Aug 2007 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s article (July) brought back mixed memories of two years’ internment in Huyton, the Isle of Man and Canada. Let me supplement his informative article by clarifying the situation in which nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees in Leeds found themselves.
The Leeds Tribunal, contrary to most others in the country at the beginning of the war, routinely classified most, if not all, Jewish refugees as ‘B’ (enemy aliens). This caused strong protests, including questions in the House of Commons, and, as a result, a Review Tribunal was installed, which started re-hearing cases at the end of March or early April 1940 and re-classified virtually all as ‘C’ (friendly aliens). They heard cases in alphabetical order and had reached the letter ‘G’ by 16 May 1940, when all category ‘B’ aliens were interned. As a result, those refugees living in Leeds whose names started with the letters G-Z were rounded up on 16 May. The others were, of course, later interned under the ‘collar the lot’ decision. With hindsight – or Heinz-sight – perhaps I should have changed my name to Aaron.
Sir – My late husband, Josef Goldschmidt (Goldsmith), was born in Munich and arrived in England on 15 March 1939 with the Kindertransport. He was sent to Kempton Park, Huyton and then on to the Isle of Man. From there he went to Canada on the Sobieski and was interned in Ripples camp, Trois-Rivières, where he remained until 1941. I am deeply touched that this episode in my husband’s life is not forgotten.
Sir – Further to your interesting article (May), I would like to add a footnote that Werner Behr received a CBE in recognition of his work on this worthwhile cause. He was a close family friend of my parents, Ernst and Lotti Cohn, who were great supporters of the Fund. It always struck me as a shame that some other refugee friends so resented the fact that they were interned that they did not lend their support.
Sir – ‘Thank Britain’? Nothing of the kind! In my conversations with Leonard Cheshire about 60 years ago, it was clear that Britain knew exactly what was going on, but Anthony Eden and the Foreign Office would not allow the RAF to do anything about it! Also, ‘Bomber’ Harris said he would have been delighted to take part in a raid - say on extermination facilities at Auschwitz - which were known to be on the edge of the camp, but Eden stopped any such efforts.
Yes, some German Jews did find refuge in England. Big deal! But please do not forget the ships Patria and Struma, which were prevented by the Royal Navy from approaching Palestine and were told to go back where they came from (i.e.Romania). Then the people on board the boats blew themselves up and sank in the Mediterranean. Stick to the truth and nothing but the truth.
LET’S BE FAIR TO THE AUSTRIANS?
Sir – Peter Phillips’s article ‘Let’s Be Fair to the Austrians’ (June) is puzzling. Like him, I lost many members of my family – 44-47 to be precise. In around 2002 I met Hannah Lessing and had no idea she was Jewish. Nevertheless, she was General Secretary of the National Fund and still is. When Peter Phillips says ‘It is not her fault’ for not receiving the Settlement, whose fault is it? Why was she unable to combat the CICA and why can the Fund distribute only $210 million instead of the early sum of $480?
Maybe some persons have received a payment. However, I am beginning to think that the Austrian government has now decided: ‘These people are getting a pension. So far as we are concerned, that is enough!’
‘THE PITY OF IT ALL’
Sir – I would like to congratulate you on your well-considered leading article, ‘Cultural Legacy’ (June).
May I add that by no means all German Jews belonged to either of the two camps – emancipated Jews steeped in German culture and Jews who clung to their religion. Thus, my own parents contrived to have a foot in both camps, for they were practising Jews living mainly in the local Jewish community but they nonetheless felt at ease with Goethe and Beethoven and German culture in general. I suspect there were many like them – having the best of both worlds. We celebrated Chanukah in the traditional way but we also had a Christmas tree. No wonder my parents thought the evil that had befallen Germany in 1933 would soon blow over. ‘The pity of it all’ indeed!
‘NICHT MEHR HIER’
Sir – On reading the May issue (Letters), I find I made a mistake about Theodore Bikel’s performance of with my mother. The play was Sholem Aleichem’s Shver tsu zany a yid (‘Hard To Be a Jew’) and it was performed in Vienna, not London. Theodore Bikel was 13 years old.
My son David and I went to Vienna to attend the World Congress of Jewish Theatre on 19-23 March this year. Theodore Bikel gave an extraordinary concert of songs in various languages. When he came off-stage, I introduced myself to him as ‘Ruti Meisels’, which was how he knew me as a child. It reminded both of us of the good old days in Vienna.
The conference was called Tikkun Olam (Healing the World) and David and I were performing a programme called Nicht Mehr Hier (No Longer Here). My father had written an article under that name after going in 1955 to the International Pen Club, held in Vienna, when the Russians had only recently left. My father wanted to find out what had happened to the people and places he had known before the Anschluss. Whenever he enquired, the answer was always ‘Nicht mehr hier’.
David and I put on a performance based on the article and my memories followed by a discussion. Part of the reason we were there was to help the new Austrian-Jewish theatre (under the charismatic director Warren Rosenzweig) in their campaign to reclaim the Nestroyhof, home of the Yiddish theatre in Vienna before the war, where my father and mother had both appeared (we knew it as the Reklam).
It was particularly affecting to see Yiddish returning to Vienna, often with non-Jewish performers (the actress who performed with us in Yiddish sings for a klezmer band called Goyim!) and to see that Jewish/Yiddish theatre does have a future in Vienna.
Sir – Having just returned from a River Danube cruise and alighting from the pier in Budapest, we were confronted with such slogans as ‘Jewish [sic] go home!’ Even more disturbing was a large swastika daubed on a beautiful Holocaust memorial commemorating the Romanies’ deportation. We brought our concern to the attention of the management of our ship and they promised to speak to the customs authority due to visit shortly. Nothing, however, was done during the two days we were in port.
I intend to bring the matter up with my MEP. Hungary is now a member of the EU and should comply to eliminate such blatant racism. Budapest may be a beautiful city, but these sentiments quite spoiled our visit.
STOLPERSTEINE: ‘A FAIRLY OBVIOUS QUESTION’
Sir - I would like to ask a fairly obvious question: Why not place the stones on (or in) the walls of the adjacent buildings? This would meet the objections about walking on the stones being a form of desecration, or the risk of dogs fouling them, and the inscriptions would probably be read by more passersby - I don't imagine very many people bend down to read the inscriptions on the plaques in the pavement.
Sir – I wonder whose inane brainchild is the word Stolperstein. The thought behind it is noble, recalling a tragic part of our history, but the word is ill-chosen. Stolpersteine translated literally means ‘stumbling stones’ according to Collins German Concise Dictionary. Gedenksteine (memorial stones) would be a much more appropriate word and this could be erected or fitted to walls, similar to what one finds on the walls of London houses.
Sir – I read with great interest the letter of Professor Pavel Novak (May) and responses by Bob Norton and Bronia Zelenka Snow (June) and have often thought on similar lines. I was born in and grew up in Prague. However, I must agree with Mrs Zelenka Snow that the fault may lie within ourselves. Why indeed don’t we write? Are we so modest?
The above contributions made me think a little further afield. Since the borders of East European countries have been open and since these countries joined the EU, we have been witnessing an influx of immigrants into the UK. Perhaps most of them are here to make money for their families at home. In several of these countries antisemitism is not unknown. Aren’t there among these immigrants some Jewish people who might have fled for other reasons, private or political? Could they be refugees like we were a long time ago?
ISRAEL UNDER ATTACK
Sir – Caroline Salinger states (July) that I ‘want to talk about historical expulsions’. Yes, I do. In this case, it was those that happened in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War. Apparently Ms Salinger does not. All we get from her is a kosher red herring from the 1936 diary of Ben-Gurion.
The lady is not so naïve as not to realise that if you threaten your neighbour with murder and throwing them in the sea and you lose the ensuing conflict, you can hardly expect to return to the status quo ante.
No doubt Ms Salinger has a British passport. If she uses her imagination, she will find it is stained with the blood of native North Americans (Indians), Australian and Tazmanian Aboriginals, Maoris from New Zealand, Hutus and Zulus from South Africa, and others. Besides doing these people out of their lands, to this day we still hold on to Gibraltar, part of mainland Spain.
May I suggest to Ms Salinger that she reads some books on the British Empire and the Palestine Mandate and concerns herself with the hundreds and thousands who die every day in Dafur and Iraq. She may then acquire a modicum of objectivity regarding Israel.
Sir – Ms Salinger quotes in the May issue of the Journal a letter apparently written by a group of IDF officers saying that Israel has a policy of ‘expelling and starving an entire people’. Does such a letter exist? If so, when and where was it published and to what precise circumstances does it refer?
Ms Salinger quotes an obscure passage from Ben-Gurion. Why does she also not quote what Arab leaders have been saying since the establishment of the State of Israel to the present day? Their aims have been clearly and openly expressed - they do not want the Jewish state too exist.
It seems that Ms Salinger is little more than an Arab propagandist. To her, Jews can do no right, and Arabs no wrong. She complains about where the separation wall has been built, but I detect no hint of condemnation of the suicide bombings which caused the wall to be built in the first place.
Sir – With regard to those soul-searching letters about the way the IDF counters terrorism, perhaps a residential stint in Kiryat Shmona or Sderot would modify some of those views. We don’t have to justify every response of the IDF, but perhaps we could see it as did Henry V before Harfleur: battles are about winning. As a teacher of mine once said: ‘We Jews have the same right as everyone else to behave badly.’ International law did not protect the Armenians or the Marsh Arabs or the Kurds or the Jews.’
CONFESSIONS OF A SCHNORRER
Sir – How words change their meaning! I recently gave a talk to sixth-formers in Bury St Edmunds and introduced myself as an alien. I assured them I was not from outer space, but they seemed unconvinced and that strange accent and my un-English ponim made them revise their idea of an alien being.
A month earlier, the much-travelled Myrna Glass told me about a wedding in California she had just been to. To me, a chassene was a joyous event attended by the parents and a few friends and defined by the restriction that you could sit on one with only one toches. This American version was of a different dimension altogether and needs a new word. Having been a schnorrer most of my life, the cost of the flowers alone would have provided me with a standard of living I would have liked to have become accustomed to. I suggest that all-day extravaganzas of this type attended by hundreds be called a super-chassene - with no restrictions as to the number of toches’s present.