Apr 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - As one of the very few Kindertransport children who have ended up in Denmark, I want to say how much I enjoy reading the AJR Journal every month. It is extremely informative and sometimes also amusing. Although I have been living in this country since 1949, I am still a British subject as I feel grateful to the UK for taking me in when I was 13 years old.
My story is the traditional one: I said goodbye to my dear parents at the railway station in Vienna and, as in so many other cases, it was a parting forever. In my heart, I, like so many others, have never got over this. I have been to Vienna several times as I still have friends there. Although I had been informed a long time ago that my parents had perished, I didn’t know the exact circumstances. After making further enquiries some years ago, I learned that they were deported to Maly Trostinec in early May 1942 and shot on arrival.
Against this background, I was interested to read the letter from Otto Deutsch in your February issue. I was especially pleased that a monument had been erected in memory of our loved ones. Like Mr Deutsch, I would have liked to go to Maly Trostinec and say Kaddish, but, as in his case, my age, my health and the long journey are serious obstacles to such a plan. In any case, I was pleased to learn that the Jewish community in Minsk has taken the initiative to make sure this crime is not forgotten.
Sir - Records I found at the Wiener Library a few years ago showed that my father’s sister, Fannie Koppel, was taken from Berlin to Minsk in 1942. She had been widowed in the early 1930s. Her elder daughter was deported to Poland in October 1938; her younger daughter escaped to England to work as a servant. Though I never believed that my aunt survived, it puzzled me for a long time that she was taken to Minsk. I learned about Maly Trostinec and the gas wagons for the first time only last summer. Her terrible death distresses me deeply - and that she was without family in the end only adds to my sadness.
Sir – I learned after the war that my uncle, Arthur Stern, was taken to Maly Trostinec
from Terezin. I was further told that following an attempted break-out of some of the inmates to try to join the partisans in that area, the Nazis lined up all the prisoners and shot every tenth person as a reprisal. My uncle happened to be one of those tenth persons. This information emanated from Arthur’s mother (my grandmother), who herself survived Terezin.
Sir - Regarding the article ‘The Farm’ in the February journal: for your information, Professor Gerald Jayson (Gert Jacobowitz) died in Liverpool in July 2007 having spent most of his working life at what is now Liverpool John Moores University, obtaining a professorship in Radiation Chemistry in 1991. Gerry was also past chairman of Allerton Synagogue and past Master of the Lodge of Israel Liverpool. He was a leading member of the Liverpool AJR group.
Gerry’s sister Edith lives in Maidstone and I, his widow, am an active member of the Liverpool AJR group. Harry Gossels (Manchester), Felix Zussmann (London), Robert Sugar (New York), the late Rolf Dresner and his sister Helga (Berlin) were all also on Millisle Farm in Northern Ireland with Gerry. Rolf was the father of AJR social worker Barbara Dresner Dorrity. Gerry and Harry met up again for the first time at the first AJR Northern Get-together in Manchester in November 2002, where by chance they also met up with Barbara.
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s generally admirable piece on German and European reunification (February) has one important blemish: its unqualified welcome for the extension of NATO – as opposed to the EU – across Eastern Europe.
Precisely because the Cold War had ended, and ended in Western victory, and victory due not to military but to economic and social factors, the United States should have stopped to ask itself how global politics might develop in the days ahead. Instead, it blundered on myopically as if still needing to atone for Roosevelt’s gullibility vis-à-vis Stalin, and as if Gorbachev and Yeltsin were no more than a latter-day Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Moreover, explicit promises given to Gorbachev that there would be no expansion of NATO were dishonoured, courtesy of Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State.
The anachronism is all the more poignant in view of America’s tactic against Russia in the 1980s of encouraging Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Today NATO forces in that part of the world include contingents from Eastern Europe. Whether the benefit of that outweighs the costs of gratuitous failure by the Western allies to seek rapprochement with Russia is - to put it mildly – open to question.
Sir – Anthony Grenville mars his ‘Reflections on German Reunification’ by some rather sneering references to the British Armed Forces, the same forces that ensured that Jews in this country did not suffer at the hands of Nazi Germany the fate of our co-religionists on the Continent.
More importantly, he gives no credit to successive British governments for being among the principal proponents and drivers within the European Union of the very policy, the eastward expansion of the EU, to which he attributes the ‘neutralising [of] the threat of German preponderance’ following the country’s reunification.
Undoubtedly the British had mixed motives (Thatcherites hoped that enlargement of the EU would weaken the reach of Brussels) but, if the ‘peace and stability of Europe’ has been achieved – and time still has to tell – at least as much will be owed to the UK as to France.
Sir - Like no doubt many of your other readers, I was saddened to see the obituary of Theo Marx (March issue), whom I had not encountered for some years but whose delightful personality I remember very well from the 1980s and 1990s.
Your sensitive (and totally deserved) tribute mentioned his masterly genealogical researching of his wife’s pedigree. It was in that context that we became acquainted since it transpired that tangential branches of the Kohnstamm family had ended up in Australia and had intertwined themselves through marriages to strands of my own collateral kin who lived in that continent. We thus found that we shared several relatives who were both cousins of Theo’s wife and of mine. Having lived in Sydney and met many of these people personally, I was able to expand his family tree data considerably. An unfailingly courteous contact and meticulous researcher, he became an expert analyst of information sources and generously copied me in with his work for the benefit of my own collections. My association with him at that time was, as Ronnie Corbett used to describe his lengthy association with the late Ronnie Barker, ‘pure gold’.
As you correctly state, family history research in those days required a great deal of persistence because the resources of the internet were not then available. Luckily Theo’s enquiring mind, attention to detail, excellent memory and shrewd powers of observation made him equal to the task. His genealogical legacy will be remembered for a long time
REFUGEES FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Sir - Anthony Grenville’s excellent book on Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria omits any mention of my late father, Victor Ehrenberg, or my mother Eva Ehrenberg, née Sommer, who for many years were staunch supporters of the AJR. Could this be because the book is not concerned with those who came from Czechoslovakia? Victor Ehrenberg did, of course, come from Germany, but held a professorship at the German University in Prague in 1929-39.
As for your correspondence on ‘British first, Jewish second’, this issue was surely resolved by Franz Rosenzweig (my uncle) in his 1918 declaration ‘Nicht Deutscher oder Jude, sondern Deutscher und Jude.’
Anthony Grenville: My book discusses a considerable number of refugees from Czechoslovakia, whose German-speaking culture was closely linked to that of Austria (which had ruled the Czech Lands until 1918).
THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Sir – May I convey my congratulations to Hedi Argent (March, ‘Emigration’) for having been so fortunate as to have been able to come to England in the company of her parents. My emigration was different in as much as I had to say goodbye to my parents on the railway platform at Prague station to the words of my father: ‘Hedl, see that the heels of your shoes are always straight!’ – meaning of course ‘Always look after yourself and don’t digress from the straight and narrow!’
I hope I have done that as, after various experiences – some pleasant and some harrowing – I was lucky enough to find a wonderful husband and have been blessed with great sons and grandchildren.
My parents were deported to Lodz, the last place from which I heard of them, and I never saw them again. The loss of my parents and the rest of my family is a heart ache that will stay with me forever. Once more, dear Hedi, I am glad for you and wish you the very best.
Sir – Once again, my appreciation for staying in touch through the AJR Journal and shedding tears when reading the touching memory of Hedi Argent of her ‘Emigration’. So similar to my own, with the exception of leaving behind my dearest parents and darling Grandmama.
‘THE DAY OF RECKONING’
Sir – Everyone in the democracy in which we fortunately live is, of course, entitled to their own opinions. However, I consider it totally out of place that you feel it right that Mr Stern’s article should appear anywhere near the very wonderful AJR Journal (March). Fortunately, we have Hedi Argent’s article on ‘Emigration’ on page 4. Her feelings portray the feelings of most of us!
Sir - Given his sentiments in an earlier issue, which I castigated at the time as anti-British, I am no longer surprised at Fred Stern`s latest tirade. But I am slightly surprised at your printing it. Has everybody forgotten that all former ‘Kinder’, and most members of the AJR, owe their very lives to being admitted to this country? This fact is not altered by the personal antics of some politicians or by current tax policies.
Sir - I am surprised you published Fred Stern’s rantings. Fred Stern dislikes anything British and decided to live in the Costa del Sol. I don’t know what he means by ‘The Day of Reckoning’, but he went too far with his blatant electioneering and personal attacks. Does he seriously think that if we don’t heed his warning, we should all emigrate to the Costa del Sol?
Sir – I am writing to protest against Fred Stern’s article ‘The Day of Reckoning’. I owe my life to this country, as do most of your readers. What possessed you to give it publicity?
FORMAT OF AJR JOURNAL
Sir - We thoroughly enjoy the AJR Journal but, since the majority of the readers are now in their late 70s or early 80s and have poor eye sight, having discussed this with fellow members of the AJR, I am writing to ask you if there is any possibility that bigger and clearer print could be used in the production of a superb journal. Since this is proving difficult, it would be a pity if some of us were denied the opportunity of reading the Journal. We do hope you can consider improving the format so that we can continue to keep in touch with fellow members.
Sir – With regard to George Landers’s letter in your March issue, it is the message of the event that is the important element for Judaism. Attribute the Ten Plagues or the Crossing of the Red (Reed) Sea to the aftermath of volcanic eruption or any other natural cause, it is the lesson or lessons that underpin, or are derived from, the occurrence that matter. At the root of it all is Divine activity. The story of Egypt, of slavery and freedom, resonates through the ages – the slave workers of the Holocaust and their subsequent freedom are just an illustration! Freedom and its use is the teaching of Pesach, soon to be with us. Faith has been the preserve of the Jewish people and always will be, however much detractors may try to undermine it.
Sir - George Landers may well believe that the ten plagues and the splitting of the Red (actually Reed) Sea can be explained convincingly by the volcanic eruption that virtually destroyed Santorini and choose to mock Henry Schragenheim (January) for his claim that they are core beliefs of the Jewish religion. What he fails to appreciate is that the crucial point that makes them miracles is their timing. Had they not occurred when they did, there would not have been an Exodus or Divine Revelation at Sinai and, in consequence, no Judaism or Jewish people.
In our daily prayers we praise the Almighty for his ‘miracles that are done for us every day.’ While these may be trivial in comparison with the events described in the Tenakh, they can be noticed by anyone who cares to do so. On the other hand, they can be dismissed as mere chance occurrences. It is this possibility that allows us to have free will and choose what we do - if they were obvious, we would be overwhelmed by the Divine intervention in our lives and be unable to act independently.
‘HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS’ AND ‘REFUGEES’: IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION
Sir - Would your readers help explain two words to me? Who are ‘Holocaust survivors’? To be one, do you need to have been in a concentration camp or in a ghetto, or - at the very least - in hiding on the continent of Europe during the time of the Nazi oppression?
Personally, I do not think this is the right definition because this would exclude, for instance, the Kindertransport children, who certainly were ‘survivors’. Steven Spielberg and his Shoah Foundation team thought of me as a ‘survivor’ by interviewing me for their archives. Yet I came to England, with my parents, in February 1939, admittedly because I, and they, were fleeing from the Nazis in Austria. But does this makes me a ‘survivor’ in the true meaning of the word - like those who survived the camps?
My synagogue doesn’t seem to think so: I have never been asked to speak as a ‘survivor’ on any of their Holocaust Memorial Days. Am I not asked because my memories are not really my own but those of my late parents or because I am not considered a ‘survivor’ by the synagogue?
Also, would someone not only define the word ‘survivor’ but the word ‘refugee’ as well? Was I a refugee? My father had a sponsor, Sol Badler, in England. We were never ‘refugees’ in the way that the word is used now. (Incidentally, we have lost touch with the Badlers. Sol would have died many years ago, but does anyone know any of his family? My late parents and I owe our lives to Sol, a distant cousin of my father, Dr Marcus Pfeffer.)
Sir – I find it upsetting to see the front page (March) touting for David Cameron. Surely this journal should avoid any suspicion of being party-political.
JEW AGAINST JEW
Sir – Regarding Peter Phillips’s article in your February issue, I fully agree with his views on ‘Jewish do-gooders [who] wash their dirty linen in public’. I hope the Israelis will refuse them visas! They may need them one day!
‘A JEW IS A JEW IS A JEW’
Sir - Some of your readers have no sense of humour. As to the constant ‘I am a better Jew than you are’ followed by ‘Oh, no you’re not’, all I can say is that when I walked up the ramp in Auschwitz Dr Mengele did not ask me which branch of Judaism, if any, I belonged to and neither do the present hordes of anti-Semites. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew and, if we don’t hang together, we run the danger of hanging separately.
While I fully agree that we can ignore the liberation of Auschwitz (and forget to mention the thousands who were shot along their death march from that place a week earlier) as a day of remembrance, it does give schools a day on which to recite, perform plays, produce drawings bearing on the Shoah and, certainly here in Suffolk, they have identified with Jewish children of their age who ended their days in death camps. And they and their teachers prepared for that day in their own time.
Sir – J. H. Schryer, author of Goodnight Vienna, writes (December 2009; novel reviewed in Journal in October 2009) that the central character was ‘loosely based’ on my grandfather, Captain Thomas Joseph Kendrick, MI6.
It may be of interest that my grandfather was captured by the Gestapo in 1938 and later expelled from Austria. My father, mother, sister and I had to make a hasty exit from Austria shortly afterwards. My grandfather was made commandant of a camp for senior German officers at Trent Park, where they were interrogated. He was in charge of CSDIC until the end of the war and received the OBE and the American Legion of Merit. He died in England in 1972.
‘ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID’S CITY’
Sir - Concerning Frank Bright’s letter (March), the carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ refers not, as he states, to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem. The relevant Biblical reference (Luke II, Verses 4-5) reads ‘And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.’