Aug 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘DON’T LET’S BE BEASTLY TO THE GERMANS!’
Sir - I have been mulling over Anthony Grenville’s postscript to my letter in the July issue. I disagree on every point.
I was, and still am, in full agreement with the Allied bombing campaign carried out on Germany up the end of the war. Regrettably, it was at a very high cost in Allied air crews. I never felt there was any diminution in our moral standard in that we fought a war started by the Germans. After all, we did not wantonly kill prisoners of war, nor did we set up work and extermination camps, nor did we put forced and slave labour in caves to assemble parts for V1 and V2 rockets, with the inventor of these weapons boasting they would soon kill 2 million Brits!
I became a member of HM Forces with the full intention of avenging the murder of my parents. Regrettably my wishes reached only partial fulfilment.
In the post-war era, I dealt quite successfully with many East and West German major enterprises, including the one in Pforzheim mentioned in my previous letter. When, on a visit in the 1960s, I was told of their wartime activities and I mentioned in passing that they most probably also processed my mother’s wedding ring, this was met with shocked silence. They claimed they didn’t know where the items they processed originated. Isn’t innocence bliss?
Sir - I had never imagined Anthony Grenville to be an idealist. But obviously he is if he thinks we fought the war to show that our standards were superior to those of the Nazis. Neither I - nor, I suspect, thousands of others - fought in the war for such high moral concepts. I joined the fighting forces in 1943 partly from a sense of obligation to the country that had given us refuge - partly in order to put up two fingers to the chap with the Charlie Chaplin moustache, and partly because I wanted a final opportunity to put the boot in and share in the humiliation of a country which had so grievously lost its way. Of course, we didn’t know about the Holocaust at the time.
As for bombarding cities, we became much better at this than the Nazis ever did. And, while civilian casualties no doubt included many innocent children, let’s not forget that these were the men and women who had given Hitler 99.9 per cent ‘Yes’ votes throughout the thirties - mit gefangen, mit gehangen.
Sir - Our admirable editor, Anthony Grenville, can no doubt look after himself, but I rush to his defence all the same against Herbert Haberberg’s unwarranted and ill-conceived criticism. Grenville’s June leader ‘Bombs and ethics’ struck me as a balanced analysis of the morality of bombing cities, German or British.
So far as Dresden is concerned, most commentators agree that the war was virtually won when the city was destroyed. The only discernable benefit was that it allowed a group of Jews, including Viktor Klemperer and his wife, to escape their imminent deportation to an extermination camp. The (rather ungrammatical) phrase ‘Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans!’ is, of course, Haberberg’s, not Grenville’s. To write that our editor should acquire ‘at least some of the salient facts before giving us the benefit of his moral claptrap’ is both arrogant and insulting. Indeed, it could be said that the boot is very much on the other foot.
Sir - The gist of Herbert Haberberg’s July letter is that all Allied bombing was justified. He admits to knowing ‘little’ of Würzburg, where minor military installations and other targets were destroyed, but where, in separate raids, the historic Baroque city centre was also destroyed, with the loss of some 3,000 lives.
He might also bear in mind the example of Lübeck – the first of Bomber Harris’s city victims. It was chosen in February 1942 to test the new incendiary bombs. A city with many wooden buildings not too far away was required. Harris himself said that Lübeck was built ‘more like a fire-lighter than a town’, so it was chosen.
The raid created a firestorm and destroyed much of the inner city (now beautifully restored). It also brought down church spires and the old bells of the Marienkirche, which remain buried in the tiled floor as an impressive memorial. I first saw them in 1959 and never forgot them.
Politely, the Germans still officially say this raid was a response to the bombing of Coventry and London. Four local clergymen (three Catholic, one Lutheran) were executed immediately for saying the raid was an act of God.
Yes, ‘the Germans started it’ – that is to say, the Germans under National Socialist command. Is it ‘moralistic claptrap’ to express regret that we had to emulate them?
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s article makes stimulating reading. But hasn’t the time come to stop criticising the British government for its panic decision to intern foreign nationals? Danzig, the Sudetenland, the rest of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands – all these fell like proverbial ninepins. The treachery of Quisling in Norway and the outrageous behaviour of some Germans living in the Netherlands who, after being saved from malnutrition following the First World War sided with the invading Germans, added to the German neurosis.
My father, who suffered from gravely impaired vision, was interned on the Isle of Man (irrespective of a British-born wife who retained her nationality despite marriage). He never complained but regarded the episode as experience: ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (I bear no grudge) is also appropriate for refugees who found shelter in Australia with regard to the Dunera episode.
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s article brought back some childhood memories. I was in Vienna at the time the Allied forces attacked. We were sent there for slave labour after selection in Strashoff, Austria. We were bombed out three times from three ‘Lagers’. We were waiting eagerly for the Allied raids.
One incident I will never forget. I was working on the street in Vienna and the air raid signal was sounding. Everyone ran to the shelter, including our SS guard. Prisoners and slave labourers were forbidden to enter the shelter. Suddenly I was thrown to the ground and a large cloud of dust rose behind me. The building in which all those people, including our SS guard, were seeking shelter was a direct hit and no one came out alive. But I was alive and kicking, as were a number of Italian prisoners.
Sir – My dear friend Herbert Haberberg wrote to you about the bombing of German cities. I fully agree with his first paragraph. May I just add that the RAF dropped leaflets in 1939-early 1940. This certainly did not deter the Germans!
After the attacks on London and other cities, all of us were delighted and supported the attacks by the RAF on Germany. I well remember Hitler’s speech at that time: ‘Wir werden ihre Städte ausradieren’, followed by Goebbels’s speech: ‘Wollt Ihr den totalen Krieg?’ and the faithful answer ‘Ja’.
However, Dr Grenville does not write ‘moralistic claptrap’. His writing is most reasoned and fair!
Germany asked for all it received and I had many friends in the RAF who did not return from taking the fight back to the ‘Fatherland’ (55,000 did not return).
And how about the V1 and V2 attacks? Were they aimed at military targets?
Sir – Dr Grenville writes excellent articles on subjects he is familiar with. However, when it comes to war in the air, he hasn’t a clue regarding the participants, strategies and planners.
Herbert Haberberg writes that Warsaw was the first city subjected to indiscriminate bombing. In that he is wrong: Guernica had that dubious honour during the Spanish Civil War courtesy of the German Condor Legion as a practice run for the planned forthcoming war.
Incidentally, the first aerial bombing of civil populations took place during the First World War, when Zeppelins and rigid metal planes bombed London and other cities causing casualties by the Kaiser’s air force flying from Belgium.
Dr Grenville is talking rubbish when he writes that we should have adhered to a superior standard in bombing German cities despite Kristallnacht, the deportations and the Holocaust.
When I saw Germany from the air at low level in 1945 and at ground level in 1946, the place was flat - which I considered some justice for my parents and 6 million others murdered by ‘ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer’.
Sir - May I add the ‘Jewish dimension’ to Würzburg and Pforzheim?
Würzburg and vicinity: 202 Jews were deported to Riga and death on 29 November 1941 and 955 Jews were deported to Krasnystaw and death on 28 April 1942;
Pforzheim: 186 Jews were deported to Gurs and eventual death on 22 October 1940.
Sir – Herbert Haberberg is arguably on stronger ground than Erwin Brecher in their contributions to your July issue, but both are damaged by descending from intelligent discussion to crude abuse.
I am a retired solicitor and admit that I studied only private, not public international law. Does this disadvantage disqualify me from objecting to descriptions of legal positions not as wrong in law but as ‘moralistic claptrap’, ‘tirades’ and a ‘puerile attitude’?
There are other aspects of Mr Brecher’s letter which are of interest but, when emotion and considerations of personal convenience have overwhelmed otherwise rational minds, the desirable alternative I first mentioned may now not be available.
For myself, I can do no other than remain a lawyer at heart. Perhaps others should accept David Cameron’s advice: ‘Calm down, dear, calm down!’
RELOCATION OF AJR CENTRE
Sir - I note that the Paul Balint AJR Centre is to relocate to Belsize Square Synagogue.
It is always helpful to analyse periodically the changing requirements of AIR members. However, it would be a pity if the Balint name disappeared with this move. Following the Shoah, the three Balint brothers (Paul, Andrew, George) made magnificent contributions to Jewish refugee and charitable organisations. The following quote is from Andrew Balint’s obituary (AJR Information, August 1998):
‘The three brothers built up a very successful business. In 1977 they established three Balint Charitable Trusts. These trusts have made many philanthropic donations, in the main associated with the Jewish community and with Israel. There is a Balint Jewish House in Budapest which acts as a centre for Jewish cultural life. There is a Balint Wing in Nightingale House and a Balint House on The Bishop’s Avenue, as well as the Paul Balint AJR Day Centre in West Hampstead, all associated with the care of Elderly Jewish people. Charitable causes in Israel include colleges in Nazareth, Tel Aviv and the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. The Balint Trusts also support about 200 elderly Hungarian Jews in Hungary.’
Given the closure of OSHA and now the Cleve Road site, it would be fitting to perpetuate the Balints’ name in the new Centre.
Sir – It was with regret that I read in the July issue that the Paul Balint Centre at Cleve Road has been sold and is to relocate to Belsize Square Synagogue.
Members who are religiously observant will not go to Belsize Square because it is a Liberal synagogue. The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, called them destroyers of the faith. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the staunch defender of Orthodoxy against the inroads of Reform in the 19th century, said of them: ‘They have permitted that which God has forbidden us.’
It is to be hoped that it is not too late to find a different venue for the Paul Balint Centre.
Sir – Martin Reichard, Press Attaché, Austrian Embassy, London, refers in your July issue to the part played by Austria in the Holocaust as ‘this troublesome period in its past.’
Does the word ‘troublesome’ have a much stronger connotation in German than in English? I would use ‘troublesome’ to describe a leaking tap!
‘BECAUSE OF OUR SINS’
Sir - It appears that Betty Bloom (July, Letters) did not understand what I tried to convey in my letter in the June issue. Namely, that Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the temples and our dispersal into exile, was a more tragic event than all the other persecutions being commemorated. This is because of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecutions in Eastern Europe and the Holocaust would not have taken place had we not been exiled from our land.
Sir – Some time ago you published an article about Eleanor Rathbone, the originator of, and campaigner for, family allowances. She lived just long enough to see them enshrined in law, before her death on 2 January 1946. She was therefore immensely important in the social history of the 20th century.
As well as a campaigner for votes for women, she was herself an MP, and aunt and great-aunt of three other MPs. It would therefore be good to know where she was buried and to see that her memorial (if she has one) is looked after. But no one seems to know where she was buried.
Several reference books have repeated that she was buried in West Norwood Cemetery. However, at that cemetery, there is no entry for her name at, or just after, her death. Even her great-nephew, Tim Rathbone MP, was unable to attend her funeral and does not remember where it was. Can anyone help?
Sir - My daughter, granddaughters and I were moved by the article and letter about my father, Dozent Lederer, in recent editions of the Journal. My father did indeed have to leave Austria after the annexation. He was appointed private pediatrician to the son and heir of the king of Iraq and moved to Baghdad. He contracted an incurable skin disease and died in 1941.
I also left Vienna in the days following the annexation and came to England. My mother, Elsa Lederer, Dozent Lederer’s wife, followed me in 1939. She died in 1965.
A KIND HEADMASTER
Sir - I am grateful to Edith Argy for her article on how the strictness of her Latin master was mitigated by the kindness of her headmaster. Edith Argy wonders how Direktor Kroeger would have behaved had he survived until the rule of the Nazis in 1938. He might well have shown considerable courage - much as did the headmaster and staff of my own grammar school after the Anschluss, though they were by no means card-carrying socialists.
The Schottengymnasium, to whose tolerance I have paid tribute in these columns before, was probably the only school in Austria which did not obey the orders of the Nazi authorities to exclude Jewish boys or otherwise discriminate against them, on the thin pretext that they did not have any.
In the course of a general reform of Benedictine monasteries, it had been decided to reinforce the religious character of their schools and one of these measures was to restrict future access to the schools for Catholic pupils. It took about eight years for the existing non-Catholics to work through the system and the last Protestant and Jewish boys left in the summer of 1936. Thus, when the authorities asked all schools about their Jewish pupils, they replied with a straight face - if one can do so by correspondence - that they didn’t have any. (It was rumoured that, in reply to a further enquiry about ‘Rassenjuden’, they replied that they had no information about their pupils’ ancestries. But I cannot vouch for this.)
As a result, we were able to finish the academic year 1937-38 in the normal way, with normal exams and leaving certificates, even though everybody knew who was involved as none of us wore the ubiquitous HJ badges and, while at official functions we stood to attention like everybody else, we didn’t give the Hitler salute. Again to the credit of staff and pupils - although there were Nazis among the boys, including the son of the Nazi governor of Austria, ‘Reichsstatthalter’ Seyss-Inquart - nobody gave the game away.
At the end of the year, the headmaster and staff suddenly knew very well who the non-Aryan boys were and what help they would need abroad. And such help was freely given, for instance in the form of letters of recommendation. I feel sure Dr Kroeger would have done the same!