Extracts from the Aug 2002 Journal

Godfathers and their wards (editorial)

Murder as an instrument of politics goes back at least to the assassination of Julius Caesar. Even so, politically motivated murders were infrequent occurrences until the 1880s when extremist ideologies like anarchism took root in Russia and elsewhere. Dostoevsky viewed the revolutionaries who killed Alexander II and other Tsarist notables as the veritable 'spawn of Satan'. His novel The Possessed was intended as a mene tekel to a society imbued with waning religious faith and menaced by bloodcurdling nihilism. In Dostoevsky's perception, characters like Raskolnikov and Ivan Karamazov were ready to commit heinous crimes because in cutting themselves off from God they had divested themselves of humanity. [more...]

Antisemitism in a Jew-less land

Poland's Jewry, the largest in pre-war Europe, also suffered the heaviest losses. By the war's end, out of three and a quarter million barely 200,000 had survived (mainly in Russia). Over the next 20-odd years, this number was further decimated by an exodus resulting from right-wing atrocities - particularly at Kielce in 1946 - and the Communist cold pogrom of 1968. Today's community numbers between 10,000 and 20,000 in a country of 38 million. [more...]

A short discourse on demography

At present, Israelis make up 37 per cent of world Jewry, but by the year 2030 it is estimated that just over half of all Jews will be living in Israel. This shift will occur because Diaspora Jewry is constantly crumbling around the edges - due to intermarriage, conversion, etc - while the Israeli community cannot but stay intact.
But though intact, it will - with the exception of the Orthodox segment - show no sizable future increase in numbers. This is in stark contrast to the steep curve of Palestinian population growth, exemplified by one of the major stumbling blocks at Oslo. The number of Palestinians uprooted by the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 had been around three quarters of a million. Yet, just over half a century later, Yasser Arafat claimed a 'Right of Return' for 4 million - a claim undoubtedly based on solid fact. [more...]

Continental Britons

Lectures and discussions fill exhibition programme

Changing Countries: Refugee Voices

Dr Anthony Grenville, Dr Marian Malet and Dr Charmian Brinson, authors of a major recent book based on a programme of detailed interviews with former refugees, Changing Countries: The Experiences and Achievements of German-Speaking Refugees from Hitler in Britain, participated in a seminar at the Jewish Museum. They discussed the writing of the book with three distinguished interviewees: Peter Gellhorn, composer and conductor, Hans Seelig, lecturer and chairman of Club '43, and Elisabeth Rosenthal, educationalist and lecturer. Contributions from panel members were followed by a lively and enjoyable discussion.

Self-educating Internees

Professor Maxine Seller discussed Education Among Jewish Refugees Interned by Britain in World War II, under the aegis of the Jewish Historical Society. Prof Seller stressed the paradox of the - mainly Jewish - refugees "being imprisoned by the country that saved their lives." Faced with an imminent Nazi invasion the British government interned 28,000 men and women of 'enemy' nationality living in Britain in the Spring of 1940, in the Isle of Man, Canada, Australia and on mainland Britain. Although adequately housed, fed and rarely mistreated, they were cut off from family, friends, school and work. The internees made the best of a bad situation by creating educational resources and social networks.
We Built Up Our Lives, Maxine Seller, Greenwood Press/EDS.

Refugees - 60 Years On

Nick Hardwick, Director of the Refugee Council, discussed whether 1930s experiences offered Britain guidance when faced with today's asylum seekers. The vast majority of refugees go from one poor country to another. Of the 2% of the world's refugees seeking residence in the UK, the European average, about half were eventually permitted to stay. A comparison of newspaper headlines in the 1930s and those of today showed striking similarities with refugees 'flooding in', etc. Even the arguments were similar, belittling the persecution from which people were escaping. The right to asylum was an absolute right and asylum seekers should not be required to give up their identity. Perhaps, like Continental Britons, they would possess more than one!

'Immigration and Settlement'

'Continental Britons: Immigration and Settlement of Jewish Refugees from Nazi Europe' was the title of a lecture given by AJR historian Dr Anthony Grenville at the Jewish Museum, drawing on his research for the associated exhibition. He concentrated on three areas of refugee history: the little-known early years of the Association of Jewish Refugees, which grew into the organisation that represented the Jews from Central Europe over the following decades; the experience of wartime Britain as a key factor influencing the refugees' attitudes to their adopted homeland; and the refugees' relations with the British in the post-war period, as revealed through the pages of the AJR Information. A large and appreciative audience then contributed to an entertaining and informative discussion.

'Exile, Legacy and Memory'

Daniel Libeskind, architect of the Spiral Extension to the Victoria & Albert Museum, addressed the symposium on refugee architects organised by the London Jewish Cultural Centre in association with the Royal Institute of British Architects. Polish born, his parents were the only two survivors from an immediate family of 85, yet he stressed the importance of one's contribution to life. "Lucky" to win the competition for Berlin's Jewish Museum, he felt that "buildings and civic space" were the key dimensions in cities, and spoke of the "vitality of history shaping what we human beings think we are." The Imperial War Museum North, opening in Manchester, despite suffering considerable cuts in budget, provided "the maximum of architectural input with the minimum of resources," as a "large barn", parts of the roof of which could be touched. "Architecture has to be memorable," said Libeskind. [more...]

Central Office for Holocaust Claims

Banks to repay charges

British banks have agreed to repay the commission levied on reparations received by Holocaust survivors and refugees. The British Bankers Association (BBA) guidelines, which came into effect on 1 June 2002, also ensure that henceforth charges will not be imposed on any compensation or restitution payment. Those eligible for a repayment are advised to contact their bank with evidence that they are in receipt of reparations and that commission has previously been deducted.

Pensions for ghetto inmates

Following on from the 1997 act granting pension rights to victims interned in the Lodz ghetto, the German parliament has adopted a social security law approving pensions for inmates in all ghettos on the territory of the German Reich. [more...]


Philosophers. Harvard University Press have just published Gershom Scholem, A Life in Letters 1914-1982. Scholem rebelled against his assimilated family background, left Berlin in the 1920s, and became Professor of Kabbalah Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This volume contains his correspondence with Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt, whose book Eichmann in Jerusalem he severely criticised. His own literary monument was Dr Weltfremd, a character in the Hebrew novel Shira by the Nobel Prize winner SY Agnon.
(By coincidence, in June Radio Four broadcast the play Reni and the Brownshirts based on the reminiscences of his niece Renée Goddard, née Scholem.) [more...]

Journey of musical rediscovery (review)

Wigmore Hall, London, June 2002 [more...]