Jan 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - I thought this success story might encourage AJR members.
In June 2008 I met an Austrian survivor who subsequently became a member of the AJR. It was ascertained that this lady was not in receipt of an Austrian pension and she began a monumental effort to obtain one. This involved numerous letters; a visit to the Austrian embassy in London together with AJR social workers; a visit to Vienna; the involvement of Austrian social workers; several applications; and many home visits to go through the documentation, which was in German.
The situation was complicated by the fact that the lady had been in hiding for four years during the war and was thus unable to provide the Austrian pension authorities with details of her employment during that time. She also became distressed when having to recall her experience.
I visited her recently and she was delighted to say she had finally heard from Austria that her pension was to be granted and back paid to the 1990s. For the first time in many years, her nightmares have ceased. Her parting comment to me was: ‘It was never about the money. The nightmare was to do with them not believing me - now my experience is validated!’
I am delighted this case has had a positive outcome but feel sad and angry that the process has been so damaging to this client.
CALL TO THE THIRD GENERATION
Sir - I was thrilled to read Hannah Goldstone’s call (November) to the Third Generation to come together to ensure the future of Holocaust remembrance. This is an important proposal. Many of us who are members of the First Generation and speak regularly at schools and synagogues and to civic groups in the UK and on the Continent are increasingly concerned about carrying on our legacy as our numbers dwindle. May the numbers of concerned members of the Third Generation ready to pick up our legacy grow and grow.
Sir – The experiences of refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia are often distressing but, by and large, they vary only in the details.
My own experience of the Nazis dates from the boycott of Jewish shops in April 1933 when I was almost seven years old. I learned quickly enough what anti-Semitism was all about.
It is unlikely that younger children will have much of a memory as to the details of what happened between then and their emigration to the UK and elsewhere.
When the last person who has actual experiences of those times sheds his or her earthly coil, there will not be a ’Jewish refugee’ left anywhere and the title and content of the AJR Journal and organisation will become obsolete.
To perpetuate this particular past by enlisting a first, second and even third generation is absurd. The time is fast approaching – and is already too late in some instances - when the memory of those times needs to be properly safeguarded, perhaps by a section of the Wiener Library.
The bell tolls for all of us remnants of the 10,000 who found asylum here.
‘WITNESSES IN UNIFORM’
Sir - I was interested to read Jeremy M. Cohn’s piece ‘Witnesses in uniform’ in the December issue. I can identify with his impression of his Berlin visit, as can any insightful Holocaust survivor and refugee, as well as their progeny.
I too visited Grunewald station and, on my way there, passing typical suburban middle-class villas, I remember thinking that in these villas lived typical middle-class families, probably standing in their windows, watching columns of Jews being marched to the station. What, I wondered, were they thinking? Were they thinking that they should not have voted in this government, which was so cruelly and openly discriminating against their friends and trusted professionals, and, if so, could or would they have done anything about it?
Could or would we in similar circumstances? Could it have happened in any cultured and cultivated society in a similar confluence of circumstances? Was it a manifestation of the potential of evil that lies in the human condition, and happened to emerge in Germany and be released in Europe? Does anyone have answers?
RETURN TO HAMBURG
Sir – I was very interested to read Sue Barnett’s article (November) about her visit to Hamburg.
Like her I was born in Hamburg and her description of her visit was very illuminating for me. I would like to comment on her visit to the Talmud-Thora School, which has a very distinguished history and which I was privileged to attend before the war. In fact, in the 1970s it became a library of the University of Hamburg and some 12 years ago it returned to its original function as a boy’s school. It is a beautiful building, next to the wonderful synagogue which was tragically destroyed in November 1938.
Sir - It is easy enough for students in Hamburg to find out for themselves what became of the goods and chattels of those deported. They just have to ask their parents or grandparents such simple questions as: Where did you get the piano, the picture on the wall, the display cabinet, the antique furniture? The book Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der Hamburger Juden 1933-1945 by Beate Meyer is on the internet. If I can find it in seconds, so can they! All that is needed is a computer, an internet provider and an honest search for the truth of what was perpetrated on their doorstep.
Sir – I live in Berlin and, when visiting my aunt, a former Jewish refugee, in London, I often read your magazine. I know the visitors’ programme of the city of Berlin very well (my own brother and sister were here) and I am interested in the articles people write about their visits.
I have a question. We are a small group of women researching the life of the well-known doctor and psychotherapist Charlotte Wolff, who was born in Germany in 1897, emigrated to England, and died in London in 1986. We would like to find out where she was buried. Can any of your readers help?
A TRUE TORAH PERSPECTIVE
Sir - Henry Schragenheim (December) writes: ‘Today’s Germans and Austrians are like baalei teshuva (those who repent) and deeply regret what happened in their countries in the Nazi era. One must warmly welcome those who repent and not remind them of their former lifestyle. Most likely the member of the Austrian embassy who was to have been present [at the AJR Tea] was not even born so many years ago. And he would have come to express friendship.’
It is refreshing to see this true Torah perspective expressed in your pages. We should eschew vindictiveness towards members of nations that have persecuted us - which, though understandable in the circumstances, is really unfair to those who were not even born at the time - and also regret what was done in a previous generation, ostensibly in their nation’s name.
Mr Schragenheim’s letter contrasts with the frequent anti-religious diatribes that we have to endure from Peter Phillips, who, in his contribution in December, abuses both Mr Schragenheim and other Orthodox correspondents, as he seems to do in almost every issue of your journal.
Sir – I was interested to read Martha Blend’s review of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question in your November issue. I was, however, surprised to read of ‘verbal wit’ and ‘a rich tapestry whose threads are the ever-present dilemmas of Jewish life’.
I took this book on holiday as it was promoted as being humorous but I struggled as far as page 126 for some humour - or even satire - but in vain. I was bombarded with the words ‘Jew’ and ‘a Finkler’ page after page, which became quite irritating. I began to wonder who on earth would care about ‘The Question’ and I lost interest with regard to ‘The Answer’ – if ever there was to be one.
Assuming that some of the Jewish readership may find the book thought-provoking, I cannot see why our non-Jewish neighbours would be prepared to invest the time or £18.99 on such a pretentious investment.
I have every respect for Martha Blend’s judgment but I would suggest a much more satisfying read would be Natasha Solomon’s Mr Rosenblum’s List – which has a Jewish refugee as the central character and is unlikely to irritate the reader.
ISRAEL AND ZIONISM
Sir – It is futile arguing with the likes of Peter Philips (December). I find his mish-mash efforts too frustrating to comment on, so I’m giving up on him – this being my last attempt. The well-known adage springs to mind: ‘The great obstacle is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.’
Israel, he says, was set up as a secular state. It was declared the re-born Jewish State, a home for all Jews without distinction. You cannot separate Jews from their religion: this is what sustained them during their two millennia of wanderings and dream of return. Mr Philips denies hating the religious yet he suggests their vote be taken away for refusing army service. It all depends on what he means by ‘religious’; the highest percentage of motivated soldiers and officers also hail from these ranks. In fact, the biggest draft dodgers on a par with the ‘black hats’ is the liberal left. Would he advocate that their vote be taken away too?
Mr Philips denies any affinity to Howard Jacobson’s ‘ashamed-Jew’ Finkler and insists on calling himself a Zionist and not anti-Israel. But in the same breath he labels Israel a fundamentalist state (December); compares it to its Arab neighbours (October); and decries Israeli laws as no different from Sharia. I thought Israel gave up stoning adulteresses almost two millennia before England ceased burning witches! In fact, women were never stoned in ancient Israel - it was there as a deterrent.
The ‘fellow Jew’ Mr Phillips told to go to Israel is none other than me. How ironic – this takes me back to my boyhood in Poland where I learned to give as good as I got, when Polish bullies would set about me screaming ‘Jew to Palestine!’
Sir - In the December issue, replying to his many critics, Peter Phillips
wrote: ‘Henry Schragenheim … spoils a good letter with his second paragraph. What on earth has the fact that 3,000 years ago Jewish kings ruled the people and that the King (which king?) read from the Torah in the temple on the festival of Succot, got to do with anything that is happening today? Anyhow, how does he know this? Was he there?’
Mr Phillips may not know that the American Civil War occurred or that the Greeks as well as the Romans invaded the Holy Land - because he was not there. But I and other readers know it because it is history and can be found in history books.
I wrote about the Jewish king ruling over Jews in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago because Mr Phillips had asserted that the Jews were intruders and settled in an Arab country. In fact, no Arab state ever existed in Palestine - although they could have had a state from 1948 to 1967 when the Jordanians were in occupation of the West Bank and the Egyptians occupied Gaza.
With regard to the Jewish king, this can be found in Deuteronomy 17-15: it was King Solomon. And the procedure of the king reading from the Torah is explained in Talmud Sotah 41a.
Sir - I wish to express my appreciation of Anthony Grenville’s courageous article ‘In defence of doves’ (December) on the need for a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine standoff. Judging by past correspondence in your esteemed journal, there will be considerable hostility towards open-minded negotiations.
Palestinians have no allies. They have been hung out to dry by their Middle Eastern brothers and they know it. Unlikely as it may sound to your readers, the majority of Palestinians want nothing better than to reach a settlement with Israel so that they can get steady employment, develop their environment and lead normal lives.
Israel has to create the conditions for a successful outcome: treat Palestinians as equals, no more land grabs, no more uprooting of olive trees, no more harassment at checkpoints, no more physical assaults from settlers. We could have peace now.
Then, in a few years, a thriving Palestine alongside a thriving Israel would be an example to the world of how to go about building real security and prosperity. Yesterday’s barbarities will become history lessons.
Sir - Just read Anthony Grenville’s essay about Israel. Beautifully stated, and very important!
Sir – It’s hard not to be depressed by the situation in Israel. One wonders whether the original Zionists were naive to think they could return to a country after 2,000 years and not have trouble with the neighbours. These days, a talented and vibrant community seems to be in hock to an illiberal and fanatical minority. Will someone give me a reason for optimism about the future of the country we all love and admire?
Sir – Amnon Needham (Letters, October) means well, but his arguments won’t work in practice. His one and only God gave His people the whole of Judea and Samaria. On that, and on that alone, Mr Needham rests his claim to modern Israel and presumably encourages the ongoing annexation of adjoining, non-Israeli, lands within the area of historic Judea and Samaria.
Sadly, the majority of the world’s population believe that God had a Son who claims sovereignty over all the world. He gave an abstract interpretation to the term ‘His People’, which excludes Mr Needham (and me). However, if Jews cease to be God’s select people, that is the end of their claim to ‘the Holy Land’ on Mr Needham’s chosen ground.
Judaism, Christianity, Islam – the three faiths derived from one God - are incompatible. Hence the reliance on faith-based arguments will not suffice to ensure Israel’s right to exist - never mind its right to enjoy a peaceful existence.
No, the only really reliable answer is reliance on man’s law, which in this case lies in the United Nations. Its binding resolution brought Israel into existence and is the guarantee of that country’s continuing existence. Implicit in that is that Israel exists within the borders laid down by the UN and not the territory it has occupied or over which it has assumed extra-territorial rights.
Sir –Amnon Needham asserts that we should ‘not give a monkey’s what [our] gentile friends think … we can do without their Holocaust memorials, their sympathy’ etc. As from time to time Mr Needham visits the UK he probably knows that we have here a Holocaust Day and other events too. Shall we ignore them because they are organised by ‘gentiles’?
‘VOTE, VOTE, VOTE FOR CLEMENT ATTLEE?’
Sir - I must reply briefly to Edgar Ring’s outrageous (and outraged) letter in the December issue, in response to mine, in which he sets down his opposition to the creation of the welfare state. He makes it very clear where he comes from politically! Clearly he has never been a pre-National Health ‘panel patient’, nor does he show the slightest compassion for those millions who even now cannot afford private medicine.
To quote the editor of the current number of Clinical Medicine, the journal of the Royal College of Physicians – an organisation not exactly noted for its leftwing sympathies: ‘A toast was raised to the NHS in last year’s December issue ... to salute a service where everyone, regardless of income, can obtain medical care free at the point of entry – a remarkable achievement for any healthcare system.’ I rest my case.
Sir – Edgar Ring offers sweeping - indeed, breathtaking - assertions about Britain’s political and economic history during two-thirds of the last 100 years.
Will he now follow through by offering us an explanation of the failure of Conservative governments, in power for long periods at a time, to put matters right?
Sir - During his arrest on Kristallnacht in Vienna, my late father recalled being deposited by his guards in a disused school building in the Kenyongasse. There was much shouting, pushing and cursing and one of the guard’s favourite expressions was 'Asiatische Steppenhengste’ – ‘Asiatic steppe-stallions’.
My father could never find out what this expression meant in relation to the prisoners. Does anyone know?
A labour of love (review)
Gerhard Salinger, an elderly Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, has lived in the USA much of his life and has worked there as an accountant. I am in no position to judge his worth as an accountant but, when perusing his now numerous books on the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe – many of these communities long forgotten – I have formed the impression that he has missed his vocation. He is, without doubt, a devoted, meticulous and unquenchable historian who is utterly determined that the Jewish communities that he has so lovingly researched should not be forgotten. Not only has he devoted many years of his life to this task but he has also been largely self-financed. His studies have involved travelling with a driver thousands of miles by car through the areas under study, looking up ancient records, visiting synagogues and cemeteries (or what is left of them), and bringing to life the names of those who lived (and died) there, together with as much personal information as he could uncover. This intense preoccupation is a labour of love and he is to be greatly admired for his efforts, which will be of huge importance as a resource to scholars researching European-Jewish history. It will also enable individuals to trace their families and provide them with valuable information. Salinger dislikes modern technology and, extraordinary as it may seem, his data are collected, analysed and written up without the use of a computer.
This book, the publication of which was greatly facilitated by Dr Rita Scheller, a practising Christian who was born in Pomerania and who has made a significant contribution to reconciliation between Germans and Jews, appears in three parts and deals with former Jewish communities in what used to be West Prussia – an area south of Danzig (Gdansk) – which has a chequered history. West Prussia was not established until 1772, after the first partition of Poland, when Frederick II of Prussia took it over. Before then Jews had led very restricted lives and were required to live in rural areas. Frederick II changed all that: poor Jews were expelled and only those who possessed at least 1,000 Taler were allowed to stay, although they were required to live in the towns, despite some resistance by the local populations. Radical improvements for the Jewish populations came about only after Napoleon’s victory over the Prussians in 1807, when Frederick III had to flee: under Karl August Hardenberg’s chancellorship, some reforms were made and the proclamation of 1812 conferred citizenship on most Jews living in the area. However, equal rights were not achieved until 1871, when Bismarck established the German Reich. Following the First World War, most of West Prussia was incorporated into the new Poland (1920). In the introduction to Part I, Salinger provides a scholarly history of this turbulent area going back to the Middle Ages.
In his Foreword, Salinger explains that he had a personal motive in selecting West Prussia for study: evidently members of his maternal family had lived there until 1830. They later moved to Pomerania (Hinterpommern), which likewise became entirely Polish in 1945. Only the smaller part of Pomerania called Vorpommern remained German, and Salinger has already published similar studies of these two areas. He explains that after extensive correspondence with the Polish authorities in many towns and villages he visited all sites in which it was possible to trace a Jewish past. On his trip, which took place in 2005, he took numerous photographs which enliven his text, and he has included many detailed maps which provide the reader with essential points of reference.
So how has he set about his seemingly overwhelming task? Take the town of Preussisch Stargard (now Starogard Gdanskie) as an example (see Part I). What can the reader expect to find here? Apart from a brief potted history, Salinger notes that two Jews, Mendel Salomon and Alex Baruch, were permitted to settle there in 1774 because they possessed more than 1,000 Taler. By 1812 there were 112 Jewish households, and individual names - both original and adopted later - are listed. The population had grown to 597 by 1840, to 688 by 1849, and to its highest number (802, 13.7 per cent of the population) by 1870. There was a synagogue, a rabbi and a school. Salinger goes on to list all those Jews who paid taxes in 1883, stating their names, occupations and places of residence. There is also a list of tax-payers in 1911. The names of two men who lost their lives in action during the First World War are given, as are extracts from the Secret State Archives in Berlin concerning the election of Jewish officials and other matters. There is a list of deaths, giving names and age, going back to1848, and a long list of deaths from 1857 until the community ceased to exist. It is striking that many died at a relatively young age. There is no information on where and how they died, but it is nonetheless an extraordinarily detailed survey.
On his visit to the town, Salinger discovered that the synagogue is now used as a shopping centre and that the greatly neglected cemetery has a number of gravestones, many severely damaged but five still standing upright, with the names of Mendelsohn and Wohlgemuth recognisable. Photographs of the former synagogue and the cemetery are provided.
I don’t expect that many readers of the Journal will want to rush to purchase a copy of this book, of which only a limited number has been printed. Only someone with a very personal interest in West Prussia, or scholars of Jewish history, would want to do that. But I intend to present my copy to the Wiener Library in London, where it will be accessible to anyone wishing to look up his or her family and I hope that some will find that helpful.
Gerhard Salinger is to be congratulated on single-handedly providing us with such a scholarly resource. I am greatly indebted to Dr Rita Scheller for some factual corrections.