Sep 2008 Journal
Letters to the Editor
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
Sir – In response to Anthony Grenville’s article, based on my book Dealing with Satan: Rezső Kasztner’s Daring Rescue Mission (Jonathan Cape, London 2008), Susan Pollack (August) calls Kasztner’s rescue of some 1,600 Hungarian Jews from the Nazis a ‘remarkable achievement’, but adds that ‘further factual recounting of that period is necessary for evaluating the difficult tasks facing the Jewish Council and others.’
The question of what the Jews of Hungary knew about Auschwitz and why Kasztner did not publicise the Vrba-Wetzler report is too complex to be answered in a few lines. I discuss it at length in my book and have no intention of discussing it here. I must, however, take issue with Mrs Pollack’s allegation that ‘Some 1,600 Jews paid Eichmann for their lives and liberty . . . Mr Löb and others were in a position to do so as well as Mr Kastner’s [Kasztner’s] family and were allowed to escape the fate of the other 435,000 victims.’ Mrs Pollack is entitled to her opinions, but this is simply untrue and potentially harmful.
Mrs Pollack cites Anna Porter’s book on Kasztner, published in Canada a few months before mine and in the UK shortly after. Both my book and Porter’s explain that most of the ransom paid for the group as a whole was provided by about 150 wealthy individuals. In addition, my book makes it clear that my father and I were among the majority who had no money and did not pay for their rescue. Mrs Pollack’s failure to follow her own advice about the proper study of the facts is bound to cast doubt on her evaluation of Kasztner or of anything else.
AUSTRIA AND AUSTRIANS REVISITED
Sir - As a refugee from Austria fortunate enough to leave Vienna in July 1938, albeit on an odyssey that took me to Yugoslavia and Albania then via Germany to England in April 1939, I have had good reason to hate Austria and its people for the way they joined Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. I thus read with great interest Anthony Grenville’s July article ‘Reflections on Austria’. He eloquently describes how Austria continued after the last war to perpetuate the myth of having been the ‘first victim of Nazi aggression’, which had its roots in an Allied declaration. Dr Grenville states that it was only in 1991, with the Chancellor’s formal statement acknowledging Austria’s share in the Nazi atrocities, that Austria began to make amends for its evil deeds. However, this is not entirely true: there were earlier signs of atonement.
The Austrian government introduced soon after the war a generous pension scheme for Jewish refugees which counted as if we had contributed over the war years and thereby boosted our pension entitlement, which I personally much appreciate.
Also, Austria’s Central European location made the country a safe haven for asylum-seekers. Austria accepted in the 1970s about 250,000 refugees, most of them Jews, from Eastern Europe. These refugees were accommodated in large camps while assisting their emigration to Israel, America and elsewhere; many of the Jewish refugees settled in Austria and obtained citizenship.
Even when Austria still denied its Nazi complicity, the government was prepared to offer Jews in need a helping hand. The back-to-Vienna reports highlight the change that has occurred in Austria in the past 20 years. One of my friends who also returned to Vienna last May told me she had never been comfortable on previous visits to Vienna because of the memories that haunted her. ‘However,’ she added, ‘given what I have seen and heard during this week in Austria, my feelings have changed. It convinced me that among Austria’s young generations there is now a sincere mood of regret and a strong wish to make atonement. I personally believe that I experienced a catharsis of emotions during that week.’ Austria now deserves our recognition of these laudable changes.
Sir – Dr Anthony Grenville’s excellent article was most interesting. I agree with all he says about the Austrians. I had to leave in 1934 and have lived in London since 1935. I am concerned that Austro-Fascism should not be forgotten. Parliament was dissolved, trade unions were forbidden and their leaders imprisoned. There was a civil war with about 2,000 dead.
Still, there are mitigating aspects about the Austrians. I respect a small country which took in a great number of refugees after the ‘Prague Spring’ and the Soviet invasion as well as after the Hungarian uprising. Furthermore, I love the mountains in Austria – and the food.
Sir – I wonder how many of your correspondents giving almost euphoric accounts of their visits to Vienna walked along the Path of Remembrance in the old Jewish quarter of Leopoldstadt and looked at the former home of Alfred Adler. A plaque commemorates the fact that from this house 70 people were deported and only six survived. On the other side of the street stands a car service station advertising its speciality: ‘Vergaser’. Enough said?
Sir – I am not a German- or Austrian-Jewish refugee but I have childhood memories of Vienna I would like to share. I was deported to Auschwitz from Hungary in 1944. The camp was chock full at that time and the cattle wagons were sent to Austria. After a long journey we got out of the cattle wagons in Strasshoff, Austria. There was a selection camp: the able-bodied were selected for slave labour.
My family and several others were taken to Vienna’s 21st district, Floridsdorf. We were placed in a large building - apparently a disused school. The floor of the classrooms was covered with straw. We were issued with army blankets and wooden clogs.
Every morning at day break the grown-ups left with SS guards to work in factories in Vienna. Every sunset we children were marched on to the streets of Vienna with our SS guards and forced to scrub the pavements. We cleared snow from pavements in winter and broken masonry after air raids.
Several times we noticed a woman - a tramp look-alike - on those streets. Covered in a thick shawl and carrying a wicker basket, she tried to signal to us when the SS guard wasn’t looking. She placed the basket on the edge of a window of a house we were passing and disappeared. One of us always managed to steal the contents of the basket - delicious sandwiches and hot drinks. I don’t know who this woman was. She was certainly risking her life by helping us starving, freezing children.
Sir – I too have a mixed attitude to Austria. Shortly before my departure to England in September 1938, I was walking in central Vienna on an important errand. I knew of the danger of being stopped and having to scrub the pavement. And I was stopped - by an SS man in black uniform. He asked why I wasn’t wearing a swastika. I told him I was a Jew. He asked me to follow him. He led the way to a nearby house and opened the door to a room which was totally bare except for a bucket of water, a scrubbing brush and (thoughtfully) a chair. I sprinkled water on the floor and sat down. It wasn’t long before the SS man appeared again. ‘You may go now!’, he said. And I did.
INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING HALL OF FAME
Sir – I thought readers might be interested in the following extracts from a letter I received from Debbie Bonaminio in the USA:
‘I am now finishing a second Masters degree and have been an intern at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. My supervisor lent me a DVD. Because my dream is to work for the Olympic Games, he thought I would find the film interesting. I was so moved after viewing Watermarks that I immediately began researching more about Hakoach, the Anschluss and the 1936 Berlin Games.
I wish to tell you of my great admiration for you and your fellow Hakoach team mates. As a female trying to make a career in the sports industry, I have been subjected to discrimination, but my inconveniences are not worthy of mention compared to all you and your family had to endure! Thank you for standing up for what you believe in but, most importantly, for who you are.’
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s article ‘From police chief in Berlin to refugee in Britain’ (May) has stimulated me to convey to you a parallel experience: my elder brother, Horst Jonas, was the police chief in Communist East Germany - but without Bernhard Weiss’s ultra-patriotism.
Horst was sentenced to four years for political activity/high treason in 1935, to be released on 3 September 1939. From prison he wrote a desperate letter to my parents and me to arrange for him to join us in South Africa. My younger brother, Werner,
vowed he would not leave the country unless Horst was released. Werner paid dearly for this heroic sacrifice and later perished in Auschwitz. However, Horst was prevented from leaving due to the outbreak of the war. He was sent to a concentration camp, survived to be recognised for various work qualifications and, after his release, was elected police chief of Thuringia and later promoted to mayor of Neubrandenburg. He died in 1967, presumably from the after-effects of his ill-treatment. A memorial book was published. Here again, there seems to be a replica of the loyal Germans.
QUAKERS AND REFUGEES
Sir - Since your publication of my piece on the Quaker Tapestry Centre in July, I’ve been amazed to hear about the number of people helped by the Quakers, including people connected with our Weald of Kent AJR group.
Netta Murray Goldsmith, whose book Magda and the Rat Catchers you recently reviewed, wrote to me: ‘I was very interested in your article in the latest AJR Journal and saddened, though not surprised, to read of the fate of so many members of your family. What a waste! I was struck too by the references to the Quakers. A Quaker family took my husband’s brother into their home in Dover in 1937 after he was stoned by thugs and his father sent him to England. He is about to celebrate his 90th birthday and would never have got that far without the Quakers.’
Also, since I wrote my article, the Tapestry Centre has uncovered a document explaining how the Quakers tried to save the Jewish children at the Eerde school through dialogue with the Nazi authorities (obviously unsuccessfully).
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS
Sir – Critics of Inge Trott’s alleged trivialisation of the Holocaust and lack of assiduous consideration of foreign crimes in societies such as Burma and Darfur seem to stray from the point, which is ‘a Jew criticising the policies of other Jews’, i.e. criticism of her own people. Nationalist Zionists should not confuse ‘apples and pears’ comparisons in their arguments attacking her views.
Sir - Reading the correspondence in your July issue from Ernest G. Kolman and others, I wish to claim the honour of belonging to Inge Trott’s ilk. Evidently she is a brave woman, daring to express an opinion which is not blindly pro-Israeli. The excesses of the Israeli military and the settlers are not enough - your correspondents expect her to accept responsibility for Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe. I am an ex-German-British Jew. I don’t hate myself, I don’t hate your correspondents. In fact, I can’t think of anyone to hate.
Sir - At the end of the Second World War, the Poles annexed a part of Eastern Germany, expelled the local population and settled their own people there. The United Nations and the great powers did not try to pressurise the Poles to return these occupied territories.
The Arab countries attacked Israel at its birth and in 1967 were again poised to attack and destroy the Jewish state. After its miraculous victory in 1967, Israel should also have annexed the conquered lands and expelled the Arabs. Tiny Israel absorbed 700,000 refugees from the Arab countries and the vast oil-rich Arab countries could easily have absorbed the expelled Arabs. Then there would have been no rockets launched at Israeli civilians, no terrorist attacks inside Israel and no talk of ‘settlers’.
Sir – I find the sections on the refugees and their history fascinating. However, I feel that this magazine is an inappropriate place for the Israel/Palestine debate.
GETTING TO KNOW THE NATIVES
Sir – Edith Argy’s amusing article (August) reminds me of the almost identical beginning of my own career. My first secretarial job – after escaping from domestic service – was with a Hatton Garden jeweler, a kindly Jew (himself a refugee of an earlier period of Jewish immigration to this country). I became his secretary after his ‘proper’ was called up for war work.
One of the first letters he dictated contained a word sounding like ‘bonefied’. I sat puzzling over this word, fearing I would get the sack for inefficiency till I thought of writing it down. And lo and behold - our old friend ‘bona fide’ appeared to my great relief! My boss never found out what agony I had been in. I was lucky enough to get a job in the Foreign Office when the propaganda war started – a position I was more suited to, as it turned out.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Sir – I am not very well but Victor Ross cheers me up. His mention of Conrad Veidt (July) brought back fond memories. He is good at that and the Journal refreshes my memory bank. Thank you, Mr Editor.