Jun 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘THE SPIRIT OF SWISS COTTAGE’
Sir – One after another - first Lauren Collins (March), then Ursula Trafford (April) - conjure up memories of days long gone by, of buildings long ago pulled down, of shops and restaurants whose names and owners have changed innumerable times over the decades, making me feel like the Spirit of Swiss Cottage. I have, after all, lived here almost all my life.
Yes, I was there when the erstwhile Dorice was still the Balsam, though I never set foot in either. I can’t remember any delicatessen shop called Assan, but one in Finchley Road, not far from us, is called Silver Store.
What Ursula Trafford refers to as the Peter Herz Revue was really called the Blue Danube Club, Peter Herz being its chief presenter. ‘Ich wünsche Ihnen eine Peter-Herzliche Unterhaltung’ was his catchphrase. I sometimes went there of a Sunday afternoon with my parents but disliked the whole atmosphere, whereas the Laterndl in Eton Avenue was, I thought, on a much more artistic level.
Lauren Collins talks of a coffee shop at the corner of Finchley Road and Broadhurst Gardens, but there is no such corner. It was at the corner of Finchley Road and Goldhurst Terrace and is a photo shop now. As for a place called Schmitt, I only knew of a German restaurant by the name of Schmitt in Charlotte Street in the West End.
If my dear father, whom I lost in 1962, were to come to life again, he would probably no longer recognise our neighbourhood, and even my mother, who passed away in 1973, would be amazed at the change.
As for Peter Phillips’s letter in your April issue –‘I suggest to her that maybe she should return to Germany’ - I would just like to point out that I have not been back to Germany since I left there 80 years ago, whereas he has basked in Austrian Gemütlichkeit and indulged in Viennese (non-kosher) cuisine on I wonder how many occasions. Do me a favour - as they say in Yinglish - do me a favour, Mr Phillips!
As for his article ‘Israel has not aged well’, my only comment is - there he goes again!
Sir – Lauren Collins’s article took me back to our many visits to the Dorice, from the early fifties onwards. A crowd of us would go for an after-dinner concert with the ‘boys’ of the Amadeus Quartet and other, mostly Continental, friends and relatives. Those lovely, noisy evenings, punctuated by the telling of Jewish jokes, were magic – even though some of the participants melted away when the bill was brought, frequently leaving my husband and me the poorer after footing it! So many years ago and so many memories – thanks again, AJR!
Sir - I too remember being taken to the Cosmo by my sister and brother-in-law, Lisl and Karl Weiss. When Doris, one of the waitresses, opened the Dorice they moved with her, and Karl had a lunchtime Stammtisch with Pepi Suschitzky, Erwin Brecher, Harry Lehmann, Bruno Marian and others. The main topic of discussion appeared to be how a certain hand of bridge should be played. When it came to paying, they all wanted to pay the whole bill and ended up by leaving it to the toss of a coin.
Sir - In your leader about Dr Hermann Sinsheimer (April), you report that his English nieces-by-marriage had difficulties in pronouncing his name and so simply called him ‘Dr Sunshine’. This brings to mind my late wife’s experience as a young girl whose colleagues had difficulties in pronouncing the name Loewenstein and so she became known as ‘Eva Lunchtime’ - very apt for a bevy of typists, I would say!
AN UNFORGETTABLE PROGRAMME - 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF KINDERTRANSPORT REUNION
Sir - I am delighted the AJR has taken on organising the Reunion on the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport this month. The AJR has done a fantastic job in organising what promises to be an unforgettable programme.
It is very important to me as by the time of the 80th Reunion, some of us may not be here or may not be able to go. These Reunions have been enormously important to me and I therefore look forward to this one. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales took so much trouble to talk, in an empathetic and relaxed way, with every group on the last occasion and it is magnanimous of him and his wife to invite us to St James’s Palace this time.
I remember the first Reunion, organised by Bertha Leverton in 1989, so well. I had never knowingly heard the word ‘Kindertransport’ until then - I thought no one other than my brother and I had come to England from Berlin! It was an epiphany for me! And it led to my going in to schools to tell my story when Holocaust education was put on the national curriculum in 1991 - something I have been enjoying doing ever since.
This time, my husband and all three of our offspring are accompanying me - see you all there!
GRETA BURKILL, ‘DOUGHTY VOLUNTEER’
Sir – Mike Levy’s article on Greta Burkill in your March issue was a pleasant surprise. I knew Greta Burkill well while I was living in Cambridge from 1945 to 1961. I doubt, however, that you will find more than a casual reference to me (then Ilse Ursell) or my brother Fritz in the Greta Burkill papers donated to Cambridge University as we never needed to ask her for assistance.
My brother unfortunately died last May and I don’t know how he first met her, although this may be due to the fact that he came as a mathematics scholar to Trinity in 1940 and, of course, Charles Burkill was a mathematician. He was treasurer to Peterhouse at the time and offered my parents 4 Belvoir Terrace to rent as the college didn’t require it for one of its own members.
My parents were Dr Siegfried Ursell and Leonore Helene (generally known as Leni) née Mayer. However, when I was on sick leave from the BBC Monitoring Service in December 1944, Greta mentioned two jobs that were going in Cambridge. One was as secretary to herself as her then secretary had married an American and was shortly going to the USA. The other was as assistant to Dr Joseph Kemp at the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL) - Dr Kemp was expected to return to academic work as soon as the war was over and the assistant would be expected to succeed him. I chose the second and took up the appointment in June 1945 as it took the Ministry of Labour until May to release me from the BBC, which was considered war work. My brother may be recorded as a refugee success as he finished as professor of mathematics in Manchester. I kept in touch with Charles Burkill until he died.
You will find in the Greta Burkill papers reference to Sybil Hutton, who was also working for the Cambridge Refugee Committee. Her husband, Professor Robert Hutton, was on the committee of the SPSL and I obviously knew them both. They too lived in Chaucer Road.
I have a dim notion that I knew Erik Neumann. If he was the one I knew slightly, there were two brothers and the parents lived in Cambridge. If Mike Levy thinks I might be able to fill in the odd gap, he shouldn’t hesitate to contact me.
Sir - I was very interested in Mike Levy’s article. I guess he will have found my sister’s and my name in Greta Burkill’s files. Greta Burkill was a tremendous person and nothing was too much trouble. My sister, Erika Plaut (Rath), died in 2009.
We arrived in this country on 20 April 1939 and were whisked by Greta from Liverpool Street Station to Cambridge, where Miss M. S. Rickard gave us a home. What I was never clear about was who arranged for us to go to her home and who paid for our education at Perse School in Cambridge.
TREATMENT OF KINDER IN LEEDS: NO COMPLAINTS
Sir – Reading the last few issues of the Journal, I have noticed the numerous complaints by ‘Kinder’ about their treatment on arrival in the UK.
I arrived on the first Kindertransport on 2 December 1938. We were placed for the first four weeks in two camps near Harwich. At the end of December we were sent to Leeds. As the hostel was not ready we lived in houses near the town centre. In mid-January 1939 we were moved to the hostel in Stainbeck Lane. The building and accommodation, as well as the food, were very good. The property was located in very big grounds and included a large lawn for our use. Every morning for a good many months we received English lessons. The Committee, under the chairmanship of Mark Labovitch, met every Sunday at the hostel to ensure that the hostel was run smoothly. We were given new clothing etc as required by individuals and the Jewish population of Leeds contributed 1 shilling or 1 shilling and 6 pence per week. Many Jews were employed by Montague Burton or Fifty Shilling Taylors.
When war broke out most of the boys were allowed to work and by then could speak English. There was a similar hostel for girls in Harrogate under Mr Labovitch’s chairmanship.
I remember the Committee was very helpful to the Kinder in every way. Around March 1939 I asked them if they could help my two younger brothers to join us at the hostel. Mr Labovitch agreed and in June-July 1939 my two brothers arrived and joined me there.
When we started work we had to hand in our earnings but could keep a small amount for pocket money and fares to commute to work. We were told the balance would be refunded in due course. We did indeed receive the balance some years later.
I have nothing but praise for the way we were treated in those difficult times and I have been forever grateful for the kindness and generosity shown by the Committee and the Leeds Jewish community.
GHETTO UPRISING COMMEMORATED IN WARSAW
Sir – On 19 April this year the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was commemorated at Warsaw’s Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. The event was attended by five presidents, including the president of Israel. An Israeli army orchestra was also present. One minute’s silence, preceded by a siren from factories, was observed.
For myself, I was interviewed on this subject for about half an hour by the BBC, an interview broadcast live on the BBC World Service on 18 April. However, up to the time of writing, I have failed to notice anything about the Ghetto uprising anniversary in the UK Jewish press. On the other hand, I have received copies of 16 articles on the subject which appeared in Poland (in Polish of course).
Mr Leaton’s attention is drawn to page 11 of this issue of the Journal (Ed.).
SCAPEGOAT NEEDED – ANTISEMITISM IN HUNGARY TODAY
Sir - Traditional anti-Semitism has resurfaced in Hungary on a large scale and it has an institutional framework. Jobbik, an openly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party, is well represented in parliament. Shops are allowed to sell fascist literature. Also allowed are Nazi festivals and events. The far-right Mágyar Garda marches in uniforms reminiscent of the Arrow Cross. Holocaust denial too is voiced. Anti-Semitic incidents in everyday life are accepted and trigger no action from the government. Fidesz, the ruling party, understands very well that this helps maintain them in power. They came to power as a right-of-centre party and are progressing towards the far right. The economy is in a bad way - a scapegoat is needed. This is where the Jews come in. Whereas Jobbik received 17 per cent of the vote in the last elections, I believe that, as in the forties, the ‘silent majority’ agrees with their aims.
Where does all this leave the 90-100,000 Jews living in Hungary? Doubtless there is a revival of Jewish culture and religion. One can observe this best in Budapest’s Seventh District, where one can visit the beautifully restored Dohany Street Synagogue and various cafés, restaurants and book shops catering mostly, but not exclusively, for a Jewish clientele. The Lauder Javne School is thriving. The Israel Cultural Centre has an impressive programme; every year there is a Jewish festival. Muzsikás, the leading folk ensemble, which has no Jewish members, often performs Jewish and klezmer music.
So what are the prospects for this large Jewish community? I would not like to say but I know I would not consider living there. I would feel extremely uncomfortable in today’s Hungary.
THANK YOU, AJR
Sir - Our dear mother, Mrs J. E. Weissbraun, passed away in February. Please accept our heartfelt gratitude for the abundant kindnesses AJR staff showed towards our dear mother. As with most of your recipients, she had a traumatic beginning to her life. It was, however, through your generosity that she was able to end her life with great dignity and in comfort. She had every bit of the care she needed and our endeavour to ensure that all her requirements were met was fully supported by your amazing organisation.
As a family, we want to thank you for everything and to assure you that we have not taken anything for granted!
Sir – Reading the Annual Report in your May issue, I continue to be most impressed with the enormous range of work the Association covers not only centrally but also throughout the country. You are indeed a most positive example to the many communal bodies in this country.
Sir - Since losing most of my sight last year I now get the Journal on a disk - not quite the same as reading it but still one of my monthly enjoyments. A super little magazine that keeps us all in touch. Thank you.
Sir – Dorothea Shefer-Vanson (February) describes Varian Fry’s efforts in the rescue of prominent Jews. Charles Fernley Fawcett was part of that team of rescuers.
I had the honour of knowing Charles, who was not Jewish but born to American ‘WASP’ parents in Georgia. After his earlier escapades in Vichy France, involving Jewish women, he flew with the RAF and later served in the French Foreign Legion, earning the Croix de Guerre. He spent his last years here, living on the Chelsea Embankment, and passed away, aged 92, in 2008. He was a fearless adventurer all his life, going to places where angels fear to tread and wherever he could do good.
I first befriended Charles some 14 years ago, at Beth Shalom, currently the Holocaust Education Centre, where I gave talks to students. On occasion he and I would give a joint talk, I about my ‘adventures’ on the run in wartime Poland, and Charles about his ‘bigamous marriages’ to Jewish women. He would smuggle each woman across the French border into neutral Spain. At the frontier, as police passed through the carriages checking papers, Charles and his ‘current bride’ would embrace passionately in a dark corner, as newly-weds do. He finally had to flee France when the Gestapo almost caught up with him and his game.
After the war, Charles, a tall, good-looking man, became a Hollywood bit-actor, with roles in many Hollywood productions, alongside such actors as Alan Ladd. I feel sure some readers here would recognise his face, if not his name. I once asked him in front of an adult audience if any of his ‘brides’ expected him to consummate their marriage …. Needless to say, the room erupted in laughter! Charles was nominated for the Righteous among the Nations award at a ceremony on one Holocaust Day in London.
ISRAEL WARTS AND ALL
Sir - Please could your ‘Letter from Israel’ column be about life there as it is problems and all? Is your columnist afraid of censorship? The Journal is good at publishing conflicting opinions! Or does she wish to create the impression that life in Israel is no different from that in north-west London? One reads good books, goes to concerts, visits museums, where there are groups of schoolchildren from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, and meets Muslims in shopping centres.
Is the area east of Jerusalem (or indeed Israel) the safest place for the valuable books mentioned in April’s ‘Letter from Israel’ - a possible war zone on one side and among blinkered fundamentalists on the other?
I hope to provoke letters from various age groups as well as various points of view from Israelis taking an active part in the life of their country!