Extracts from the May 2013 Journal

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the Kindertransports

It is 25 years since the first reunion of former Kindertransportees was held in 1988, to mark the 50th anniversary of the initiative that brought nearly 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied territories to safety in Britain between December 1938 and the outbreak of war in September 1939. It is a pleasure to report that the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the children is to be celebrated in June, with a series of events including the Kindertransport reunion itself, a reception to be hosted by Prince Charles and a symposium to be held at the German Historical Institute London.
The Kindertransports have also continued to attract the attention of scholars, as two recent important books on the subject attest. The first is a volume of essays entitled The Kindertransport to Britain 1938/39: New Perspectives, published by Rodopi (Amsterdam) in 2012 as volume 13 of the Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies and edited by Andrea Hammel and Bea Lewkowicz (259 pp., €56). It consists of an introduction and 17 articles by scholars and others with special expertise in the field. Foremost among these are articles by those who came as children themselves: Hermann Hirschberger, a past chairman of AJR-KT, Ruth Barnett and Leslie Baruch Brent. Both editors also contributed articles, and I wrote the opening overview of the subject.
The other articles range widely over many aspects of the Kindertransports, some of them little known, like Jennifer Craig-Norton’s piece on the Polish children who came in three transports on the packet steamer Warszawa from Gdingen (Gdynia), Frances Williams’s on the further emigration of Kindertransport children initially resident in Scotland, and two articles on Kindertransport children in Australia and New Zealand. Professor Edward Timms, founder of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex, contributes a comparative study of Kindertransportees and British children evacuated during wartime, while Nicholas Winton, famous as the saviour of children from Czechoslovakia, is the subject of an article by Jana Burešová. Several articles are devoted to the depiction of Kindertransport children in works of literature, including two on Lore Segal’s Other People’s Houses, which has become something of a classic in its genre, and an impressive analysis of W. G. Sebald’s (unacknowledged) use in his fictional prose work Austerlitz of the memoirs of a real Kindertransportee, Susi Bechhöfer.
Caroline Sharples’s article on the Kindertransports in British historical memory is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, intended as a corrective to the self-congratulatory narrative with which the British now celebrate the Kindertransports and as a reminder of the darker aspects of the children’s experiences, often ignored in public discourse. The article by Cordula Lissner and Ursula Reuter presents a project intended to memorialise the children of the Jawne School in Cologne, about 130 of whom were brought to Britain before September 1939, while those who remained behind were deported in 1942, as was their inspirational headmaster, Dr Erich Klibansky. Bea Lewkowicz reports on the interviews with former Kindertransportees in the AJR’s Refugee Voices filmed interviews collection. Last but far from least, Hermann Hirschberger presents the findings of the survey Making New Lives in Britain, compiled from over 1,000 responses to a questionnaire sent to former Kindertransportees by Bertha Leverton, Ronald Channing and Hirschberger, and forming a valuable new source of detailed information.
Never Look Back: The Jewish Refugee Children in Great Britain, 1938-1945 by Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz (286 pp., $39.95), published in 2012 by Purdue University Press (West Lafayette, Indiana), is an updated version of an MA thesis written some 30 years earlier. The book is in many ways an impressive piece of thorough historical research and a painstaking reconstruction of the process by which the Kindertransport initiative came into being, of the organisational arrangements made for the children arriving in Britain, the machinery set up to cater for their needs (with varying degrees of success) and its functioning in wartime Britain. The book consists of ten chapters, divided into two parts, the first taking the story up to September 1939 and the second covering the wartime years, with a final chapter, ‘Epilogue and Memory’, devoted to the post-war decades.
Baumel-Schwartz begins by outlining the pre-history of the Kindertransports, ably illuminating for her readers the complexities of the process by which organisations were set up by Anglo-Jewry to assist the Jewish refugees seeking to escape from Nazi Germany to Britain. One of the qualities of the book is the author’s willingness to engage with the bureaucratic development of bodies like these, which tends to create friction within the organisations internally and between them externally. She is also concerned to analyse the motives and qualities that caused individual British people, Jews and non-Jews, to become helpers, taking on the often unpopular task of creating the organisational framework that enabled the refugees to enter Britain and, once admitted, provided them with the basic necessities of life.
It is gratifying to see recognition accorded to figures like Dorothy Hardisty, the remarkable but largely forgotten woman who in 1939 took over the key position of Executive Director of the Refugee Children’s Movement, the most important of the organisations set up to cater for the needs of the Kindertransport children. While acknowledging the exceptional contribution made by the Quakers to the reception of the children, Baumel-Schwartz devotes much of this section of her book to the Jewish helpers and the organisations they founded. She investigates the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council and the role played in it by the charismatic but divisive Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, demonstrating a confident command of the specifically Jewish issues at stake.
The emphasis on such issues is also to the fore in her chapter on Youth Aliyah, which takes in such centres as Gwrych Castle in North Wales and Whittingehame House in Scotland, where Jewish children underwent agricultural training so that they could emigrate to Palestine and contribute to the productive capacity of the nascent Jewish state. Of the three chapters that deal with the wartime years, one covers the evacuation of children from British cities and one the internment of ‘enemy aliens’, while one is given over to the question of the appointment of an official guardian for those children whose parents had perished in Nazi-occupied Europe. Baumel-Schwartz is highly critical of the appointment of a non-Jew, Lord Gorell, to this position; she regards this as a key defeat in ‘the battle for the souls of the Jewish refugee children in Great Britain’, caused by what she sees as pervasive British xenophobia and the failure of Anglo-Jewry to commit itself fully to the spiritual care of the children.
Missing here is any detailed account of the children’s daily life in wartime Britain, during the Blitz, participating in the war effort or as members of HM forces. I have shown in my history of the Jewish refugees from Nazism in Britain that the war was a major factor in integrating the refugees generally into British society; that, however, sits uneasily with Baumel-Schwartz’s view, as she would probably regard the very notion of a successful integration of Jewish refugees into British society as a contradiction in terms. Her evident distaste for Britain and the manner in which it received the refugee children may have contributed to her failure to research conditions in Britain as fully as one might like. To take just one example, she states repeatedly that British children were evacuated in September 1939 from urban centres to ‘the Midlands’, when the cities of the Midlands were, in fact, one of the principal areas from which children were removed. As anyone familiar with the history of wartime Britain knows, the Midlands were heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe: on 14 November 1940, Coventry suffered the best-known air raid on any British city outside London.
Baumel-Schwartz does not always seem familiar with the development of the community of the Jewish refugees from the German-speaking lands in Britain once they had settled here, perhaps because in this area she relies heavily on former Kindertransportees now resident in Israel and less on the far greater number who remained in Britain. How many of the latter would agree with the judgment that their ‘experience as recipients of His Majesty’s beneficence was “strange” and “sordid”, even if it did enable their survival’? Or that ‘large numbers of children developed pleasant but superficial relationships with their British contemporaries, which never [!] deepened into friendship’, a claim flatly contradicted by numerous interviews and memoirs?
Any scholar seeking to understand the Jewish refugees in Britain needs to have studied the AJR, their representative organisation since 1941, and its monthly journal, by far the best source of information about them. Baumel-Schwartz seems unaware of the journal’s existence, while her only substantive comment on the AJR is the curious statement that the Reunion of Kindertransports (RoK) ‘was eventually coopted by the Association of Jewish Refugees’ – as if those Kindertransportees had not in the main been AJR members long before the RoK was established. Two stars out of three for this book.

Kindertransport 75th Anniversary

If you have not yet heard the wonderful news, it gives me great pleasure to inform you that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has kindly offered to host a Reception for the Kinder at St James’s Palace on Monday 24 June from 12 pm as part of our events to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Kindertransport. [more...]

Art notes (review)

He was 19 years old and about to launch himself in Paris. The year was 1901. The show was Ambroise Vollard’s summer exhibition and the young artist was Pablo Picasso. Shortly before leaving Madrid, he learned of the suicide of his friend, the poet Carlos Casagemas, in Montmartre. This tragedy would profoundly influence Picasso’s early work, known as the Blue Period, which features in the Courtauld Gallery’s current exhibition Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 (until 26 May). To create his 64 works for the Paris show, Picasso worked intensely, sometimes completing three canvases a day with a vitality which proves his scope and imagination.
The surreal painting of Casagemas’s funeral – dark, weeping figures below, cavorting nudes above – was his provocative, yet subtle hallmark. Ever a lover of women, Picasso was also sensitive to their plight. His visit to the Saint Lazare women’s prison generated a painting of a gaunt mother with her children, eloquent of refugees in today’s media. In fact, loneliness and despair are surprisingly accentuated by the colour and energy of these early works.
In Seated Harlequin the contemplative figure in blue with long, white hands carries an aura of private grief, while in Harlequin and Companion two seated people are together and yet separate; their nervous hands carry the story. There is great tenderness also in the sexual ambivalence of Child with a Dove, said to have sold for £80 million.
Picasso brought the joy and colour of Spain to Paris too. His Spanish Dancer appealed to the French appetite for the Carmen image and there are references to Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and Degas. It was the debut of a great artist ¬who brilliantly reinvented the work of the Impressionists. Yet it would never happen again. As new genres beckoned, Picasso was about to re-invent himself.
The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition (until 27 May) of some 150 vintage prints between 1916 and 1968 is the first to focus on Man Ray’s photographic portraits, many seen for the first time in the UK. His genius lies in his ability to illuminate the life of the subject beyond the face alone. Photographer to the literati and glitterati of his day, the Philadelphia-born surrealist counted Duchamp, Picasso and Giacometti among his friends and probably photographed every one of them.
Moving to Paris in 1921, he contributed to the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. There, with his lover Lee Miller, he developed the solarisation process, notable in his portraits of Lee, Elsa Schiaparelli, Irene Zurkinden and others. One portrait resembles a smudgy ink painting; another turns an artist’s model from a pre-Raphaelite pose into a blonde spinning top. There is an insouciant profile of Coco Chanel in her little black dress and jumble of pearls. The portraits are stylised and narrative. A study of the young Picasso shows him with slicked black hair and a brooding, matador face.
The Second World War prompted Man Ray’s return to America. But he became ‘serious’ when Hollywood got him. Formal poses become the currency of stardom and you feel an interesting artist has been curbed, gilded with their stardust rather than his own, resulting in lavish, but less exciting portraits of the stars. Returning in 1951 to Paris, where he remained until his death in 1976, he used experimental colour photography in his portraits of Juliette Gréco, Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve.
Model/ photographer Lee Miller stalked him to a Paris café to announce herself as his new assistant, and he photographs her majestic profile and shiny, short-cropped hair in flapper-girl style.

Difficult questions, no easy solutions

In an admirably accessible style, Music Wars considers the importance of music in wartime, tracing the rich and often complex tapestry of musical life during the period prior to and during the Second World War, focusing on Britain, Germany, occupied France, Russia and the USA. Patrick Bade makes an original contribution to the extent that he considers the way music was equally important to both sides as a power to evoke emotions and stir political sentiment and as an arena in which to manipulate identities. At times, his approach threatens to create a confusing moral maze, to relativise values by equating both sides, something the reader wants to resist. Yet it has the benefit to show up the complexity of the topic - that nothing is, as Bade later puts it, only ‘black and white’. The role of famous musicians and artists caught on the ‘wrong side’ was not always clear cut, any more than was the reason why certain performers were more ‘stained’ as a result of collaboration than others. For instance, surveying ‘Defeated France’, the author notes that most musicians had to collaborate at some level with the Vichy government. Yet in his account of major French composers, he avoids discussing the details of Honegger’s and Poulenc’s ambivalent relationships with either Vichy or the resistance. However, he raises many important questions in his discussions about the complex issue of collaboration, in France as well as Italy and Germany, showing how in some cases it allowed some musicians to protect Jewish artists. [more...]

Obama and the Gordian Knot

The visit to Israel of US President Obama caused great excitement for a variety of reasons.
The first was: why had he come? Was it to reach an agreement regarding dealing with Iran’s steady progress towards a nuclear bomb or to exert pressure towards a solution of the Palestinian problem? Or perhaps simply to drum up support among American Jewry, which has been somewhat disenchanted with him of late? Opinions were divided, but the general consensus seems to have been ‘all of the above’, which, combined, could be defined as something of a Gordian Knot.
Then there was the question of his schedule during the three days of his visit, with all the attendant security and protocol issues. Who would get to meet the President in person, who would be invited to one of the official dinners, and who would simply sit in an auditorium and listen to him speak? Among politicians and leaders of various kinds there was a great deal of jockeying for pole positions, and for sure not everyone got satisfaction, but a fair number did. Even Israel’s recently-crowned beauty queen, who hails originally from Ethiopia, was at the President’s dinner, rubbing shoulders with chief rabbis, politicians, mayors and leading members of the artistic and literary fraternity.
But what most concerned the residents of Israel, and particularly those of Jerusalem, were the traffic arrangements and restrictions during the presidential visit, which one wit has defined as an ‘Obamination’. The main highway between Jerusalem and the airport just outside Tel Aviv was closed before, during and after the arrival of the President and Secretary of State John Kerry the previous day. Almost all the roads in certain parts of Jerusalem were closed throughout a good part of the visit, causing distress and discomfort to thousands of residents and harming local shops and businesses.
Because I live in a suburb situated just outside Jerusalem the only policy I could adopt was not to venture out of its confines between Obama’s arrival and his departure. Luckily, we are well equipped with shops, banks, supermarkets and all that one really needs to survive. Granted, we couldn’t have got to our subscription concert on Wednesday evening, but that was cancelled anyway, so all was well in that respect. I’d just like to point out that when we moved here over 20 years ago, there was not a single shop, bank or even ATM, and just one very tacky supermarket, which I have shunned ever since its rival opened.
The overwhelming impression Obama made was one of support for Israel, concern for its security, admiration for its achievements, respect for the Jewish and Zionist heritage, and warmth and affection for its leaders. In his speeches he tackled the various thorny issues that confront Israel today and, when he addressed a gathering of over 2,000 students, he encouraged them to put pressure on the leadership to attain a peaceful solution with the Palestinians, one that involves establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Obama stressed that this was the only way Israel could be certain of remaining Jewish and democratic. His words were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience, which consisted of young people from all ethnic groups in Israel, but excluded students attending the institution of higher education situated across the Green Line.
Obama’s speech made it all sound very simple. Would that it were so! Alexander the Great, who cut the Gordian Knot, thereby solving a problem which seemed intractable at the time, might have had a solution of another kind, but these are different times, and so problems cannot be solved with the stroke of a sword. Moreover, considering the results of the last elections and the composition of the present government, Obama’s efforts will probably have little effect. But it would seem that by addressing the students he is hoping for better results in the future.
And so are we all. [link]

Letters to the Editor

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