Jul 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘DON’T LET’S BE BEASTLY TO THE GERMANS!’
Sir - Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans! The history of city air bombardments shows clearly that it was the Germans that started it. The old city of Warsaw was totally erased in September 1939. Rotterdam’s turn came in May 1940 - and what about London, Coventry, Liverpool, Bristol and other British cities? Not one word about this in Anthony Grenville’s article ‘Bombs and ethics’ in your June edition.
I had the privilege of friendship with an East German who served in Dresden at the material time, February 1945, with a Penal Unit (Strafbataillon). In February 1945 Dresden was the sole usable rail junction providing logistical support to both eastern and western fronts. The River Elbe had the so-called Weisse Flotte, a collection of pleasure steamers forced into the same purpose. Within a radius of three kilometres of the Zwinger Palace, there were over 40 workshops providing logistical support to the German forces. On the other side of the Elbe, within sight of the city centre, was the Heinkel Flugzeugwerft, providing maintenance for the remainder of the Luftwaffe.
Apart from the penal unit, inmates of which were kept on half rations and had to work 17-18 hours per day, there was also a detachment of over 100 Jewish inmates from Buchenwald KZ, who were not expected to survive.
Mr Grenville also mentions two other cities. I have to admit that I know little of Würzburg, but Pforzheim had the largest precious metal-smelting facility and it was known that most of the gold and silver taken from the victims of concentration camps ended up there, where it was converted into bullion, this – in turn - ending up mainly in Switzerland, the source of most German foreign currency requirements.
Might one recommend that Dr Grenville acquires at least some of the salient facts before giving us the benefit of his moralistic claptrap?
Anthony Grenville: We fought the war to show that our standards were superior to those of the Nazis, not to compete with them in bombarding cities. Surely it was the Nazis who always dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as ‘moralistic claptrap’.
‘BECAUSE OF OUR SINS’
Sir - I fail to see the relevance of Holocaust commemoration to Tisha B’Av as referred to in Henry Schragenheim’s letter in your June edition.
My father was a deeply religious man who kept all the laws between man and G-d and between man and man, and fasted and attended synagogue on Tisha B’Av as on all other fast days, Shabbat and festivals. He was deported from Berlin to Poland with the first transport of Polish Jews on 28 October 1938 and perished in Belsen in January 1945.
I do not know the actual date of his Yahrzeit and, like many other child survivors, I light a memorial candle for my father, for the other members of my immediate family, and for the 6 million victims of the Holocaust on every possible occasion - Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah and Tisha B’Av - which I too observe in order to keep their memory alive.
‘IT MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN’
Sir - I was interested to read in Ernest Simon’s article ‘A moving week in Vienna’ (June) about a young couple who had never heard of the Holocaust and wondered why their visitors had left Vienna.
About ten years ago, my brother and I and our spouses were invited by the mayor of Berlin to visit the city we had left before the war. The four of us were taken in a mini-bus on a tour of Berlin by a young lady. On one of the first stops, she pointed out ‘That is where the Gestapo headquarters used to be. We want people to see it – to make sure it doesn’t happen again!’
RESTITUTION IN AUSTRIA
Sir - Victor Ross mentions in his letter in your May edition that, while attending the recent event on restitution in Austria at the Austrian Ambassador’s residence, he ‘could not help wondering if any of [the paintings and artefacts he saw there] had once had Jewish owners.’
We certainly hope that the presentations that evening made it clear that stolen property in the ownership of the Republic of Austria is routinely returned as a matter of law. Moreover, outstanding ownership questions for many remaining objects are actively and continuously being researched. This is one of many steps taken by Austria on its road to dealing with this troublesome period in its past.
As for those microphones, point taken - we will get them!
‘OBSESSION WITH CZECHOSLOVAKIA’
Sir - Margarete Stern (June, Letters) wrote about Jan Masaryk on the assumption that he was the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic. No doubt other people will have written or told her by now that Jan Masaryk was the son of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the remarkable and much loved president who died in 1937. My father, a journalist, was fortunate enough to have a good view of the funeral cortege from the ramp of the National Gallery at the head of Wenceslas Square and he gave us a full account of this momentous occasion.
In summer 1937, two years before my arrival in Britain as a ‘Winton child’, there was an international youth camp at Peacehaven near Brighton organised by the Woodcraft Folk. I was one of 250 children from Czechoslovakia, members of the ‘Rote Falken’, who had been invited, along with children from France, Belgium, Holland and other countries - a first experience of life in Britain. Whereas we slept in large circular tents and cooked communal meals and were all teenagers, the ‘Folk’ were in family groups of all ages, from babies to grandparents, each with their small tents and cooking arrangements so different from our own.
We had travelled from Prague by coach, stopping off in Antwerp for the ‘Workers’ Olympiad’, spending the night in the homes of Belgian Red Falcons before crossing the Channel and arriving in southern England. One day we were told we would have an outing to London. My strongest memory of this day is of the beautiful building in Grosvenor Place and the gracious welcome in the Czechoslovak embassy by none other than Ambassador Jan Masaryk. We were given triangular sandwiches of white bread, minus crust and filled with what seemed to me to be grass, but, as I later learned, was mustard and cress. I wrote home about this and about the small ‘mattresses’ we had for breakfast in the camp - later to become very familiar as shredded wheat!
Altogether it was a wonderful experience and possibly the reason why the final departure from Prague in June 1939 in the company of many Red Falcon friends held no threats for me - we looked forward to this new adventure. We were welcomed once more by members of the Woodcraft Folk and, in particular, their leader Henry Fair, who had organised the camp in 1937 and had found 20 Woodcraft working-class families to offer us their homes.
Jan Masaryk returned to Prague in 1945 together with Dr Benes, the country’s second president. He died tragically in 1948, the victim of the new regime.
Sir – As one who managed to escape from Czechoslovakia at the age of 11 with my parents, I found Margarete Stern’s letter very touching. I too remember the great esteem in which President Masaryk was held and have numerous books about him in my bookcase. However, to set the record straight: the president was Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937).
Jan Masaryk, his son, served as foreign minister in the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London and returned to Czechoslovakia after its liberation in 1945. Two weeks after the Communist coup, he was found dead, having fallen from his window in Hradcany Castle in Prague. In 2004 a Prague police report concluded that his death was indeed murder.
A LOST GENERATION
Sir - My friend Eric Bourne writes in your June edition that I did not tell the whole story concerning the closure of Bunce Court School after the war in my article two months earlier. He is right, of course, but my short review was about the Kent Messenger article and not per se about the school and its history; shorthand was therefore the order of the day. The school might indeed have continued had Anna Essinger placed her trust in Dr Friedmann, who to me seemed eminently qualified to carry on.
But the situation was even more complex than that. Following the departure of quite a few refugee teachers who had taught in the school for a pittance, it became increasingly difficult to recruit new teachers, especially to a location as isolated as Bunce Court. Whether the school could have continued for long, its financial resources stretched to the limit, is anyone’s guess.
SOUTH WALES EXHIBITION
Sir - The West Glamorgan Archive Service, Swansea, is researching an exhibition on the history of Jewish refugees in South Wales, 1939-45. Our intention is to complete the exhibition by January 2012 to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day.
I am writing to ask if any of your readers have digital copies of photographs showing the Kindertransport children who came to South Wales. We are also hoping to find some early photographs which show the German/Austrian factory owners who established businesses on the Treforest Industrial Estate near Cardiff in 1933-39.
If you would like to know more about our exhibition, please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.
BOMBAY SEDER, 1944
Sir - Referring to Peter Roland’s letter in the June issue, Alfred Rosenfeld was indeed well known in Bombay for his untiring efforts in organising help for refugees, my family included. He was also keen to improve the standing of the refugee community - not an easy thing to do in the circumstances prevailing at the time. I think he was the moving spirit behind the seder arrangements.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS?
Sir - Reading Edith Argy’s amusing article in your June issue, I was reminded that in 2007 we clashed over her article ‘On being Jewish’. This time, I fully agree with her sentiments - organised games have no interest for her or for me.
She does, however, retain her enjoyment for swimming and brisk walking. So do I, in a different way. Edith and I were born in German-speaking lands and came to England, which we grew to love. I enjoyed my swimming in summer in Highgate Men’s Pond, but had to mind the swans. I also enjoyed walking or rather rambling.
Now, for the second time in my long life, I have moved to another country - namely Israel - as my dear wife passed away and my children, who had gone to Israel many years ago, suggested that I join them.
When we came to England, I must have picked up English easily as we all did and now I am struggling with modern Hebrew. Then I was eight and now I am 80-plus and it is more difficult, or perhaps impossible. However, I am making the best of it and enjoy my children and grandchildren.
Sir - Mention of Zeltweg in Richard Dove’s review in your May issue reminds me that the dental centre in which I worked as a National Service dentist in 1952-53 at the Zeltweg British army garrison (previously an airfield) was located on the top floor of the control tower as it had all-round windows for ‘light’. Incidentally, the nearby town was called Judenburg, though I could find no reason for the name.
QUAKER BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL DELUDED
Sir - With immense sadness I read in a recent issue of the Jewish Chronicle that ‘British Quakers have voted to boycott goods from “illegal” Israeli settlements in the West Bank.’ The stated motive of the representatives of the Quakers – ‘to give hope to Palestinians and those working for peace in Israel’ - is noble indeed but deluded. It makes my heart sink, as it probably does with many others.
A boycott cannot be other than an aggressive act as it is intended to do harm to someone, in this case to producers and exporters of Israeli goods. It is equivalent to firing a missile in so far as you cannot know at the time of firing whom it will hit. Boycotts, like missiles and all forms of violence, often do unintended damage. The illusion of ‘doing good’ is often created, as ‘doing a boycott’ makes the doer feel better in the face of other people’s suffering they can’t prevent.
I have immense respect for Quakers for their philosophy of eschewing violence: never initiating violence and refraining from retaliation. I have always admired the Quaker way of devoting all available energy and resources to rescue work and alleviating suffering. The Quakers sponsored a large number of the children rescued from the Nazis on the Kindertransports to Britain, including my brother and me. Not only did our sponsors save our lives: they were alert to our unhappiness through the ill-treatment by our foster parents and sent us to a Quaker boarding school in Essex which saved our sanity. It is deeply distressing to learn that a majority of Quakers are now wasting their resources on a passive-aggressive boycott instead of actively promoting peace, for example by supporting the many already existing initiatives that get Arabs and Jews talking to each other and creating more such projects.
A CASE OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Sir - The dissonance barely troubling Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in your June edition glaringly omits, in her list of the protests all round the Middle East and North Africa, the situations in the West Bank and Gaza. Why does not the hatred fomented among Palestinians there and worldwide cause her discomfort when it more acutely threatens her peace? The opportunity of trading land for peace has, wilfully it seems, been missed.
More than anything in the politics of today, I wish for Israel’s peace. My sister is a kibbutznik married to a sabra. For years I couldn’t understand why borders changed by war - particularly by that war - should not remain so as in bygone times. The call for land for peace seemed unfair after 1967, but now it is clearly the one hope - only to be thrown away in the name of a Good Book of dubious accuracy.
RULE OF LAW MERCHANTS
Sir – A recent BBC ‘Question Time’ programme was predominantly about the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Surprisingly, Paddy Ashdown, supported by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, strongly argued that the US acted illegally in killing the al-Qaeda chief. He cited the rule of law as the basis for his views. Tirades by the two were rewarded by applause from some mindless members of the audience. This absurd and puerile attitude, no doubt shared by human rights lawyers and others, will not stand up to logical analysis.
Nobody will deny that a state of war existed between the US and al-Qaeda. Thus it is not the rule of law, but the rules of war that apply. In this, the killing of the enemy is considered not only acceptable, but indeed desirable. The assassination of Hitler was attempted by his own people and seriously considered by Churchill. No one in his right mind would, during the Second World War, have considered this to be unlawful.
Douglas Murray, a member of the panel, expressed elation at the killing of bin Laden. While gloating is ill placed at the death of any human being, the jubilation of Americans is understandable and the majority will share Murray’s sentiments.
Quite apart from the logistical problems in taking bin Laden prisoner, there is a compelling argument in favour of killing him on the spot, which the carping, hand-wringing and strident minority have overlooked. Recent history has taught us that to put bin Laden on trial in the US would have led to a spate of hijacking and hostage-taking by al-Qaeda disciples in an effort to force his release.
To quote just one example of many: During the Munich Olympiad in 1972, terrorists demanded the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians. In the ensuing exchange of fire, all Israelis and most of the terrorists were killed. The three survivors were incarcerated, but later released when members of the Black September organisation hijacked a Lufthansa plane and used the lives of the passengers as a bargaining counter. Hostage-taking and kidnapping have become a standard weapon of terrorists.
The United States government, as well as the UK and the Israelis, will not negotiate with terrorists, and it is inconceivable that the US would have released bin Laden. As a result, dozens if not hundreds of innocent people would have lost their lives. Is this the outcome which the rule of law merchants would have preferred?