May 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS’ AND ‘REFUGEES’: IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION
Sir - I am glad Peter Phillips (April) raised the question of ‘who is a survivor’.
A ‘survivor’ is a member of a group targeted for extermination (in our case Jews) in any of the countries where Germans and their supporters were in power and who was still alive on the day of the liberation.
In other words, the word ‘survivor’ should be used strictly to describe people who ‘remained alive’ (see Oxford Dictionary) in spite of the Nazis’ aim to murder all the Jews they could get hold of, i.e. people who had not managed to flee to the safety of other countries but had survived in hiding places or concentration camps.
A ‘refugee’, on the other hand, is a person who, as the word implies, found ‘refuge’, i.e. escaped the imminent danger of being killed.
It goes without saying that the lives of those who managed to escape were not necessarily a bed of roses. However, unhappy and traumatised as no doubt most children and adults were, no one was in danger of their lives, whilst ‘survivors’ had death staring them in the face on a daily basis.
Sir – Holocaust survivors are those who personally experienced the Holocaust in ghettos, concentration camps or in hiding in occupied Europe and, despite constant danger of extermination, managed to stay alive.
Refugees and Kindertransportees do not fit the above category. They did not personally experience the constant danger to life. They escaped disaster before the extermination programme came into being in 1941. They took refuge in various countries before the outbreak of the war and thus were refugees – or, to be politically correct, asylum seekers. Holocaust survivors who came to the UK after the war were classed as immigrants and not asylum seekers.
Today, being a Holocaust survivor is more ‘fashionable’ than being termed a refugee – there is a huge demand on our time. Hence the refugees’ desire to jump on the bandwagon. There is actually a potential danger in their portraying themselves as ‘survivors’ as this can play into the hands of the Holocaust deniers, whose first question would be ‘Just how did you survive?’
Kindertransportees and refugees have a very important function - telling their unique stories of arrival in the UK having been deprived of their parents and having to adjust to life on their own in a strange country often under very difficult circumstances. But this must not be confused with Holocaust survivors’ stories, which are of a totally different nature.
Sir - Peter Philips's letter reminded me of a visit I made to the museum in Teresin which had been a school used to house 10-15-year-old boys. I realised this was the very place in which I would have been incarcerated as a 10-year-old in 1941 had it not been for my father’s courage and foresight in getting us out of Czechoslovakia just in time.
Am I a survivor? No, of course not - in the sense that I did not experience the horrors of the camps - but certainly in the sense that I managed to escape that fate.
I agree with Mr Phillips that Kindertransport children are entitled to the term ‘survivors’, but I would certainly not class myself in that category, having arrived on these shores with the benefit of my parents. We also owe our lives to sponsorship - that of the late Joe and Carmel Gilbert (of Hillel House and Wizo fame), who were related.
In addition to defining the words, some of your readers might like to suggest a suitable category for us which distinguishes ‘survivors’ from ‘refugees’. We were after all forcibly exiled and fled for our lives.
Sir - The generally accepted definition of a Holocaust survivor is: ‘Anyone who lived in Germany or German occupied or controlled lands between 1933 and 1945 and who was in the target group for extermination, but still alive shortly after the end of WWII is considered a Holocaust survivor.’ Explanation: 1933, because that is the year in which the Nazi Party started to control the German government; 1945 because it is the end of WWII; and ‘target group for extermination’ consists primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, of Jews and Gypsies. As such, it includes those in the above definition who were in camps (concentration, labour or extermination), those in hiding, those with false identification papers, and those who left Germany or the lands legally or illegally before or during the war.
Sir - Peter Phillips asks ‘Who are Holocaust survivors?’ The authoritative definition was given by Yad Vashem and reprinted in your journal in June 2009: ‘[A]ny Jew who lived under Nazi occupation during the war and who was still alive at the beginning of 1946.’ This excludes Mr Phillips - as it excludes me - because we left Austria or Germany shortly before the outbreak of war. I regard it as a sound and sensible definition.
Sir – Yad Vashem defines a survivor simply as one who spent the war years in Europe under the Nazis, irrespective of how he or she managed to survive. No one had it easy - this makes perfect sense to me. A ‘refugee’, on the other hand, is someone lucky enough to have found a haven in another country. Admittedly, had they not fled they would not have survived - which is some people’s simplistic idea of a survivor, although they didn’t experience the suffering or the ordeal of having to fight for survival.
Kindertransportees, however, are in a class of their own. They came here as children on their own and, in most cases, lost their parents, siblings and comfortable homes, and were, like all survivors, traumatised by their experiences. However, unlike survivors, their lives were not in danger and they never went in fear as Jews. They are therefore not survivors in the strict sense of the word but are now widely accepted as such - and rightly so.
As to who is a survivor, the line has to be drawn somewhere or one could, for instance, refer to oneself as a survivor simply because had one’s great-grandparents not left the Pale of Settlement in the nineteenth century, they would have perished with the others. One could take it even further. At the seder table, we are commanded to believe that had God not brought our forefathers out of Egypt we would not have survived as a people. We could take this argument even further still: every one of us can consider himself a survivor for who can deny that Jews are the world’s greatest survivors against all odds throughout their blood-soaked history?
Sir – Jews survived the Holocaust in many ways. But those who survived the concentration camps are the only Holocaust survivors.
HOLOCAUST AND OTHER GENOCIDES
Sir - I sense, and respect, the hurt and fear behind Rubin Katz’s response (March) to my February letter.
The Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’ was only part of their aim to ‘purify’ Aryan German blood by getting rid of all people with ‘inferior blood’. It was not only Jews who were murdered because they were Jews: half a million Gypsies were slaughtered because they were Gypsies and designated by the Nazis as having poisonous blood.
Katz and many others, Jews and non-Jews alike, have been traumatised by living through atrocities and in fear of further attacks. So it is not surprising that he misinterprets my aim to promote understanding of how all prejudice and racism - not only anti-Semitism - led to so many genocides in the twentieth century.
I believe the only way to achieve ‘community cohesion’ – in which no one lives in fear of their neighbours – is through bearing to be open to knowledge and dialogue about all atrocities against humanity, not only the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique but it may not remain so if we close our minds and deny other genocides.
That intelligent people like Martin Stern (also March) and many others deny that the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman ‘Young Turks’ was genocide illustrates the efficiency of Turkey’s drive to hide its shameful past. Politicians who sacrifice their integrity and humanity in the name of Realpolitik, and people who focus only on the Holocaust, are vulnerable to Turkey’s disinformation.
Stern seems unaware that Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’ in relation to the Ottoman genocide against Christian Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians under cover of the First World War, well before the Nazi genocide against Jews and others. It is also not generally known that the term ‘holocaust’ (Greek: wholly burnt, i.e. sacrifice by fire) was first applied to the torching by the Ottomans of an entire Armenian community locked in their church in the 1890s.
Yes, there were some Armenians who attempted to defend themselves, although most young Armenian men were conscripted into the Ottoman army in the First World War and shot. Not surprisingly, many Armenians fled to the Armenian community in Russia and some fought in the Russian army. This was hardly a reason to arrest all the Armenian intellectuals (potential leaders) on 24 April 1915 and decapitate them. This was immediately followed by the death march into the desert and the slaughter of all the women, children and elderly. Documentation of the planning and carrying out of this genocide, with eye-witness accounts, is held in the British government archives – yet Britain colludes with Turkey in its denial for reasons of Realpolitik.
Acknowledgement of genocide, followed by memorialisation and restitution, is a humanitarian issue that needs to be separated from political self-interest. Failure to do so creates impunity for future genocide. This becomes only too evident in the series of over 50 genocides in the twentieth century. German officers of the Austro-Hungarian army were involved in the Armenian genocide and hence able to tell Hitler how it had been done.
The pattern of stages in the development and carrying out of genocide is similar in all genocides. I suggest that Mr Stern might realise this from Greg Stanton’s information in the Genocide Watch website. He might also read the latest report on the Armenian genocide by Geoffrey Robertson QC.
As the philosopher Santayana warned, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ We have repeatedly allowed too many genocides out of ignorance, self-interest and cowardice.
Sir – My February letter concerning Maly Trostinec aroused considerable interest. Apart from letters subsequently published in the Journal, I have had telephone calls from others whose loved ones perished in that terrible place. Recently, I attended a Sheffield Continental Friends meeting and there too I found a lady whose close relative met a fate similar to that of my dear parents and sister.
On the last national Holocaust Day, I spoke to a meeting organised by Chelmsford City Council; in the morning, I participated in a combined church service in Saffron Walden. On both occasions, I mentioned Maly Trostinec. At Chelmsford, I also expressed my wish that one day I would be able to visit the site in order to recite Kaddish. Apparently an Anglian TV reporter was present and I later received a phone call asking if I would consent to the TV station accompanying me if ever I undertook such a trip. I’m not sure I would be fit enough to manage such a long trip, but I haven’t ruled this out altogether.
Sir - A few years ago I went to Maly Trostinec with my wife, as my mother, who came from Vienna, was transported there just after she gave birth to me at the end of 1941. Marianne Egtman (née Schlesinger), your correspondent from Denmark, should know that I said a few words at the memorial stone there.
Sir – My mother, Klara Herner, and brother Jiri were shipped to Maly Trostinec via ‘Transport Bn’ in September 1942 from the Theresienstadt ghetto. The Swiss Red Cross notified me on 16 December 1996.
TWEEDLEDEE V TWEEDLEDUM
Sir - Will the people vote for the one or the other, or will they exercise their democratic right and stay at home? Should they cast their vote for Tweedledee, the incumbent, or should they favour Tweedledum, the challenger? One could almost forget the third hopeful candidate who claimed a liberal £23,083, the maximum allowable under the MPs’ own rules. Not only the leaders, but their whole unscrupulous flock, sitting behind them - though they often barely form a quorum - quite legally helped themselves to our money. A hung Parliament? Would this be the punishment for its members’ evil deeds?
They all fiddled while Britons got browned off and while the country was tumbling into bankruptcy. In ‘the other place’, their peers are lording it as they smile all the way to their discredited banks. It beggars belief that any of the disgraced MPs would offer themselves for re-election. Surely this is democracy gone mad. Would you voluntarily give a blank cheque to a burglar who had taken your car and raided your bank account?
Had it not been for the DT letting the cat out of the bag, the culprits would be blissfully basking in their second homes in perpetuity. The next Parliament would embrace the renegade, recycled robbers and a conglomerate of alien cultures, which would not be very sympathetic to Jews or Israel. More of us would leave in droves except the sycophants, do-gooders, human rights activists and the politically correct cranks that thankfully represent only a minority. Can they not see how anti-Semitism pervades this country? Note the crocodile tears shed for the man responsible for killing Israelis. British hypocrisy knows no bounds. Building in Jerusalem is condemned. Did not God give eretz to His chosen people in perpetuity? On the other hand, who gave England any part of the globe or which righteous people condone fighting unlawful wars in faraway countries under false pretences? God only knows what they are doing in Northern Ireland.
None of us Kinder chose to come to this country. However, how many would choose it now? The country has changed beyond recognition. Of course, we will be forever grateful to it for saving our lives, as has been expressed repeatedly. Yet, if these matters are not aired, they would be buried in the mire of history. As thousands of new laws and regulations are proclaimed, scraping away at democracy, it is essential that not only opinions but facts receive the attention of the public – facts which are played out on the stage before our eyes! Where obscurity reigns, freedom vanishes. Let us hang on to what little is left!
Sir – The daughter of Henry Fair aka ‘Koodoo’, the organiser of the Woodcraft Folk, recalls how the organisation was involved in assisting Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and remembers meeting a number in their house in Wandsworth. Could former refugees who were helped by the Woodcraft Folk please contact me with their experiences of this organisation?
Sir - If you ever came across Captain Kendrick of the British Passport Office in Vienna, or he saved your family, could you please contact me? During the war, Kendrick headed CDSIC back in Britain. I am researching for a book on this subject.