Jun 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AND REFUGEES
Sir – I was saddened to read in your May issue the mean-minded distinction made by Anita Lasker and Kitty Hart between camp survivors and child refugees - whose suffering was different but no less real. Some were wrenched from their families when hardly out of their infancy and left with no idea of their roots or personal identity. All of us had the trauma of being suddenly parted from our mothers, whom we never saw again. Anita Lasker did have sisters who stayed with her and Kitty Hart a mother. We had no such comfort – only strangeness and bewilderment.
The anguish of imagining what might be happening to our parents when information was patchy but devastating, and then finding ourselves in many cases the sole survivors of our families, was surely suffering too. Being physically starved is undeniably terrible – but so is emotional starvation, though it may show itself in more subtle forms. It is a pity when their own suffering makes people insensitive to the plight of others. It is unworthy to produce a hierarchy of suffering.
Sir – It baffles me that a disproportionate number of Kindertransportees and refugees lean towards the ideological left - which in itself is innocuous enough - but why stand with those disseminating anti-Semitism packaged as anti-Zionism? If this is due to their experiences, then the anomaly should also afflict survivors, but it doesn’t. In fact, the opposite is true.
As I outlined in an earlier letter, some ‘Kinder’ have gone as far as to join Galloway’s cavalcade to Hamas-controlled Gaza. I recently came across ‘Kinder’ who stand with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) boycotting an Israeli-owned shop in Covent Garden. According to their website, the PSC are against a two-state solution - no different from Hamas, which, with Iran, is sworn to Israel’s destruction. I pointed out to one of these ladies who displayed a Palestinian flag with an El Aksa scarf à la Mahmoud Abbas that it was reminiscent of Brownshirts picketing Jewish shops in Germany - and we know it didn’t stop there!
What causes people to turn on their own kind – is it due to some inner desire for self-immolation? We now even have a Kindertransport rabbi who objected to the inclusion of the Hatikvah at the recent Yom Hashoah event in Hyde Park, where I was one of the candle lighters, but expressed no objection to the National Anthem, which was also sung.
This brings me to Ruth Barnett, who reproaches those who consider the Holocaust ‘the property of the Jews’ (February), but devotes an entire column (May) to the Armenian genocide that no one but Muslim Turks denies. And who has analysed me without as much as a couch in sight! I have no wish to be compared to, or lumped with, others: I feel I owe the world nothing and hardly need lecturing on this score. Mrs Barnett would do better to carry her message of understanding to the radical Islamic world, which denies the Holocaust and poses a threat to the entire world.
Sir – When reading the AJR Journal I often come across something that strikes a chord. And so it was with the letters mentioning deportation to Maly Trostinec.
My dear mother, Irma Huppert, was deported to Minsk on 28 November 1941 and on arrival there was shot. A few days before, the Gestapo had come to her home and taken her to the Sperlschule, a collection centre for Jews being deported to the East. While there, my mother smuggled out two postcards, which came into my possession at the end of the war. The first reads in part: ‘As you can see, I’ve been in the Sperlschule since Tuesday. You simply cannot imagine the comings and goings here – it’s wild! Dear Poldi, be so kind - if you can spare anything eatable, send it to me. One is so very grateful here for everything … My dear ones, I’m so sorry I couldn’t see you again but, God willing, we will see each other again. The food here is scarce and one has to wait for it for a long time. Breakfast at 9 or 10 o’clock; for lunch, soup or vegetable at 2.30 pm. And I get up at 5.0 in the morning. We all sleep very crowded on only one mattress on the floor. Terrible ….’
The second card reads in part: ‘Today much is going on here. Tomorrow we are supposed to leave. Where to, we don’t know. It’s said we’re leaving at 11.00 am. When we arrive at our destination, and it’s possible, I’ll write to you. Hundreds of kisses to Mama and all the sisters ….’
Sir - This is my personal take on saying the Kaddish - a tradition this atheist respects but cannot understand. Many - perhaps most - Jews know the Kaddish as the prayer for the dead. But it contains no reference to the deceased, the bereaved or death itself. It is, in fact, the speaker’s repeated assertion of his faith in God, perhaps intended to prevent bereavement of a dear one leading to a loss of faith. And why is it reserved exclusively for male members of the congregation?
Sir – I am extremely glad that Anthony Grenville included Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson MP in his article ‘Friends of the “enemy aliens”’ (May) because our family owe him an immense debt of gratitude, if not our lives.
After Kristallnacht my father wrote to a number of prominent people in this country to ask them to act as a guarantor that we would not be a financial burden on the state as my father was applying for a ‘working permit’ in order to be able to support his family of five – himself, his wife, mother and two children. My father could confirm that he would be able to do so and Commander Locker-Lampson agreed to give the guarantee to the Home Office – the only one of those approached who had the human kindness to help. After lengthy correspondence with the Home Office, the visa with a working permit was granted in July 1939 and we finally arrived in London exactly one week before the outbreak of war. Truly a Righteous Gentile.
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s salute to David Low (May) contains an interesting inaccuracy. Referring to Low’s memorable ‘Rendezvous’ cartoon of Hitler and Stalin, he says ‘Both men carry concealed weapons.’ Not so. Dr Grenville is probably blending his recollection with that of another of Low’s Hitler-Stalin depictions, actually far more prescient than ‘Rendezvous’. It shows the two smiling dictators goose-stepping arm-in-arm along a line marked ‘Eastern Frontier’, each indeed carrying a revolver behind his back in the other hand. The title is ‘Someone is taking someone for a walk.’
Not so. In the cartoon ‘Rendezvous’ both men wear holsters concealing guns (Anthony Grenville).
‘IDEALS OF ISRAEL’S FOUNDERS SUPPLANTED’
Sir – Can Dorothea Shefer-Vanson (April) refer us to any discussions and writings that support her statement that awareness of the long-term advantages of capitalism has supplanted the ideals of Israel’s founders?
No comparable activities have been discernable in Britain - rather an almost total lack of serious political argument and, indeed, of interest in the subject – one result of the breakdown of the industrial communities, the problems of which motivated left-wing activity.
Such factors have nothing to do with comparative benefits or the idea of competition between systems, which socialists do not contemplate – only succession, if and when.
KINDERTRANSPORT AND THE USA
Sir - Please be advised that the Kindertransport did not end in 1939 – it continued to the USA until 1941. Approximately 1,000 Kindertransport children came directly to the USA. I am one of those. Do not forget us.
BRITISH ARMY INTERROGATORS
Sir - In your April issue, advertising a meeting about Herman Rothman’s book Hitler’s Will, you mention that he is the last surviving interrogator in the British army. I must respectfully suggest that this is not so. I too was a sergeant interpreter-interrogator in the army and am, thank God, still around. In October 1946, while I was a sergeant interpreter with the Intelligence Corps, I was sent to Flossenbürg (between Hanover and Celle), where the British army held some 20,000 German POWs in three camps (Wehrmacht soldiers, SS -SD and similar and women) for interrogation. I was there until spring 1947.
Incidentally, I was with Herman Rothman from August 1939 to May 1940, when I left for the Kindertransport camp in Gwrych Castle in North Wales. I wish Herman every success with his book.
Sir - As a relative of one of your earliest members, Marianne Kristeller, I read your journal regularly and find it interesting and relevant. A subject which should, to my mind, be discussed is the situation of present-day refugees in Britain.
I am a trustee of a charity that allocates small sums to, among others, ‘unrecognised’ or ‘unsuccessful refugee-status claimants’, from countries such as Sudan, Somalia or Afghanistan. Many of these persons cannot afford to buy food and survive only on donations. Their legal status, it would appear, often has little to do with the circumstances that brought them here - and more with missing paperwork and tight budgets.
As an immigrant to this country (from Israel), living safely and comfortably in Oxfordshire, I feel unease at my adopted country’s attitude towards these poor people. I cannot help thinking of my aunt Marianne in 1939, a nanny in Kent without a word of English and viewed by many as ‘the German enemy’.
Was this subject ever debated in your journal? Do you think it would merit a discussion?
'TWEEDLEDEE v TWEEDLEDUM’
Sir - Mr Stern is suggesting (May) that we ‘exercise [our] democratic right’ by staying at home and not voting. There are countries in which people risk their lives for the right to vote. Has he learnt nothing from history? When the decent majority do nothing, the extremists seize power.
So some of our MPs have been revealed to have fiddled their expenses! As reprehensible as their behaviour has been, I believe their fiddling was peanuts compared with what has been going on for a long time in other sectors of society - not to mention other countries, where even heads of government are corrupt on a massive scale. This does not excuse anyone and, yes, he is right, ‘The country has changed beyond recognition’ and a lot of things that should be aired are swept under the carpet, and our democracy and freedom of speech are being whittled away at an alarming rate - but we do not improve matters by abstaining from voting.
Mr Stern grudgingly expresses gratitude to England for saving his life. No, we did not ‘[choose] to come to this country’ - we are here because no other country would have us. I thank England for opening its doors to me and showing me how a decent and tolerant society behaves. Otherwise I - and no doubt Mr Stern - would have shared the fate of the rest of our families.
‘TWEEDLEDEE v TWEEDLEDUM’
Sir - The reply to Fred Stern’s lament can be given in the single sentence spoken by a University of Sussex student after her visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau: ‘How lucky I am to live in a free country, where I do not have to fear for my life because of my religion, the colour of my skin or even my heritage’ (Centre for German-Jewish Studies Newsletter 30).
Sir - I am surprised to find that you gave house room in your May issue – for the third month running at least – to the politically illiterate outpourings from Fred Stern.
‘A JEW IS A JEW IS A JEW’
Sir - Frank Bright may hold (April) that ‘A Jew is a Jew is a Jew’ because ‘Dr Mengele did not ask [him] which branch of Judaism, if any, [he] belonged to and neither do the present hordes of anti-Semites,’ but this attitude allows the Nazis a partial victory by accepting their definition of who is a Jew.
Just as other words have different meanings in different contexts, so does the word ‘Jew’ and it is extremely intolerant to demand that others accept one’s own definition for their purposes as is done by many of the non-Orthodox with regard to the Orthodox definition based on traditional Jewish law.
There even existed people, like the convert von Manstein - whom the latter regard as fully Jewish yet whom the Nazis refused to deport for ‘resettlement in the East’ despite his wish to share the fate of his Jewish brethren.
Sir - No matter how many people of all ages in the Greek islands and Egypt were incinerated, maimed or drowned by the eruption of the Santorini volcano and its aftermath, these events are miraculous for Martin D. Stern (April) because they were unusual and were timed in a way that led to outcomes which he likes.
In 1944 Himmler regained his faith in God because ‘miraculous’ last-minute changes allowed his Führer to survive so many assassination attempts.
Sir - Like your recent correspondents Peter Fraenkel, Peter Briess and L. Paget, I have a lift story. When my parents packed our lift in Halle an der Saale, they carefully itemised each item of furniture, linen, crystal, cutlery, silver and more. My father then left Germany as required when he was released from Buchenwald.
So in February 1939 it was my mother who was ordered to appear at the warehouse that was holding lifts of Jewish families prior to their dispatch, in our case to Palestine. The Nazis were verifying the contents and making sure nothing was being smuggled. There were limitations to what could be included. For example, as we were a family of five, only five sets of silverware were permitted.
An SS officer stood by as a clerk prised open the lift. The first item he picked up was a velvet jewellery box that contained three small silver bracelets, gifts my father had bought for us, his young daughters, during a trip to Palestine. The SS could not find the bracelets on our list. My mother protested that they were trinkets thrown in at the last minute when we children decided not to wear them. Mother stood for hours as every single item was removed from the lift. All were listed.
Two days later, my mother was served with a summons, not at her Halle residence but at our grandfather’s house in Leipzig. Accused of attempting to smuggle silver out of Germany, she was ordered to appear at the court in Magdeburg. Believing the Nazis would find her wherever she hid, she went. She was convinced she would be imprisoned, but in fact the judge only ordered her to pay a fine of 2,000 Deutschmarks. She was free to follow my father to Paris with my sisters and me.
Because our lift was stored in a damp warehouse in Tel Aviv throughout the war, all our furniture was ruined and unusable. Unlike the furniture, we all survived, my parents despite their confinement in French concentration camps and my father’s months of forced labour.
Sir - When a customs officer inspected our lift as it was being packed in November 1937 in Berlin, he gave a very low valuation of my father's stamp collection and said later ‘Wenn ick [i.e. ich] Jude wäre, würde ick auch auswandern.’