Apr 2006 Journal

Letters to the Editor

As Gemütlich as Germany

Sir - In your March issue, Robert Miller exhorts those who miss the ambience to be found in Germany to contemplate returning there. I can think of plenty worse things than that. However, there is no need to do so, for we now have two German supermarket chains in this country where you can buy Stollen at Christmas and Osterhasen this time of year - as well as Glühwein, SandKuchen and Bratheringe - to mention but a few of the products available here.

Take all this home with you and, with some German beer and a good Schnapps to hand, spread some German smoked cheese on black Vollkornbrot, put your feet up, and light a Sumatra cigar (oh dear!). I guarantee you will be as gemütlich as if you were in Germany.
Ernest G. Kolman, Greenford

Poles, Jews and Miracles

Sir - Mr Landau (February) accuses me of naivety. Does that perhaps suggest that he is not entirely convinced by the validity of his views? He seems to be determined to live in the past and to close his eyes to what is happening now. To dismiss the events in Koszalin described in my article as hypocrisy or window-dressing (my words) seems quite unreasonable to me.

Of course the Poles have a history of rampant antisemitism. Yet, historically, it is also true that they have lived cheek by jowl with Jews for centuries, often very harmoniously (see, for example, the historical introduction to Eva Hoffman's excellent book Shtetl. It is also a fact that, in the past, Jews moved from Russia to Poland because they felt more secure there!).

But the point of my article was that there are Poles in the new Poland who are going out of their way to redress past wrongs, and those in Korszalin are by no means the only ones: many other Jewish cemeteries have been rehabilitated and there are Jewish communities, freely practising their religion, in a good many towns, Gdansk for example. One should encourage rather than belittle these efforts to make up for a murky past. And I am happy to say that the chain of events that began with my visit to Korszalin in July is continuing - for example, a torchlight procession to commemorate Kristallnacht, and candles lit and prayers recited in the Jewish cemetery on Holocaust memorial day. An exhibition on the Kindertransports and the unveiling of a memorial to another Jewish cemetery, built over by the Technical University, are being planned for later this year.

While I am not in the least suggesting that antisemitism has been eradicated from Poland (which country is free of it?), things are moving in the right direction and those leading this uphill fight need our support and encouragement.

I gave my article the title 'How I came to believe in miracles' after careful thought. Does Mr Landau not think it astonishing that Poles, who were not at all responsible for the fate of the Jews of Korszalin, should take it upon themselves to make some form of moral restitution and to reconnect with a past that was not their own? I do.
Professor Leslie Baruch Brent, London

Sir - Manfred Landau writes about the villainies of Polish antisemites. I am not disputing his facts but he is stereotyping an entire nation. We Jews, who have suffered from stereotyping for centuries, should know better.

My acquaintance with today's Poland is confined largely to the small town of Krotoszyn Wielkopolska (once Krotoschin, Provinz Posen). In 2002 the commune erected a plaque to commemorate the nineteenth-century printer/publisher of Jewish books of devotion B. L. Monasch (my great-great-grandfather). Subsequently the local historical society published his memoirs in a tri-lingual edition - his original German text, an existing English translation, and a new Polish translation by Dr Rafal Witkowski, the Vice-Principal of the Institute of History of Poznan University. The mayor of Krotoszyn had copies of the book distributed to every school in the area.

The ancient Jewish cemetery was destroyed during the Nazi occupation. Gravestones were smashed and built into a wall surrounding a historic wooden church. These stones have now been raised and it is planned to build a memorial wall on the site of the cemetery incorporating fragments of these gravestones.

The Krotoszyn municipality has agreed to pay half the costs and descendants of the Jewish community are contributing towards the rest.

Now Dr Witkowski informs me that the historical journal Kronika Miasta Poznan has decided to publish an entire issue about the Jews of Poznan/Posen. They are appealing for, inter alia, family memoirs of historical interest.

It would, of course, be an error to generalise from this about the attitude of an entire nation. That would be falling into an error resembling Mr Landau's. But there are certainly Poles overcoming the past.
Peter Fraenkel, London

'Lack of Feeling'

Sir - As a regular reader of the Journal, I was horrified to see the front-page photo of your last edition (March). Do we former refugees who have lost our parents and many relatives in the Holocaust have to suffer the shock of Nazi photos in our paper? What on earth causes intelligent writers like Mr Grenville to exhibit such lack of feeling?
Leo Eisenfeld, London

George who?

Sir - Thank you for Anthony Grenville's excellent article 'George Who?'. Having lived and studied in Manchester from 1948 to the mid-60s, and as a Manchester United fan, I can assure you that George Best was not venerated as a superstar during that period. In fact, the superstar by a long way was Bobby Charlton, who was an excellent role model for the younger generation. Best did not feature on the international stage, unlike Charlton, who scored a record 49 goals in 106 appearances for England. In fact, Best's 'Wonder Goals' were scored against second-rate opposition - except perhaps against Benfica in the European Cup Final.

Please let us have more light-hearted articles in your excellent AJR Journal - you do not have to concentrate exclusively on Hitler and Germany/Austria circa the 1930s - that can become depressing.
M. Ladenheim, Surbiton

The most excellent accent

Sir - In response to Dorothy Graff's appeal for readers to submit stories of refugee experiences, humour and everyday life (February), telling jokes played an important part in the life of the refugees. Almost required reading among our Continental friends at the time was George Mikes's book How To Be An Alien. This contained tongue-in-cheek advice as well as tales of foreign Jews striving to be as Jewish as possible - and often failing miserably. Mikes himself, after eight years in this country, was asked by a kind English lady: 'But why do you complain? You speak the most excellent accent without the slightest English!'
Mary Brainin-Huttrer, London

Love-hate relationship with Vienna

Sir - Like Peter Phillips (March), I left Vienna as a small child with my parents. Obviously I don't have many bad memories, except one of Kristallnacht. My parents remembered the cafés, parks and happy Jewish life in Vienna 2. However, they would never have contemplated revisiting a city where my father had been beaten, my venerable grandfather made to scrub the streets, my aged aunt put to death, and from which they had been hounded almost penniless. Why should they?
Thea Valman, London

Tragic death

Sir - In his most interesting article in the February issue of the AJR Journal, Howard Spier tells the story of 3 Troop and their Commanding Officer Bryan Hilton-Jones.

In 1960 I was in the Export Department of ICI Fibres in Harrogate and was asked to take up a secondment to ICI Switzerland in Zürich. The General Manager of ICI Switzerland at that time was Bryan Hilton-Jones. He was married with four children, a keen mountaineer and skier, and a very good manager. He died in very tragic circumstances in the mid-1960s. He and his family were either driving to or coming from a holiday in Spain (I don't remember the exact details), he was in one car with two children and his wife in another with the other two, when his car collided with another vehicle. He and his two children were killed.

Some of your readers may well have been members of 3 Troop and unaware of their former CO's tragic death.
Ernest Simon, Pinner

'Other Side' of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Sir - Raph Freeman, writing from Jerusalem (March), refers to my 'vitriolic ... letters on the Israeli-Palestinian Arab Islamic conflict'. If he can find any vitriol in any of my letters or my November article, I challenge him to prove it. I would also like to suggest to him to see things from the Palestinians' point of view: what it must feel like to live under occupation for nearly half-a-century, to have your home bulldozed, and to suffer countless human rights abuses - not to mention the 'security fence'. With greater understanding of the 'other side', peace may have a chance.
Inge Trott, Cheam

Irving et al

Sir - David Irving misused his position as a published, supposed historian to spread pseudo-historical poison in contradiction to established facts. His Austrian prison sentence is highly satisfactory - only a rabid antisemite could regard it as 'martyrdom'.

The Danish cartoons, to judge from reports, were crude and repellent, designed to insult and humiliate all Muslims, not just extremists. Those Danes - and others - who defended them are not 'fearless for the truth', but stupid and shallow.

The move to suspend Ken Livingstone (however it will end) was completely unjustified. The context of his outburst against the reporter is clear: after the 'concentration-camp guard' remark, he referred to the Standard/Mail bosses as 'a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots'. (The Mail group had been persistently hounding him - and had, of course, supported Hitler in the 30s.) I am not aware that discourtesy to Mail group reporters is a crime against humanity.

PS
I've just looked at your March issue. Wow! What other periodical has this range of interesting ideas, information, experience and views concentrated into 16 pages?
George Schlesinger, Durham