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Aug 2006 Journal

Letters to the Editor

Who is the enemy now?

Sir - Peter Phillip's article 'Who is the enemy now' (June) is a little disturbing. After all these years in exile, he seems to have learned very little.

I was married to an Austrian lady for 33 years. We frequently went to Vienna mainly to visit relatives but also for holidays. While there, I could not help but feel uneasy, almost like returning to the 'shadows of the past'. It is a city full of life, entertainment and gaiety, seldom surpassed. And yet, Mr Phillips seems to underestimate the activities of right-wing extremists, including in Austria. He says many of these activists are over 80. Don't think for one moment that they are on their own. There are others all over Europe and, sadly, from the Middle East. They are no less dangerous than the Muslim extremists.
Peter Henry Chapman, Isle-of-Man

Sir - Would Peter Phillips not agree that the enemy was - and is - fundamentalism of whatever hue? Is it more than an historical accident that today's terrorists are
Muslim? Yesterday they were 'Christian' and, in between, were those few who hoped to create the State of Israel by terrorist means.
Francis Deutsch, Saffron Walden

Sir - I, for one, wouldn't dream of condemning Peter Phillips merely for his predilection for wiener schnitzel and apfel strudel and all this Viennese. And why the dilemma over falafel or wiener schnitzel when you can enjoy both, with falafel as Vorspeise naturally? Personally, I prefer chullent and käsekuchen, the way mamma used to make it back in Poland.

On the other hand, I cannot share Mr Phillips's sympathy for Daniel Barenboim, given his one-sided attitude to Israel, the country he was brought up in and which educated him. Barenboim clearly demonstrated his insolence when out of the blue he struck up a Wagner piece during a concert in Ashkelon. Would he have dared behave in this way in Berlin or Vienna? I doubt it. Only in Israel can an ersatz Jew feel so uninhibited as to disregard the law and the sensibility of many in the audience.

Another of your regular correspondents swoons over Barenboim and Edward Said. If only those pesky Israelis would fade away, all would be well! Islam would be pacified, peace would break out overnight wherever Muslims were hitherto unwilling to co-exist with people of other religions, and bin Laden would be out of a job!

Mr Phillips got it drastically wrong when he said 'Under Stalin, millions of Jews were killed too.' Where did all these Jews come from? Stalin did indeed decimate certain minorities, like the Kalmyks and Crimean Tatars, for allegedly collaborating with the Germans, but this would hardly have applied to Jews. To the contrary, ahead of the German advance, thousands of Polish Jews fled east, towards the Russian lines, and would otherwise have perished. Furthermore, Russia kept its Polish border open at first - how many countries opened their borders to Jews? Admittedly, many were later sent to the Gulag after Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Few of us would be around today were it not for the Soviet Union. The miracle occurred on 22 June 1941, when Hitler diverted his attention from these shores and turned on Russia. Britain could not have withstood the massed Wehrmacht divisions that Hitler unleashed against Russia. The Ruhr would have been out of range of American bombers and the Normandy invasion would have been impossible without a springboard in Europe.

It must be acknowledged that it was the Russians who bore the brunt of the war. I am eternally grateful to the Red Army for rescuing me and my sister in Warsaw, in the nick of time, in January 1945.
Rubin Katz, London NW11

Sir - Having a love affair with Vienna is nothing new for Viennese or ex-Viennese Jews. Shortly after 1415, when Jews were first expelled from the city, after some 20 plus of their co-religionists had been murdered and the city had acquired the name Ir-Hadamim (City of Blood,) Jews filtered back to Vienna, and this process has been going on ever since.

The subject was brilliantly treated by Professor Berkely (né Weingarten) in his book Vienna and Its Jews. The Tragedy of Success: A Story of Unrequited Love and - provided one goes back or visits with one's eyes open - there is much in the view expressed by Edith Argy to commend it.

All this leaves is for Peter Phillips to get his numbers right. The survival figure for Austria, supported by the Kultusgemeinde in Vienna and Yad Vashem, is just over 1,800, 95 per cent being concentrated in Vienna and out of 43,000 Jews alive in Austria on 1 September 1939 - a small enough number even then.

As for Stalin, there is not the slightest evidence that he murdered millions of Jews qua Jews. He certainly murdered some 10,000 Jews as Jews, including almost the entire Jewish leadership in 1941-42, and this in the course of murdering some 25 million people, in addition to losing 25 million during the war. There may well have been hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews killed by Stalin, not because they were Jews, but because they were perceived as belonging to other groups.

As for Kitty Schafer, while I wholly support her tribute to Hannah Lessing, I find it difficult to wax sentimental over the Vienna New Year Concert. I cannot forget that the first concert in the twentieth century, after a lapse of some 50 years, was on 1 January 1939 - two and a half weeks after the first Kindertransport (on which I was) had left. What the experience of that concert - or rather merely knowing about it - was like for the parents who were left behind can only be imagined. Vienna is the city of dreams - and every now and then it becomes a nightmare.
Fred Barschak, London NW6

Sir - Harry Needham (July) may find himself 'revolted' by my not hating Vienna, but why is he 'revolted' by my family too? My wife is English, as are my four children and nine of my grandchildren; two of my grandchildren are Australian. However, he obviously believes that children are responsible for their father's opinions and thus his hatred for the Austrians who, unless they are now more than 80 years old, could not have been Nazis.

My wife points out that when using the word 'family' Mr Needham may be referring, in particular, to my parents. My father, a doctor in Banbury, died over 40 years ago. There is a plaque to him at Banbury Horton General Hospital. Though obviously a Jew, he was given the honour of a memorial service at St Mary's Church, the main church in Banbury. My mother assisted him in the surgery and, after he died, came to live in London, and played an active part in the League of Jewish Women. She died nearly 20 years ago. I hope, Mr Needham, they are not the one who revolt you.
Peter Phillips, Loudwater, Herts

Bombing of Dresden a "War Crime"

Sir - What a deeply unpleasant review by Frank Bright (June). The fire-bombing of Dresden was not as big a war crime as the Holocaust but it was a war crime nevertheless. Those who deny it and refuse their compassion to the thousands of Dresdeners burned alive in February 1945 are as morally deficient as those who deny the Holocaust.

The wonderful rebuilding of the Frauenkirche is a symbol of reconciliation and hope for the future. And the Jews of Dresden live on in the diaries of Viktor Klemperer, one of the literary masterpieces to emerge from the Second World War - fit to stand alongside the diaries of Anne Frank and the work of Primo Levi. Dresden is, once again, becoming one of the most beautiful cities in Europe - to be enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike.
David Kemp, Glasgow

Bahnhof Grunewald

Sir - For the record, there are two errors in your July issue: on page 5, the station from which Jews were transported from Berlin was Grunewald; on page 15, the year of Gerald Fleming's birth should be 1931.

Mr Jim Rees, Rail Vehicle Collections Manager at the National Railway Museum in York, has written to tell me that he can think of few more interesting exhibits than a cattle truck in which Jews were transported to concentration camps, but that the Collections Management Team has to give a final decision. Herr Gottwaldt of the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin has written that such trucks are available (through him).
Rudi Leavor, Bradford

Sir - Re your report on the AJR trip to Berlin, please allow me to correct the name Bahnhof Hamburg - the station you describe is the Bahnhof Grunewald. Your description is quite correct in naming each transport which left there in the course of several months. The stone memorial you mention is outside the station on the wall. Thank you for the report: this is a very sad memorial site.
Alice Fink, Chicago

Family Trip to Eastbourne

Sir - Our AJR family has again enabled us to have a great holiday in Eastbourne. The weather was perfect, food and service very good. We enjoyed interesting trips to the countryside - especially appreciated by people with walking difficulties. The ladies of the Women's Institute treated us to a lavish tea in a very relaxing atmosphere. Every evening there was something to do. My admiration goes to the five or six members, aged well over ninety, one almost a hundred - lovely and brave ladies and a gent. The AJR gives most of us the only chance we have of a holiday - we wouldn't dare to travel on our own any more. As usual, a big credit to Carol and her team.
Hana Nermut, Harrow, Middx