Aug 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
LITTLE BLUE BOOK
Sir - I found the ‘Little Blue Book’ among my late mother’s papers. It was handed to her on arrival in the UK by the German Jewish Aid Committee at Woburn House in conjunction with the Jewish Board of Deputies. Your readers may be interested in its actual contents (in the following excerps, italics, bold type and upper case are as in the original).
The cover reads: ‘While you are in England HELPFUL INFORMATION and Guidance FOR EVERY REFUGEE’. The book says, among other things:
The Jewish Community in Britain will do its very utmost to welcome and maintain all Refugees, to educate their Children, to care for the Aged and the Sick - and to assist in every possible way in creating new homes for them overseas. A great many Christians, in all walks of life, have spontaneously associated themselves with this work. All that we ask from you in return is to carry out to your utmost the following lines of conduct. Regard them, please, as duties to which you are in honour bound:
1. Spend your spare time immediately on learning the English language and its correct pronunciation.
2. Refrain from speaking German in the streets, in public conveyances and in public places such as restaurants. Talk halting English rather than fluent German - and do not talk in a loud voice. Do not read German newspapers in public.
3. Do not criticise any Government regulations, nor the way things are done over here. Do not speak of ‘how much better this or that is done in Germany’. It may be true in some matters, but it weighs as nothing against the sympathy, freedom and liberty of England which are now given to you. Never forget that point.
4. Do not join any Political organisation or take part in any political activities.
5. Do not make yourselves conspicuous by speaking loudly, nor by your manner and dress. The Englishman greatly dislikes ostentation, loudness of dress or manner. The Englishman attaches very great importance to modesty, under-statement in speech rather than over-statement, and quietness of dress and manner. He values good manners far more than he values the evidence of wealth. (You will find that he says ‘Thank you’ for the slightest service - even for a penny ‘bus ticket for which he has paid.)
6. Try to observe and follow the manners and customs and habits of this country, in social and business relations.
7. Do not spread the poison of ‘It’s bound to come in your country’. The British Jew greatly objects to the planting of this craven thought.
8. Above all, please realise that the Jewish Community is relying on you - on each and every one of you - to uphold in this country the highest Jewish qualities, to maintain dignity, and to help and serve others
Like Mrs Saville in your June issue, I found this booklet deeply condescending and offensive. My mother arrived in Great Britain on a domestic permit with 10 Marks in her pocket, which was all she was allowed to take out of Germany. She worked hard throughout the war years and finally, in October 1945, after six long years of separation, was granted a permit for me to join her from the Continent, where I had spent the war years in hiding. My mother certainly ‘acculturated’ and one of the proudest days of her life was when she was granted British citizenship. She never failed to vote in a general election and was one of the monarchy’s greatest admirers.
Sir – I have just read what I consider to be the most disgraceful letter you have ever printed. I know there has been, for some reason or other, a discussion, after all this time, about the treatment of refugees from, in most cases, almost certain death who arrived in this country about 70 years ago.
I don’t know anything about the ‘little blue book’ this lady, Mrs Saville, was issued with on arrival in this country but I assume it was information about this country, its customs and life. But to have the nerve and ignorance to say that she was so educated and cultured and that she tore it up is the height of ignorance and disrespect to the host country.
To compound the lady’s ignorance, she makes the dismissive statement that ‘All Lady Reading was prepared to do for me was to want to make me a kitchen maid in her house! Fortunately, the hostel warden came to my rescue.’ It appears to me that, as far as the lady is concerned, she holds in contempt people like Lady Reading, who were willing to sponsor her and people like her, who otherwise would just as likely have ended up in the gas chamber.
‘GOLD FOR IRON’
Sir – There is a small and insignificant-looking ring in my jewellery box, where it shares space with a fine collection of gold and silver, but this little ring is the most precious item I possess. It looks so plain and a little sad. Made of iron, it has a very meaningful message engraved into its centre: ‘Ich gab Gold für Eisen’ (I gave gold for iron).
The ring belonged to Laura Meyer, my grandmother, who was born in Berlin, but it is dated 1917. Proudly, patriotically German-Jewish as granny was, she made the sacrifice in vain, as Germany lost that war.
But time roared on relentlessly until, in 1933, Germany became politically criminal. My father, granny’s only child, had fought for Germany in the Great War. By that time, Germany and its head henchman had gone so far in evil that no one would ever thank my father for his valiant effort to help win the First World War for Kaiser Wilhelm’s country.
Just before Kristallnacht, which both my mother and I witnessed, all our family’s important papers were snatched from us by the Brownshirts. This tipped the entire family into mortal danger. My father left Berlin at once, walking every step of the 500 km road to Prague. Once there, he was handed new papers and a passport by the freedom fighters of old Czechoslovakia. Having retraced his steps, he reached the Baltic Sea and boarded the very last boat for Liverpool.
That small, grey ring has travelled far, like me. But I have only to hold it in the palm of my hand to be filled with the indomitable spirit of the granny I never knew.
BACK TO GERMANY AND DISASTER
Sir – Klaus Heymann’s pre-emigration recollections in your June issue took me back to 1934 and Marienbad (Marianske Lazne), where my father, the Yiddish playright Abisz Meisels, had a summer cabaret at the Hotel National. Some of the audience were German Jews. My father would ask the German visitors why, now they were away from Hitler and Germany, they didn’t take the opportunity to stay and try to get away to a safe country. The answer was always ‘Er meint nicht uns, er meint die frommen Juden’ (He doesn’t mean us, he means the religious Jews) - the ones with the peyot and beards. They went back to Germany and disaster. I wonder how many of them survived.
BACK TO VIENNA
Sir - I too was born in Vienna and, like Thea Valman (July), I benefited from the invitation of the Jewish Welcome Service. There is no doubt that Vienna is a beautiful city and we got a very warm welcome when I went. I am also aware of the great efforts made by Hannah Lessing and all the other people who are concerned with getting compensation. But however good the Sachertorte and the Wiener Schnitzel, there is no mention of the present political situation - Austrian politics is no doubt taking a right turn - and I find this most disturbing.
‘GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir - Why is Peter Phillips (July) so scoffing and dismissive of the belief in the Divine and heavenly origins of the Torah? This belief has sustained Jews over the millennia, still does and will do so in the future. I suggest he looks at the various Principles of Belief as formulated by Maimonides, unless of course he also rejects out of hand the views of Moses Maimonides. Are not the views of Peter Phillips as divisive as those he claims Mrs Stern’s are?
Sir – My father was an adherent of the Mizrachi movement in Poland, the forerunners of today’s religious Zionists. He was also an ardent believer in Torah im Derech Eretz - following in the ways of the Torah combined with a worldly outlook. Like so many others during the war, he lost faith in God yet he conducted clandestine services in the camp we found ourselves in. He couldn’t have done otherwise: there were no books and no rabbi left alive, but my father knew all the prayers by heart. He dearly wished to survive long enough to see Nazi Germany crushed, but his prayers were not answered. If only he and the six million could look down and see we have a state, a flag and a powerful army that will ensure the survival of the Jewish nation – no more lambs to the slaughter!
Peter Phillips talks about the Jewish race and the feeling of belonging yet he seems ready to exclude himself from the fold. I’m not orthodox - only a ‘common-or-garden’ traditional Jew - but I recognise that the Torah is an integral part of the nation of Israel and you cannot have one without the other. It was this faith that kept them together over the centuries, ensuring their survival as a people. It matters not, Mr Phillips, by whom or on what the Torah was written – it’s the message that counts. It was not Liberal Judaism that sustained our people throughout their blood-soaked history. The assimilated Liberals of today are like the Hellenistic Jews of the Temple era, and we know how many of them survived as Jews ….
Sir - Dorothea Shefer-Vanson is absolutely right about one thing in her July ‘Letter from Israel’ when she says ‘Life ain’t so simple.’ It’s a shame then that she can’t deal with its complexities, as she shows so clearly in her patronisingly simplistic piece. Dorothea is imperious in her condemnation of anyone whom she defines as a ‘boycotter’ or a ‘protestor’ and ‘those who think that whatever Israel does is wrong’. Yet nowhere in her article does she manage to show the slightest shred of concern for the ordinary Palestinians, nor does she even imply any reservations over the actions of Israel. Her politics may be the exact mirror opposite of those she attacks, but it seems she’s just as incapable of seeing the other side.
As Jews, we’re proud to believe that Palestinians, like every people, deserve justice, to live in safety and with dignity. Does that mean that by default we are supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah? We’re sickened by the rockets that are fired into Israel. Does that mean we think ‘Cast Lead’ is the appropriate response? We believe that the Palestinians have the right to their own state. Does that mean we are advocating the destruction of the State of Israel? Life is massively complicated and our responses have to be thoughtful and considered, not knee-jerk and childish.
The most disturbing aspect of the piece is a huge conflagration of ideas which are distilled down to the single belief that if you are critical of Israel you are de facto supporting the destruction of the State of Israel. Dorothea claims that the consequence of this would be another Holocaust and she attempts to bully us into supporting Israel by asking if we are ready to ‘face the moral and physical consequences’ of this. As daughters of a survivor of the Holocaust, we object to being emotionally blackmailed in this way.
Two ‘poor, misguided souls’ ….
Sir – I agree that Hamas and Hezbollah are, like Iran, anti-Semitic and wish to destroy Israel. But this does not excuse the mistreatment of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the Territories. Dorothea Shefer-Vanson speaks of air raid shelters which the government has built and which have kept casualties low. However, after the recent Lebanon war, when Hezbollah shelled Jewish villages, Israeli-Arab spokesmen complained that the government had not bothered to build shelters for Israeli-Arab villages.
The former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has slammed human rights violations in the Territories. According to Ha’aretz, ‘When you think of human rights in Israel, you must also think of human rights in the Territories’, he told a jurists’ conference in Tel Aviv.
As a Jew, I am ashamed of Israel’s treatment of Arabs. That is why I belong to Jews for Justice to Palestinians.
Sir – Recently I reacted to a reader’s somewhat fractious letter. My point was that the IDF’s bombing of Gaza was playing into the hands of Hamas because evidently they were angling for sympathy and wished to cash in on the propaganda value as the bombardments were shown on TV all over the world. Nevertheless, you chose not to publish and I understand that the AJR follows the hard line of Netanyahu and Likud. To my mind, that can only be dependent on the US’s attitude as exemplified in the past by George Bush. I suggest you might include, for instance, articles from Ha’aretz which may reflect moderate opinion in Israel. I hope you are not reverting to the line of Irgun Zvai Leumi, Jabotinsky et al.
BEUSCHL - WHAT’S THAT?
Sir – In the musical The White Horse Inn, a guest from Berlin studies the menu and asks ‘Beuschl – what’s that?’ The waiter assures him it’s very nice but, when it arrives, the German exclaims: ‘Alles ess ich, nur nicht Lungenhaschée!’
In 1940 I landed in a Quaker refugee hostel near Newbury. One day, three English Quaker ladies announced they were going to visit us and asked to stay for lunch. Only ‘lights’ were available - ‘off the ration’ of course (the English fed them to dogs and cats). The two ladies working in the kitchen didn’t know what to do so they decided to ‘keep mum’ and serve the food without comment. The ladies had three helpings each and even asked for the recipe. When they left, they wrote in the guest book: ‘Enjoyed the “lights”.’
Incidentally, I have found a recipe for ‘Salon Beuschl’ in my Franz Ruhm cookbook.
OUR LOYAL COOK IDA
Sir – You can almost hear the melody coursing through Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony:
Ida, wo kommst Du her
Wo gehst Du hin
Wann kommst Du wieder?
I hummed it as a child, thinking it was connected to our loyal cook Ida. She was with us for 18 years.
SPINACH ON THE ROOF
Sir – Like Frank Bright (July), I very much like spinach. However, it’s over 70 years since I have had a decent plate of the vegetable. As I remember it from childhood, it was always served as a puree, so one could spread it out over one’s plate and make ‘Strassen’ (streets) with a fork. What an exciting way of eating it!
Alas, the misguided view of ‘foreigners’ held by Mr Bright’s devoted wife is as nothing compared with the ignorance of the ‘English’ in respect of the culinary arts.