Dec 2007 Journal
Letters to the Editor
RECOLLECTIONS OF INTERNMENT
Sir – In June 1939 my two sisters and I, the eldest, were rescued via the Kindertransport. At first, a marvellous English lady took us into her humble home but, after her death seven months later, my sisters went to foster-parents. I, just over 16, was employed in domestic service. Our father had managed to escape, but as he was already in his early sixties and heartbroken he couldn’t look after his beloved daughters. Apart from that, his wife, the mother of his three children, was left behind in Prague. A dire situation for a once successful father and provider who had already endured the trauma of uprooting his family from Berlin.
I was the only one at the time who managed to see my dad occasionally in his furnished room in Tufnell Park, London. One day, his spiteful landlady nearly shut the door in my face, saying: ‘Your father is gone. The police have taken him.’ What a shock! However, rumours about internment had already circulated via the refugee network. I gathered myself together. My next thoughts were: ‘It can’t possibly be the same as being taken by the Gestapo.’ Just the same, I was in a quandary.
What a relief when I heard from my dad at House 7: O Camp, Douglas, Isle of Man’ saying I shouldn’t worry - he was fine. I sent him titbits from my ten-shillings-a-week earnings. He was touched but said there was no need. A few months later he was released. Yet he spoke of his time in internment with affection, almost longing. A gregarious man, he was in the company of fellow refugees. He joined in all the interesting cultural activities. Apart from that, he was a great sportsman and the self-defence sport of jujitsu was his hobby. To the amazement of his fellow internees, the elderly man showed off his sporting skills to them. Most of them were much younger. He made friends there. He dreaded returning to his lonely life.
My father died in July 1946, in utter despair, aged 67. But his time as an internee was one of the few positive experiences of the later period of his sad and lonely life. Also, he was not forgotten. When those who knew him there heard my name, they exclaimed: ‘Are you the daughter of Karl Gumpel?’ Yes, I said with sorrow and pride. ‘He was a real character. We shall always remember him. He cheered us up. And the jujitsu!’
Sir – I well remember appearing at an internment tribunal in Cambridge before a magistrate and two assessors who questioned me to decide my status as an alien – or, better, enemy alien. I was ‘awarded’ a black label to be attached to the back of my Aliens Registration Certificate (Category C) and reimbursed the two shillings and six pence I had spent to attend the hearing.
Little did they realise that a few days later I would spend a week as a member of the Air Training Corps flying in Blenheim bombers and Havoc nightfighters at the Operational Training Unit at Cranfield airfield. That was the beginning of a long story which culminated in flying at low level in a B-17G (Flying Fortress) over the house in Cologne I had left as a refugee child six years before. The wheel had turned full circle.
Sir – During my 11 months’ internment on the Isle of Man, I encountered a non-Jewish German prisoner who told me he kept up correspondence with his next of kin. Each letter was headed ‘Prisoner of War Mail’ and forwarded by the Red Cross. I sent a letter to my grandfather in Thüringen by the same method and had one answer back from Theresienstadt. The rest was silence. A few years ago I heard from Yad Vashem that he was listed in the Terezin Memorial Book, having been sent there on 20 September 1942, and that he died in the Terezin ghetto on 3 August 1944. Nazi bookkeeping!
BRINGING BACK MEMORIES
Sir – I enjoy the style, erudition and range of topics of Anthony Grenville’s articles. They frequently recall some long-forgotten event or person. The following anecdote – almost certainly apocryphal – is a case in point. A friend encountered Julius Fromm (see November issue) on a Sunday stroll, leading a large group of small children. When asked who they were, Fromm replied curtly: ‘Reklamationen’ (advertisements).
Dr Grenville’s versions of German phrases are always very good and none better than the one that provoked the thought of Emil Jannings croaking ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ in The Blue Angel.
Sir – Though a hospital appointment prevented me from attending, I am delighted there was a Kristallnacht commemoration service at the AJR Centre last month. Not so many years ago, this night of terror was commemorated in prestigious venues throughout the country and special prayers were said in most synagogues for the victims. For me, that night has special significance for it was the last time I saw my father.
I am surprised and disappointed that so many British-born Jews know nothing about it. In the vibrant community, one of the largest outside London, of which I have been a member for over 30 years, very few have knowledge of what happened that night in 1938. In order that this gruesome event should not be forgotten, I have sponsored our weekly synagogue leaflet in commemoration. It would be interesting to know if other communities remember that day. Yes, we have National Holocaust Day and Yom HaShoah as well as Memorial Prayer during Yizkor, but a special Kaddish should be said for a special day.
WHAT IS A JEW?
Sir - I should like to point out a mistake in the Point of View article by Harold Saunders (November). He states that the criteria for being Jewish are based on being born of a Jewish maternal line. Liberal Judaism (to which I proudly belong) accepts the children of Jewish males, as long as they have been brought up in the Jewish way of life. I say this with no bias. Both my parents were born Jews. Furthermore, Mr Saunders implies that Judaism is purely a religion. I disagree. Judaism is also a race. Compare, if you will, the difference between being of the Muslim race and following the Islamic religion. We have one word where they have two. Religiously, there are many forms of Judaism. Racially, there is just one. I belong to exactly the same race as Mr Saunders but, evidently, not exactly to the same religion.
Sir - Having considered myself a non-practising Jew, I was very interested in the Independent’s obituary of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism. Having been a Reform rabbi for some years, he lost his belief in a personal god and thought what was needed was a new kind of Judaism for those who could not believe in a personal god. He founded the Society for Humanistic Judaism, which has grown and formed communities mainly in America, but also in Israel and Europe. He explained his beliefs in his book Judaism beyond God in 1985, a book which is out of print but obtainable from public libraries.
COMING TO TERMS
Sir - While reviewing The Single Light for last month’s issue of the Journal, I was struck by the insight of an SS guard who realised that he was participating in a criminal act. A lot has been written about how Jews came to terms with their experiences after the war. Has there been research into the post-war adjustment of the SS? How did they convert from murder to becoming teachers, insurance agents, civil servants? How did they rationalise their Nazi past? I would be glad if anyone has information on the subject.
GO TO BLETCHLEY
Sir – I urge those who have not visited Bletchley Park to go forthwith. There are several reasons:
1. This top-secret government establishment was instrumental in breaking Nazi and Japanese codes via the Colossus and Enigma machines developed there by Alan Turing and others.
2. Without its help, Britain might not have won the war, or the war may have dragged on.
3. One of the guides who take visitors round Bletchley is Ruth Bourne, who worked there during the war. She spoke to our Southgate group earlier this year and gave a memorable presentation of her war work. She is a remarkable lady, highly knowledgable and fluent, and thus much sought after.
4. Had not the war been won by the Allies, few Jews would have remained in these islands.
ISRAELIS AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Sir – According to your November issue (Newsround), 37 per cent of Israelis believe the use of nuclear weapons to prevent a war would be justified, while 35 per cent believe the weapons could be justifiably used during a war. Have these Israelis taken leave of their senses? Have they never seen pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Israeli possession of nuclear weapons, and the continued harassment of Vanunu for telling the world of it, is probably a motive for other countries in the region to wish to acquire them – to deter Israel. If ever a nuclear weapon is detonated in the Middle East, the carnage would spread far beyond any intended target. Can’t these 35-37 per cent think?
Sir - When Victor Ross attempted to find a common denominator to count Jews (October), it struck a chord. The AJR should sponsor a competition for the best means of apportioning Jewishness - which could include a quantum as well as an uncertainty principle and, maybe, a bit of special relativity. In the Theresienstadt ghetto, I mixed with the Czech crowd and, whereas some of the older inmates suffered from the delusion that they were Czechs first and Jews second - a Weltanschauung thoroughly knocked out of Jews from Germany by then - we young ones claimed to be 200 per cent Jews, that is we were both Jews and Zionists. Did that count as two for each of us, like BOGOF at Tesco? Nearly all of the surviving Mischlinge I know, i.e. Jews only by German definition, went to Israel and served there in the army and air force. Did that cause a quantum leap from associate to full membership, or did Aryan mothers and the absence of a mohel after birth result in a hybrid yet to be defined to fit a Grand Unified Theory?
KINDERTRANSPORTS CLEARLY DOCUMENTED
Sir - Susanne Dyke feels (October) that ‘the adults who made these transports possible were not researched and written up properly.’ She will be pleased to learn (probably with thousands of others) that the events leading up to the creation and funding of the Kindertransports are clearly documented in Amy Zahl Gottlieb’s book Men of Vision: Anglo-Jewry’s Aid to Victims of the Nazi Regime, 1933–1945 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998). It lists all the political issues of the era and the contributions made in money and succour by institutions, individuals and families. And much more! This book made so much sense to me as an adult - explaining those factors which had been a mystery to me as a child saved by the KT.
THE YOUNGEST KINDERTRANSPORT REFUGEE?
Sir – I arrived at Liverpool Street Station on 3 April 1939 at the age of three. I’m now 71. Does that make me the youngest ‘refugee’ on the Kindertransport?
Congratulations on the monthly AJR magazine – always a good read, even if you don’t always agree with the writers/contributors.
Sir – Your article ‘A legacy for posterity’ (October) is an excellent example of why the AJR continues to inform and enlighten the Jewish community. You ask searching questions about the Jewish future and the leadership which I find, sadly, missing from so many of the Jewish ‘debates’ among the machers. Keep up the good work, continue to publish an admirably researched journal, and inform Victor Ross that his current article, ‘Too few Jews’, brought a smile – a big smile – to many readers.
Sir – Just to let you know that last month’s Journal seemed to surpass itself. I found so much of interest in it, especially the article ‘Between you and I’. At long last, somebody feels the same way as I do. I could scream every time anyone says that. I call it semi-educated English, spoken by people who think they’re educated but obviously are not. I don’t mind in the least when people say ‘me’ instead of ‘I’, e.g. ‘Me and my girlfriend’ or ‘It’s me.’ But to hear these pronouns wrongly applied the other way round makes me hopping mad, as does ‘who’ in the accusative or dative case. After all, people don’t say ‘That’s for he’, do they?
Sir – Thank you very much for sending me your newsletters, which are excellent.