Jul 2006 Journal

Letters to the Editor

Back to Vienna

Sir - If four people attacked Peter Phillips's position on Vienna (Point of view, June), it would be my guess that at least forty - the silent majority who don't put pen to paper - supported it. Any of us who came to this country as refugees are surely mature enough to make our own judgments without the need to justify them.
Edith Argy, London W9

Sir - Revolted by Peter Phillips and his family, I am compelled to write to say that Thea Valman is not the 'odd one out', but Mr Phillips himself. I am not a refugee but my wife and brother-in-law are and they would never want to set foot in Germany or Austria again. These countries are the origins of Jewry's greatest-ever tragedy.
Harry Needham, Kenton, Middx

Sir - I support Peter Phillips's views entirely. Even though I was a teenager when I had to leave Vienna, I still have fond memories of my youth and, of course, was very lucky that so many non-Jewish people were so kind to me and helped me in every respect. Last year my husband and I took our daughter and grandson on a 'sentimental journey' to Vienna to show them where I was born and why I was still 'enchanted' by that city - though not forgetting and explaining what happened there. My 'younger generation' were also delighted with the visit and, like me, appreciate Schnitzel, Tafelspitz etc more than anything else. We also get quite sentimental when listening to the New Year's Day Concert.

Incidentally, one thing you did not mention - nor have I seen it mentioned anywhere else - is the great job done by Hannah Lessing of the Austrian National Fund on behalf of Holocaust survivors. Her tremendous efforts to overcome problems with obtaining restitution have not been sufficiently acknowledged.
Kitty Schafer, Toronto

Sir - I must rush to the defence of Peter Phillips. I have just returned from Vienna, where I spent ten happy and eventful days. This was the third time I have been back recently. This year my daughter came to Vienna with me. We went to the flat where I had lived for the first 18 years of my life - until in 1938 a German officer came to our door to notify us that it had been allocated to him and his family. The building was being renovated and the front door was open. We went inside - the mosaic floor, the wooden seats, the staircase were all as I had remembered them. We rang the bell at number two. Nobody was in. The flat had been turned into a consultant's surgery. My daughter rang the bell at the neighbouring flat. A woman opened the door. When she heard I had lived next door she asked us both in. She was in her sixties and told us she had lived in the same flat all her life. We discovered two people we both remembered. There was no doubt: she knew the details of their lives as I remember them as well. She told us her mother had hidden a Jewish family before they were able to emigrate.

My daughter also made contact with a relative who is partly Jewish - owing to my Jewish aunt having married a non-Jew who, it turned out, protected her throughout the Hitler years. My aunt was confined to her house and garden for, had she gone outside, she would have had to wear a Star of David. Her children - as Mischlinge - were allowed to stay and work in Vienna.

I agree with Peter Phillips about the music of Richard Wagner as well as Wiener Schnitzel. I would go even further and include all the food and cakes!

Finally, not all Viennese were Nazis and antisemitic: the loyal patient who saved Peter Phillips's father from being sent to Dachau, as well as the woman I mentioned whose parents hid a Jewish family, cannot have been the only ones who risked their lives helping Jews during the Nazi era. The present generation in Austria is no more or less antisemitic than anywhere else in the world.
Inge Trott, Cheam, Surrey

Israelis and Palestinians

Sir - I have to reply once again to Inge Trott's letter. It is not helpful to adopt an attitude that blames only one side. I also contribute to an organisation - Windows for Peace - that integrates Israeli and Palestinian children. However, most of the initiatives come from the Israeli side. My family in Israel are constantly worried about allowing their teenagers to go on buses or to discotheques. You can understand that Israelis sometimes over-react as they never know when a terrorist is going to blow himself up for the 'glory' of killing innocent civilians.

It is also easy to talk about 'occupied territory' without going into the history of the case. I have talked to Germans about Poland's occupation of German land. Their reply: if we had not attacked the Germans there would be no occupied territory; we were the aggressors, so we must accept the consequences.
Gisela Feldman, Manchester

Sir - The Palestinians could have lived in their own state in relative comfort with a growing economy had they, with the Arab countries surrounding Israel, not decided to declare war on Israel from the day it was established. Again and again they tried to eliminate Israel, only to be defeated. Subsequently, for the first time in history, they were offered their own independent state at Oslo and in Camp David negotiations. However, they decided on the suicide bombing and murder of Israeli children at play near their homes and on killing people in buses and cars while other Israelis, walking peacefully in the street, sitting in cafes and restaurants and celebrating barmitzvahs and other festive activities, were torn to pieces with many left dead or seriously wounded. Rehabilitation centres had to be established to allow the survivors and their relations to eventually return to a normal life. This caused the Palestinians to continue living in squalor and misery, while at the same time Israel will do all that is necessary to guarantee the safety and survival of our country and of Judeo-Christian civilisation.
Ralph Freeman, Jerusalem

Letter from Israel

Sir - Bertha Leverton's criticism of your Letter from Israel slot reminds me of the late Alistair Cooke's Letter from America, which the BBC transmitted for decades. In these broadcasts Cooke described the minutiae of everyday life in the USA - all aspects of it - in simple but highly evocative language and imparted to the listener a very real, live feeling of getting to know that vast country. If your Israeli correspondent likes to write in a similar vein without necessarily politicising everything, that's fine by me.
Marc Schatzberger, York

Poles and Jews

Sir - Having read Rubin Katz's letter in your June issue, and intimately knowing Professor Brent's point of view, I merely wish to say what Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof might have said: 'They are both right!'
Ernest Weinberg, Yreka, California

Thank-you Britain Fund

Sir - I read with interest Anthony Grenville's review of Who's Not Who and Other Matters (June). This mentions the Thank-You Britain Fund and attributes the idea jointly to the AJR and Victor Ross. I was greatly surprised by the omission of the name of my late uncle Werner M. Behr, since his sterling efforts in this connection were recognised by the award of an OBE.

Werner Behr was, in fact, Chairman of the AJR at the time and participated as such in the Thank-You Britain Fund, and I felt that no specific mention of the AJR officials involved was necessary. I am all in favour of having the achievements of past Chairmen recorded - Anthony Grenville.
Michael Feld, London N3

A Case of Mistaken Identify

Sir - Marianne Parkes's conviction (Profile, June) that the little boy playing in the nearby garden in the village of Herrlingen was Field Marshal Rommel's son Manfred is not correct. I had occasion to talk to Dr Manfred Rommel, then a distinguished Oberbuergermeister of Stuttgart, a few years ago. I mentioned to him that as an ex -pupil of the Landschulheim Herrlingen I had lived in the Haus Breitenfels, one of the four houses of the Landschulheim which he and his family later inhabited.

I asked him whether as a child he was aware of the previous inhabitants of this house. He was evidently uncomfortable with the question but told me very clearly that the Rommels only moved to Herrlingen some time after the outbreak of war, i.e. long after Marianne Parkes had left for England. Dr Rommel delivered a speech on that occasion and, as someone remarked, his father may have invented the Blitzkrieg but his son certainly had not invented the Blitz speech.
E. Fraenkel OBE, London NW8

Printable Humour

Sir - The letters from Dorothy Graff (February) and Mary Brainin-Huttrer (April) remind me of some of the lessons which, in the difficult years after 1945, made my parents and their friends and - subsequently - me chuckle. One of the less unprintable ones was about stations on the Northern Line. Golders Green, we were sternly advised, 'ist keine Farbe' 'und Archway', it was added, 'ist keine Krankheit'.
Roger Juer, London NW3

Thank You, AJR

Sir - I recently had a surprise telephone call from Australia. It took a few moments to realise the caller was my friend Elfie, whom I hadn't seen for so many years. She was one of the Kinder and we shared accommodation in London during the Second World War. Later we lost contact. Elfie, who now lives in Australia and is a regular reader of the AJR Journal, noticed my name in the Letters columns, contacted the AJR office, and that is how we met again. Thanks, AJR, for being there for us and helping us in all circumstances.
A. Schlesinger, Wembley, Middx

Art Notes (review)

Those who consider themselves outsiders, who dream different dreams and stand on the very edge of society, are celebrated in a new London exhibition for their pivotal role in influencing contemporary art. The Whitechapel Art Gallery's Inner Worlds Outside exhibition demonstrates the way these so-called outsiders have influenced such twentieth-century Expressionists as Wassily Kandinksy, Emil Nolde and Paul Klee, who eschewed the sophisticated Western traditions in art for natural spontaneity. Nolde and Paul Klee were banned as degenerates by the Nazis and included in the Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst. Today The Whitechapel claims to show us how both insider and outsider artists are two sides of the same Modernist coin.

You might be shocked to learn that outsider artists include psychiatric patients, criminals, self-taught visionaries and mediums. Their personal histories can be quite tragic. Some, like Karl Lange, Elsa Blankenhorn and Stefan Klojer, died in mental hospitals; others, like Henri Rousseau, who was charged with petty larceny, were criminalised. Rousseau never left France and certainly never saw a jungle, although jungles feature in much of his best-known works. Recognised as a genius by Picasso, he was rejected by the art world for his lack of art school training. Other artists, like Austrian-born Egon Schiele, whose allegorical watercolours on life, death and sex are widely admired today, spent 24 days in prison on charges of seduction.

Both Raphael Lonne and Madge Gill believed their work was spiritually inspired. Repetitive, naive, bold, featuring scrawled writing and little girls in old-fashioned clothes and big hats, their narrative comes from a personal, often dangerous sexual symbolism. Gill worked on rolls of calico so she could never see her entire canvas at once, and her female subjects ascend in geometric swirls, giving the work the appearance of a frieze. Henry Darger's world is densely peopled with children playing games but, when you look closer, many are hermaphrodites, or have horns, and their world suggests war, concentration camps and a childish cynicism.

Augustin Lesage, a Calais miner, heard voices ordering him to paint when he was 35. His work contains religious symbolism inspired by various Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures. His work ended suddenly when he felt his spirit guide depart. Evidently it inspired his L'Esprit de la Pyramide. Bird shapes, phallic symbols all form a swirling textile tapestry. Kandinsky's reductionism also made painting seem a path to spirituality. Regarded as the father of abstractionism, he reduced familiar forms to calligraphic lines; his doodles and accidental designs in brilliant colours seem to be engendered by abstract music.

Occasionally the hidden revealed itself. As in psychedelic art, if you look hard enough a hand or a body will emerge and a good example of this is to be found in Robert Mallo's crayon and graphite swirling lines.

By the early nineteenth century artists regarded the human face itself as a mask, primitive, emblematic, as totemic as Aztec art. In this exhibition, birds, eyes, children fly, float and totter through a private universe, eternally outsiders.
Gloria Tessler