May 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY ‘A GRAVE MISTAKE’
Sir - I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read Peter Simpson’s letter in your March issue urging readers to ignore Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) because, in his opinion, it is ‘a grave mistake’.
What impertinence! To think along these lines even in the privacy of his home is a disgrace, but to express such an opinion publicly is simply outrageous!
I was privileged to be invited by the Swedish Prime Minister to the Forum on the Holocaust in Stockholm in 2000 where HMD was inaugurated and was unanimously accepted by the 46 heads of state present. All these nations pledged to adopt the concept of commemoration each 27 January, the day on which Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces. Auschwitz has thus become the symbol of the evil of the Shoah.
Since then, huge strides have been made in Holocaust education and HMD is a crucial element as it enables communities to come together to reflect, remember and, above all, to learn. And learn they certainly do - and not only in a superficial way, as Peter Simpson seems to imply.
Here in the UK, most city councils, schools, colleges and civic authorities, including the Mayor of London as well as the government, now hold events on that day. Many schools devote whole days to workshops and seminars in preparation of HMD, and survivors like myself devote much time and energy to travelling the length and breath of the country to carry out projects in thousands of schools.
A little knowledge is indeed dangerous and perhaps Peter Simpson should take the trouble to attend some of our seminars in order to learn more before expressing his radical views on the subject. No one objects to Israel holding Yom Hashoah on their chosen date, but please don’t impose your views on the rest of the world.
Sir - Peter Simpson suggests we ignore Holocaust Memorial Day as we have Yom Hashoah. These are not alternative commemorations from which one can choose - they serve very different purposes.
HMD was instituted in 2001 as the national commemoration of not only the Nazi genocide, but - in contrast with Yom Hashoah - also of other mass killings since then, such as in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur. It also seeks to counter not only anti-Semitism and racism, but also prejudice and discrimination on the basis of gender, disability and sexuality.
As victims of the most terrible genocide and longest-lasting persecution, Jews have a special responsibility to publicise to the country their own personal testimonies and experiences and those of their family members as a warning of the dangers of intolerance.
The synagogues in Northwood, Kingston and Streatham deserve much praise for hosting annual HMD educational events with local schools, encouraging thousands of participating youngsters to examine their own personal values in the light of what they learn in these programmes. Likewise, many Jews contribute to the numerous local HMD events for the benefit of their communities, both on organising committees and as speakers. In so doing, they play a major role in promoting tolerance in our multi-faith society, and the ideal of peace in an often fractured society.
We Jews have the opportunity to commemorate the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah each 27th Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, as our own day of grieving and remembering the six million. We also have the anniversary of Kristallnacht on 9 November and Tisha B’Av on 9 Av. The four Yizkor recitations in the year (on Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot) also frequently recall the victims.
While HMD is an opportunity when we can contribute something precious to society, Yom Hashoah (and the other days) will remain our private time for remembering the Holocaust. The two days should continue to co-exist and complement each other.
Sir - As a ‘Winton child’, I was delighted to read Dr Grenville’s article in the April issue. I’m sure it will also please Nicky Winton because, as Dr Grenville says, he always acknowledges that the rescue mission was a team effort. However, I’m convinced that but for Winton most of us children would not have been saved.
Hopefully this article will stimulate your readers to write in about others who helped the rescue effort at the Czechoslovak end - never mind in Britain - and who have perhaps not been given the recognition they deserve. Two of them are Martin Blake, who was responsible for getting Winton involved in the first place, and Bill Barazetti, who was Doreen Warriner’s secretary in Prague and was asked by Winton to look after the Prague end in January 1939 until Trevor Chadwick arrived in March. Barazetti remained vitally involved until after the last train left in August l939. There is more about them in the book Dr Grenville mentions: Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation by Muriel Emanuel and Vera Gissing.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Matej Minac, the Slovak-Czech film director, who has produced three brilliant films related to the Winton rescue mission and has done more than any other individual to publicise this worldwide.
Finally, a few minor corrections. On page 2, bottom left paragraph, there are three mentions of l938, which should, I think, all be 1939. Winton left London for Prague just before Christmas 1938 and not in January 1939. According to Emanuel/Gissing, Doreen Warriner died in 1979 (the same year as Trevor Chadwick), not in 1972. Perhaps Dr Grenville put these in as deliberate mistakes to test how carefully we read his article!
Sir – I suppose you had a good reason for omitting the brave co-operation of Bill Barazetti. My sister, Liselotte Gumpel, Professor Emeritus of the University of Minnesota, was interviewed by the newspaper there, followed by an article about Sir Nicholas. It transpired that she was the only ‘Winton child’ in the area.
Liselotte was determined to explain that the rescue of her and her two sisters was due also to the altruistic gesture of a woman by the name of Miss Harder: had she not been prepared to take us into her humble home, we would not have survived. However, due to the preconceived ‘mode’ of the journalist, this was omitted.
Luckily, this good woman is mentioned in Sir Martin Gilbert’s booklet Beyond the Call of Duty.
Sir - Reading again in the Journal about the well-deserved recognition of Sir Nicholas Winton and his colleagues for the Czech Kindertransports makes me ask who, and what organisation, did the same for me and others from Germany, Berlin in particular?
I know nothing at all about these good people - except that the Quakers seem to have been involved - and have only a suspicion who my guarantor was. If this applies to a lot of other Kindertransportees, it would be nice to learn something on the subject in the Journal, even if those we should have thanked may now be long since dead.
My parents, who perished so miserably in 1943/44, are, of course, at the forefront as being responsible for my being alive and having had a satisfying family and working life.
I thought I would just point out what I believe are errors in a few dates in the article about Doreen Warriner, Trevor Chadwick and the ‘Winton children’. On page 2, paragraph beginning ‘The division between Warriner’s work to rescue adults’,
all the dates thereafter should read 1939 and not 1938. The children’s transports did not begin until January 1939. Nicholas Winton arrived in Prague in December 1938 and began his work from then. Trevor Chadwick returned to Britain in June 1939 - not 1938. I am almost certain I am right, but perhaps you could check this.
Another wonderful story! You keep uncovering all sorts of interesting aspects of what seems to have been thoroughly studied. Bravo!
Anthony Grenville: I must apologise for the wrong date, 1938, appearing in the ninth paragraph of my article. This should have read 1939, as in the rest of the article. The date given for Doreen Warriner’s death, however, is correct.
RESTITUTION IN AUSTRIA
Sir - The AJR is to be congratulated on arranging a colloquium on ‘Restitution in Austria Today’ in the magnificent surroundings of the Austrian Embassy. As I ascended the staircase and admired the profusion of paintings and artefacts, no doubt on loan from Austrian museums, I could not help wondering if any of them had once had Jewish owners.
Michael Newman gave a useful overview of the state of play in the restitution game, pulling no punches in describing Austria’s hard-won progression from victim to perpetrator.
Ambassador Brix, while pointing to progress made, was frank in admitting how much remained to be done. Ms. Webber, Co-chair of the Commission on Looted Art, gave specific instances of difficulties encountered by rightful owners, mitigating the bad news by reading her contribution at top speed in a conversational tone without regard to audibility or concession to the average age of the audience.
One was left with a strong impression of the different approaches to restitution adopted in Germany and Austria - the former a willing co-operator, the latter ‘going slow’ at every opportunity (as this writer knows only too well from personal experience).
It is to be hoped that if the AJR celebrates its 75th birthday in the same venue, there will be fewer claims outstanding, and microphones will be used or free hearing aids distributed among the dwindling number of survivors from this year’s audience.
ALBANIA AND THE HOLOCAUST
Sir - I read with great interest the letter from Zef Mazi, the Albanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, in your March issue. I was surprised that he did not mention that at the Holocaust commemoration on 27 January last at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Imam Maulana Shahid Raza of the Interfaith Forum presented the Albanian Ambassador with a Golden Interfaith Medallion. This was in recognition of Albania’s extraordinarily friendly inter-faith relations that motivated Muslim and Christian families to risk their own lives to provide shelter for Jewish refugees before and during the last war.
This Golden Medallion really belongs to the Albanian people and I expect the Ambassador will have it displayed in the Tirana museum where it belongs. I hope the AJR also will send a recognition to the Albanian people for having risked their own lives to shelter so many of our fellow Jewish refugees so that it too can be displayed in Tirana.
Albanians maintain their exemplary interfaith relations even now, when such relations are rare in many countries. For instance, there presently exists in Tirana an Association of Albanian Friends of Israel of which the chairman and a number of Muslims are members. I am pretty certain Albania is the only country where such an association exists.
WHERE WERE LONDON HOSTS?
Sir – A few weeks ago I went with my son to an AJR dinner to socialise with a group from AJR branches in Scotland and Northern England who were experiencing London for a week. It was a great evening, but where were the friendly London hosts? Apart from the organisers, there was no one I recognised from the London AJR groups, so there can’t have been many present. The big empty space at the back of Belsize Square Synagogue, where there could have been at least four more tables, said it all. No wonder they talk about Northerners being so much more friendly!
At the modest cost of £22 it was excellent value - a modest but very satisfying three-course dinner plus coffee/tea and a superb presentation by Sir Sydney Samuelson. Elsewhere you would probably pay £22 for the meal alone, whereas we were treated to a piece of exciting British film history by someone very special - who not only had us gripped by his ‘story’ but included fascinating film clips in his 90-minute presentation. What kept you all away, my friends?
SETTLING IN ISRAEL
Sir – John and Susan Fransman are leaving London to settle in Israel. Both were instrumental in founding the Child Survivors Association of Great Britain. As a member of that group, I want to say how grateful I am for their continuous hard work over many years and for their generous, selfless hospitality, warmth, energy and good humour.
Members of the Child Survivors’ Association of Great Britain met at the London Jewish Cultural Centre to say thank you and goodbye and paid warm tribute to John and Susan. We all wished them a happy future in Israel. They will be much missed. I am delighted that John has agreed to become our Honorary President.
GERMANS AND JEWISH REFUGEES
Sir - I hope someone can provide an answer to Tom Schrecker’s question (April) about the number of non-Jewish Germans in Nazi concentration camps. Meanwhile, the following statistics, taken from Peter Hoffmann’s massive History of German Resistance, may be useful: between 1933 and 1945, 12,000 Germans were condemned to death by ‘Special Courts’, 25,000 German soldiers were executed after courts martial, and 40,000 Germans were killed after condemnation by ‘regular justice’.
Sir - Alan Gill (March) asks ‘What if Britain had been occupied, at least
temporarily, by the Nazis? ... Would ordinary British policemen be willing
to participate in such an act? I like to think that young men ... would just
refuse point blank, whatever the consequences. On the other hand ... Am I
presenting a blinkered view?’
What happened in the Channel Islands, which were in fact occupied by the
Germans, does not make one too confident about how Jews, or at least Jewish
refugees from mainland Europe, would have been treated.
Sir - Re-reading last September’s issue of the Journal, I realise I overlooked an item which stirred tremendous memories in me - that of the paediatrician who was, as I left Vienna at 16, the only doctor I ever had.in Austria. I think I can answer the question at the end of Professor Shaw’s article about what happened to Dozent Lederer.
The links go back a long way. In 1913 my father, then a young widower with one sickly child not destined to live long, had the little boy looked after by the then young Dr Lederer, but without success. To show that he did not hold him responsible for the child’s death, when he remarried and had two small boys he called the same doctor in to look after my elder brother and myself. In 1926, aged seven and a half, my brother had a scalding accident and for nearly a month hovered between life and death. He had, I believe, one of the earliest blood transfusions, but survived (to the age of 84). In that month Dr Lederer worked himself to the bone to save the child and refused his fee, presumably in gratitude for the confidence my father had placed in him - twice.
A few years later my father caught chicken pox, which, at 48, was no joke. Our GP declined to treat him with the excuse that this was an illness only paediatricians knew anything about. Lederer argued that he had no experience of treating adults. I well remember the two medical men sitting at my father’s bedside, each more or less washing his hands of the patient. Were this to happen today, at least the two doctors wouldn’t be smoking across the patient in his bed!
In 1938 Dr Lederer took up an academic appointment in Baghdad but was clearly not happy. The Iraqi summer temperatures must have depressed him as well as the unexpectedly primitive medical facilities and general situation. At any rate, before the year was out, he took his own life. I don’t know what became of his wife, who was also a doctor but seemed to have had no share in his practice in Vienna.
THE LAST RENAISSANCE MAN
Sir – I have often wondered why there isn’t a blue plaque at the Knightsbridge house where Arthur Koestler spent his last years and where he and his wife committed suicide. His book Darkness at Noon alone would qualify for this, I believe. So many far less important and less deserving individuals have this honour, why not Koestler, who was rightly called the last ‘Renaissance man’?