May 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘UNDERPAID, UNDERFED AND OVERWORKED’?
Sir - ‘Underpaid, underfed and overworked’? Indeed. Your series of articles recently highlighted the plight of refugee girls. What about the boys?
They were often equally underfed, religiously brainwashed and shamefully neglected and left to their own devices when looking for some modicum of education, training or work. The little ‘Blue Book’ given to us on arrival in this country by the Refugees Committee left little doubt as to our future prospects in this country:
‘One of the cares of the Jewish Committee will be the training of young people for occupations useful to them, and their neighbours, overseas. The training will be mainly: For boys – Agriculture and Handicrafts; For girls – Nursing and Domestic Service.’
‘Please do not expect these young people to be trained as doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, etc …’
‘The example of Palestine shows what miracles manual labour can accomplish …’
The intention of the Jewish Refugees Committee was clear enough. They intended us to be a compliant ‘Lumpenproletariat’ for use overseas – Palestine was as good as any destination as long as we did not remain in this country to cause them embarrassment or expense.
REREADING THE READER
Sir - My own rereading of The Reader has led me to believe that Hanna’s illiteracy is symbolic of the inability of many of her generation to ‘read’ the signs of the Nazi times and indeed to face up to their past. Through the court’s judgement she is not a victim of a miscarriage of justice but of her own shortcomings and failings. Far from being exculpated, she is shown as a morally weak supporter and collaborator who became guilty due to her generation’s ‘lack of human orientation’, as Ralph Giordano put it. She is morally, as well as linguistically, illiterate.
Hanna’s obsession with cleanliness and orderliness is not just a personal trait. The ridding of Germany of the ‘contaminants’ - Jews, Gypsies, the incurably sick, the work-shy and a-social, liberals, democrats, communists, pacifists, socialists, intellectuals, etc - was a measure of hygiene, a cleansing action, an attempt to bring about strength through homogeneity, order, discipline and certainty. Her comment that the release of the people in the church would have led to an uncontrollable situation, to chaos, is thus significant.
Sir – In his patient and fair discussion of The Reader, Anthony Grenville omits one of its crucial and, unfortunately, winning ingredients – its element of soft–porn, for instance near the beginning of the book, when Hanna Schmitz bathes the young boy. This combination of soft-porn and the Holocaust makes the book particularly offensive.
SIR NICHOLAS WINTON – THE HISTORICAL RECORD
Sir – I do not want to get into a slanging match with Bea Green over her letter regarding Sir Nicholas Winton (December 2008). However, I must repeat that I found her remarks highly derogatory towards him and so did all those with whom I discussed them. I am therefore delighted to hear (April 2009) that she intended to praise him.
TRIBUTE TO THE GIRL GUIDES
Sir – It may not be generally known that the Girl Guides were also involved in bringing Jewish children to England. I was one of the lucky ones they helped, though I don’t know of any others. Because I had been a guide in Vienna my mother approached the Girl Guides Association in London to help find a home for me. They were able to find the most wonderful foster-mother. The situation was perfect: they lived in the vicinity of the Quaker school where my brother had just arrived as a boarder and I would be able to go to the same school as a day-girl.
At the age of 13, I was sent to England on my own on the assumption that the Guides would take care of me - which indeed they did. On arrival at Victoria, I was met by one of their senior officers, who took me to stay at the house of one of her colleagues, where I stayed the first two days. So keen to be helpful, they insisted on showing me some of the sights of London before dispatching me to Middlesborough, my final destination, in the care of a kind Jewish lady who appeared to know about other refugee children.
The Guides Association continued to take an interest in me, provided me with regular pocket money, and sent me very nice presents at Christmas and on my birthday. I remained in regular contact with one of them. They found me a pen-friend in London and when, after my first year at an English school, arrangements were made for me to transfer to Scotland, where my parents had arrived in the meantime, I was invited to two of their summer camps. I made good friends among the Guides in various places where I came to live and they were helpful in enabling me to integrate.
‘GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir – Mrs Stern’s explanation (April) as to why ‘Orthodox rabbis don’t want to share a platform’ with Progressive rabbis evoked a minute of anger, then one of incredulity and finally pity. Perhaps such ignorance and venom that she displays would be better marked by silence, yet I feel compelled to respond.
For over 60 years I have been privileged to know many rabbis from Orthodox and Progressive communities, but never any who ‘don't believe in anything, not even in G-d’. As to converting ‘non-Jews’, I cannot envisage how one can convert to Judaism someone who is already a Jew unless it be from gas to electricity. As the Board of Deputies of British Jews person currently charged with furthering interfaith relations, I would hope, and even pray, that Jews from every ‘branch’ would have, and show, respect for each other’s perception of their heritage. Certainly, Hitler and every anti-Semite would not regard their differing points of view as a hindrance to persecution.
Yes, there are fundamental differences between Orthodox and Progressive Jews. An agreement to share a platform does not imply that those who do so agree with others on that platform. It does, however, presume a preparedness to share views, to learn from each other, in friendship and with tolerance. Such is surely the right road to our survival as Jews, just as those of all faiths and beliefs talking with each other holds the key for all of us to live together in harmony and peace.
I cannot claim that what I have written are the words of G-d. But I do believe that such would be His will, and would ask your correspondent to take a deep breath and heed them.
GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir – ‘Shallow’, ‘callous’, ‘muddled’, ‘ill-informed’ – that’s what Mrs M. Stern called me in her letter in your April edition. Coming from her, I consider these words compliments. She continued in her diatribe to say that ‘Progressive “rabbis” … don’t believe in anything, not even in G-d’, that they ‘convert non-Jews left, right and centre to their pseudo-religion’, and that it is ‘No wonder Orthodox rabbis don’t want to share a platform with them.’ Mrs. Stern, you are very biased, and that is the nicest word I can call you. I am sorry to belong - in theory if not in practice - to the same religion as you.
‘ANTI-ISRAEL STANCE’ OF GOVERNMENT
Sir - Why all the surprise at the government’s anti-Israel actions and stance (Jewish Chronicle, 27 March)? There is an election to come in the near future and the Prime Minister and his government know there are very many Muslim votes out there to be garnered. Incompetent they may be - but stupid they are not. By taking an anti-Israel (and, by definition, an anti-Semitic) stance, they are more likely to persuade these people to vote for them. All this while paying lip service to being concerned for the safety and welfare of the Jewish population of the UK. If it were not so sad and serious it would make me laugh!
‘FAILURE OF A REVOLUTION’
Sir - I enjoyed Anthony Grenville’s article ‘Failure of a Revolution’ (March), in which he skilfully traces the history of German and Austrian Social Democracy and their links with England. I would like to draw attention to an interesting and important figure, Ernst Toller, an ardent socialist who also had to flee from Germany in 1934 and lived in London for nearly three years.
Toller was a famous German-Jewish dramatist whose work achieved a popularity almost unprecedented in England for a German writer. His autobiography appeared in English translation and was reviewed in publications such as The Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman. He engaged in public debate with H. G. Wells and was translated by W. H. Auden. In short, he was soon scarcely less of a celebrity than he had been in Germany, where he was condemned to a lengthy prison sentence for having been the commander-in-chief of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic.
Toller spoke also on literary subjects. In a lecture at Manchester University on ‘The German Theatre Today’, he discussed the stylistic innovations of Expressionism and the opposition by right-wing political ideology which denounced all modern experiments as cultural Bolshevism.
The time Toller spent in Britain was crucial for the development of his political views, in particular on socialism, pacifism and the ‘Jewish question’. His revolutionary experience in Germany taught him that force was inevitable, that pacifism was incompatible with political action to defend freedom. Admitting the inadequacy of socialism, the eponymous hero of Hinkemann, a symbol of the Jew, rejected by society, says this to himself in a visionary Expressionistic interlude: ‘You have always suffered, in every society, in every age and, marked by a dark fate, you will still have to suffer even when, in some bright future, a socialist society has been established.’
While in England, Toller also wrote No More Peace, in which the dictator of Dunkelstein, Cain, appeals to the racism of the population, calling for purity of blood and forbidding marriage with foreigners. Like Hitler, he does not need to force his will on his people: they willingly support his policies. Toller is, of course, foretelling Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual Holocaust. This play was produced in the West End, where it was a failure. It was time to leave Britain. In 1936 he went to America, where he was even less successful and where he committed suicide. There is no plaque on 1 Lambolle Road, Hampstead, to commemorate the fact that Toller lived there.
‘THE KING`S OWN LOYAL ENEMY ALIENS’
Sir - In recent reviews Dr Helen Fry has rightly been praised for her literary output, but, if it is suggested that she was the first to write at length about the contribution of German and Austrian refugees in the British forces, that is hardly fair. The term KOLEA (the ‘King`s Own Loyal Enemy Aliens’) was, I think, coined by the late Peter Leighton-Langer, whose important work on the subject appeared in Germany in 1999. The first English work on the subject was probably a book by Professor Norman Bentwich, I Understand the Risk, which appeared in 1950.
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
Sir - I refer to Mr Spiro’s letter in your March issue. I don’t hold a brief for Samu Stern, but to make him responsible for the loss of thousands of lives, I find somewhat wide of the mark.
Stern was appointed head of the Judenrat in Budapest by the Germans. Some four-fifths of Budapest Jews survived the Holocaust. This may not have been Stern’s doing, but he could claim credit for helping to achieve a higher survival rate than was the case elsewhere. Taking his own life would hardly have helped anybody.
I am afraid we cannot get away from the fact that those of us, even teenagers, who were not blinded by misguided Hungarian patriotism knew sufficiently well what going to a ‘humanitarian labour camp’ meant and those who did not want to believe the evidence of thousands of Eastern refugees - or, more likely, thought they were superior - were unlikely to have been convinced by Stern’s - or anybody else’s - words.
As a practical point, it would have required one-half of all Hungarian gentile families to take in one Jew each to save all the Jews in Hungary. Before Kasztner rescued me and my family, we twice stood at night on a street corner waiting for ‘friends’, who took our money, to take us in, only to have to slink back to our ghetto house at day-break. One only has to ‘enjoy’ a current Budapest demonstration under red and white flags to realise that disappearance on any scale was not a practical proposition.
Rather than try to attach blame for these past tragic events, may I suggest it would be more productive to consider ways in which we can prevent a recurrence, something which becomes ever more likely with deteriorating economic conditions? Undoubtedly the ‘new’ Jew described by Mr Levy of Wembley (same issue) will help, but could we try to add to this?
Sir – I appreciate the feelings of Walter Wolff (March) but I object to his condescending reference to a ‘small band of well-meaning people’.
I was fortunate enough to leave my home town, Stuttgart, early enough (1936) so as not to qualify for a Stolperstein, but when I was there last November I was shown some of the Stolpersteine by one of the local organisers of the project. I was deeply impressed by the sensitivity and understanding shown by this guide, and his collaborators, towards the probable feelings of the unfortunate people commemorated in this way and their descendants. To my mind, a Stolperstein in front of the house where my fellow-citizens – people like you and me – lived is the best possible way of ensuring that they are not forgotten. Yes, walk over these tablets, and perhaps every so often a passer-by will stumble a bit, read the inscription and remember what happened there in the dark time of the Nazis. I was much moved by the sight of these memorials and am grateful to the people involved – no longer a ‘small band’ – in setting them up in ever more towns, in Germany and beyond.
DER HUND MIT DER WURST
Sir - In last month’s issue, my sister, Marion Goldwater, remembered my father’s words to the ‘Anvil Chorus’. I have another version which he sang: ‘Wie kommt Spinat auf’s Dach, die Kuh kann doch nicht fliegen.(usw).’ He was obviously a prolific poet.
WISDOM OF THE SAGES
Sir - The wisdom and perspicacity of our sages is legendary and the tradition continues unabated. Here is an example sent to me by a reliable informant from California.
Their rabbi was opening his mail one morning. Taking a single sheet of paper from an envelope, he found written on it only one word: ‘shmuck’. At the next Friday night service the rabbi announced: ‘I have known many people who have written letters and forgotten to sign them, but this week I received a letter from someone who signed his name ... and forgot to write the letter!’