May 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
HELPING REFUGEE BOYS
Sir – I wish to reply to Dr Susan Cohen’s comments regarding my article on the Gloucester Association for Aiding Refugees (GAAR) and their efforts to help provide a hostel and apprenticeships for ten ‘Kinder’ boys. The ‘inaccuracy’ comes in my reference to the National Association for Women. This should read ‘National Council of Women’ (NCW), for which I apologise.
The purpose of the article was not to play down the role or importance of the latter, but to highlight the fact that many non-Jewish charitable and voluntary organisations pursued the common objective of helping Jewish boys who were difficult to foster. Twenty-three organisations were ready to support the initial ideas of Miss Hartland from the NCW to rescue the children, while the Reverend Henry Carter of the Lord Baldwin Fund came up with the important point that the boys would be a long-term ‘obligation’, requiring suitable funding and commitment. The latter meant giving the boys the opportunity to learn a trade when they were old enough to leave school.
There was a clear understanding from the start that the children could be the responsibility of GAAR for many years, which would require a joint effort by all who cared about the fate of refugee Jewish children. With the constraints of the article’s word limit, I was unable to include the details of all the organisations involved and their valuable contributions.
The University of Exeter puts a block on public access to PhD theses for a limited time period. However, the thesis does contain examples of other local efforts to save Jewish refugee lives, particularly teenagers, and how the latter, such as the noted Australian historian Frank Knopfelmacher, attempted to gain entry into Britain.
Sir - Any member interested in researching their German relatives since c 1870 will find it an almost impossible task as German privacy laws permit only direct descendants to research their records.
However, the Standesamt goes further in first providing wrong information - only after fees have been paid does it state that one must be a direct descendant. This happened to me some years ago. It was made clear from the beginning that I wished to research the brothers and sisters of one set of my great-grandparents. I was informed that as I was a descendant this was in order. Only after I had paid the money over was I advised that I had to be a direct descendant.
All attempts to obtain a refund of the fees, including, inter alia, writing to the mayor of Berlin, my MEP and the German embassy, met with a brick wall.
The sum involved was €90 and one would have thought that good customer relations would have dictated that this amount be promptly refunded to me. The result of this not happening is that the German authorities must have expended a sum considerably in excess of €90 in dealing with this matter - a brief count shows I wrote and received more than 50 emails and letters in all. In addition, I understand that my MEP wrote many emails to the relevant authorities, most of which remained unanswered.
When I told fellow specialist genealogy researchers and AJR members of my predicament, they said one should claim any name one was searching for was that of a grandparent but limit it to four names at one time. I wonder whether other AJR members have experienced similar problems.
CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
Sir - I refer to Stella Curzon’s letter ‘Conspiracy of silence’. I’m not convinced that very few people are aware of the Kitchener Camp. It has, in fact, been well publicised in Dr Helen Fry’s books, in particular The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens. Dr Fry has researched most thoroughly the history of Jewish refugees who joined the armed forces to fight against the Nazis, many of whom arrived at the Kitchener Camp, their first home in the UK.
Sir - My earlier short article on ‘Refugees in far-away places’ attracted some interesting correspondence. I am now in the last stages of writing an essay entitled ‘The pre-Anschluss Vienna School of Medicine’, which includes eight vignettes of medical luminaries: Ignaz Semmelweis, Theodor Billroth, Sigmund Freud, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, Karel Wenckebach, Karl Landsteiner, Otto Loewi and Robert Bárány. If any reader has knowledge of or reminiscences about any of the abovementioned, please contact me speedily at Brettargh.firstname.lastname@example.org
SO MUCH KINDNESS
Sir - Health problems mean I can’t any longer do as much book-dealing as I would like and I have therefore terminated my ‘Wanted to Buy - German and English Books’ ad in the Journal. I’m still happy to have referred to me the occasional enquiry you may receive from people with books to dispose of.
I feel privileged to have had through my ads in the Journal the opportunity to visit many AJR fellow members in their homes. So much kindness received, so many uplifting life stories heard!
WITH MY OWN PEOPLE
Sir - In the many letters that appear in your journal attacking me, I am often accused of not being Jewish enough. It is true that I am sceptical about many aspects of Orthodox Judaism. It is true that I am against faith schools. It is true that I believe that Jews should fully integrate into British society. It is also very true that I am aghast at the power the religious parties have in Israel. I support Israel strongly - but I want it to be a secular state and not the fundamentalist religious one it is in danger of becoming.
I therefore decided to go to Israel, with my wife, last February to see for myself how much change there has been since its birth. Sadly, the religious parties do seem to rule the roost. They are now trying to stop all public transport on Shabbat, even in Tel Aviv. The majority of Hasidim still do not do their military service and, oddly, those that do seem to get paid more than non-Hasidim. The militant settlers all seem to be ‘frummers’. Proportional representation has really not worked out: Netanyahu is in power because the religious parties backed him and not Tzipi Livni, even though her party beat Likud in the election.
There is no doubt that the ultra-Orthodox made me feel uncomfortable, but you know what? I liked Israel. I felt curiously at home there. I was with my own people.
TO ENGLAND VIA UGANDA
Sir – I read the article ‘To England via Uganda’ by Ilse Dokelman in the March issue and was disgusted to read the sentence ‘I had almost no contact with the black employees: one just didn’t befriend black people.’ This sentence has no place in your journal. All one has to do is substitute ‘Jewish’ for ‘black’ – how would we then feel?
It is also sad that the journal is entirely about German-speaking refugees from Hitler. What about all the Jews from the Arab lands who came here? They were also Jewish refugees and many of them have remarkable stories that could do with a wider airing.
THE WORLD HAS MOVED ON
Sir - Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life is a beautifully bound hardback biography. The scholarship, research and detail that inform the 560 pages are admirable.
Dickens’s novels also require many hours of concentration. They too are long, but life is short. What to read in the winter evenings before the ten o’clock news? The biography or the novel? The opening pages of Oliver Twist are seductive and the novel took over for a while.
In a rare criticism of Dickens, Claire Tomalin takes him to task over the character of Nancy, which she describes as the chief failure of the book, saying it is not a convincing portrayal of a prostitute. Dickens is accused here of creating a stereotype - but Fagin, described as a favourite character with readers, including Queen Victoria, is a stereotype too. Fagin is not the friendly old gentleman depicted in the musical Oliver dancing with the boys and singing ‘You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.’
In page after page of the book, Fagin is described as ‘the Jew’ or ‘the wily old Jew’:
‘[T]he hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth by night, in search of some rich offal for a meal.’
This stereotype of Jews was endemic in the Christian culture of the time, but the world has moved on. Might it have been apposite in a biography which dwells at length on Oliver Twist to have mentioned it?
THE JOINT AND JEWISH REFUGEES
Sir - Professor Miriam E. David wants to know how refugees from different parts of Europe managed to arrange their journeys to England. My parents and I arrived in Albania from Yugoslavia, where we had been on three-month tourist visas: after these expired in October 1938, we were expelled. None of the Western countries that now claim they then cared for the plight of us persecuted Jews was prepared to offer us visas. Albania was the only country to offer us asylum. When we arrived there with the equivalent of £50 my parents were extremely worried how we would survive. Fortunately, we were welcomed at the port by two Austrian refugees. They reassured us that there was already a group of Jewish refugees living in Durres supported by a subsistence allowance from the JOINT: their lives were not luxurious but they could survive, which was the most important thing.
We learned then that the JOINT supported refugees wherever they were living as long as there was a resident Jewish family prepared to act as recipient of the money received and account for it. Fortunately there was a Jewish shopkeeper in Durres who accepted this responsibility. Periodically, a JOINT representative (Mr Oriewitsh) visited us to check that we were alright. If any of us refugees managed to secure entry to one of the safe Western countries, the JOINT also paid our travel costs. When my mother obtained a domestic visa and I an apprentice visa for the UK in 1939, the JOINT provided us with the necessary travel money. Without the JOINT’s generous help, we would not have survived. I assume the same applies to many other Jewish refugees.
WAITING FOR THE GOOD BURGHERS OF LEEDS
Sir - In 1957 we were 750 refugees from the Hungarian uprising in a disused holiday camp in Skegness. Of these, three of us were Jews. In my very basic English I wrote a letter to the Chief Rabbi of England, addressing it only to ‘London’. Service by the Post Office was a lot better then as it was forwarded to the Leeds community. Eventually three men appeared at the camp and greeted us with great warmth. Promises were made to take us to Leeds very soon and attend to all our needs (these were rather large as we had only the clothes we wore wearing and, of course, no money).
One of us was a man of around 40, whose father had deposited the substantial sum of £5,000 in a London bank before the war. Without saying goodbye, he disappeared. He travelled to London somehow, managed to get his hands on the money, on more than one lady, and on a good supply of alcohol, according to some eyewitnesses. I came across him in 1961 in a Hungarian patisserie in Willesden (anybody remember Patisserie Virag?) and he appeared penniless. He discreetly told me he worked for Interpol. Presumably Interpol was not unionised and paid poorly. In the meantime, two of us refugees are still waiting for the good burghers of Leeds to fulfil their promises.
INTERESTING OBJECTS OF LONG AGO
Sir – I read with interest ‘A moving return to the city of my birth [Innsbruck]’ by Dorli Neale in a recent issue of the Journal, especially as parts of her life reminded me of mine. I too possess photographs as well as many other interesting objects of days long ago. These include Hebrew school books, drawings, childish letters and three albums. Two of the albums are from my sister’s early school days in Fürth (Germany), from a time when people there used to write in Gothic script, and one album she kindly handed down to me as she hadn’t used it. I, having reached the right age for it, passed it around at home and at school, first in Maribor, Slovenia, then in London, making it doubly interesting and intriguing to compare the different styles of writing in those two countries. A pity I can’t show it to a wider circle!
DEALING WITH JEWISH WAR VETERANS
Sir - In his review of a book on German-Jewish soldiers (February), Professor Leslie Baruch Brent states that even at the Wannsee conference (20 January 1942), ‘there were discussions on how to deal with the question of Jewish war veterans’.
But that question had already been settled. I have a list of 102 restrictions, orders and confiscations imposed on Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, with dates of their implementation. From 1 September 1941 Jews had already been ‘forbidden to wear medals, decorations and other insignia’ and the same would have applied everywhere else. My uncle Fritz had served in the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) and had been awarded an Iron Cross. After years of forced labour in Berlin he and his wife were sent to Auschwitz and death on 3 March 1943. The Nazis had thus decided to ignore the military service of German and Austrian Jews in the First World War, even that of decorated veterans.
Sir - If all Members of Parliament who speed repeatedly were caught, there wouldn’t even be a quorum in the House. This would save their salaries and their inflated expense accounts - and incidentally, we wouldn’t be burdened with any more contemptible laws.
If, however, all road users who transgress the Highway Code were caught, the roads would be free for buses, taxis and bicycles. The police would do what they used to do in days gone by. And who loves wardens? The car industry would fold up and Britain would rank as a Third World country, but we might escape being downgraded to AA status like the rest of Europe. We would be healthier though - a boon for the NHS, saving on doctors and nurses.
If, alternatively, all MPs who break the seventh commandment, who were exposed by certain hypocritical media, it would empty the House and the Members could follow unhindered Noah’s command to ‘go forth and multiply’.
If the corrupt bonus culture were abolished, and the multitude of bankers and others in the financial sector and elsewhere were paid by results, their numbers would shrink dramatically and the country’s debts would be cleared. Excessive salaries would be relegated to history and we would all be better off.
If the antiquated honours system were abolished, there would be no need to strip them later from unscrupulous scoundrels.