Dec 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
RICHARD TAUBER AND I
Sir - My heart missed a beat when I saw the photograph of Richard Tauber in the AJR Journal in your October issue. Whose wouldn’t, on seeing the face of the man who gave you your first kiss when you were 17 years old!
From a distance of 68 years, it seems unbelievable, but fortunately I recorded it in my diary at the time. It tells me that, on 21 February 1945, I went to hear Richard Tauber sing at the New Theatre in Oxford and, after the performance, I joined a long queue of people outside the stage door all waiting to get his autograph, probably as enthusiastic autograph-hunters as I was. At last, my turn came. I was ushered in and a moment later I was face to face with my idol. I handed him pen and paper and he signed his name, barely looking up.
‘I'm from Vienna too,’ I said, when I found my tongue. He smiled and said he was delighted to meet someone from Vienna. And that was how I came to receive my first kiss.
My zealous autograph-hunting acquainted me with many celebrities - Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox, Anton Walbrook, Daphne du Maurier, Howard Spring, Michael Redgrave, Yehudi Menuhin, Cecil Roth, Carl Yung - but none of them is as indelibly etched in my memory. How could they be?
A QUESTION OF INSIGNIAS
Sir - I wonder whether any reader can identify German-Jewish student associations
(Burschenschaften) from the colours of their insignias. I still have two different ones that belonged to my father.
How did he come to join two associations? At Freiburg in 1908 he was approached by student recruiters. Being an innocent from a small town (Glogau) and flattered by their interest, he agreed to join without enquiring much. It turned out to be a Zionist association. At that time, Zionism had very little support in Germany. In the assimilationist circle of his parents, he had to suffer much teasing. They even composed an outrageously ill-rhymed comic song which was sung on family occasions. That was the custom in those pre-TV days. I still remember the refrain: ‘Und so steigt man immer höher/bis man wird ein Makabäer.’ The next semester he escaped and joined a non-Zionist duelling Burschenschaft.
I would like to identify the two associations and find out more about them. Insignia no. 1 is dated 1908 and has a two-stripe ribbon in yellow and magenta and elaborately scrolled letters, probably JE. Insignia no. 2 is dated 1908-9 and has a three-stripe ribbon in magenta, white, magenta; the middle colour may have faded from yellow; the scrolled letters appear to be EVJ or EUJ.
MORE THAN ONE IDENTITY
Sir - Peter Phillips (October, Letters) was three years old when his parents brought him to England. It is in this country in which he has grown up and lives. That is completely different from coming here as a teenager on the Kindertransport. If Mr Phillips had the understanding to take that into account, he would not so high-handedly condemn Eric Bourne’s attachment to his ‘Heimat’.
I was born in Munich and came to this country at the age of 14. I am at home here. But I also identify with my Munich childhood. I have described myself on one of my visits back there as ‘eine bayrisch-jüdische Britin’ and here as a ‘Bavarian-Jewish Brit’.
Most of us have more than one identity. Has Mr Phillips missed out on it?
FROM THERESIENSTADT TO SWITZERLAND
Sir - Mrs Margarete Stern’s letter (August) raised my immediate interest. Similar to her father’s stepmother, my paternal grandmother, Blanca Graff, was one of the 1,200 people who risked their lives and accepted an offer to leave Theresienstadt. One train only left and the volunteers did not know if it would go east to extermination or west to freedom. For my grandmother, the risk was worth it: her husband, Benno, had already died of starvation in the camp and her son (Werner, my father) and his wife (Mary, my mother) had managed to emigrate to Australia. Her dream of being reunited with her family was worth all.
Blanca was number 406 to volunteer (I have her letter). The train went through Prague to Constance to Kreuzlingen to St Gallen, where they stayed for eight days, to Montreux, to Les Avants and finally to Engelberg. Blanca was one of 100 people to be accommodated at the Hotel Titlis. Her letters of happiness are heartbreaking. She comments on how she could not believe how well the Swiss treated them: with concern and kindness, with human warmth, concerts and film nights – and checking on their welfare should they not be participating. She comments on what bright colours there were in food and nature, how good it was to eat wholesome, well-prepared food, and even to sleep in a bed again!
That dark chapter ended when Werner Rosenstock, one of your past editors and a former youth group member of the Deutsch-Jüdischer Jugendbund, which my father had led in Berlin, read Blanca’s name on a Red Cross list of displaced persons and wrote to my parents that Blanca had survived. She stayed in Engelberg for another year, supported financially by my parents, while they saved enough money to bring her to Australia. She arrived on 7 March 1946, 13 days before I was born! Life and family were recreated.
Do any of your readers have further information on the train trip or Engelberg? I have enquired at the Engelberg Shire Council but was told that the Hotel Titlis burned down a few years ago and, with it, all its history.
Thank you for your wonderful journal, which we look forward to reading each month.
THANK YOU, BLOOMSBURY HOUSE
Sir – I must join Susanne Medas (August, Letters) in praising Bloomsbury House and its volunteers. They were wonderful to me and I will be forever grateful for how much they helped me.
I was 13 when in April 1939 I came to England with the Kindertransport. I had two sisters who came to England two months before me. One was ten years older than I, the other seven years older. I went to stay with a non-Jewish family and my sisters had to work as domestics. The family I was with were very kind to me but it all came to an end when France fell and my sisters were interned. They were very worried as, of course, they had no idea how long the war would last and what could happen to me in the meantime.
My sisters got in touch with Bloomsbury House for advice. They told them they were sending children to their mothers and, if they agreed, they could do the same for me with my sisters. Of course my sisters were delighted to be able to keep an eye on their 14-year-old sibling and so I came to Port Erin in the Isle of Man to live with another 4,000 women. No doubt, had I been older, having so many women around me would have driven me mad! But everybody made such a fuss of me and things weren’t too bad.
My middle sister was released earlier because she had married just before being interned and her husband had joined the Pioneer Corps and was stationed in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. My elder sister and I stayed in the Isle of Man for about five months. Then we were released and made our way to Cirencester to be with our other sister. Things were rather tough at the beginning: we couldn’t find a flat for all of us so we had to rent rooms in different houses.
Before I left Vienna my mother had always told me I must learn a trade and the only apprenticeship I could get in Cirencester was hairdressing – which I hated – and the wages wouldn’t even pay the rent. So Bloomsbury House came to the rescue and paid ten shillings a week for three years for my accommodation. We stayed in Cirencester until 1944 and then moved to London. As fate would have it, we found a flat near Ladbroke Grove. The owner was a lovely lady from Romania who had ten children, all grown up and in the Forces, so she had plenty of room. I was then 18 and one day a lovely young man in RAF uniform came home on leave. He was one of our landlady’s sons – and that was it! To cut a long story short, we started dating and decided to get married.
But there was a problem: at the time you had to be 21 or receive permission from your parents to get married. But alas, my poor parents never lived to see that day. We didn’t know what to do so my sisters contacted Bloomsbury House for advice. As usual, they were so helpful and they sent a Jewish worker to check on my future husband’s family. It so happens that my future mother-in-law knew the social worker very well as they had both lived in Notting Hill for a few years. She had only good things to say about the family and said that my future husband was a charming, reliable young man who would make a good husband. The court got the papers from Bloomsbury House and I was granted permission to marry.
Fast-forward 67 years and I have three children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. My husband is 91 and I am 86 and we enjoy our close-knit family so much. We see each other constantly as we all live very close to one another. Had I not received permission from the court, who knows how my life would have turned out! So, thank you, Bloomsbury House: the last 67 years of married life have been very good – and here’s hoping for a few more!
Sir – This is a kind of postscript to Fritz Lustig’s letter in the October issue.
I obviously knew Professor Robert and Mrs Sybil Hutton in my Cambridge days, although I was not aware of their domestic arrangements. Mrs Hutton dealt with the adults on the Cambridge Refugee Committee while Mrs Burkill took charge of the juveniles. Professor Hutton was a prominent member of the Cambridge Allocation Committee of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. Hence my acquaintance with him.
Sir - One of your correspondents mentioned the town of Boston in Lincolnshire. This brought back a memory from my stay at a 1957 refugee camp in Skegness.
I was awoken in the middle of the night and asked to accompany a fellow refugee from Hungary in an ambulance and translate for him. Evidently there was a bullet left in him from the 1956 revolution which was now causing him excruciating pain. This did not stop him demanding from me that no black doctor should touch him. I still wonder where he acquired this prejudice as coloured people were virtually unknown in Hungary at the time. We arrived safely at the hospital in Boston and, as times were different then, a doctor attended to him straight away. The colour of the doctor seeing to him, I will let you guess ….
ISRAEL AND THE UN
Sir - Alan S. Kaye (November, Letters) queries the UN vote on partition on the grounds that it would not pass today in a larger UN. I wonder how many other countries, subjected to Mr Kaye’s ex post facto scrutiny, would pass such a test. Most countries are products of their time – the constituent parts of the UK have been in various relationships over history and may now mutate again in 2014. Why should Israel alone be subject to Mr Kaye’s odd version of the double jeopardy rule?
His analogy between Herzl’s Zionism and European empire-building is breathtaking in its chutzpah when you remember that Zionism, if taken as a product of its time, is usually, and more correctly, seen as analogous to the contemporaneous anti-imperial nationalisms of peoples like the Czechs.
It is something of a relief to find he acknowledges the reality of Israel, but I am unclear as to what is the ‘better perspective’ that is ‘the essential requirement of moves towards a civilised solution’. He would, I imagine, agree that such a perspective needs to be based on a realistic assessment of history such as his letter signally fails to supply.
I pass on whether ‘nationalism, anywhere, is the curse of, and a burden on, the modern world’ largely because, while, like all such sweeping generalisations, it probably contains some truth, I nevertheless can’t fault those Czechs I mentioned above who wanted to extricate themselves from Austria-Hungary, nor the various peoples who did the same vis à vis the Ottomans, and later of course the British. Indeed, I don’t even have any particular problem with Palestinian nationalism so long as it is able to reach an accommodation with Israel.
As for Mr Kaye’s conclusion, clearly there is nothing inconsistent in being ‘Yankee or Russian’ and also accepting that ‘a man is just a man’ or even that ‘We’re all brothers and we’re only passing through’. But his reference to Pete Seeger reminded me of footage of the singer launching into a rousing version of Tzene Tzene - introducing it as a song ‘from the new country of Israel’ without seeming disapprobation.
Sir - Alan Kaye claims that Dorothea Shefer-Vanson doesn’t understand certain historical events and their implications, that Israel’s existence is not in accordance with the law, and that Israel does not conform to established standards of behaviour. Furthermore, he says that Israel needs to adopt a better perspective towards a civilised solution. That’s in spite of Israel finding itself in a distinctly uncivilised region, in a sea of backwardness and violence. To me, this sounds no different from those who are seeking to delegitimise the Jewish state whom Ms Shefer-Vanson touches on in her article. It is not something one would have expected to find in a journal for survivors from Nazism as well as Holocaust survivors.
Mr Kaye dismisses the Balfour Declaration as merely ‘the political view of the then British government and [it] did not purport to go further.’ He is wrong: it did go further. The San Remo Conference of 1920 was convened to decide on the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. The Great Powers assigned the Mandate to Britain with the aim of implementing the Balfour Declaration, i.e. to facilitate the formation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, which at that time included the territory that is today Jordan. Taking this into account, plus the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is in possession of only about a quarter of the territory of Palestine that the Balfour Declaration referred to.
The San Remo Agreement was further ratified by the League of Nations in 1922. In effect, San Remo is Israel’s Magna Carta; this is irrevocable according to international law, for which Mr Kaye is such a stickler. And for him to question whether Ms Shefer-Vanson believes that the 1947 UN resolution would pass today is rather churlish. Many of those UN member states are authoritarian, strongly biased against Israel, and some have abysmal human rights records.
I ought to mention that in furthering the formation of the Jewish homeland, it was understood that nothing should be done that would prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. It was a result of the wars initiated by Arab states that led to the situation that exists today, as well as Arab intransigence and the fact that they are unwilling to accept what is to them a ‘foreign’ presence in the Middle East.
‘TEDIOUS AND RAMBLING’
Sir - Rubin Katz says (November) that Peter Phillips’s letters are ‘tedious’ but his own, rambling letters are not only tedious but full of irrelevancies. His reference to Ben-Gurion’s 1948 order to the Hagana to set the Altalena on fire is biased. Ben-Gurion’s main motive was his fear that the Irgun would use its cargo of arms to ignite a civil war. Katz then goes off at one tangent about his own foreign accent and then at another tangent about someone changing his name from Ginsberg to Gainsborough and then to Jones. Then he beats his Zionist drum once again. Surely he doesn’t think this gives any new information to readers of the AJR Journal?