Feb 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
HOLOCAUST AND OTHER GENOCIDES
Sir - Mary Rogers asks (January) for members’ responses to her view that it is inappropriate to include victims of other genocides in memorial services for victims of the Holocaust.
I respect her view as the universal right to a personal opinion is very precious to me. But I would have liked her to tell us the criteria on which she bases her view, as I totally disagree with it as it stands in her letter.
Yom Hashoah, the Jewish annual day for remembrance of the Holocaust, existed well before 27 January 2001, the first national Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). HMD was instigated through an international committee concerned that all people - not only Jews - need to remember the Holocaust.
Already, on 27 January 2001, the Wiener Library held a public meeting, not on the Holocaust but on genocide. It was at this meeting that I first learned, with shame at my ignorance, about the Armenian genocide from an Armenian survivor. It was clear to me then that to focus solely on the victims of the Holocaust would be likely to perpetuate ignorance and denial of other genocides.
The Holocaust was unique in many ways - and may it remain so. But something that has happened once can happen again. Only by bearing to know about all genocides can we, hopefully, contribute to making sure there will be no more genocide. As there have been about 50 genocides, including several major ones, since 1945, we have a lot of learning yet to do.
Sadly, there are still some who consider the Holocaust ‘the property of Jews’. The Jews suffered, and so did many others, but, in my opinion, the Holocaust and all genocides belong to the whole of humanity. They add up to a massive loss to humanity and this needs to be mourned by the whole of humanity together.
Each genocide in which we do not intervene in the six early stages to prevent it reaching the seventh stage of mass murder, in my opinion, makes a ‘blood red footprint’ in the human soul - the inner life of every human being. We should be as concerned about genocide footprints in our ‘internal environment’ as we are about carbon footprints in the external environment.
Sir - Why does Mary Rogers object to HMD and to HMD services being devoted to all victims of all racially motivated exterminations? Is it right to consider the death camps and their 6 million Jewish victims whilst ignoring their 5.5 million other victims? If ‘victims of mass murder’ is too loose a definition, and one restricts the term ‘holocaust’ only to those groups whose total extermination was intended, one would have to group the gypsy and gay communities with European Jewry.
Otherwise, the onus is on Ms Rogers to show what makes the 1941-45 extermination of the Jews different from population exterminations before or since.
There is another approach - which I would prefer. We can all mourn our ancestors, whether they died in Auschwitz or in their beds. For persons of faith, the date and procedure of mourning may be prescribed, but essentially mourning is a private or ‘family and friends’ act. What then is the purpose of HMD? Is it not an act of witness to condemn mass murder? Should it not climax in an affirmation that all persons are equal and share an obligation towards each other? And, if that is right, there is nothing to distinguish our suffering from that of the descendants of Armenians, Kurds, Rwandans, Congolese ...
Sir - I was pleased that Mary Rogers questions if it is appropriate to include other genocides on HMD. It’s a subject that has troubled me ever since its inception and I therefore mostly stay away from the event. The very first HMD was coupled with Bosnia. To recall, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a puppet state of the Nazis and a Bosnian Waffen-SS division fought alongside the Germans, engaged mainly in killing thousands of innocent Serbs and Jews. Prior to attending the opening ceremony, I was unaware there would be a Bosnian aspect to it and, when a Bosnian was introduced to speak, my blood ran cold as I wondered just how much the large audience knew of the wartime events that led to the massacre. How ironic that we should be asked to remember the Bosnian victims but not the Serbs, although the earlier crime was far more serious.
A year earlier, I was present at a consultation meeting chaired by the redoubtable Stephen Smith at Beth Shalom, to gauge survivors’ views on the annual Holocaust commemoration Tony Blair was keen to introduce here, in line with other European countries. The first HMD took place in London the following year, on 27 January 2001. Stephen Smith was appointed chairman of the HMD Trust.
Some of those present at the meeting, including myself, were not wholly in favour. We have our Yom Hashoah and felt we didn’t need another remembrance day. We also thought it could invite accusations of ‘Why the Jews?’ when so many others died in the war and it could end up doing us more harm than good. Some also foresaw the event being abused by those with a different agenda, who would want to include any massacre - even alleged massacres. This is exactly what happened in 2005, when the Muslim Council had the gall to demand what some describe as the ‘Palestinian holocaust’ to be included.
It is, of course, fitting that the day be restricted to all victims of Nazi persecution - not just Jews - and for the Holocaust to act as the catalyst for what intolerance and scapegoating can lead to. This is as far as I would go - otherwise it should have been named ‘Genocide Day’. To the best of my knowledge, Holocaust Day in Europe is not coupled with other genocides as it is here. I put this down to political correctness, which seems to afflict this country far more than Europe.
Apart from the first HMD, I attended the January 2009 event in Coventry as the theme ‘Stand up to Hatred’ appealed to me because of the re-emerging anti-Semitism. Hazel Blears, who then held the Cabinet post of Communities Secretary, pledged in her speech that her government would vigorously fight racism from the right. As we were milling around at the reception, she failed to answer the question ‘What about racism from the left?’ put to her by a survivor friend from Leicester. Significantly, anti-Jewish hatred never even got a mention on this auspicious day.
Sir - I feel the same as Mary Rogers. At last year’s HMD event organised by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, the speaker from Rwanda monopolised the proceedings. While I strongly sympathise with all victims of genocide, I do feel that the Jewish Holocaust is unique in character and scale. It was perpetrated on an industrial scale with meticulous planning and ruthless efficiency. These horrors were perpetrated by the same race as had produced Goethe and Beethoven among many others.
Sir – It is not correct to include the victims of Rwanda and other genocides in HMD. We European Jews were not involved in civil war and no other people was ever transported to gas chambers.
KINDERTRANSPORT CHAIRMAN KNIGHTHOOD
Sir - I am sure we are all delighted at the news of the knighthood bestowed on Kindertransport Chairman Erich Reich. It is an honour not only for him but, to some extent, for the entire Kinderstransport movement and its founder, Bertha Leverton.
I have a slight personal connection with this news in that it fulfils my wishes of 12 years ago. After the successful reunion of 1998, I felt there should be some public appreciation of Bertha’s work and persuaded Richard Grunberger to join me in suggesting to the relevant office in Downing Street - without telling Bertha of course - that she should figure in the next Honours List. Nothing seemed to come of it at the time. I was, of course, pleased when she eventually got an MBE, but I never knew whether this had anything at all to do with our initial approach all those years ago. Nor do I know whether the recent knighthood had anything to do with it …
Sir - John Goldsmith’s letter (January) took me back to Cambridge, where my sister and I were taken in when we arrived with the Kindertransport in April l939. Greta Burkill was our guardian angel too and so was John’s mother Malli Meyer. She was our dentist for many years. my late husband and I visited Cambridge frequently from Oxford, not only to see my parents Salli and Luise Rath and my husband’s aunt Leni Ursell, but also to continue our dental treatment by Malli Meyer - not only a good dentist but a very elegant lady. Incidentally, John and I attended the same golden wedding party last summer but I didn’t recognise him at the time!
QUAKERS AND REFUGEES
Sir – I was interested in Marion Smith’s letter (December). It is well known that Quakers did more for us than any other denomination, given the fact that at the time there were only 19,000 of them. I have been involved with Friends as friends and have tried to research this topic. Some years ago, I wrote up this study and used it for a talk to the Midwest KTA in Madison, Wisconsin and to a Kindertransport Association meeting in London in 1989. Should any reader wish to see a copy, please contact me at the email address below.
I admire the work you are doing and think the AJR Journal is the best of all the magazines or brochures I have seen here and in the USA on the topic of refugees.
Sir – I would very much like to hear from anyone whose loved ones perished at Maly Trostinec, near Minsk. I have notification from the Austrian State Archive that my parents and sister were taken there from their last address in Vienna on 20 May 1942 and shot immediately on arrival. No less than 15,000 Jews from Vienna, Cologne and Königsberg met a similar fate between May and October that year. From June onwards, special gas wagons were put into operation.
A simple but beautiful monument has been erected on this site and is looked after by members of the Minsk Jewish community. I understand that there were only 17 survivors but it is doubtful if any of them is alive today.
I wonder if any of your readers has actually visited the site. It has long been my ambition to go there and say Kaddish. However, as I am no longer in the best of health and in my eighties, I don’t suppose my wish will come to fruition.
FEWER JEWS IN THE UK
Sir - The Jewish population in this country has halved in our time here. Another 70 years may well cause a further diminution and it is likely that only an insignificant number of Jews will inhabit these lands by the end of the century. Similar trends are evident abroad. Even in Israel, visited recently, one could discern the influence of non-Jewish settlers, thereby diluting the Sabras, who deprecate the influx of Russians who declared themselves Jews to escape the hard life of their country.
Regarding this country, it is not necessary to single out reasons for blaming the government for the diminution of the Jewish population as all social life is directly or indirectly influenced by government action or inaction. The persistent changes in education, which is of great importance to Jewish families, under-achievement, lowering of standards and the squabbles over single-faith schools, make parents doubtful about having their children educated here. Inheritance taxes are a further reason for packing their bags. Jews in the financial sector are now thinking of emigrating because of government interference. Some have themselves to blame for the consequences of their behaviour. The liberal, uncontrolled immigration factor is of concern, especially when compared with the then barriers to keep out our brethren, whilst we, a mere fraction, luckily managed to overcome them.
LIFT VANS OF LONG AGO
Sir - We called them ‘lifts’. They were smaller than today’s containers and made of wood. Liesl Munden (January) asks about customs duties exacted by the Nazis. In May 1939, when we left for Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), my parents had to make a complete inventory of every item to be exported stating the date when it had been bought. A customs official came to our apartment to supervise the packing and finally sealed the ‘lift’.
If I remember correctly, on brand new items such as tropical-weight clothes, electric fans and a refrigerator, we had to pay 100% duty. Articles acquired between 1933 and 1938 attracted 50%, and even on articles acquired before 1933 we had to pay 33%. Despite these punitive rates, it was advantageous to take goods rather than transfer money. Each adult was allowed to take out a mere 10 Marks in German currency. Foreign currency had to be purchased at special rates of exchange for emigrants. We had to pay 100 Marks to obtain 8 Sperrmark. These could then be exchanged for sterling at commercial rates, i.e. the Nazis seized 92% of our money. It was a long time ago and I was only a child so I cannot be absolutely certain of the percentages.
Sir - Liesl Munden reminded me of the ‘lift’ my parents had filled with furniture, clothing, toys and treasures from our life in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia. We were not as fortunate as Liesl in that the ‘lift’ was stored in Hamburg waiting shipment when war broke out.
I still have the letter from Julius Schumacher addressed to a Lance Corporal Garvin dated 23 August 1945 advising that, in accordance with an order of the Gestapo II/B/2/980/41 dated 18 March 1941, the ‘lift’ was auctioned by Carl F. Schluter Co. I still possess the originals of the letters concerned; the contents have never been seen again. We can be forever grateful that it was the ‘lift’ that got stuck in Hamburg and not our family.
Sir – During the early years of the Second World War, when I was seven to nine years old, I remember my mother constantly bemoaning the loss of our ‘lift’ container. She missed most our bed linen and clothes – not to mention my very own life-size teddy bear (of which I never had any recollection whatsoever!).
I still have somewhere a postcard dated late August 1939 from a Jewish ex-solicitor in Germany expressing reassurance that the lift paperwork was in order and there was nothing more to worry about … I also have the list of contents, which was later the basis of a restitution claim. After sending at least 100 letters to the United Restitution Office over the years, my widowed mother received a final payment, for my father’s books in the lift, in 1966. Corresponding with pre-1920s school friends after the war, she found replacements for a couple of family photos, all of which were lost forever with the lift.
BRITISH FIRST, JEWISH SECOND?
Sir – I wear a little Star of David. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take it off. It is part of me.
Neither religion nor nationality is important. What is really important is something I have received throughout a very long life: simple helpfulness and good nature.
My aunt and cousin were murdered in the gas chambers in Poland. My father, who had fought in the First World War, was brutally mistreated in Sachsenhausen. Fortunately, he was released and had to leave Germany within eight hours of his release.
It is an incredible paradox that I have been able to live quite an adventurous life, finding people at home and in all corners of the globe kind and helpful.
Order and law are not imposed: they are a spontaneous part of human behaviour. I am dubious about the state. I am dubious about religion. The Inquisition; the burning of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley in Broad Street, Oxford; the Thirty Years’ War. Get away with you!
Sir – If Mr Stern (December) cannot accept that Jews worldwide are, and will continue to be, outnumbered by those of other faiths, he should have arranged with his parents never to have been born. There never was any other answer.
Sir – I absolutely agree with everything Victor Ross (December) had to say about living in this country and the rootlessness of most of us!
NO LAUGHING MATTER
Sir - I suppose Frank Bright is trying to be funny (January) when he claims to ‘have it on good authority that over time, from the expulsion from Paradise to the present, Jews have acquired immunity from swine flu.’ However, his comment ‘What is not clear is whether that applies to all Jews who are Jewish or … only to those permitted to enter Jewish schools’ is in poor taste. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, which he probably has not read, only those who satisfy some religious test will now be allowed to be admitted.
The Masorti, Reform and Liberal ideologies differer significantly from Orthodox Judaism, making them essentially separate religions, admittedly based on Jewish sources. But, then, so are Christianity and, to a lesser degree, Islam.
Since the JFS is defined as an Orthodox Jewish school under the guidance of the Chief Rabbi, this must mean that children of their adherents will have to be excluded - not only those who are not Halachically Jewish.
The alternative would be that, for example, children from the Jews for J movement, which claims to be a stream of Judaism that differs from others only in its acceptance of the Christian messiah, would be equally entitled to admission.
Perhaps it will be necessary to insist that applicants join an Orthodox synagogue, but this is as likely as ‘pigs might fly’ - the past tense of which might well be ‘swine flew’!
Sir – Neither swine flu nor the problem surrounding entry to Jewish schools is a laughing matter. I am surprised you published such a puerile letter.