Oct 2008 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir – I am dismayed to find letters from readers who are eager to embrace the cuddly Lederhosen-clad Austrians, yearn for the Tyrolean mountains, and hunker after such delights as Sachertorte – all this, while survivors are still around. One correspondent praises the country for its laudable changes after only one week’s stay there and must be blissfully unaware that Jörg Haider is currently gaining support for a comeback.
I am amazed at the short memories of those who ought to know better. Austria has always maintained it was the victim of Nazi-German aggression yet they were its most enthusiastic supporters as well as some of the most odious war criminals, starting with Hitler himself. Austrians formed only about 5 per cent of the Reich’s population yet a vastly disproportionate number of the SS were Austrian by birth.
According to the historian Hans Marsalek, Reinhard Heydrich’s department divided the concentration camp system into categories of ascending severity. At the top, way above Auschwitz, were the vicious facilities of Mauthausen and Gusen, situated in densely populated areas of Austria and in full view of the locals, who simply didn’t care. To this hell were assigned the ‘severely charged, unreformable criminals and asocials’, like my poor, gentle father and three devoted brothers. It is also no coincidence that the cruellest SS and Gestapo sadists in my hometown in Poland were Viennese, as was the local camp commandant Zwierzyna, an Austrian with a Polish-sounding name.
I can only think that the difference in this willingness to promote everything Austrian - when it isn’t even solicited - lies between those who were happily ensconced in this country during the war and those who were unlucky enough to be trapped in Europe.
EMILIE LOUISE FLÖGE – ELF
Sir – Austria’s most famous fashion designer is probably better known as the companion, or muse, of Austria’s most famous painter, Gustav Klimt. In her time she rivalled Chanel, Dior and Schiaparelli for haute couture designs which adorned Vienna’s urban elite for over 30 years. Yet little is known about Emilie Louise Flöge – ELF (1874-1952). Had it not been for Klimt’s comparatively recent meteoric rise to become one of the world’s most prized painters, only the Austrian cognoscenti and students of fin-de-siècle Vienna would have known anything about her.
My hope is that one (or more!) of your readers may remember something about this remarkable woman, the dynamic force in the fashion house Schwestern Flöge, which she created with her two sisters in Vienna in 1904.
Located at Mariahilferstrasse 1b in the Casa Piccola building (now opposite the Mariahilf entrance to MuseumsQuartier), their clientele included Clarisse Rothschild, Serena Lederer, Sonja Knips and many more from Vienna’s haute bourgeoisie.
Schwestern Flöge flourished until the Anschluss. Emilie and her niece Helene Donner (née Klimt) moved to Ungargasse 39, Vienna, but spent most of the war years in Weissenbach, Attersee before returning in 1946 to Vienna, where Emilie died.
I have been researching ELF for a number of years. There are many unanswered questions about her relationships, business and personal alike. If any readers knew her, or know someone who did, please contact me.
Sir – I refer to Paul Samet’s article in the August issue on Josefine Mutzenbacher: The Autobiography of a Viennese Prostitute as Told by Herself. Viewed at its lowest level, this book is a piece of unadulterated paedophilic pornography.
My attention was first drawn to the book some four years ago by an enthusiastic article in the Kurier in Vienna and I got a hard-back copy direct from bol.de in Germany.
The author of the book, Felix Salten, moved in the same circles as Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, all of whom had some interest in pre-pubescent sexuality. At a higher level, the publication could well be regarded as a treatise on the subject and a serious study of this behaviour in children and its effect on adults. Freud in particular describes a number of observations in this context which helped him understand the results of his regression therapy.
What is it about Austrians? Freud and Salten were Jewish, but the others and those in the more recent bits of Austrian notoriety (Priklopil and Fritzl) were not.
SHYLOCK A MAN OF PRINCIPLE
Sir – I was particularly struck by Anthony Grenville’s comments on The Merchant of Venice (September). I read the play with classes several times while I was an English teacher in a local grammar school. Once, the parents of a Jewish girl in the class objected strongly and wanted the play taken off the syllabus. The school reached an English compromise whereby I continued to teach it but the Jewish girl was excused the lessons on it.
Unlike Dr Grenville, I do not see an ‘irreducible core of villainy’ in Shylock. In fact, I sympathise with him. He hates the Christians, as well he might. He makes his living charging interest on loans and sees nothing wrong in this, any more than modern bankers do. He sees a way of revenging himself when he strikes a bargain with Antonio. Antonio doesn’t take the bond seriously, but Shylock does because he is a man of principle. He follows the law – to the letter. Shakespeare depicts him as a just man, but brings on Portia to say that justice should be tempered with mercy. ‘Mercy’ is what the play is about. I am not Jewish, though my husband was. Maybe this is why I see the play differently.
Sir – As a side comment to Eric Saunders’s remark (May) that he does not recall certain anti-Jewish hate slogans, I certainly do, having arrived in London as a ten-year-old with the Kindertransport. This is what they shouted:
Heil Schussnig, unser Führer
Das Volk wird immer dürrer
Die Juden immer fetter
Heil Hitler unser Retter.
SECOND GENERATION TV PROGRAMME ‘NEGATIVE’
Sir - Like Sue Rutherford (August, Letters), I found the recent BBC4 programme on the second generation very negative. My parents fled Vienna just before the war broke out after a very difficult time. My maternal grandparents fled to Palestine and my mother never saw her father again and her mother only once. As for my father, his parents and siblings perished in Poland. Yet neither of my parents was traumatised. They gave me a huge amount of love and affection. They certainly did not - unlike some of the participants in the programme - speak of not feeling at home here: they always spoke of their gratitude at being allowed to enter the safety of this country and how good people had been to them. No men were interviewed in this programme - I wonder what this signifies.
THE BRITAIN WE LIVE IN
Sir - I didn’t much care for Roman Licht’s grudging remark ‘Yes, Britain fought quite well against the Germans ...’ (August, Letters).
With the bulk of Continental Europe in German hands, we fought on alone, at the same time keeping up the spirits of those living under German occupation. The superhuman efforts of those involved in the Battle of Britain (airmen and planners alike) stopped Hitler from his invasion plans. Our brave seamen and airmen prevented the Germans from seizing Malta by supplying her through the convoys which were under constant attack and suffered heavy losses. My husband was torpedoed in the course of such a convoy, but miraculously survived. As if we did not have enough on our plates, we helped Russia by supplying her via the North Atlantic convoys!
Among other things, the country’s ‘brains’ broke the German secret codes and devised radar, all of which helped us to beat a formidable enemy. Throughout these difficult times the people of this country pulled together and, what’s more, never lost their sense of humour. The attitude of the British government towards the problem of Palestine cannot detract from the fact that democracy was kept alive in this tiny island through superhuman efforts - even before the Americans came to help us.
ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS
Sir – Despite my age of 82, I am not in my dotage and am still able to tell an apple from a pear (September, Letters), unlike your correspondents K. G. Speyer, Heinz Grünwald and the ‘brave’ Inge Trott, who cannot see that common-or-garden anti-Semitism, while still not salonfähig, has progressed in some circles into its new manifestation of Israel-bashing.
Over the centuries, anti-Semitism has changed from the religious to the political to racial discrimination and, in all its previous forms, some Jews have supported our detractors – nothing has basically changed.
Sir - One does not have to look at events in the immediate postwar period regarding population shifts in Europe as referred to by Henry Schragenheim (September). It is happening before our very eyes - except that the media chooses to ignore it - in South Ossetia/Abkhazia, courtesy of the Russian occupation. And that is the vital difference: the Western media is given full access to every place in Israel /West Bank and relishes its role as so-called protector of the Arab population (aided and abetted by some of your readers, who regard themselves as liberals). The UN as ever is not to be seen - it is too busy condemning Israel for its alleged offences, most of which are trumped-up/ stage-managed.
Sir – Henry Schragenheim hit the nail on the head with his common sense and factual comments.
When I took part in a documentary for German TV, the German director also said he could not understand the constant talk about Israel’s occupied territories. His family came from a part of Germany which was now Poland. In his opinion, the aggressors had to take the consequences.
If Inge Trott was not so blindly against Israel but prepared to see the faults on both sides and the history leading up to this situation, there would be room for discussion. But one has to be prepared to be even-handed.
Sir – Coming from Vienna and having been at Oxford in the early Fifties, I realise that these two facts are not in themselves a guarantee against spreading the right-wing claptrap that is now all the rage. Nor do I need to prove my Zionist credentials, having spent two years in Israel by choice. Nor am I a member of Jews for a Just Peace or Alternative Jewish Voices.
The present label for those who take exception to a particular failure by the state of Israel to observe its own laws is, according to Peter Phillips (August issue), ‘Jewish anti-Semite’. Fifteen years ago, it was ‘Oslo criminal’, a favourite epithet of the right.
Is one a Jewish anti-Semite for denouncing the Israeli army’s prevention of 250 Peace Now supporters from visiting Hebron and failing to prevent attacks on them by Hebron settlers? For applauding the actions of Israeli Human Rights organisation B’Tselem in supplying cameras to Arab farmers in the West Bank so they can take pictures of settlers beating them? For drawing attention to the attempts by Professor Friedmann, Israeli Minister of Justice, to emasculate the Israeli Supreme Court in its efforts to maintain human and civil rights in Israel and the Territories?
Hillel said: ‘Do not do unto others what you would not like others to do unto you.’ If that means being branded a Jewish anti-Semite, so be it.
Sir - I was more than a little surprised to read Peter Phillips’s attack on those who criticise the activities of the Israeli state and the IDF regarding its treatment of the Arab residents of the West Bank. As a son of a refugee who escaped from Hitler’s Germany to this country, it is clear that one of the prime differences between the two countries is that, in Germany, attacking the government in any way was an extremely dangerous activity. In the UK, one has only to pick up a paper any day of the week to read attacks on the government and the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s called a democracy. As for suggesting that the Israeli state does nothing that deserves criticism, one of my Israeli cousins has been helping poor West Bank villagers for many years.
Sir – We are aware of Israel’s achievements in a wide range of fields. However, it took a wrong turn after the Six-Day War in its policy of establishing settlements beyond the ‘Green Line’. Peter Phillips’s response - and sadly so much of the Israeli response - to the Palestinian uprising is: (a) We’ve got to defend ourselves; (b) Much of the world is against us; (c) We haven’t got anybody to talk to – the Palestinians have only themselves to blame for the mess they’re in. Mr Phillips and I seem to live in different worlds despite our Austrian origins.
Sir – As a signatory to Jews for Justice to Palestinians, I reject Rubin Katz’s allegation (July) that we ‘espouse the Palestinian cause at the expense of Israel.’ We agree with PM Olmert (Ha’Aretz, 29 November 2007) that a failure of the present peace talks will ultimately result in a one-state solution with Jews being in the minority.
The extension of the illegal settlements, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the building of the illegal wall in occupied territory, the increase of checkpoints preventing the movement of people from village to village – all these make a two-state solution increasingly difficult. If those who criticise us want the state of Israel to continue, they should join us instead of continuing their doctrinaire support of the government of Israel come what may.
Sir – Will you please reduce the publication of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel letters by the same people
Sir – Victor Ross (July) brings back memories of the cosh – exactly as he describes it – and a revolver (and a horse!), which my father brought back from the First World War. My mother wanted to get rid of these items in case our house was searched. We wrapped it all in a newspaper, took it to the River Weser and dropped it in the deepest part of the river, where no doubt it lies today.