Aug 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘THAT IS WHERE OUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER USED TO LIVE!’
Sir - I wonder if I could share a quick thought with your readers.
I am 17 years old and attend Hasmonean High School. Earlier this week (at the time of writing), I travelled to Berlin with my uncle, aunt, brothers, and cousins to visit the homes, schools and synagogues of the childhood of my Oma and Opa, both of whom were natives of Berlin-Grunewald.
What made the trip even more significant was that my Opa, who came to these shores with his family one week before the outbreak of the war, and was himself a member of the AJR, passed away around three weeks ago.
When the trip was still being planned I was never quite sure I wanted to go, for one main reason: in boycotting Germany I hoped I would be transmitting something tangible in connection with the Holocaust to future generations. If, in future times, people who had never known survivors were to see that there were some Jews who never travelled to Germany - like the 500-year cherem imposed on Spain after the Inquisition – then I hoped the memory of my Opa, and the other countless victims of the butchery of Europe, would be safeguarded from the passage of time.
Yet, coming back from the trip to Berlin, I realise that in boycotting Germany I was missing the point. There were nine of us in the group and, whenever we stopped outside a house that once belonged to our ancestors, people in the actual building, and many in adjacent buildings as well, pulled back their curtains slightly to watch and stare at us, hoping we wouldn’t notice them and how amazed they were at seeing us.
By taking young people like myself to Germany and showing where their relatives used to live and pray, you are paving the way for them to return with their children, and even their grandchildren, so that they too can point and say ‘That is where our great-grandfather used to live!’ This ensures that they, and the residents that stare with curious eyes, will never forget the world that once was, and what the buildings and sites once were.
AN EXCITING AND EMOTIONAL JOURNEY
Sir - Since the publication of my article ‘Memories from childhood’ in your June issue, I have been on an exciting and emotional journey. I have enjoyed hours of telephone conversation with Susi Hauser, whom I had thought about for many years and who did indeed read the article. The Journal has brought us together after 67 years apart. She had not forgotten me, as I had never forgotten her, and had just thought that I had disappeared from her life when I was nine years old. I have also heard from two other ‘children’ from the Beacon hostel: Frank Franklyn (Feuerstein) and Erica Pream. Erica has kindly sent me a copy of her history of the Beacon, which invokes such memories of life there in the 1940s. She even has a list of staff and girls and boys there which includes my own name!
It has been wonderful to discover that my memories of childhood have been accurate over all those years; life was hard but very happy for us refugee children. At the time of writing, Susi, Frank and I do intend to meet up in July. I hope one day we might also visit the hotel which once long ago was the Beacon hostel for refugee children, though it has been sad to learn that the monkey puzzle tree I remember so well has not survived.
To meet Susi, the great friend of my early childhood, is a dream come true - thanks to the Journal.
Sir - I, together with my sister, who was three years older, spent time at the ‘Chestnuts’ Jewish Children’s Home in Alexandra Road, Hemel Hempstead, in around 1941-43. We went back there some ten years ago and it is now an old people’s home, mainly for mentally disturbed patients. This is highly appropriate as I was highly disturbed by my stay there, which is seared into my memory over 70 years later. Apart from installing a lift in the central hall, the building is largely unchanged.
I would be fascinated to know what other readers’ memories are.
Bernice Cohen (née Deitsch), Northwood
A VERITABLE SCANDAL
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s article ‘Us and the Spooks’ in last month’s issue of the Journal was, as usual, of great interest.
The British security services were incredibly paranoid during the period described. The sister of a great-aunt of mine, Hedwig Fliess, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who had arrived in this country not long before the war - a harmless elderly woman suffering from gum cancer - was incarcerated in Holloway Prison because her son was known as a communist.
Hedwig told us of the appalling conditions in the prison and how she was given stale bread too hard for her to chew with her diseased gum but how - before an expected visit from the prison inspectors - everything suddenly changed for the better, only to go back to ‘normal’ once they were gone – a veritable scandal!
Incidentally, some of your readers may remember the vegan restaurant Vega in London’s West End, which was extremely popular even among some orthodox Jews and which was established and owned by Hedwig’s son (and maybe some others), after his release of course.
IN MEMORY OF GHETTO MUSICIANS
Sir - The obituary of Alice Herz-Sommer (June 2014) reminded me of another ghetto pianist, Juliette Aranyi, now forgotten. Juliette was born in December 1911 in Slovakia and was a child prodigy who gave public performances to great acclaim from the age of six.
For a few months I shared a room in the ghetto with Paul Kling from Brno, Moravia, a violin prodigy who had to wait until he was seven before he made his debut with the Vienna Symphony performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A major. Both Paul and Juliette played in the ghetto in piano quartets. Both were sent to Auschwitz. He survived, she did not.
A New York Jewish leader of a string quartet, Aleeza Wadler, obtained a PhD with her dissertation ‘Strings in the Shadows’, in which she examined the artistic life in the ghetto of three violinists, one of whom was Paul Kling. Paul’s widow sent me a copy of the dissertation and I tried to trace all the artists mentioned in it. I came unstuck with Juliette, who was not mentioned in the ghetto memorial book. It was the archive section of Beit Terezin in Israel which solved her absence. Aranyi was her family name, which she continued to use as a pianist. By the time she was sent to the ghetto, she had married Alex Selig and a daughter, Niccola, was born in December 1940. Their entry is under Julia and Niccola Selig, who were deported to Auschwitz on 6 October 1944 and gassed on arrival, as were all mothers with small children. The father had been sent on 28 September 1944 and he too was gassed.
Niccola was 19 months old when she entered the ghetto and not quite four years old when she was murdered.
We are glad that Alice Herz-Sommer remained in the ghetto and was able to continue to teach, perform and live to an extraordinary age. We should also remember sometimes the many musicians who, once they had served the Germans’ nefarious purpose, were sent to Auschwitz, death and oblivion.
‘I ONLY TOLD A LOT OF LIES!’
Sir - Giorgio Perlasca (1910-92) was an Italian businessman who bought meat for the Italian army in Budapest. He was tall and blond with Italian charm and he enjoyed life in the relatively carefree times of 1942-43. He had fought on Franco’s side in the Spanish Civil War and for this had received a letter addressed to Spanish embassies requesting them to help him in any way they could.
On witnessing Jews being marched to the ghetto and the cruelties they were subjected to, Perlasca befriended the Spanish consul-general in Budapest, who awarded him Spanish citizenship. His Spanish was perfect and he changed his name so as to appear more authentically Spanish. When the consul-general disappeared he used his office and staff pretending to be the new consul-general. He threatened the authorities that if Jews - who were of Sephardic origin and consequently considered Spanish subjects - were harmed, Hungarians in Spain would be arrested and their possessions confiscated. That he got away with this shows the intelligence of the Hungarians in power at the time.
One day Perlasca went to one of the railway stations from which Jews were shipped to Auschwitz. He pushed two children waiting to be put on the train into his car. The guard protested and a fight ensued. The fight was broken up by a German officer, who told the guard to let go as ‘Their time will come’. Evidently Raoul Wallenberg later told Perlasca that the German officer who had saved his life was Adolf Eichmann ….
Perlasca’s help in maintaining the seven houses protected by Spain by obtaining food and medicines was invaluable.
Perlasca’s story was difficult to believe so he rarely talked about it. It became known only in 1986, following which he was honoured in Israel, Hungary, America and Italy. When asked why he did what he did, he answered ‘I only told a lot of lies!’
Perlasca saved over 5,000 Jews from transportation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. An Italian film, with English subtitles and filmed in Budapest, is entitled: Perlasca: Courage of a Just Man. It is available on DVD from Amazon.
DAY TRIP TO WESTCLIFF
Sir – We went on the day trip to Westcliff on 10 June. It was a most enjoyable and well organised day, with lovely weather, and tea on the Pier made it a very special outing. Unfortunately, on the coach coming home, Kurt fell and it was necessary to call an ambulance to attend to him.
We want to thank all the staff for their kindness and help in dealing with his injury. We also want to apologise to the other passengers for delaying their journey home and hope it didn’t spoil their day out. Many thanks.
BRINGING BACK MEMORIES
Sir – I love your magazine – long may it go on! It brings back many memories and familiar names.
Sir - I am an intern at Brandeis University and a colleague of Dr Karen Frostig, who is a resident scholar here. We are working on a memorial project, situated in Vienna, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss. The Vienna Project opened on 23 October 2013 and will close at the National Library in the Hofburg Palace on 18 October 2014.
The Vienna Project embodies art, technology, history and education. Its honorary board includes Nobel Laureates Elie Wiesel and Walter Kohn and many other leaders in the field of Holocaust history. Project partners include the University of Applied Arts, the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the Jewish Museum of Vienna.
We are currently preparing the Project’s closing ceremony and are soliciting archival letters written by victims or survivors that are representative of Austria’s persecuted victim groups. We would like to hear from you. You can visit the project website at www.theviennaproject.org If you would like further information, please contact Dr Karen Frostig at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sir – I wonder whether other AJR members who, like myself, came from Austria were presented some years ago with an Ehrenmitgliedschaftsurkunde (Honorary Membership Certificate)?
Basically, this was a written acknowledgement of the suffering of the Austrian-Jewish community. It contained further pages of privileges to be enjoyed by the recipients and was issued by the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde in Vienna.
I was recently in Vienna but, for some reason, the privileges - free entry (or at reduced cost) to functions plus regular newsletters to be provided - didn’t materialise. I wonder whether any AJR members have had a similar experience.
Robert Acker-Holt, London NW3
A TERRIBLE SCHISM IN THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Sir - I must object to the points outlined in your April ‘Letter from Israel’. It pained me greatly to see opinions presented as truth when in actuality the facts are totally different.
I will quote several points mentioned:
‘Back then, however, [when the State of Israel was established] the religious parties were very different in their mien and outlook from the ultra-orthodox version that now prevails.’
The ultra-orthodox rabbis today follow the exact same Torah as Rabbis Herzog and Maimon did in those days. This point was referred to, although in a negative light. I quote: ‘… the laws regarding marriage and divorce are subject to the restrictions, regulations and constraints of its ancient, patriarchal religion.’ Yes, our Jewish religion is ancient. However, it has sustained and ennobled us for over 5,000 years. The laws haven’t changed and will never change and that shows it is not subject to the whims of a generation’s leaders.
‘If a woman’s husband dies without there having been any children - sons, that is - his brothers must either marry or release her.’
In fact, the law is not so. If the woman has any offspring - daughters, grandchildren - she is as free as any widow.
‘This harks back to the time when the wife was regarded as the property of her husband ….’
This never occurred. The Talmud has hundreds of pages devoted to what rights a husband has vis-à-vis his wife. There is no opinion at all that a woman is her husband’s property.
Nor is there ‘a tendency … to favour men’. In fact, the Chida - Chaim Joseph David Azulai, a great rabbi in the eighteenth century - wrote the following regarding women waiting for their husbands to grant a divorce: ‘Since this issue brings pain to a Jewish woman and the Zohar [foundational text of Jewish mysticism] states that G-d empathises with the pain of a Jewish woman more than any other pain, I have put aside all my other responsibilities in order to release any woman from the chains of her marriage.’
‘The ultimate solution … is the separation of religion and state in Israel ….’
This would cause a terrible schism in the Jewish people and could lead to dreadful repercussions for future generations.
Harvey Gross, London N16
CLOSING THE GAP
Sir - It is possible that Janos Fisher (July, LetterS) and I are not as far apart in our opinions as it seemed at first. Part of the difference lies perhaps in the meaning of the words we use.
Rightly or wrongly, I use the left-to-right political shading only in respect of democratic parties. My ‘far right’ does not refer to fascism, as Mr Fisher implies, but to shades within the Conservative Party.
By supporting Israel, Mr Fisher seems to mean the Israeli government. Surely he will agree that a government’s policies and actions are not beyond criticism. Building Jewish homes on Arab land is morally wrong, in my opinion, and not in the long-term interest of the Israeli people.
Have I noticed that Israel is a democracy? Well, Israel is certainly more of a democracy than most of the Arab states but its level of democracy is not very high. It has over 30 political parties. At the last election, the Likud, Netanyahu's party, obtained 23.34 per cent of the votes, which gave it 31 out of the 120 seats. Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, Likud’s election partner, got 14.33 per cent and 19 seats. In order to form a government, Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition, which includes a number of extreme-right religious parties. They prevented him only recently from taking a pro-peace measure.
Democracy is a grand word but its use often covers a multitude of sins. Great Britain is also a democracy but our election system is undemocratic and our government does not represent the majority of the electorate.
As for Conrad Black, there is not much worth saying. He has been convicted of fraud and that, in my eyes, reduces his being a friend of Israel to a minus. But Mr Fisher is obviously right to state that my opinion is no loss to Conrad Black.
Is it not a satisfactory result of our discussion that it is ending with a point on which we both agree?
I am sure we also agree in being much more concerned about the present dangerous situation and in hoping that both Israel and Hamas will succeed in preventing an explosion of more violence. Yesh Atid means ‘There is a future.’ Only if they find a way of living together.
Eric Sanders, London W12