Jul 2008 Journal
Letters to the Editor
INDEXING THE AJR JOURNAL
Sir – I have collected the Journal and its predecessor since 1956. The Journal contains a wealth of information on all aspects of the lives and achievements of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. Over the years, the letter columns give an insight into the changing attitudes of former refugees. I have tried to use the Journal for my writings, mainly on refugee manufacturers. Without an index, this proved at first to be difficult (when the number of issues was still small), but became increasingly impossible with the years.
Accordingly, I discussed indexing with the late Dr Rosenstock, who agreed that it would be highly desirable but was not able to get a project started before he retired.
I am now 85 years old and am attempting to find the right homes for my books, magazines and documents. That is why I have sent the issues of the Journal from 1956 to 2006 to the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex, who had requested them. They will receive further copies during my lifetime or from my executors.
The Centre is mounting a major project on the available archival material on German and Austrian refugees. It is my opinion that the collection of Journals I have sent to Sussex University would provide most valuable sources for serious studies in this field if the contents of the AJR Journal were readily accessible, i.e. if they were indexed. Can anything be done about it?
Sir - Having been a keen reader of the AJR Journal for many years and finding it extremely useful for my research on German-speaking Jewish refugees, I am wondering whether there are any plans to index all available issues. This would make this excellent resource even more valuable for anyone interested in the history of the AJR and Jewish refugees in Britain.
HAKOAH SPORTS CENTRE RE-OPENING
Sir - Re Peter Phillips’s letter (May), I have mixed feelings about the use of Holocaust money for purposes for which it was not designated - not only in Vienna in relation to sport facilities for the few Jews remaining there, but elsewhere too.
In 1933-38 my father, Martin Exiner, and some fellow members of the Maccabi Sports Club built with their own funds and ran a ski sports lodge on Keilberg Mountain near Wiesenthal just over the Czech border. As soon as the borders opened, I went there and found it had been used for many years by Czech sports organisations.
I tried to find my fathers’ friends, who by then had mostly perished. I contacted the Maccabi organisation in Munich and Israel but never had a reply. I contacted the Jewish community in Prague but never received any help. Ultimately, when the restitution laws in the Czech Republic were published, this lodge was one of 13 buildings allowed to be restored to their ‘original owners’, which, in the view of the Jewish community in Prague, was them. I think it has since been sold and is no longer used as the sport facility for which it was designated.
At least when the Bauhaus-type rowing club building in Friedrichhagen near Berlin was restituted after the wall came down, some of the proceeds were awarded to rowing clubs in Israel to further the sport there.
Sir – I was recently invited to Vienna under the ‘Letter to the Stars’ project. On our last night, we were invited to the Hakoah Centre to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence. There was a wonderful, happy atmosphere. There were welcoming speeches by Chief Rabbi Eisenberg, the Israeli Ambassador and Ariel Muzicant, the head of the Jewish community. There were many young and old people dancing the Hora. We all joined in. They are building a Jewish school and old-age home on the land adjoining, as there is now quite a large Jewish community in Vienna.
‘A GIFT OF LIFE’
Sir - In giving the title ‘A questionable claim’ to her review of A Gift of Life: The Deportation and the Rescue of the Jews in Occupied Belgium (1940-1945) by Sylvain Brachfeld (May issue), Emma Klein exposes her bias and lack of awareness of well-established historical evidence.
In support of her unsubstantiated speculations, she quotes unquestioningly a paragraph from an anonymous obituary in a national broadsheet (dated 27 March 2008) of the Belgian author Hugo Claus, whose sensationally titled fantasy novel The Sorrow of Belgium was published in 1982.
The first historical study of rescue in Belgium, ‘The Committee for the Defence of the Jews in Belgium’, by Lucien Steinberg, was published by the National Centre for Advanced Jewish Studies, ULB (Free University of Brussels) in 1973. A documentary film, As if It Were Yesterday (1980), by Myriam Abramowitz and Esther Hoffenberg interviewed ordinary rescuers as well as members of the above committee, which included not only Jews but also non-Jews from all sections of the Belgian population - priests, nuns, young Catholic workers, socialists, communists, agnostics, monarchists, liberals - opposed to Nazism and the persecution of Jews and Roma. This film inspired the first World Gathering of Hidden Children in New York in May 1991, an event attended by 1,600 hidden children with another 1,500 unable to attend.
The actual number of Jews deported from the transit camp Caserne Dossin in Mechelen is listed in ‘Memorial of the Deportation of the Jews of Belgium’ by Maxime Steinberg and Serge Klarsfeld, both academic historians of the Holocaust, as 25,475, of whom 5,430 were children, in 27 transports between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944. The Nazis left their lists when they fled Belgium at liberation in early September 1944 with all names recorded.
Maxime Steinberg has written a meticulous history in four volumes published in 1984 with carefully checked references, quotations and footnotes on the Nazi persecution and the resistance and rescues by Jews and non-Jews in Belgium as well as, sadly, the compliance of prominent members of the Jewish Council, which the Nazis ordered to be set up in 1941. They were tasked to list all Jews in Belgium for the SD Kartei - approximately 56,187 (another 3,000+ avoided being listed).
Belgium was unique in that 94 per cent of Jews were non-nationals who had arrived in the 1920s as economic migrants mainly from Poland and later, like me aged four alone in an orphanage in August 1939, refugees from Germany. They were mainly artisans and often could not communicate well in French and/or Flemish. Yet more than 31,700 - of whom 4,000+ were children under 16 - survived, almost all by being hidden. Nearly 3,000 children were hidden, like myself, through the Committee for the Defence of Jews (CDJ) and well over 1,000 by priests, nuns or non-Jewish friends or neighbours. All the names of the children hidden by the CDJ - their old addresses, their new names and the names and addresses of their hiders - were listed in four secret notebooks kept in four different places, with a number code. Mine was 122.
All children hidden by the CDJ had fictitious birth certificates produced in Bruges franked with official stamps declaring that they were born in Ostend - the registers there had been destroyed during the Nazi invasion in May 1940. Ration stamps were sent anonymously in the post.
As for ‘barely a whisper of protest’ from the Belgian population, this is completely refuted in two telegrams from Herr von Bargen, the delegate of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, to his superior Ribbentrop, the Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs, dated 24 September 1942 stating that ‘many Jews have abandoned their homes and made efforts to find shelter with Belgian aryans. These efforts are sustained by a considerable section of the Belgian population ... very many Jews possess false Belgian identity cards.’ The second telegram, sent seven weeks later, stated: ‘At first an order for work was distributed by means of the Jewish Association to those who were listed for deportation. However, in the meantime, because of the rumours about the massacre of Jews, etc., the orders for work were no longer complied with and the Jews were rounded up through raids and individual actions’ (Nuremberg Document NG5219 f 2 (from Lucien Steinberg, ‘Le Comité de défense des Juifs en Belgique, 1942-1944, p.79)).
The account of my rescue and hiding appears in the chapter on Belgium in Martin Gilbert’s The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. The distortions in Emma Klein’s review grieve me deeply. She could have consulted the Wiener Library. They have a link with the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance in Mechelen. There is also a very large Hidden Child association in Belgium, of which I am a member.
Sir - Marion Schreiber’s fascinating book Silent Rebels contains a foreword by Paul Spiegel, then President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He writes: ‘Four thousand children like myself survived the Holocaust living under false identities with families, in boarding schools, monasteries and children’s homes. Sixty percent of the sixty thousand Jews living in Belgium at the time were not deported because they were able to escape the clutches of the German racial fanatics with the help of neighbours, friends and strangers.’
The book tells the story of a Jewish resistance group operating in Belgium that successfully managed to attack a train transporting Jews to Auschwitz, from which more than 200 people, including children, escaped. Their survival is said to have been due to the Belgian people who sheltered these escapees.
An aunt and uncle of mine survived the war in Brussels, where they were hidden by Belgian people.
Emma Klein replies: In response to Bronia Veitch’s letter, I would like to point out that I did not provide the title to the review of Sylvain Brachfeld’s book. I also did not dispute Brachfeld’s findings. I merely mentioned the work of Hugo Claus as an interesting counterpoint without endorsing his point of view. My main problem with Brachfeld’s book was not the valuable information he provides but the quality of the writing or the translation.
This was a short book review, not an extensive research project on the fate of Belgian Jewry during the war. Of course, the information provided by Bronia Veitch is most interesting and I thank her for it. I would also like to thank Bronia Snow for her most interesting and informative letter.
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS
It was the JJFP who not long ago shamelessly displayed large posters in front of the Golders Green clocktower comparing Palestinian towns with places of Jewish martyrdom in Europe. I engaged one young woman holding up a sign equating Warsaw with Jenin – the massacre that never was. I told her I was in Warsaw during the war and asked how she dared make such a hurtful comparison, tantamount to trivialising the Holocaust. She replied that she was fully conversant with the Holocaust, as her grandmother was a refugee from Nazi Germany! I got nowhere: people like that are all too consumed by their doctrinaire beliefs.
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS
Sir – Were Ms Trott and her ilk as assiduous in their condemnation of other states and societies – Darfur for example – her bona fide as a champion of the oppressed might be more believable.
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS
Sir – George Schlesinger (June) describes those who wrote in the May letters columns, myself included, as ‘Israeli hawks’. Recently, a group of British Jews took out a large ad to sympathise with the Palestinians, who teach schoolchildren to hate Israel and encourage them to become suicide bombers. Can any reader imagine a group in an Arab country taking out an ad to sympathise with Israeli civilians on whom rockets are being rained? If it were not for the Israeli armed forces, the country would have been wiped out by its hostile neighbours.
MORE ABOUT THE PIONEER CORPS PLEASE!
Sir – I enjoyed the army memories of Victor Ross (May-June). Let’s have more about the Pioneer Corps. Not all of us made it to officer. He is a good writer – he makes me look forward to my monthly journal and back to old times.
Sir - May I enlarge on Bruno Jablonsky’s invention of extra speedy propellers for the Spitfire, as mentioned by Laura Selo in your April issue.
After the withdrawal from the Battle of Britain, the Germans had developed by September 1941 the Focke Wulf 190, which was 30 mph faster than the existing Spitfire at all altitudes up to 25,000 ft and had a faster roll.
Spitfire Mark VI was the answer. It was fitted with a Merlin 47 engine, a pressurised cabin and a four-bladed Rotol propeller with ‘Jablo-blades’. Jablonsky had invented a method of mass-producing wooden propeller blades by compressing boards to half their original thickness, thus increasing density, and applying his special patent enamel to the finished blade and a brass sheath to the tip. US Patent 2477375 is also in his name and refers to this process.