in the garden


Mar 2011 Journal

Letters to the Editor


It seems there is complete darkness about the historical relations between the Albanians and the Jews. But there are fascinating, unknown truths about them. These relations reached the climax and stood out in all majesty during the dark years of the Second World War. The Albanians’ treatment of the Jews and their coming to the rescue of the entire Jewish population of Albania and of all Jews who came to Albania during the Second World War to escape annihilation were absolutely unprecedented.

In Albania, BESA, meaning ‘The Promise’ – it is actually more than a promise: it is the code of honour, the given word, irrespective of their beliefs, Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic - ensured that Albanian families, from north to south, unhesitatingly and with compassion provided a safe haven, protecting absolutely all Jews who lived in Albania as well as those who came from other countries. Indeed, many Albanians put their lives at risk to hide, shelter and protect all the Jews in a sign of great humanity and respect.

What is very interesting to note is that the Albanian governments of the time collaborated with the Fascist and Nazi authorities and occupiers, as in many other places, as Quisling governments. However, these governments made it clear that they would never agree to hand over to the occupying armies any Jews or list of Jews. This was a condition local authorities laid down for collaboration with the foreign occupying armies and authorities. Indeed, King Zog actually issued written instructions to all legations abroad to issue visas without hindrance to all Jews who wanted to enter Albania, and even to issue Albanian passports in case they had no documentation. This line was maintained absolutely unchanged throughout the Second World War.

In this regard, Albania is the only country in the world in which the Albanian people and the government of the time, although they suffered a double occupation, did not hand a single Jew to the Nazis. Not a single Jew was ever victimised in Albania and not a single Jew was taken from Albania to concentration camps. This was the case, as indicated above, for all Jews of Albania proper, who were its citizens, but also for around 3,000 Jews who came to Albania from other Balkan countries to escape the threat of annihilation. Albania is the only country in the world in which the number of Jews after the Second World War was larger than before the war. Albania is indeed a unique case.

All these facts are also recognised by the State of Israel. Albanians proudly find their place at the Yad Vashem Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial in the USA as ‘Righteous among nations’ for what they did to save Jews during the darkest years of the Second World War.

Zef Mazi


Sir - Congratulations on the 65th birthday of the Journal. The excellent – as usual – article by Dr Grenville made us feel quite sentimental as my husband and I have been subscribers for almost that long.

I do not wish to start another controversy at the beginning of your 66th year and the beginning of 2011, but I would just like to say that I lived among the Arabs in Aden, the previous British Crown Colony at the end of the Red Sea. My husband was in charge of a British export and import firm in London and did business with the Arabs and other eastern nationalities living there.

As a woman, my activities were limited, so I tried, especially when a British doctor asked me to help in the newly opened hospital for pregnant women. I accepted with pleasure and tried to bring some regularity into the then chaotic circumstances. However, after meeting only resistance in every respect from the women there and having had enough of being spat at every few minutes, I gave up after a few months.

Life thus was ‘interesting’ and no trouble. However, after the declaration of the State of Israel, all hell broke loose and the first anti-Jewish riots started, everything was destroyed, including my husband’s office, and we were taken into hiding under the protection of the British army until we were finally allowed to leave and go back to England.

The rosy view of some of your correspondents on how to live with the Arabs is slightly pathetic – even though I agree that only a political solution has to be found. But why not let the Israelis decide which way to take? After all, we do not ‘advise’ other nations on how to run their business.

However, this is supposed to be a letter of congratulations and therefore Many Happy Returns and may you continue for a long, long time!

P.S. Also love the ‘Letter from Israel’ articles.

Kitty Schafer, Toronto, Canada


Sir - It was a great pleasure to be asked to write a follow-up to the article ‘Stones of Remembrance’, which appeared in the January 2011 issue. In setting out a number of answers to questions (FAQ), readers wishing to place orders will be helped, at the same time easing the work of Dr Elisabeth Ben David-Hindler (Liesl) in Vienna. Below are the questions asked of Liesl:
1 How many stones are in existence?
2 How many stones have been ordered?
3 In which districts are they placed and how many present and future orders are there?
4 What are approximately the shortest and longest times from request to placing?
5 What is the price of the stones?
6 What is the final cost per stone?
7 How is the difference made up?
8 How many contacts resulted from the original article and what comments would you make regarding them?
9 What other help can we give?
10 Is there any additional information you wish to provide?
To do justice to this worthy cause, the extensive answers to the above questions, being made available by and by, will be published in the April issue.
Liesl, who was overwhelmed by the number of people who contacted her because of the article in the January issue, is pleased that a follow-up article is to be published. Her own written words were ‘I had so many, many calls and emails.’
Incidentally, the original script ended: ‘… only those are really dead whom nobody remembers.’ This Jewish proverb was copied from one of Liesl’s own books and somehow got distorted in the process of publication. As a matter of interest,’ Jewish Proverbs’ can be accessed on Google, giving the incredible number of 1,370, 000 results in 0.14 seconds!

Fred Stern, Wembley, Middx


Sir - The short answer to Nicholas Marton’s letter (January) regarding Holocaust Memorial Day is: Yes, ignore it. We have Yom Hashoa. Whilst Holocaust Memorial Day may have increased the superficial understanding/knowledge of the Holocaust among the general public, it has also led to severe abuses/distortions, many of which are painful to survivors and to those who (like me) have very personal memories of survivors. I always thought it was a grave mistake and still do.

Peter Simpson, Jerusalem


Sir - I have just been to see the film Sarah’s Key and was shocked at the degree of collaboration shown by (seemingly) ordinary French policemen to their German masters.

This leads me to ask: What if? What if Britain had been occupied, at least temporarily, by the Nazis? Imagine a round-up of Jews herded into, say, Wembley Stadium prior to deportation and a fate unknown.

Would ordinary British policemen be willing to participate in such an act? I like to think that young men like my two nephews (both currently serving in the ‘Met’) would just refuse point blank, whatever the consequences. On the other hand ... Am I presenting a blinkered view?

Alan Gill, Sydney, Australia


Sir - The next United Kingdom census takes place on 27 March. As in 2001, it will include a question about religion, and the Board of Deputies is encouraging all members of the Jewish community to tick the box marked ‘Jewish’. National and local government rely on the results of the census to allocate resources, as do many communal organisations. These data are invaluable, for example, in planning for welfare provision, and in justifying the creation of social, educational and cultural facilities for the Jewish community.

Some readers of the AJR Journal may have concerns regarding the security of the data that are collected. All information from the census forms is kept confidential at all times, and is not shared with any other government departments. The forms themselves are held in a secure location for 100 years and, during this period, no information is ever given out which could identify any individual or household.

More information is available at

Daniel Vulkan, Research and Information Officer, Board of Deputies of British Jews


Sir - Funding for vital advice services provided by the Refugee Council for refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK will be slashed by over 60 per cent as from 1 April 2011. In addition, from April this year, funding for advice services for newly arrived asylum-seekers will be cut by 62 per cent, funding for initial accommodation services will be halved, and contracts for the Refugee Integration and Employment Services will end completely as from September.

The AJR is quite correct in trying to remain politically neutral. However, may I suggest that in the current situation the proposed drastic reductions deserve a strong submission to the UK government from the AJR protesting at these callous cutbacks?

Jewish refugees, and those of the second and third generations, might well remember the words ‘Do not hurt the feelings of a foreigner or oppress him because you were foreigners in Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21).

Arthur Oppenheimer, Hove


Sir - In your January issue, your correspondent Edith Steiner mentions a number of Hungarian Jews who changed the world. I also noticed that the number of notable ‘escapist’ Hungarian Jews is out of proportion to the total number of Jews of Hungarian origin. I do consider myself completely unbiased on the subject; nevertheless, I would add a few more of these ‘escapists’. Theodor Herzl, Milton Friedman, George Cukor, Emeric Pressburger and Edward Teller come to mind. And maybe - just because I went to school with him - the founder of Intel, Andy Grove.

Janos Fisher, Bushey Heath


Sir - With reference to letters from readers who write that Israel is not treating the Palestinians well enough: Have these writers ever considered how Israelis would be treated if the Palestinians had won a war and were in occupation of Israel?

After the Jordanians invaded and captured East Jerusalem in 1948, Jews were not allowed to visit the Wailing Wall, their holiest place. Jewish tombstones were turned into paving stones and doctors and nurses massacred on their way to the Jewish hospital on Mount Scopus.

The Americans have no right to pressure Israel on settlers and expansion of settlements. Their people settled on the territory of the Red Indians and drove a railroad through their hunting grounds in their drive westwards. To achieve peace, Israel withdrew from Gaza for nothing in return, and rockets were launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians.

The Arabs could have established a state in 1948 according to the vote at the United Nations, and from 1948 to 1967 when the Jordanians occupied the West Bank and the Egyptians Gaza.

But even now they do not want to recognise the State of Israel and await a time when, with perhaps an atomic attack by Iran, they will be able to occupy Israel.

At the end of the Second World War, the Poles and Russians occupied parts of East Germany, expelled the German residents, and settled their own people there. And neither the big powers nor the United Nations registered protests.

Israel should have done the same in 1967 and there would not have been any talk about settlers. Little Israel absorbed 800,000 Jews who had to flee from Arab countries, and the Arab states, with their vast territory and oil riches, could easily have absorbed the Palestinians and built houses and factories for them.

Henry Schragenheim, London N15

Sir – Peter Prager (February), who assumes he is speaking for world Jewry, certainly does not speak for me! Those ‘peace and justice’ activists have learned nothing from the pogroms, the Holocaust or Islamic terrorism and, just like the German people fell for Hitler’s propaganda, Mr Prager and his ilk have fallen hook line and sinker for Palestinian lies with regard to Israel. Instead, they ought to heed the words of the great philosopher: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities’ – Voltaire.

Michèle Katz, London NW11

Sir – Peter Prager’s latest effort spells it out: ‘We should state publicly that the State of Israel does not speak for us [Jews]’. Then he goes on to talk of world Jewry not accepting Israeli policies and says that Israel does not speak for him. Yet he considers himself justified in speaking for world Jewry – what pretension, what chutzpah!

I won’t go over old ground, save to say that some naïve and self-righteous people in the Diaspora seem to forget that from the moment it was re-born, the Jewish state has faced an existential threat and has had to fight for its very existence in a notoriously unstable part of the world, as recent events have shown. Israel cannot afford to take risks with its security and has only itself to rely on. The vast majority of Israelis know this, never mind what Peter Prager and Jews for Justice for Palestinians think is best for them. If it ever came to the crunch, few would lift a finger to come to the aid of Israel - and Jews for that matter - as another letter-writer has touched on.

In the same issue, your correspondent Peter Block rightly points out that, apart from Denmark, Bulgaria also saved its Jews. But he is mistaken in saying that no Jews were deported from Bulgaria proper. In the interests of accuracy, there were other countries that protected their Jews, at least until the Germans stepped in. But what is not commonly known is that those countries, including Denmark and Bulgaria, did consign their foreign Jews to the Nazi incinerators. None had any qualms about surrendering their foreign Jews, who sought asylum there. The same happened in the Channel Islands, where British ‘Bobbies’ handed over the handful of Jews to the Gestapo. I have no doubt the same would have happened here, though there would have been a fair share of Righteous Gentiles …!

Rubin Katz, London NW11


Sir - Further to my letter on risches (November issue), an extract from Trials of the Diaspora by Anthony Julius (OUP, 2010) may be of interest. In his introduction, Julius quotes the Jewish philosopher and political scientist Leo Strauss: ‘Our worst enemies are called …“anti-Semites” ’, he [Strauss] also wrote, ‘a word which I shall never use, and which I regard as almost obscene.’ ‘Why not’ he [Strauss] asked, ‘call it as we Jews call it? It is rish’us, “viciousness.” ’

Harold Saunders, Manchester