Aug 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
THE ISRAEL I LOVE
Sir – In his muddled article in your July issue, Peter Phillips claims to be an ardent fan of Israel and even labels those who put their names to advertisements criticising the country as traitors. But if you read on, it doesn’t take him long to resort to lambast, claiming it’s not the Israel he knew. A fair-weather Zionist indeed who, on his own admission, is ashamed of Israel with respect to his gentile friends.
It seems Mr Phillips cannot tell the Neturei Karta from other, more enlightened religious Jews, many of whom are nowadays considered the best element and the most motivated, with a high proportion serving in IDF elite units, a vaunted role once played by left-wing kibbutzniks. The ‘Guardians of the City’ are indeed a blight on our nation, but then Jews have always displayed a proclivity for discourse and diversity, which could also account for their success. One cannot blame Israel for this phenomenon - you can find these ‘clowns’ in this country too.
Mr Phillips is also against the state building homes for religious families in Jerusalem - a right to live and build wherever they wish he would never deny to other people. With so many places in dispute in the world, when did the Guardian last report on a few houses in dispute? It just isn’t newsworthy - except when it comes to Jews.
For my part, I bemoan the way this country has changed in the 64 years I’ve lived here. Whilst England is steadily descending into a third-world country, and maybe ultimately into a seventh-century ideology, hardly a day passes when we don’t hear of Israeli excellence and innovations in the field of medicine, science and technology that benefit all mankind.
Perhaps we may now look forward to Peter Phillips’s next piece: ‘Not the England I knew’.
Sir – Poor Mr Phillips, who has, it seems, ditched Israel ‘for the time being’ as she does not meet his high Oxford University standards.
The Holocaust in France, where I was born, was preceded by considerable well documented, vicious anti-Semitic propaganda – and we know what happened there. Fortunately, I survived and, when I came to Manchester in 1948, I also was exposed to Zionism and became a supporter of the Jewish state.
Although I too am worried about the growth in influence of the Haredi community, I would suggest to Mr Phillips not to be upset if the Israeli government decides to protect its citizens by every means available even if it does not meet the approval of the other nations. Do they not all have skeletons rattling in their cupboards?
I speak regularly in schools on the Holocaust and emphasise the dangers of propaganda. Perhaps Mr Phillips would like to attend one of my lectures – he may learn something from a mere Manchester University graduate.
If Mr Phillips no longer has a love affair with Israel, perhaps he could let us know the identity of his new love? Perhaps it is the US with its Guantanamo Bay prison camp, or Britain, or Russia, or even China or …
Please note: I am still in love with Israel – but then I am not so fickle!
Sir - While I agree with Peter Phillips that today’s Israel is not the Israel I knew some 50 - or even 30 - years ago, it is not fair to blame the Haredim for this. I think blame lies in the changed structure of Israeli society. Whilst Israel’s founding fathers (David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, etc) envisaged a socially equal society, based on the idea of the kibbutz, today’s Israeli society is a capitalist one like in the USA, where only money matters.
A few days ago the Daily Mail printed a report from its correspondent in Israel stating that while there are today 84 dollar billionaires in Israel, 400,000 people are living below the poverty line - mostly Haredim and new settlers and mostly in the West Bank. That is the true picture of today’s Israel due to its incapable politicians.
Sir – Peter Phillips does not recognise the Israel he knew because 20 per cent of its inhabitants are Haredim. It is a pity he does not mention the 20 per cent of Israeli Palestinians Lieberman wants to denaturalise or the 3.5 million Palestinians who, after 43 years, still suffer occupation and consequently hate Israel more than ever. I do talk to my gentile friends about Israel because I want to show them there are Jews who care about human rights.
A HIERARCHY OF SUFFERING?
Sir - I was deeply upset by Martha Blend’s letter in your June issue. Does she assume that camp survivors were not also devastated by the loss of their nearest and dearest? Does she think that we were so preoccupied with our own suffering that, when selected for slave labour, we barely noticed that our families were in the other stream that had been selected for the gas chambers? There is anguish too deep for trumpeting and versifying.
I profoundly agree with her that it is unworthy and distasteful to produce a hierarchy of suffering. Why then does she fabricate these offensive contrasts out of a discussion of the definition of ‘survivor’?
Sir - I must write to protest against Martha Blend’s attack in your June issue on Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and Kitty Hart - if anybody, it is she who is ‘mean-minded’. All Anita Lasker and the several other correspondents agreeing with her did was to advocate correct usage of the English language. The word ‘suffering’ does not occur once in her letter - it is introduced by Martha Blend and, as Martha so eloquently points out in her own poem in the same issue, you cannot ‘measure’ one person’s suffering against another’s - it is something extremely personal.
The word ‘Holocaust’, as generally understood, means the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ in the early 1940s, from which it follows that we ‘refugees’ - who were lucky enough to escape the Nazis before the war - should not call ourselves ‘Holocaust survivors’. Why argue about something so clear?
Sir – The Holocaust Survivors Centre, to which I belong, has one condition of membership: you must have been in Nazi-occupied territory on 10 November 1938, i.e. Kristallnacht.
Events were pretty frightening on that day. My parents and I were not touched, but my uncle and both his sons were arrested. My aunt was kicked out of her flat. My uncle and younger son were released, but the older son was taken to Dachau and then Buchenwald concentration camps (so he was a camp survivor). Fortunately, he was released as well.
It was a foretaste of worse to come, but they were all lucky to get to Shanghai after I came to England, alone, in December 1938.
I therefore feel we were genuine Holocaust survivors. We felt fear and danger but we had a chance to get out, whereas others did not.
VICTIMS OF SHOAH NOT FORGOTTEN
Sir - Together with three other ex-Viennese, I was in Austria a few weeks ago to speak in schools about the Shoah and by chance this coincided with the opening of an exhibition in the 9th District relating to it.
As reported in the AJR Journal last August, a group of dedicated non-Jews has been working to trace the fate of the many Jews who lived in Servitengasse before the war. The exhibition was set up in an art gallery close to the Freud Museum in Berggasse and in a long panel listed the Jewish families living in each house along the street. The individual stories, with documents and photographs of 15 of these families, was shown in panels along the walls. In some cases, these included audio recordings or filmed interviews with survivors.
The opening ceremony was very well attended, with speeches and readings by local personalities and by Frieda Feuerstein, a survivor. Many local shops also had posters relating to the Jewish nature of the street before the war.
In spite of all that has happened, it is encouraging to know that there are Austrians who will spend time and resources on trying to ensure that the victims of the Shoah are not forgotten. There is a website - www.servitengasse1938.at - with more information.
A QUESTION OF NUMBERS
Sir - Germany is much larger than Austria, but from the articles in the AJR Journal it appears to me that as many Jews came to England from Austria as from Germany. Could you please print the respective numbers?
Also, in Germany, Jews lived in many towns like Hamburg, Cologne, Breslau and Munich and many others, but all who came from Austria appear to have come from Vienna.
MEMORIES OF ELEANOR RATHBONE
Sir - Dr Grenville’s article (June) on the life and work of Eleanor Rathbone sent me back to my personal memories of her. She may have visited various internment camps more than once, but I definitely remember her visiting our camp (Onchan, I believe) in June 1941 and interviewing me. The reason was presumably that among the relatively few internees left there at the time, I stuck out like a sore thumb - aged 18 and looking at the time much younger. Most genuine refugees and others of use to the war effort had been released but, having left school in June 1940 and not (yet?) being a student, I had fallen between the two stools of the release categories of student and schoolboy.
I consequently I spent 15 months in the Isle of Man, by the end of which period one’s existence was more boring and the company much less congenial than a year earlier. I explained to the distinguished visitor why I was still there and, when she then kindly offered to take my case up with the Home Office, I seemed to surprise her by knowing the reference number of my Home Office file (I still do: S,21834). Anyway, her intervention seemed to bear fruit - I was released on my nineteenth birthday, three months later.
Sir – The city of Liverpool has indeed been fortunate in having powerful social thinkers and activists like Eleanor Rathbone and also Margaret Simey. Anthony Grenville rightfully mentions the local community’s appreciation of Eleanor Rathbone’s commitment to education by designing a school, the Rathbone, in Kensington. It served many hundreds of Jewish families over the years. I was a pupil of the ‘Rathbone’ along with four of my six sisters during the war.
ONE OF THE HAPPIEST TIMES IN MY LIFE
Sir – As so many members of advanced years have written to the Journal, I felt that I too might make a small contribution before it’s too late with regard to using a computer due to failing eyesight.
I am in my mid-nineties and still living on my own, but this is due largely to the fact that I have a wonderful daughter and three devoted grandchildren, who visit regularly.
As to living in this country - I came in 1938 - I too had to suffer the unpleasantness of domestic service (not knowing which side of the broom to use), but was fortunate in that my employer was an influential man who managed to get a domestic permit for my mother so that at least we had jobs not too far from each other and I was able to help her with her duties.
I always thought – no doubt like every other refugee – it was a great pity that it took the wartime government until 1943 to realise that Jewish refugees were the most devoted to the cause of Hitler’s defeat and prepared to do anything to bring it about. Speaking personally, I got a job in the Foreign Office as a temporary civil servant and it was one of the happiest times in my life knowing I was at last contributing to Hitler’s defeat!
Sir - I read with great interest Helen Fry’s article on the Dunera affair (July), in which she quotes AJR member Willy Field as saying ‘People were pushed around, some beaten up. We had our belongings confiscated and in some cases thrown into the sea. Neither daylight nor natural air ever reached the decks. We were treated like German prisoners, not refugees from Nazism.’
As it happens, this ill-treatment, presumably motivated by the guards’
anti-Semitic proclivities, may well have saved them from being sunk. It would appear that a U-boat commander who was trailing the Dunera found some of the letters thrown overboard floating in the sea and recognised them as being written in German. He assumed that the ship was carrying German POWs and informed his colleagues accordingly, advising them not to attack it.
Perhaps this illustrates just how what we perceive at the time to be terrible calamities may in actual fact be what saves our lives.
FOR WHOSE BENEFIT?
Sir – The UK has a national debt large enough to provoke terminal nightmares, carefully arranged by Messrs Blair and Brown, champagne socialists who disliked capitalism and had the power to do something about it. Why oh why then do we still hand over huge gifts to the tune of £1,000,000,000 each year to a ‘nation’ like the Palestinians?
Common sense tells me that a sizeable portion of this fortune will surely go into the making of weapons for the destruction of Israel.
Here in London, super-rich Arabs still hand out large tips to lackeys from suitcases stuffed with notes. Should not these funds be used for the benefit of needy Palestinians? Many hospitals here in the UK lack sufficient nurses with clean hands to administer modern medication. There is a dire shortage of midwives and the police are permanently understaffed. Why bottle-feed Palestinians when this country is so short of funds?
For more than 1,000 years, Jews anywhere, however rich or poor, have given all they had to support other Jews around the world. Why cannot the Arabs, with their vast wealth and territory, do the same?
KINDER AND PALESTINIANS
Those Kinder who, as Rubin Katz reports (June), now join the Arabs in a boycott of an Israeli shop, approve of Hamas’s deadly deeds and express solidarity with Palestinians also approve, by implication, the death at Auschwitz and Maly Trostinec of those tens of thousands denied entry to Palestine. Had it not been for the Palestinians’ attitude to those knocking in desperation at the door of a country to which they had an even greater and older historical and religious connection, my, and most readers’ parents, brothers and sisters, would have survived.
‘WHITHER GOEST THOU?’
Sir - I cannot understand why you continue to give so much space to Mr Fred Stern (July). He is of course entitled to his views, though I cannot be the only person who finds the way he expresses them thoroughly offensive. I cannot see what the views he airs with tedious repetition have to do with the interests of the members of the AJR. I see from his recent contribution that a letter he wrote to The Times went unpublished. Perhaps the editor of the AJR Journal could in future follow the example of the editor of The Times and allow more space for the interesting and highly informative articles of Anthony Grenville and others.
Sir - It was Abraham Lincoln - not Thomas Jefferson - who proclaimed ‘You can fool some of the people all the time,’ as Fred Stern began his article ‘Quo Vadis’. The full text of this well-known quotation is ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.’