Jul 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
STOLPERSTEINE IN OSLO
Sir – I was particularly interested in last month’s article on Stolpersteine in south-west Germany. My maiden name was Bernstein. My father, Richard, was the political editor of Vorwaerts in Berlin from 1923 to 1933. On coming to power, the Nazis banned this social democratic newspaper and most of the editors fled to neighbouring countries to avoid being taken to Dachau. We fled to Prague and were still there after March 1939 when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia. My older brother had managed to get out in 1938 and I followed him to England in 1939. My parents were unable to leave the country as a permit to do so was required by the Gestapo and my father had, of course, been on their hit-list for years. He went into hiding in Prague. I last saw him heavily disguised on Wenzelsplatz when my mother met him there to discuss something; I was warned not to call him Papa, not to speak to him at all - and indeed I hardly recognised him.
On 30 June 1939 I left Prague on a ‘Winton transport’ and was taken to Cambridge, where my brother had secured a first foster family. It was possible to correspond with my parents until the outbreak of war, then nothing until, unexpectedly, I received a postcard in my father's handwriting from Oslo! This was in December 1939. It appears that the Red Cross or a Nansen organisation had been allowed to take a small group of anti-Nazis through Germany (by train) to Norway for safety.
We exchanged letters and postcards until Norway too was occupied by the Germans and my father and mother were trapped once again. We then exchanged five Red Cross letters but the last reply from them reached me in 1943 - more than a year since they had been murdered in Auschwitz at different times.
In Prague stands the famous Pinkas Synagogue, on the walls of which are recorded in alphabetical order the many thousands of names of Jews deported from Czechoslovakia direct, a moving memorial with dates of birth and death in concentration camps. When I returned to Prague from 1984 onwards I asked to have my parents' names recorded there but was told by the Jewish Museum that this was not possible as they had been deported from Norway. I sadly accepted that no record was possible other than at Yad Vashem, which I had done years earlier.
In 2009, when my youngest son came to visit me, he looked at his mobile phone/computer and called out ‘Mother, I’ve just seen the names of your parents, Richard and Gisela Bernstein - look!’ I did so and saw two Stolpersteine, one for each of my parents, in front of the building adjacent to one of Oslo's three synagogues from which he and eleven other Jews - most of them also former refugees from Germany - had been deported to Auschwitz in 1941.
Amazed, I contacted the curator of Oslo's Jewish Museum, Bjarte Bruland. Bjarte was delighted to hear from the Bernsteins’ daughter: he, of course, knew nothing of my existence. A diligent young researcher, he needed this information for their Jewish Yearbook published in 2011. That same year a symposium for curators of Jewish museums in Europe was held in London - we met and I was able to thank him in person.
Norway had a very small Jewish population, which was wiped out by the Germans. Bjarte and his team are not Jews and it is remarkable that Stolpersteine for my parents as well as a number of others were mounted there at the Museum's expense.
ONE OF THE BEST
Sir – I wanted to let you know how much I and everybody I spoke to enjoyed the exceptionally interesting and beautifully delivered talk by Antony Penrose about the life of his mother, Lee Miller, interwoven with that of his family and their illustrious friends.
I have been a member of the St John's Wood AJR Group for about a year and, prior to our move to London, my husband and I belonged to the Bristol Group, ably headed by Myrna Glass. We attended many great talks and events over the years, but this was really one of the best!
So I am writing to express my thanks to the AJR for sponsoring this event and to the London Jewish Cultural Centre for hosting it (as well as for the welcome sandwiches afterwards), and, of course, to Hazel Beiny for having organised it so well.
Sir - Thank you so much for the Journal. I do appreciate your kindness. My only connection with the Kindertransport in this far-off land.
SAYINGS FOR OCCASIONS
Sir – My mother had a pithy saying for almost every occasion. The following come to mind: Kommt Zeit kommt Rat (With time comes advice); Undank ist der Welt Lohn (Lack of gratitude is the way of the world); Ein blindes Huhn findet auch einmal ein Korn (Even a blind chicken has its day).
I remember many more sayings but perhaps members can offer their own contribution. It will be fun to compare notes.
‘SUPREMACY OF ENGLISH COMEDY’
Sir - Anthony Grenville shows himself ill-equipped to comment on comedy when he has to run down the English theatrical tradition (‘”Oh Dahling” comedies’) in order to exalt the German one. Those more sophisticated are well aware of the best of German humour from Goethe to the biting wit of the cabaret of the 'twenties. Zuckmayer is a bright but not a great light in this star-studded firmament.
Literary judgments are difficult - rankings more so - but I would make my case for the supremacy of the English stage starting with Shakespeare, Restoration comedy, Oscar Wilde and his true heir Noel Coward - not for nothing known as ‘The Master’. Perhaps Dr Grenville should get out more and take in some Ayckbourn, Bennett, Frayn and Stoppard.
Sir - Anthony Grenville’s review of Zuckmayer’s play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick reminds me of a true story of German authoritarian bureaucracy told to me by my uncle, Erwin Seligmann.
Shortly before the First World War his father (my grandfather, Rabbi Seligmann of Frankfurt) gave him an urgent letter to post. Having missed the last collection from the local letterbox, he went to the main post office in Frankfurt, from where there was a later collection. Here there were two letterboxes, one labelled ‘Frankfurt only’, the second for all other places. For some reason (perhaps he was unable to read the address), Erwin entered the building to ask a Postbeamte for advice. Inside the building. he was surprised to see that these two separate letterboxes emptied into a single tray on the other side of the wall. Having asked what was the point of having separate letterboxes that emptied into a single tray, he was gruffly told ‘Es bringt Ordnung’ - it brings order!
Sir - I think it is great that new names are coming through as contributors to the AJR Journal with their memories of life in early post-war north-west London.
I would like to suggest a regular page in the Journal recording the events of 75 years ago starting in mid-1938 together with a column featuring nostalgia from the more stable 1960s extracted from archival copies of AJR Information, i.e. 50 years ago.
I welcome all the commemorative events on behalf of Kinder and look forward to reading their stories. Nevertheless, why is no one organising an event for those who travelled the same route at the same time but with no support and on their own?
My mother, Stephanie Elias (formerly Fabian), travelled alone from Hamburg aged nineteen and a half with just her Reisepass marked ‘J’ and a few possessions. She landed at Harwich on 17 October 1938. Two days later she started domestic service in Tunbridge Wells.
Through determination she was able to secure guarantees for her parents, who arrived in 1939. Surely there is still time to honour all our refugees, now frail but worthy of our respect?
Sir - I recently discovered that a friend at the Sutton, Surrey, refugee hostel, who I knew had died serving with the British Army’s Intelligence Corps and had been awarded posthumously the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, had his award gazetted on 18 April 1946, together with other members of the Intelligence Corps, all of them presumably Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.
The names are: Sergeant (local) Frederick Benson, Sergeant (local) Peter John Morton, Corporal August Jacques Warndorfer, and Sergeant (local) Peter Weisz.
Benson’s real name is given as Fritz Becker, which is the name I knew him by. My Tatura (Victoria, Australia) Internment Camp diary shows that we were in correspondence in 1941. I am a ‘Dunera Boy’.
Warndorfer was born in Austria and lived in Inverness. Weisz, like Becker a Jewish refugee, came from Middlesex. Morton’s real name was Meyer.
I have been unable to obtain information about the circumstances leading to the award for bravery of Fritz Becker from either the Imperial War Museum or the British Archives in Kew. Most of the personal files of people serving on special missions with the Intelligence Corps were destroyed by fire after the war.
Having just discovered that Fritz Becker was given his award together with the three other members of the army’s Intelligence Corps mentioned above, I wonder if readers know whether any of them had offspring, friends or relatives who are aware of the circumstances leading to their awards.
JEWS IN FIRE SERVICE DURING SECOND WORLD WAR
Sir - I am finally writing a book about Jews in the fire service during the Second World War (including fire watchers). If readers have any stories, anecdotes and photos on this theme and have not already sent them to me in the past few years, could they please to do so as soon as possible?
At the same time, I am seeking information about Carl and Madelain Goldschmidt, who lost a son in the Fire Service by the name of George Eric. They lived at 15 Beechwood Avenue, Finchley. Should readers have any information about them, I would be grateful if they would contact me at the address below.
Sir - The Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, has been awarded the highest decoration of the City of Vienna: the Grand Insignia of Honour in Gold of the Land of Wien. He was invested by Mayor Michael Häupl in the presence of a large gathering of notables, Jewish and Gentile, with a tremendous address about what he has done for Vienna and its people.
There is a curious pre-war precedent for this, when the chairman of the Linz Kultusgemeinde was decorated with the federal Grosses Ehrenzeichen at a ceremony at the Linz Synagogue attended by many of the local Great and the Good, including the father of Adolf Eichmann.
TOTAL AGREEMENT - ALMOST
Sir - I hope this letter won’t upset Margarete Stern but I agree with almost everything she said about me in her last posting (June). I have often basked in Austrian Gemütlichkeit (the last time as
recently as April) and I have indulged in Viennese (non-kosher) cuisine. What's wrong with not being kosher, Mrs Stern? I am Progressive and I wish you’d leave the past behind and progress a little too!
I am, however, somewhat surprised at Mrs Stern’s dismissal of my article on Israel. I am strongly against the religious parties and she too should be. As a woman, does she not want to enjoy the same freedom to worship that men have? Or is this progressing too far? I am a British Progressive Jew who happens to have been born in Austria. My views on Austria are clear. I like being a tourist there but feel nothing for my birthplace. My views on Israel are equally clear. It is a vital homeland for all Jews but, for me, the religious parties have played too important a part recently. Herzl saw Israel as a secular state. This is what it should be.