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May 2010 Journal

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AJR Annual Report 2009

Highlights of the year
Last year was an exceptionally busy time for the AJR as we welcomed a record number of members to our regional group meetings and attended to an ever-increasing number of our members with urgent medical, social and welfare needs.

We also made great strides to promote our Holocaust educational and research projects, enabling the public, students and scholars to access materials and ground-breaking resources that will help create the legacy of the refugees and survivors who settled in Britain.

In January, our Continental Britons exhibition, created jointly with the Jewish Museum London, was on display at Burgh House in Hampstead and we were delighted that the well-known comic actor Andrew Sachs gave a welcoming speech on the opening night.

We were proud to launch our audio-visual testimony collection Refugee Voices at an event at the Wiener Library. We are delighted that this remarkable resource, running to more than 450 hours of filmed interviews, will be available at the Wiener and, following discussions, at the Universities of Leeds and Leicester and the German Historical Institute London. Members with access to the internet can read more about this project at www.refugeevoices.co.uk

Following months of dedicated work, we launched the Kindertransport survey ‘Making New Lives in Britain’. With first-hand material collected from more than 1,000 former Kinder and their families, the information gathered covers, for the first time, the Continental background, journey to Britain, reception and subsequent experiences and lives of the children of the Kindertransport. More details of this project are available on the AJR website. Special mention must be made of Hermann Hirschberger’s great effort in leading the team to produce the survey.

In a new initiative, we held our first Celebration of Volunteering event with a gathering at the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Janner of Braunstone. We are grateful to the actor George Layton, who read excerpts from his book about volunteering. Our dedicated volunteers were presented with certificates recognising the invaluable role they play.

We are also grateful to Edwina Currie, who hosted a magnificent summer regional get-together for 70 of our members at her home in Surrey in June. Her generosity and kindness are much appreciated.

We repeated our three-day visit to London, this time for members from the South of England, and were delighted to welcome Peter Suchet as our guest speaker at a dinner at the Belsize Square Synagogue. The visit included trips to the theatre and museums and a tour of the East End.

The Annual Tea was held at the Hilton in Watford in September. Once again, it was a great success, with 300 members attending a delightful afternoon. We were greatly entertained by Simon Butteriss, Deborah Crowe and Diana Franklin with music from the ensemble New World Operetta.

Personnel and membership
In our Social Services Department, Maxine Weber replaced Darren Aaron, who returned to his home town of Newcastle in October 2009.

At the end of 2009, AJR membership stood at 3,081, including 156 new members, of whom 48 were ‘second generation’. A total of 165 members passed away, 19 cancelled and 42 moved away or their subscriptions were unpaid.

Social and welfare services
Last year, members of staff achieved a higher level of professional social work practice with three members of the Social Services team achieving N.V.Q. Level 3.

As our members age, our social care workers are facing complex issues. Consequently, members of staff are required to make more detailed assessments to ensure that members receive appropriate services such as emotional support and financial help from available social security programmes. We are also experiencing a greater need for applications to the programmes administered by the Claims Conference.

We have developed a close working relationship with the Manchester Federation and, separately, the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board. We continue to maintain links with the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre and liaise with local authorities and other allied Holocaust survivor and refugee organisations. To improve staff development, we arrange training courses with partner organisations invited to make presentations.

Financial assistance
As the recipient and custodian of funds from the Claims Conference for Holocaust refugees and survivors living in the UK, the AJR is responsible for distributing grants, which for 2009 totalled a record of just over $3.1m. The funds are paid to clients of five charities and administered from our offices. In total, we have made some 1,700 grants for emergency purposes.

Additionally, during the year, 321 survivors and refugees (members of these five charities) received Homecare grants at a cost of £846,000. In total, 123,000 hours of care have been provided under this scheme, which helps us to maintain clients in their own homes for as long as possible.

Separately, through our Self Aid scheme, we are pleased to have made grants of £506,219 to 192 members with the greatest need.

Northern groups
In January, we launched the South Yorkshire and Midlands Memorial Book, which was on display at Coventry Cathedral and as part of the national Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in Coventry.

The Imperial War Museum in Manchester hosted a wonderful event for over 100 AJR members from the North when we presented AJR Holocaust Memorial Books (Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, South Yorkshire & The Midlands) to the Museum. The books will be used as part of the Museum’s educational programmes.

The AJR Northern groups’ visit to London in March was much enjoyed - especially the visit to the Houses of Parliament and the surprise invitation to 10 Downing Street.

The Northern groups continue to flourish with regular meetings - small Continental Friends meetings held in members’ homes in the outlying areas and the meetings with speakers in the main centres. We organised several outings to the theatre, interesting homes and gardens as well as a day out to St Annes-on-Sea to meet AJR members on holiday.

The annual AJR Northern Get-together was held in Leeds, where over 90 members met for a day of inter-active discussions and socialising. The lunchtime speaker was Anita Parmar from the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Members in Glasgow and Newcastle, now supported by the AJR’s Agnes Isaacs, also enjoyed a variety of outings and entertainment with visits to the Jewish Film Theatre and the Yiddish Song Project. We also organised a Viennese afternoon with Strauss and Schubert (together with Sachertorte and apple strudel) and ‘The Art of the Cantor’ with members treated to some of the best chazanot from around the world.

Speakers included Aubrey Pomerance from the Jewish Museum Berlin, Michael Tobias from Jewish Genealogy, and Edward Green, HM The Queen’s jeweller, at the Scotland Regional meeting.

Chanukah celebrations were held in Glasgow and Newcastle with entertainers (and latkes).

Southern groups
We established a monthly London group in Ealing, bringing the total of gatherings every month to 15, and a new Continental Friends group in Eastbourne in August.

We organised a number of events, including High Tea in Welwyn Garden City, with Peter Suchet as speaker in July, while outings included visits to Kew Gardens, Hatfield House, Rhinefield House (New Forest) and the Freud Museum. We also took groups to Kenwood House and the West Lodge Arboretum and on a special trip to visit the House of Lords.

Theatre outings were to the New End Theatre for American Song Book and Hello Dolly at Regents Park Open Air Theatre.

Some of the most successful events were the screenings of Churchill’s German Army, a documentary film featuring several AJR members who served in British forces during the war. Shown first in June at Alyth Gardens and then in October at Tunbridge Wells, we plan to show this film at other venues in the future.

Sadly, in November, having celebrated 15 years of South London bi-monthly meetings in Streatham, it was agreed that this venue was no longer viable for the aging participants. However, the Continental Friends meetings in Kingston upon Thames, Bromley and Dulwich have been gaining strength.

The groups’ successes are due not only to the dedication of our staff, but also to the support given by members and volunteers who help by lending their homes for meetings, finding speakers, helping with organising refreshments and generally looking out for each other’s well-being.

Last year, from across the country, more than two-thirds of our membership attended at least one regional group meeting.

Holidays
Members from Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Hull and London enjoyed a relaxing week in St Annes-on-Sea. As has become part of the programme, the holiday-makers were joined on one of the days by members from the Northern groups.

There was also the annual trip to Eastbourne in July, when members enjoyed a very full week with entertainment, trips to the theatre and outings to local places of interest.

In November, we organised a well-attended trip to Israel. The group was based in Jerusalem and participated in day trips, including floating in the Dead Sea, to the top of Masada (by cable car), and many interesting sites and museums. There was also time for members to meet up with family and friends.

Claims advice
We guided members with applications for the second and final payments from the Austrian General Settlement Fund as well as ongoing claims for the Claims Conference-operated Hardship and Article II Funds.

Following a court ruling in Germany, the AJR assisted with claims for survivors who worked in ghettos, with those eligible receiving as much as £45,000 in arrears awards.

Advice was also provided to some of the youngest Austrian Holocaust victims, who benefited from a new law enabling them to claim a pension from the Austrian government.

Volunteers
The Volunteers Department has benefited from an intern from the Action Reconciliation Services for Peace who started work with us in September for one year.

This has enabled the Department to launch a befriender service to our clients in the Manchester area, where we have worked very closely with the Manchester University Leadership Programme. It is through their good offices that we have successfully placed eight volunteers with AJR members. This is the Volunteer Department’s first initiative in the North of England and we are delighted at its success.

We also instigated, in London, a programme that matches 6th-formers from Jewish secondary schools with our clients who would like help using their home computers. This project has proved so popular that we now have a waiting list of clients.

The Department continues to find volunteers to help at the regional groups, Head Office and the AJR Centre as well as over 90 befrienders continuing to visit AJR members at home.

AJR Journal
The Journal featured as before articles of outstanding interest by regular contributors. Consulting Editor Dr Anthony Grenville wrote articles of predominantly historical content, art critic Gloria Tessler reviewed exhibitions of both general and special interest to members, and Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s ‘Letter from Israel’ contained insights on topical affairs from a Jerusalem standpoint. Humour (not normally a strong point of the Journal) tinged with nostalgia was provided mainly by occasional contributors Victor Ross and Edith Argy. Peter Phillips wrote a number of provocative articles on present-day dilemmas of British Jews.

Among regular features of the Journal were reviews of books, theatre, music and exhibitions as well as reports on AJR group activities.

Perhaps the most controversial section of the Journal remained the correspondence columns. As previously, the Israel-Arab conflict proved the most passionate area of discussion. Other subjects – for instance, the merits or otherwise of Orthodox and Reform/Liberal Jewry – were hotly debated.

Not without interest is the geographical location of the readership: one issue alone included letters from readers in Germany, Greece, Israel, Switzerland and Venezuela.

AJR Centre
The Centre continued to provide a welcoming setting for members to enjoy delicious kosher lunches as well as a range of entertainment and activities. Alongside the monthly Luncheon Club and Kindertransport lunches, we introduced a monthly film matinée and arranged farewell lunches for Bertha Leverton before her emigration to Israel and for Katia Gould’s 90th birthday.

Members from across the country enjoyed lunch at the Centre as part of the visit to London in March and the Centre prepared the refreshments at Belsize Square Synagogue as part of the AJR’s commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Centre held coffee mornings before the trips to Israel, St Annes-on-Sea and Eastbourne. Rabbi Steven Katz led our Model Seder and both the Kinder and Chanukah parties were over-subscribed.

With many members increasingly unable to cook for themselves, the Centre continues to arrange for Meals-on-Wheels deliveries in the London area and take-away meals. These vital services reflect our Homecare programme of ensuring that our members’ lives at home are as comfortable as possible.

Kindertransport
At the start of the year, we were still receiving congratulatory letters following the Kinderstransport Celebration at the Jews’ Free School the previous November.

With the unveiling of a statue in Gdansk, there are now permanent commemorations of the Kindertransport in Britain, Austria, Germany and Poland.

The outcome of the survey has proved a great success and the Kindertransport continues to be active with numerous social events and lunches. Following Bertha Leverton’s emigration to Israel, Bernd Koschland took over as editor of the Newsletter.

Child Survivors Association
The CSA, which became a special interest group of the AJR in 2007, looks after the interests of the child survivors of the Holocaust. With affiliation to the AJR, CSA membership has increased in recent years.

Alongside a programme of social gatherings and guest speakers, the summer strawberry tea was very well attended, as was the splendid Chanukah lunch.

Zachor, the book containing episodes of several members’ experiences during the Second World War, continues to be very well received and is due to be expanded.

The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors Conference took place near Boston, and the European Association of Survivors Conference in Warsaw, with the CSA represented at both.

Jewish Refugees Committee
The microfilmed archive of the Jewish Refugees Committee (JRC), housed at AJR Head Office, has proved to be a logical extension of our work.

The JRC archive receives enquiries from individuals keen to trace family and friends, from German/Austrian pension authorities wishing to confirm a former immigrant’s status, from university researchers working on PhD theses, and from organisations tracking down the owners of looted art. On many occasions, there is a link between the AJR database and the refugees named on the JRC files.

Grants
The AJR Charitable Trust (AJRCT) continued its support of the AJR Holocaust Memorial Books with a grant towards the production of the Scotland Memorial Book – the sixth in the series – launched to commemorate Yom Hashoah in Glasgow.

Among other projects, the AJRCT gave a grant towards the recently reopened Jewish Museum London, the Jewish Film Festival and the King Solomon School, to support their programme of educational trips to Poland.

Conclusion
Our members continue to astound us with their zest for life and demands for an ever-increasing programme of events and activities. While we are sadly losing many of our members, we are continuously finding and assisting many former refugees and survivors, some of whom have, surprisingly, never previously heard about the AJR. With members’ needs changing, our professional staff continue to help to ensure that they can enjoy a more comfortable life.
 

Andrew Kaufman

previous article:Friends of the ‘enemy aliens’
next article:Art Notes (review)