Apr 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
SECOND GENERATION ‘OUTSIDERS’
Sir - Merilyn Moos writes a very emotional article, ‘Tunnels of the past: Perceptions of second generation “outsiders”’, in your March issue. However, as a member of that somewhat ill-defined second generation, I felt bewildered by some of the points raised.
She writes that ‘So many of us, the children of the refugees from Nazism, feel overwhelmed by our parents’ experiences.’ Her conclusions are apparently based on interviewing 12 people who had refugee parents. I am not a statistician but I am sure that with very little trouble I could find 12 left-handed people who like chicken soup. This proves neither that all left-handed people like chicken soup nor that chicken soup is liked only by people who are left-handed. To extrapolate from a sample of 12 interviewees seems a little strange – possibly even pointless.
Apparently Ms Moos also ‘discovered that the second generation had never been systematically studied in the UK.’ But the search term ‘UK second generation Jewish refugees’, when input to Google Scholar, generated over 16,000 results. Surely some of this research must be applicable or able to be extrapolated to the UK environment!
Although I accept that ‘second generation’ refugees can suffer from the emotional traumas described in the article, I am also concerned that sometimes it is too easy to suggest an apparent cause. When I was younger I occasionally suffered from slight bouts of dandruff – it seemed naive to blame Hitler for this mild affliction and an insult to those who suffered directly at the hands of the Nazis and their supporters.
THE JEWISH PREDICAMENT
Sir - I remain an avid fan of the AJR Journal and am always amazed at how interesting you keep making it - most notably the uniquely insightful Grenville essays.
However, I do want to comment on the ‘Letter from Israel’ Dorothea Shefer-Vanson recently wrote regarding Howard Jacobson’s (in my opinion highly overrated) novel The Finkler Question. She suggests that Jacobson ‘seems to be seeking to underline that sense of “otherness” that a Jew cannot avoid feeling, no matter where he or she happens to be living.’
For me, that comment really underlines the differences between Jews in the UK (I'm assuming Shefer-Vanson is a Brit or ex-Brit) and American Jews, or at least most of those with whom I associate. My combined sensibility as both intensely Jewish and aware of having been born in Germany gives me not the slightest sense of ‘otherness’ as an American; indeed, it emphasises how very American I am. Perhaps that’s the unique and precious quality of my adopted country (who adopted whom is difficult to ascertain). Extending this metaphorically to Israel - judging Israel by ‘different standards’ - is a bit problematic, especially for a people admonished to be ‘a light unto the nations’. Can't have it both ways, alas.
Sir - I was delighted to read Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s perceptive review of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question and her unhesitating appreciation of the author’s message of the Jew as perennial outsider - wherever he happens to be, he is not at home.
It is a seriously funny novel - but not Booker material, which demands a certain universality. It is a niche book, as shown by its relatively modest sales (by Booker
standards), just as The Artist is not really Oscar material but a niche film (at least three of the also-rans grossed more in the first week of their release than The Artist will gross over its lifetime).
For an ever better take on the Jewish predicament, I recommend The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon (published by Harper Collins in 2007 and available from Amazon). Don’t be put off by the title: it is a brilliant dystopian novel based on the premise of the Jews having been denied their state in Palestine in 1948 and being given a barren strip of land in Alaska instead. Hilarious and heartbreaking in turn, it also illustrates the vigour and impact of the American novel compared to its anaemic English shadow.
It may be significant that many of the big beasts of contemporary American literature - Bellow, Mailer, Roth, Heller - are Jews, whereas there is today no significantly Jewish component of English fiction.
A TRUE HEROINE
Sir - At the time I wrote my letter ‘Has Austria really changed?’, I fully believed the matter of my Austrian pension had been settled. However, in early February I found to my horror that a sizeable amount of income tax had been deducted from my January pension. Since I saw no chance of meeting the pension people’s deadline, I was convinced they would tax me retroactively from 1 January 2011, as they had threatened.
I am truly grateful to the AJR and the Austrian Embassy for all their efforts on our behalf. However, for me, the true heroine of this piece is a second-generation friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. Distressed by my distress, after several failed attempts to bring about a change of heart at the Pensionsversicherungsanstalt, she emailed (at the suggestion of a mutual Viennese friend) Barbara Prammer, the President of the Nationalrat, on 6 February. The reply came on 9 February. Apparently it was all a mistake: the letter was never meant for victims of Nazi persecution; we would get our money back plus sincere apologies. By now, I have had both.
Sir - My mother, Ruth Motz, has been an AJR member for decades. She and my late father, Robert (died May 2006), were for many years in the photos used for AJR publicity.
Shortly after my father’s death I spotted an article in the AJR Journal pointing out that Attendance Allowance was not means tested. I applied for Attendance Allowance on her behalf, which was then awarded. I would like to say a belated thank you for that article, which has resulted in her getting several thousand pounds.
Since then I discovered that somebody with mental health needs such as dementia can be exempt from Council Tax provided they are also receiving Attendance Allowance. This can be backdated and, as a result, she received a Council Tax refund of about £10,000.
I recently wrote an article about benefits for our synagogue (North West Surrey) newsletter. This has already resulted in another member putting in a Council Tax refund for thousands of pounds for a 98-year-old AJR member with dementia for whom he is responsible.
Most other benefits are means tested and many people are put off by the complexity involved. For example, about 4 million people of retirement age are entitled to Pension Credit yet about 1 in 3 are not claiming it. People of any age may be entitled to Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Job Seekers Allowance …. The list goes on. The complexity should not deter anybody who may need this: they can easily get help. The starting point is the website adviceguide.org.uk or any Citizen’s Advice Bureau office.
For full details of qualifying conditions, please contact Linda Kasmir, AJR Social Care Worker/Welfare Rights Adviser, on 020 8385 3086 (Ed.).
REFUGEES IN SOUTH WALES
Sir – After I read about the exhibition on Jewish refugees in South Wales in the latest issue of the Journal, I felt I must mention that my father (Sigmund K. Kohnstamm) built the first factory on the Treforest Trading Estate. It was a large Chrome Leather Factory. My father was trained in London at the leather works by cousins of my grandfather (Karl Kohnstamm). He got to London in 1935 and we joined him in May 1937. We straightaway moved into a large house in Penarth, where my parents established the top floor as a flat. Every three or four days a new family came and my mother found them premises either in Cardiff or nearby. We children were sent to a boarding school in the same road for the rest of the summer term. A student came during the holidays and taught us more English so that we were able to start in September in our age groups.
While negotiating for the Chrome Leather Works, my father became close friends with the chief of police and he helped all the people to get factories built etc etc.
When war broke out, we had to leave Penarth and, thanks to the police chief, a bus load of refugees went to Abergavenny!
The army took over the factory during the war in 1943 and we moved to London. My eldest sister joined the Army; I started a job at Sun Life to become an actuary, but was told after two years of exams that they did not want to have women!!! My father started a clothing business ….
JEWISH EVACUEES/REFUGEES IN ROWLEDGE, FARNHAM, 1942
Sir - I grew up in the large family house, originally known as Rowledge House, which, I have only just learned, provided accommodation to 32 evacuated Jewish children during the war following its sale by a Mr Schofield to a Farnham syndicate. The syndicate let it to the Jewish Hostels Association.
I understand that a number of the children who lived here attended the local primary school just across the road to which I too went in the 1950s.
Previously, I knew nothing of this fascinating aspect of the village or of the house’s history even though I grew up here.
We moved into this house in 1956 and I now live in the old stables (the single-storey wing and buildings beyond) and work from a studio in the vegetable garden.
Weeks ago I was carrying out research at the Surrey History Centre in Woking in connection with the origins of the village when I came across an extremely interesting hand-written journal started in 1923 by Florence Parker, the daughter of the first vicar of the parish, who was installed in 1871. It seems Florence’s intention had been that further entries would be added over the years and the book kept in the vestry safe. Regrettably, additional entries seem to have ceased in the 1950s and the journal is now in the Rowledge archive boxes at the Surrey History Centre.
Among many other aspects of village life, Florence Parker gives a brief history and description of all the larger houses in the village, including Rowledge House. Her original entry for Rowledge House had the following information added to it in another hand, presumably that of a subsequent vicar or church warden: ‘Mr Schofield sold the house in 1942 to a Farnham Syndicate who let it to a Jewish Hostels Association for 32 evacuated Jew [sic] children.’
I’ve searched Google without much success other than a reference in the AJR Information newsletter of February 1946, which gives some addresses for ‘AJR in the Provinces’, including ‘Farnham. Sur. Dr. E. Dannenberg, Mount Dannen, Rowledge, near Farnham’.
Mount Dannen must be a play on Dr Dannenberg’s surname, but I wonder whether it was a name he gave to Rowledge House while the 32 evacuated children lived there.
An interesting additional question remains whether the children were indeed evacuees or refugees.
I’d be grateful for any further information readers can provide about this fascinating and important part of our village’s history. Once I know more about it all, I would love to erect a plaque on the end of the house (the old west wing), especially as this year will be the 70th anniversary of the children’s arrival in Rowledge.
Mark Westcott, Architect and Landscape Architect, Rowledge, Farnham
GLOUCESTER ASSOCIATION FOR AIDING REFUGEES
Sir - I was pleased to read Nicholas Burkitt’s overview of the Gloucester Association for Aiding Refugees (GAAR), an archive I have used extensively in my research on refugee committees operating in Britain before and during the Second World War. But what surprised me was his inaccuracy regarding the inception of the committee. It was the impetus from the local branch of the National Council of Women (NCW) that lead to the setting up of GAAR and it was their members who formed the nucleus of the committee. Indeed, the NCW were responsible for a vast amount of refugee work in London and around the country. I would be interested to know which other local initiatives, if any, feature in his thesis, which I have been unable to access.
On another note, I thank Professor Wigan in Melbourne for pointing out my error in referring to Margaret Layton as ‘sister’ and not ‘eldest daughter’ and can assure him that the article was otherwise accurate.
CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
Sir – I am almost beginning to think there is a conspiracy of silence about the Kitchener Camp. There was an excellent programme about it in January on the BBC South East series ‘Inside Out’. No mention in the AJR Journal. Most people know about the Kindertransport but very few are aware of the Kitchener Camp, which saved the lives of thousands of people. It almost certainly saved my life and that of my parents.
CONTACTING ‘KINDER’ IN FLORIDA
Sir – I am an avid reader of your journal and was at the Kindertransport meet in London some years ago. I came over on a Kindertransport in May 1939 and lived in England and Scotland during the war. In 1950 I left for the US and soon was drafted into the army during the Korean War. Later I went to Mexico and, after graduation, spent many years in Latin America. Recently we moved from Venezuela to the Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area in Florida. My reason for writing is to ask you to publish this note to find out if other ‘Kinder’ live in this area so as to contact them. Gracias!
Sir - I was interested in the review (February) ‘Exploding a myth’ of a book about Jewish soldiers fighting for Germany during the First World War.
I remember that after 1933 the Jewish Kulturband Orchestra was founded, with branches in Berlin and Frankfurt. In Frankfurt William Steinberg, who had been head of the opera there, was its first conductor (he made later quite a career for himself in the US). This orchestra travelled around Germany and in late 1934 came to Düsseldorf. There they played a heiteres Konzert (a concert of cheerful music) for the local Jüdische Frontkämpferbund (Jewish veterans’ society). I always thought this a heart-breaking piece of news.
THE STORY OF THE COLOGNE JAWNE
Sir – I was born in a village in North West Rheinland not far from Düsseldorf. I came to England on the Kindertransport in 1939 and have been back to my birthplace several times. During these visits my wife and I made a number of friends. These friends have been active in keeping alive the memory of the Jewish people from the area who perished in the Holocaust.
I recently received from one of these friends a brochure on an exhibition in Cologne entitled Die Kinder auf dem Schulhof nebenan: Zur Geschichte der Jawne 1919-1942 (The Children from the Schoolyard Next Door: The Story of the Jawne, 1919-1942). ‘Kinder’ from the Cologne area may find this interesting. Further details are available at www.jawne.de.
ALBANIANS AND THE HOLOCAUST
Sir - I was very interested to read Anthony Grenville’s account of an international conference on the Holocaust at the Imperial War Museum. However, I was disappointed that it made no reference to Albania’s extraordinary interfaith relations that caused Muslims to save the lives of many Jewish refugees before and during the last war. The AJR knows about this: the Board sent a letter to the director of the Tirana Museum thanking Albanians for their courageous sheltering of Jewish refugees even while the country was occupied by the Nazis.
Anthony Grenville: To the best of my knowledge, Albania was not mentioned at the conference.
‘STAMP COLLECTING FOR GROWN-UPS’
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s interesting article on stamp collecting for adults brought to mind the following incident. While I was working as a part-time secretary at the Yugoslav Military Mission in London towards the end of the war, I found it was not uncommon for Jewish individuals with relatives in Yugoslavia to wish to search the records of the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile for survivors of the Holocaust. One day, an elderly Austrian-Jewish lady arrived at the office distraught and branding, almost accusingly, a long-awaited letter from Yugoslavia.
‘Look at that stamp!’, she told my boss, ‘It’s got Hermann Göring on it!’
Captain Vujovic, head of the Military Mission and a staunch Communist, took a look at the envelope, its stamp depicting an arrogant-looking fat face and broad chest covered in medals. ‘That’s not Göring!’, he said calmly with a smile, ‘That’s Marshal Tito!’
Incidentally, I have in my possession two original first-issue stamps from Austria dated 1973, with a picture of my maternal grandmother’s first cousin, Professor Otto Loewi. He was born in Frankfurt but was for many decades resident in Graz, where he lectured at the university and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine jointly with Sir Henry Dale in 1936.