from Mars. They did not want to admit this, so they called themselves Hungarians.

Professor Ernst Sondheimer, London N6

Art notes

From Arcadian landscapes to war scenes, the watercolour is eternally popular. According to Tate Britain, British artists such as John Frederick Lewis, William Turner, William Blake and John Nash have been among the greatest exponents of the medium. And the fluidity and portability of the medium made it cheap and handy enough to represent eye witness accounts of events before the days of photography.

In its wide-ranging exhibition Watercolour (until 21 August), the Tate traces the medium back to medieval illuminated manuscripts. Well before the so-called golden age of British watercolour in the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, artists like the sixteenth-century painter Nicholas Hilliard painted exquisite miniatures on vellum laid on thin paper. The technique of painting miniatures on ivory began in Georgian times, until artists such as John Hoskins and Samuel Cooper found vellum preferable.

The history of watercolour began with topography. The milky blend of sky, land and water is beautifully rendered, for instance by the eighteenth-century painter John Robert Cozens in his Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo. Considered one of the founders of the British watercolour school, his landscape, in which one tree leans away from the others in a nod to the castle seen way into the distance, is both playful and majestic. Thomas Girtin’s Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland has a similar magic: his focal point of a rock pointing upwards like a hand is a virtual set for Lord of the Rings.

Violence and war are depicted in Edward Burra’s Wake (1940) in gouache and ink wash. Clearly obsessed with the sensual body, he adds skeletal hands to portray horrific events. In Soldiers at Rye his grinning, masked faces evoke a military Walpurgisnacht. His Mexican Church carries a similarly bleak message: Christ’s face, darkened and dirtied, is answered by an equally dark cadaverous figure smirking back at us - his future. The Holocaust is depicted in Eric Taylor’s Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp (1945). William Holman Hunt’s Dead Sea from Siloam is among several pre-Raphaelites on show, apart from William Blake, the water-colourist who excelled most at dark surrealism. Turner’s sketches anticipate the full-blown, glowering sunsets which made him the father of English Impressionism. Thomas Girtin’s La Rue St Denis - a long, empty street - signifies introspection. Anish Kapoor mixes his watercolours with earth and gouache, giving a murky, gravelly aspect.

Ludwig Blum’s Jerusalem in the soft, early winter light is etiolated by the sun behind the clouds. The Czech artist, who emigrated to Palestine in 1923, is featured in The Land of Light and Promise: 50 Years Painting Jerusalem and Beyond at the Ben Uri (until 24 April). Blum immersed himself in Jerusalem, delving into its light, architecture, religious symbols and people. His style has been compared to that of John Singer Sargent. He is a pure nature artist, captivated by the strong light and shadow of the Middle East, but no matter how verdant his cypress trees or how eloquent his imagination, there is something in his work that remains forever Europe

Gloria Tessler