Dec 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - I was interested to read Stefan Ruff's article ‘Unsung Heroes’ (November), particularly that his parents came back from Shanghai in 1946 and settled with him in England.
Like Stefan, my brother and I came to England on the Kindertransport. Our mother remained in hiding in Germany and our father went alone to Shanghai in summer 1939. He didn’t return until spring 1947. He talked (endlessly) about Chinese food and told interesting anecdotes about his legal practice in Bubbling Well Road, such as about the couple who came for a divorce but had no papers - so he had to marry them before he could give them divorce documents! He never spoke about what being in Shanghai was really like. I wonder if Stefan’s parents gave him any idea of the reality of Shanghai under Japanese rule? Or if Stefan ever visited Shanghai with his parents after the war?
I have been reading books of survivor experiences in the last few years and this autumn I went with my daughter on a two-week tour of China organised by Jewish Renaissance. In the Jewish Museum in Shanghai, my daughter found her grandfather listed in the museum’s database with his address. Our tour coach was able to locate the address and we found the tenement house in the ghetto where my dad lived when the Japanese interned the Jewish refugees. Most of the ghetto area is being demolished or has already been replaced with blocks of flats. However, 125/5 Hok San Lu is in the area that is scheduled for preservation. We were able to enter the enclosed yard and the tenement house itself. Very friendly Chinese people are living there in what is mostly the original basic structure with very little improvement as yet.
I am piecing together what may have been my dad’s story: what it must have been like to leave Europe, just a week or two before war broke out, with only the permitted ten marks in his pocket; to spend six weeks or so at sea not knowing whether the ship would be received in Shanghai or sent back; disembarking straight into the Sino-Japanese war, with nowhere to go; depending on charity while he taught himself British law till he got a job; living so near the Nazi-German component in the Shanghai settlement; experiencing swarms of starving Chinese refugees pouring in and their corpses left at the roadside mingling with litter and sewage; being interned by the Japanese in the poorest slum area allocated as the ghetto; and not knowing if the Japanese would carry out the Shanghai Nazi demands that all Jews be put on a boat and sunk in the Wangpoo River!
MANCHESTER REFUGEE CLUB
Sir – Regarding Anthony Grenville’s October article, ‘The First AJR Local Groups’, I think Manchester must have been the first place to have a Refugee Club. In January 1939 the Jewish Refugee Committee opened a hostel meant for youngsters to go to on arrival from their homes. It was called Kershaw House after the owner of the property. People could go there during the day; ladies in domestic jobs with nowhere to go on their half-days could get afternoon tea or even an evening meal.
Thursday night was the social event of the week. Refugees came from all over Manchester to dance to the gramophone and watch some of us performing silly sketches and, if we were lucky, we might get a musical turn from some of our talented members (Ray Martin springs to mind).
After the war started, and no more people arrived, the hostel was filled with people between jobs or none at all like my father, a doctor who could not work. However, Thursdays went on as usual for a long time. Eventually, after the war, girls from the camps were accommodated before being put up for adoption and the hostel was closed. The house was pulled down about ten years ago.
Our second Refugee Club was opened in 1941 by Rabbi Dr Papo, who was minister at the Didsbury Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. He called it a ‘Self-Help Club’. Meetings were held in the succa, long since replaced by a wonderful hall, and, as before, we danced and had talks or recitals and were able to socialise. This came to an end when Dr Papo emigrated to Rhodesia. What happy memories! Some of us, still here, still friends, meet at the AJR.
QUAKERS AND REFUGEES
Sir – Referring to Ralph Blumenau’s obituary of his brother Tom in the November issue, I wonder whether we could have an article on the Quakers, who, I believe, helped several refugee boys to get a good education in this country which they would otherwise not have had.
A number of items have appeared in the Journal on this important subject but regrettably there exists little documentation (Ed.).
Sir - First of all, I want to tell you how much I enjoy reading your journal. I subscribe to a number of other Jewish publications, but I find none as varied and informative as the AJR Journal. I assume that many readers share my enthusiasm.
I read with great interest Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s November ‘Letter from Israel’, which was in tune with my personal experience of Albania’s Jew-friendliness. In 1938 my parents and I escaped to Yugoslavia after the Anschluss. However, as soon as our tourist visas expired, the Yugoslav authorities threatened to return us to the Austrian border unless we could go somewhere else. At that time, no country except Albania offered us asylum. When we arrived in Albania, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendly reception the local population offered us. There was already a group of about 40 Austrian- and German-Jewish refugees in Durazzo (Durrës), Albania’s port town. We shared one house and our subsistence was provided by the JOINT. Eventually, I obtained a trainee permit that enabled me to get to England before the war. Numerous other refugees who weren’t as lucky as I survived the war by being sheltered in Albanian homes.
I feel I owe my survival of the Holocaust horrors to Albania, the JOINT and England. As I am convinced that most of us Jewish refugees who are still around owe our survival to individuals, organisations and/or countries, I think it is high time that we acknowledge our debt. Our film Back from the Brink aims to do just this. After much effort, I secured for this film a minimum of funding from the Austrian and German authorities as well as from the Australian Jewish community - but none from any of the numerous British-Jewish foundations. The film, which includes three case-studies of Jewish refugees, is due to be ready for showing on 1 May next. Its appearance is eagerly awaited in Austria, Germany and Albania as well as by many British teachers of Holocaust studies. For further information, please contact me.
LITTLE BLUE BOOK
Sir – I entirely disagree with S. Muller’s argument (November issue) that instances of exploitation or worse should not be publicised because a visit from the Gestapo would have been much worse - as if that excuses everything or anything! No, such instances are to be judged by the ordinary civilised standards prevailing in this country at the time.
With regard to Lady Reading, one must assume her refugee servants were not treated differently from her native domestic staff. A different problem.
Sir - I would like to comment on the review of my debut novel Goodnight Vienna in your October issue. I am flattered that you suggest it is ideal film material and wait with baited breath to hear from any film producers in the audience!
It is important to clarify that the novel is based on a real-life character whose work just prior to the Second World War was so top secret that MI6 has yet to declassify her files. Information about her was gleaned from eye-witness testimonies and interviews. Implausible as it may seem, she really was a musician who worked for MI6 in the Passport Office in Vienna and was one of only six female radio hams in England at this time who worked for MI8 (a sub-section of MI6). For her work she was honoured with the BEM in 1946. Her identity for now has been masked but she struggled to work in a male-dominated world of radio hams, equipment and transmissions. In that sense, she was unusual. Her discovery of top-secret information relating to U-boats during the Second World War saved thousands of lives, not least those of our own airmen, who were due to bomb the submarine pens in France.
In the novel, the central hero of the captain is also inspired by a real figure - loosely based on Captain Kendrick, head of MI6 in Vienna who aided Jews to escape Austria by forging passports, just as Frank Foley did in Berlin. Of course, the powerful fourth character in the novel is Vienna itself, which readers say is so graphic and realistic that you feel you are moving in those terrifying times.
As to the romance, which you felt was artificially grafted onto the plot, love/romance within the novel progresses and takes various twists and turns with the development of the plot. Conveying intense emotion is always an experiment - too much sentimentality may better suit a female readership! Turn my hand to Mills & Boon? Maybe! Readers may be pleased to learn that the sequel, Moonlight Over Denmark, is to be published in the new year. It is set in the Second World War and in it the reader learns the fate of agent Jonathan. That too is inspired by real-life events, including the dramatic rescue of Denmark’s Jews in 1943.
BACK TO VIENNA
Sir - Much has been said in your paper with regard to Vienna. My wife and I have visited Vienna many times. We found it has become a very clean, very progressive city. I have never denied that I am Jewish. We stay in Oberlaa in a small but friendly Pension. People know I live in England and am Jewish. There is a thermal bath and many restaurants with a friendly Viennese atmosphere. The people disliked mainly are the Poles, Croats, beggars with small children, etc. These people are making Vienna an unfriendly place.
I had the pleasure to be invited to Vienna by the Jewish Welcome Service in April 2008. Staying in the very nice Hotel Stefanie in Leopoldstadt, it was an excellent week. Much was offered to us such as very nice Schnitzel, a sight-seeing tour, a trip to the Heurigen. I noticed that there were many more Jews settling in Leopoldstadt from other parts of the world and that they seemed to be accepted by the Viennese.
I will visit Vienna whenever I can. It will be more difficult as I am 86 years old. I will enjoy reading the AJR Journal for a long time yet.
Sir – John Lawrence (November), apparently on the basis of a visit of a few hours, writes the sort of criticism that might be expected of any visitor to any city anywhere. My wife and I have just enjoyed the hospitality of a well-known organisation, supported by the city of Vienna, for a whole week, all basic costs (including flights to and fro) paid for her - these even included me in tours and generous hospitality events.
Separately, we met only normal courtesy and guidance moving about the city, and that included, on the basis of three journeys, complete honesty about taxi fares!
I am troubled about the possible effect on many good people of the derogatory observations you publish, which will do nothing for continuing and future international relationships – not just because, as on other such occasions, many Israelis shared our overall pleasure.
CLUB 43 - KEEPING THE SHOW ON THE ROAD
Sir – An occasional visitor to Club 43, I was sorry to hear of the death of Hans Seelig and the possible demise of the Club. Could members make every effort to support the working party of Gerald Holm, Helene Ehrenberg and Ernst Flesch as they seek to ‘keep the show on the road’? The quality of the talks and following discussions has impressed me on every visit, as has the friendly atmosphere. I would be happy to give a talk myself on a topic of mutual interest.
THANK YOU, AJR
Sir - Although I live in Wilmslow, I was fortunate enough to be included in the party which visited the House of Lords on 5 October. The visit was thoroughly enjoyable and Lord Janner was a wonderful, entertaining, informative guide.
The exceptional organisational skills of Esther Rinkoff and Hazel Beiny made sure our day ran smoothly. What a wonderful idea of theirs to have visits as well as just meetings. Please pass on to them our grateful thanks for all their hard work, which made this visit such a success. Everyone agreed they had experienced a very special day and I hope there will be many more such outings.
Sir – I would like to thank Hazel and Esther for all their care and help when taking us out to various events and also for making the outing to the House of Lords a most enjoyable trip. I am looking forward to other pleasant events in the future. Also, may I thank all the staff at Jubilee House for their pleasant manner of dealing with all the queries they have to handle.
Sir – Regarding Anthony Grenville’s ‘Double Jeopardy’ article in the September issue, my father Werner Scholem was in triple jeopardy - which proved fatal.
He was a Jew. He was also a prominent Communist - leader of his party in the Reichstag from 1924 to 1926, then expelled from his party because he opposed the Stalin/Comintern policy. He was put in prison immediately after the Reichstag fire. Unlike Erich Mühsam, about whom you have written, he survived for years in various concentration camps, partly because he had had an affair with the daughter of the chief of the general staff of the German army. He might well have survived the Nazis altogether. But he was murdered in Buchenwald in 1940 by an SS man at the instigation of the Stalinists who ruled the camp under the Germans. Stalin’s long arm was his third jeopardy.
Sir - I am a book artist researching at the Wiener Library and particularly interested in any object of yours which is precious to you and connects you to your past. This could be, for example, a piece of furniture or clothing, a toy, jewellery, a handkerchief, a letter or photograph. Or, if, like me, you are second generation, this object could have belonged to a close member of your family.
I appreciate that for many of you this object may no longer exist. This doesn’t matter as it’s the story about its significance in which I’m most interested. I intend making a travelling archive to exhibit here and abroad for educational purposes. I am passionate about the need to promote Holocaust studies and feel this is one way I can actively contribute, especially if it will engage future generations. Please contact me for further information.
ORTHODOX AND REFORM
Let me tell Peter Phillips that ‘goyim’ is not a derogatory term per se. It is the plural of ‘goy’, Hebrew for ‘nation’. The word ‘yid’ is Yiddish for ‘Jew’ and again not used as an insult per se or Orthodox Jews these days wouldn’t be making a point of calling themselves ‘yidden’ instead of ‘Jews’. In fact, the word ‘Jew’ – not ‘yid’ - is often used in a contemptuous sense by non-Jews. Just look the word up in any dictionary!
In Germany, people often shied away from referring to themselves as ‘Juden’ or ‘jüdisch’ or using it in official documents, preferring the adjectives ‘israelitisch’ or ‘mosaisch’. People – Jews and non-Jews alike – seem to have a complex in this regard.
Finally, let those who claim their brand of ‘Judaism’ is more conducive to the continuity of our religion than the Halachic ways set forth in certain parts of Manchester (among a number of other places in Britain with large concentrations of Jews) on any of the Jewish festivals and observe the vibrant Jewish life there such as they may not have dreamed existed. There, more and more synagogues are being built lately as the existing ones are bursting at the seams.
On Monday, the first of the intermediate days of Succot recently, a gigantic theme park in Warrington, Gulliver’s World, was hired by the Jewish community of Manchester. Some 2,500 strictly Orthodox Jews, including vast numbers of children of course, were having a wonderful time on a beautiful sunny day at greatly reduced prices. All food on sale was kosher and the music Jewish. Beat that if you can!
Sir - In the benign, benevolent country in which we live, the term ‘goy’ is offensive. Its origin is in Eastern Europe, where Jews were attacked and massacred, led by the tsars, Cossacks and the church, and the population was hostile and therefore regarded as enemies by the Jews.
Sir- I am bewildered by a couple of the letters in your October issue. Henry Schragenheim writes: ‘God was the author of the Torah and He gave it to the Children of Israel orally via Moses.’ How does he know this? Was he there? He goes on to make a joke against Liberal rabbis which he must have read in a Chanukah cracker of 1950s vintage and quotes Rabbi Hirsch, who, he believes, with little or no evidence, attacked Liberal and Reform Jews in the nineteenth century. We are in the noughties, Mr Schragenheim. Try to keep up with the passing centuries!
Two letters later, Martin Stern tries to inveigle us into buying his book A Time to Speak. I promise to read your book, Mr Stern, but why don't you show your generosity by sending a signed copy to my home? Lastly, I must mention Marc Schatzenberger. I liked his letter and certainly nothing he said would make me think that Jews are ‘fighting among themselves’.