Mar 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
NO SMALL AMOUNT OF CONFUSION
Sir - In response to Edith Argy’s letter in your February issue (‘Has Austria really changed?’), the matter of the Pensionsversicherungsanstalt’s new residence requirement has given rise to no small amount of confusion among recipients of Austrian pensions. To be sure, this is to be regretted. The Foreign Ministry in Vienna and the Pensionsversicherungsanstalt are fully aware of the matter and a solution is being sought with urgency. The problem has arisen due to Austrian tax regulations of a general nature, including data protection requirements. At the Austrian Embassy, we are working hard for a quick and clear solution for the benefit of the victims of Nazi persecution. They have already had to suffer too much in their long lives. When this matter reached my desk shortly before Christmas, an urgent cable was sent off to Vienna within an hour. I am confident that in the Austria of old, things would have taken longer!
Sir - Following your recent notice in the AJR Journal, this is to tell you that the German Government Treasury has, at long last, paid £1,655 into my account.
On 7 June 2003, Paul Kling, with whom I shared accommodation in Theresienstadt 68 years ago, phoned me from Vancouver and asked whether I had heard of a Ghetto Pension. I had not heard of it and he gave me the name and address of the lawyer in Cologne who represented him. That was 8 years and 5 months, three thick folders of correspondence, rejections, appeals and copies of many forms ago. Inflation here has gone up and down - usually up - and now stands at 5.0 per cent. If I take an average of 4 per cent, then the local purchasing power of this one-off payment has been reduced by one-third between hearing about it and actually receiving it. When they were confiscating our accounts, savings, life policies, valuables, every kind of property and in the end emptied our flats of everything, they went about it more speedily and with less fuss.
Sir – In her recent article ‘“Winter in Prague”: The humanitarian mission of Doreen Warriner’, Susan Cohen mentioned a Miss Rogers. It is thanks to Miss Rogers, of the British consulate in Prague, that my father was released from a Gestapo jail, days before the outbreak of war.
My father, from a known Communist family, was held at the Gestapo jail in Mlada Boleslav during 1939. While there, his mother visited the British consulate in Prague, where she met Miss Rogers in order to ask her to do whatever she could to assist my father to join the rest of his family in England. In June 1939 he was transferred from Mlada Boleslav to the jail at Reichenberg (now Liberec) as he was an ethnic German. While there, he succeeded in maintaining a low profile and, after several weeks, was released.
He was then sent to work at the German military field post office in Reichenberg. He managed to obtain a visa to travel to Mlada Boleslav on the pretext of collecting his belongings from the prison there. He did not go to Mlada Boleslav but bought a train ticket to Prague with the 28 Czech koruna which fortuitously had not been confiscated by the Nazis while he had been in jail.
On arrival at the British consulate on 31 August 1939, he asked for Miss Rogers, who recalled the conversation with his mother and told him to return the following day, also giving him 100 Czech koruna to buy a shirt and tie and smarten up. He did this and returned the next day, to be greeted by Miss Rogers with signed exit papers and instructions to go straight to the railway station, where a train was scheduled to depart for the Hook of Holland. He arrived just as the train was about to depart, the last person to board the last carriage. Unknown to him it was a Kindertransport, and also the very last Kindertransport. War was declared the day after his arrival in England.
My father and his family met Miss Rogers a year later at the Queen’s Hotel in Manchester. He was puzzled about how she had been able to obtain a Gestapo signature for his exit papers. She explained that it had been pot luck and that she had succeeded in obtaining a signature because it was a Friday and a nice day and the officer had been keen to get home to his family. At other times, the officers were very rude to the British consulate staff and would bark comments such as ‘The old imperialists want something again!’ But Miss Rogers had learned how to handle the officers and to ignore such comments and, when they were in good humour, it was possible to get them to sign exit papers without any trouble.
FROM MITTELEUROPA TO ENGLAND
Sir - The Jewish Chronicle recently had an intriguing book review entitled ‘From Mitteleuropa to Finchley Strasse’ with an accompanying photograph entitled ‘Jewish refugees arrive at Harwich to take their first steps in Britain in 1938’, showing women walking down a gangway. My understanding of how my grandparents, great-grandmother and great-aunt arrived from Germany on 31 July 1939 was completely transformed at the 73rd memorial of Kristallnacht at the New North London Synagogue. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg spoke movingly about the role played by the British consul, Robert Smallbones, and his deputy, Mr Dowden, in Frankfurt-am-Main in facilitating his mother and grandparents, among other Jews, leaving Frankfurt. And his mother gave her chilling testimony about how they lived during this time, had to leave and how they flew to England.
We have now checked our grandparents’ passports and discovered that they too flew – from Cologne airport to Manchester Ringway at the end of July 1939. We cannot easily find out how this happened and who organised and paid for them. Surely passenger flights were not easily available before the war and were costly? We do know that after the war, child refugees from Terezin and Auschwitz flew to the UK but they were in RAF bomber planes from Prague to Carlisle (see Sarah Moskovitz, Love Despite Hate (1983), pp. 4-5 and Chasing Shadows, the film about Rabbi Hugo Gryn). Is there any research or other evidence available about these different means of arrival of Jewish refugees from Mitteleuropa, as we had always assumed that the picture presented was how my father and most German Jews had arrived?
NO CONFLICT BETWEEN BEING JEWISH AND ENGLISH
Sir - It seems that I did not make myself as clear as I thought I had in responding to Peter Phillips’s rant in an earlier edition of the AJR Journal and for this I must apologise. By the way, I’m not going to get into a discussion about the examples I used to illustrate our students’ Englishness even though Mr Phillips has chosen to quote selectively. He has also, incidentally, chosen to remain silent on which school(s) he was basing his evidence. Truth to tell, having been successfully provoked by Mr Phillips’s prejudices, I think I was trying to say too much and threw in items which may not have been directly relevant and, although bringing some sadly lacking authority to the discussion, obscured what I wanted my main thrust to be.
So, let me simplify and clarify. My point is that the Jewish school in which I work neither teaches nor encourages its students to become isolated from their English environment. For our students, there is no conflict between being Jewish and being English. This is what they are taught and this is what they see in the role-modelling presented by their teachers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. They graduate from their school aware of, and confident in, their roles as Jews and as citizens of the United Kingdom; they are not defensive and they have no hang-ups. And, judged by his correspondence, they are considerably more comfortable with this than Mr Phillips is. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, eh, Mr P?
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
Sir - As usual, Henry Schragenheim is looking at life from a very Orthodox point of view - and from a very old-fashioned point of view too. I mentioned in my article that I believed that shechita may cause anti-Semitism. I believe it does because of the cruelty it shows to animals, by not stunning them before killing them. Christians and, indeed, many Jews find this obnoxious and I personally abhor it. Mr Schragenheim then compares my views, rather confusedly, to asking a Jew to wash his car on Shabbat rather than on a Sunday in case washing on a Sunday offends his Christian neighbour.
First, may I point out that most Christians do, in fact, wash their cars and mow their lawns on a Sunday. (I am surprised Mr Schragenheim does not know this - obviously he does not live anywhere near Christians.) Second, the Lord’s Day Observance Society, which might have objected to car washing and lawn mowing, no longer exists. The Christian religion has moved with the times. Perhaps Mr Schragenheim should too.
AN ABSURD NOTION
Sir - Anthony Grenville, whose erudition and style I greatly admire, writes in his ‘Double Exposure’ project in Vienna of ‘former victims of Nazi persecution’, as well as of ‘former refugees’ and of interviews with ‘former Austrians’.
‘Former Austrians’ I can take: They are no doubt Austrians no longer. But ‘former refugees’ I personally find an absurd notion, as my experience of being a refugee is perhaps the most important psychological influence on me apart from birth itself: I’m a marked man. And ‘former victims of Nazi persecution’? IMPOSSIBLE.
‘GODLESS’ NAZI PARTY
Sir - In his letter in January’s AJR Journal, Peter Landsborough refers to the Nazi Party as ‘godless’. This is a common error. The leadership often referred to God and recruits to the Waffen SS had to recite the following in their induction ceremony:
Ich glaube an Gott, der mich gemacht hat,
Der uns Deutschland gegeben hat,
Und der uns Adolf Hitler geschickt hat.
(I believe in God, who has made me,
Who has given us Germany,
And who has sent us Adolf Hitler.)
It is an important point for those who, like me, are irreligious, but resent the implication that this in itself can be a cause for dereliction.
REFUGEES ON THE ENGLISH STAGE
Sir – I refer to Anthony Grenville’s article (December 2011) on Club 43 and the 150th anniversary of the death of Friedrich Schiller, celebrated in 1955, at which the actors Lilly Kann and Frederick Valk recited from Schiller’s works. I happened to know both of them well.
It had been my mother, who, on a visit to Darmstadt, had persuaded the then teenage Fritz Valk’s parents to let their son follow his ambition to become an actor, for which he remained eternally grateful to her. After leaving Nazi Germany, he first settled in Prague, where he found employment at the German theatre. Later, in England, before finding roles in the English theatre, he tried to earn a living by readings from German classics at his boarding house in Dartmouth Road, Willesden Green, which used to take place on Sunday afternoons before a small circle of refugees. I can still remember him shouting out dramatically ‘Mehr Brot, mehr Brot!’ (More bread, more bread). He later landed roles on the English stage, including Thunder Rock, after switching to the English language.
During the Blitz, he installed his elderly mother in a hotel facing Tring Station, which he had recommended to us and where we were to stay for three years. There one evening, Mrs Valk’s nightie caught fire. She died ten days later in hospital aged 78, if I remember correctly. Fritz seemed to get over his mother’s death remarkably quickly. He eventually married his non-Jewish English girlfriend, many years his junior.
Quite a number of actors seemed to find a haven at that hotel at the time, including the middle-aged Lilly Kann. She too found work on the English stage. She was an excellent actress. She had a daughter who went to boarding school and visited her in the holidays.
A GRAVE ERROR
Sir - I always enjoy reading Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s ‘Letter from Israel’ in your Journal. She does, however, make a grave error when she describes Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice, as commemorating Abraham’s non-sacrifice of Isaac. Surely not Isaac! Muslims do not recognise Isaac but their ancestor Ishmael, and they celebrate his non-sacrifice as mentioned in the Qur’an.
Dorothea asks why Jews don’t commemorate it. We don’t commemorate it but mention the Akedah (Binding of Isaac) in our Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Also in our liturgy of that day we recite ‘Oh remember this day the binding of Isaac in mercy unto his seed.’ We live among Muslims in Israel, as she goes on to mention in her letter. We ought to be familiar with their religion and, of course, ours as well.
Sir - Fred Stern (‘Information - true or false?’, January) sought, but failed, to prove that we are misinformed and that all the forecasts are incorrect. He states that ‘you chose a political system which allows your money to be taken from you without your permission!’ But how? Then he grumbles about inequalities in our system. But what system is he advocating? He does not believe in the official rate of inflation either (‘It's all lies’).
His economic knowledge is shaky too. He writes: ‘When British and foreign bankers … sank fortunes into American bogus ventures ... the worldwide disaster erupted.’ Our banks did not, in fact, sink fortunes into American ventures and this was certainly not the cause of the ‘disaster’.
And what to think about his doomsday prediction: ‘The misinformation and the hidden truth on the disaster that is enveloping this nation will eventually sink in … The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon their sons (emphasis in original).’ And what about this statement? ‘The country is now passing through a cloud in which much information is hidden from view.’ Perhaps we should dissipate the clouds for Mr Stern and then he will see that no information is lurking behind them.
Nothing in his article seems to make any sense. The writer was apparently involved in information technology. Now he has got involved in misinformation technology.
Sir – Mr Fred Stern of Wembley, a man of little faith in this country, has forgotten the stand this country took during the dark days of the 1940s, when he says ‘Britain, a political pariah on the Continent, is now all at sea and nobody will be there to rescue it.’
May I suggest he gets himself a good textbook on the history of the war years and post-war period, when the USA supplied this country through Lend-Lease and the Marshall Plan.
As far as Mr Stern’s prediction that the Coalition is on the point of break-up is concerned, I fear he will have a long wait, for the Conservatives as well as the Liberals will continue to share power even if they hate each other’s guts!
VICIOUS ANTI-SEMITIC VIEWS
Sir - Jobbik, the ultra-nationalist party of Hungary, which has many members in parliament and some members even in the European Parliament, is now openly voicing its vicious anti-Semitic views. I fear for the substantial Hungarian Jewish community, which, it appears, had a false dawn after the fall of the Communist regime. The lies spread by Jobbik about Israel and Jews would make Goebbels proud. I am grateful not to live in Hungary any more.
‘A MISREPRESENTATION OF EVIL’
Sir – Yes, I believe in God. Is God good? No, God is not good.
At the age of 82 years, I have a truly wonderful life behind me. And today, even as I write, life is very, very good.
As one goes through life, one comes into contact with thousands of different men and women. One sees beautiful children growing up to become good men and women.
Somehow it’s so arranged that the biggest industry in the world is the armaments industry. I have nothing to do with ‘pacifism’ but, as a quite ordinary person, I would not pay one penny for a nuclear bomb. People are not vermin.
After our experience at the hands of the National Socialists, it is of vital importance to point out to the nation-states of the world that the word ‘defence’ is a misrepresentation of pure evil.