Dec 2000 Journal

Letters to the Editor


Sir – The Nazis did not only murder ‘strangers’: the German Jews were an integral part of the German nation. (November issue) To call them strangers would mean the acceptance of Hitler’s racial division between Aryans and Jews. Hitler did not stop at killing the ‘stranger‘ Jews: he also killed his political adversaries, Communists, social democrats, even the SA. In this we have a parallel rather than a difference with Stalin who killed ‘his own’, but was driven by fear, real or imagined, of political opposition to his autocratic power.

Amongst the ‘foreign’ creators of the Austrian art form, you refer to Johann Strauss II as a Jew. Even the Nuremberg laws would not have done so with someone whose great-grandfather (Johann Michael 1720-1800) was a Jew, baptised in the Stephanskirche in Vienna in 1762, but neither his wife nor his son Franz nor Franz’s son Johann’s wife were Jewish. Johann II was Johann I’s son and therefore one-eighth Jewish. Interestingly, in spite of this slender Jewish connection, the Nazis removed the relevant page from the official entries at the Stephanskirche;  the original page is now on display again.

Franz v. Suppé was not French. He was born in Split, at that time part of the Austrian Empire. His family originated in Belgium.
Thomas Edmund Konrad, London NW3

Sir – On a visit to Vienna, we stayed for the ninth time at an hotel with several ‘Slav’ staff, all very nice and content. No trace of your ‘slavophobia’ there nor anywhere else. Vienna now has a larger Slav population than in my youth and they appear a happy lot. Do stop baiting old Oesterreich as often as you do. Many things are better there than here: transport, traffic, rail, post, OAP pensions, opera etc.
HP Anderson, Norwich

Austrian misnomers

Sir – My attention has been drawn to Mr Albert Sternfeld’s letter (November issue) where he has chosen to ‘warn’ your readers about the accuracy of my book Guilty Victim. He further alleges that I have become an apologist for Austria. As he has not pointed to any specific inaccuracy in my book, it is hard for me to judge whether there is any substance to his concerns. I can however assure your readers that my manuscript was carefully checked for accuracy by independent experts.

In any event I strongly object to Mr Sternfeld’s aspersions on my professional integrity. I can assure you that I am in no sense trying to convey an ‘official line’ on Austria’s record on restitution, or indeed on any of its policies. The views expressed in my book – many of them critical of Austria’s record – are entirely my own. I consider that Mr Sternfeld owes me an apology.
Hella Pick, London NW3

Sir – The English title of Hella Pick’s book is a misnomer. For the purposes of historical accuracy one must distinguish between pre-war Austria as a sovereign state on the one hand and its inhabitants on the other. Flawed as that state was owing to its clerical-authoritarian character, it was independent and its government tried to defend its independence – albeit not very efficiently. Its independence was abrogated by force. During the war the Allies had to promise the re-establishment of Austrian sovereignty and act accordingly. Had they not done so they would have underwritten the Anschluss by implication. On that point the state as such was a ‘victim’. As to its inhabitants, or at least a considerable minority, the appellation ‘guilt’ is an apt description. Not only did they supply a disproportionate number of war criminals, but their post-war history is one of prevarication to admit their responsibility. Until recently their government showed an appalling disinclination to tackle the question of compensation.
Frederick Hirsch, Pinner, Middx

Sir – As I cannot claim to know all the facts about Dr Kreisky, I consider it unsafe and improper to join the ranks of his apologists or detractors. My only contribution is somewhat marginal to the subject in the form of a joke I overheard in Vienna during Dr Kreisky’s tenure of office: Q: Was sagt man zu einem kleinen miesen Juden, wenn man ihn im Stadtpark begegnet? A: Guten Morgen, Herr Bundeskanzler!
CP Carter, Richmond, Surrey

Not an ordinary Joe

Sir – The article about the selection of our Connecticut senator, Joe Liebermann, (October 2000), as US Vice Presidential candidate correctly points out that Jews holding high political office is not such a novelty in European countries. When the Jewish roots of Barry Goldwater were disclosed during his presidential campaign in 1964, Harry Goldin quipped: “I always knew that the first Jewish President of the United States would be an Episcopalian.”                                                   
Guy Bishop, Newtown, Connecticut

Worn out case

Sir – In reply to F Goldberg (November letters), perhaps we ex-camp inmates don’t talk about it because we don’t feel at all ‘heroic’.
Ezra Jurmann, London NW6

Sir – On arrival in this country, many of us were dumped in hostels or institutions often run on ‘juvenile offenders’ lines and left to our own devices once the novelty of staring at refugee children had worn off. Wartime evacuation became a second trauma for us, dumped on non-Jewish and uncaring foster parents in places we had never seen. Abuse by paedophiles and exploitation as cheap labour were not uncommon. Of course we cannot compare our fate with those that endured the concentration camps, but this in no way excuses the lack of any loving care by individuals in the community for what after all were de facto orphans and still less any concern about their future. I still harbour, to this day, the bitter memories of days long past.                          
Ernest G Kolman,Greenford, Mddx

Sir – The recent televised showing of a film about the Kindertransport was particularly poignant to me as I actually saw myself arriving at Liverpool Street Station, the 17-year-old Erich Isenberg, tired, confused and not knowing the language.

We had been made to feel less than welcome even before we left the Hook of Holland; a British official assured us “You needn’t have bothered – the Germans are human, they won’t kill you.” Nor were we made any more welcome when we arrived in London; we waited five or six hours before someone came from Bloomsbury House who then directed us to Rowton House (a shilling a night). We were told to go for meals at a communal place, but when we got there they had run out of food. Back at Rowton House, we found all our possessions had been stolen.
Eric Berry, Wembley, Mddx

Mixed marriages

Sir – I have to take issue with Peter Prager’s contention that Jewish wives of Christian husbands were exempt from the Star of David (November issue). I knew one such lady whose husband was, at the time, suffering from a chronic heart ailment. Had he failed to survive the war, there is no doubt she would have been transported to the East. The Yellow Star she had to wear has been passed to her son who is holding on to it so that his children and grandchildren should not forget.
Robert Miller, leatherhead, Surrey

Beyond his ken

Sir – What is Frank Bright’s evidence for accusing Ken Livingstone of ‘unadulterated racism’? (October letters) Is it feasible that – as London Mayor – he would be happy to work with his Deputy Nicky Gavron, whose parents were Jewish refugees, if he were antisemitic? Ken was right to oppose the golliwog. Robertson’s could  have just removed it and kept all their 200 odd employees
Inge Trott, Cheam

Sir – A lot of us children in Vienna had black baby dolls and we loved them. Debussy’s little daughter had a golliwog for which he wrote a piece in his ‘Children’s Corner’: Golliwog’s Cake Walk.
Mrs A Saville, London NW4

German pension

Sir – Members of Parliament have no say about German pensions (October letters); the only way to protest is to write to the German Ambassador.

H L Markan JP, Sutton, Surrey

Learning from history

Sir – On a return visit to Berlin I felt reassured to see, still permanently displayed on the Wittenberg Platz, the grim admonitory sign cataloguing the most infamous of the Camps. There are also additional entries: Trostenez and Flossenbürg. Full marks to the authorities.

At Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, the visitors’ book was illuminating. A Schleswig-Holstein visitor only recorded “extreme exhaustion”. Was it physical or spiritual? Not revealed. Another entry, more articulate, read: One cannot change history but we must live with it and try to understand it. This museum helps greatly towards that goal. An Asian visitor wrote (in English): Dear Japanese visitors. Think about your past as well. Learn from the Germans.
KG Heymann, London SW13

Passing on the benefit

Sir – Among those of us who are about to receive our £150  (now £200) winter fuel allowance, there will be quite a few who have the good fortune not to need it. It was introduced to help pensioners on low incomes, but because of the difficulties associated with means testing, it is being paid to rich and poor alike – and tax free at that! May I suggest that those who, like me, are quite able to pay their fuel bills without assistance pass on their winter fuel allowance to the AJR where it will help those who really need help.
Prof Walter Elkan, London NW8

Nonsense Rhyme

Many thanks to our many readers who wrote in droves in response to Irmgard Treuherz’ cry for help. One reader asks: Who is the author? Ed.