Dec 2008 Journal
Letters to the Editor
THE KINDERTRANSPORTS 70 YEARS ON
Sir - I read with great interest your November leading article ‘The Kindertransports 70 Years On’ and was particularly gratified that you mentioned ‘the distress of parents forced to send their children away as the only means of saving their lives’.
On 28 October 1938, my father was arrested by the Gestapo and, with the first transport of Polish Jews, was deported from Berlin to Poland, leaving my mother alone to cope with three young children and the forced sale of my father's business and their home.
In February 1939, my mother took the courageous and selfless decision to put my older sister Ruth and myself on a Kindertransport train bound for Belgium, although we did not have the necessary passes and were not expected by anyone At the Belgian border in Aachen, a policeman entered our compartment and asked to see our passes. As we did not have any, he shouted ‘Descendez!’ My sister, five years older and very mature for her age, told me to sit still and wait. Some very anxious 30 minutes later, the policeman returned to our compartment and said ‘Continuez!’
Late that afternoon we arrived at the assembly point in Brussels, where all the ‘Kinder’ except us were met by their foster families and we were welcomed by one of the Committee members with the words ‘Legale haben wir genug, Illegale brauchen wir nicht’ (We have enough legal children - we don’t need any illegals). It was only a short time ago that I learned that Belgium had restricted the number of Kindertransport children to be admitted to 600 (hence the Committee’s distress at having two more to care for) and I pray that no children were sent back because of us.
Three weeks before the outbreak of war in August 1939, my mother finally obtained a visa for England as a domestic servant and, on her way to this country, came to see us at our hostel near Brussels together with my younger sister Bronia. She was not allowed to take Bronia with her to England as the Committee insisted (probably correctly) that if she arrived in Britain with a young child, they would both be sent back. Too young for our hostel, Bronia was sent to an orphanage and was eventually rescued from deportation by a wonderful Belgian family who saved her life at the risk of their own.
When Belgium was invaded in May 1940, the person in charge of our hostel was able to secure two goods wagons leaving for France - a miracle in view of all the refugees fleeing from the Germans - and we ultimately arrived at a small village near Toulouse. At the end of 1942, my sister joined a Jewish resistance group and in September 1943 arranged for me to escape across the border to Switzerland, while she escaped to Spain via the Pyrenees.
Throughout the six terrible war years, my mother was totally alone in London, not knowing the fate of her husband (sadly my father perished in Belsen in January 1945) or children. She worked day and night to earn enough money to make a home for us if we survived. I was finally reunited with her in October 1945. Of course, the ‘Kinder’ suffered, but what about the suffering of the parents - it should not be forgotten!
Sir – Your leader ‘The Kindertransports 70 Years On’ is a real tour-de-force. You have managed to capture an amazing array of complicated issues in two pages – my congratulations. What a pity the article is unlikely to reach a larger readership than members of the AJR. You have explicitly told not only the facts behind this historic event, and the traumas it involved for so many, but also the unpalatable truths of government indifference and unwillingness to act when action was paramount. We readers of the AJR Journal are privileged to have access to such erudite writing.
Sir - I am always impressed by Dr Grenville’s scholarliness and the clarity of his writing. I hope therefore he will accept the following comments regarding his Kindertransport article.
It was the 1937 permission for Spanish children to come to England to avoid the Civil War for its duration that was accepted as a precedent for the Kindertransport. We were allowed to come ‘in transit’.
Re Nicholas Winton: There was no ‘defying the Nazis as a private individual’ and there was no risk. He went to visit friends with whom he had intended to go on a skiing holiday. He stayed in Prague for two weeks and assisted admirable people like Chadwick and Barazetti in their valuable, arduous and ongoing work with the children. In March 1939 he returned to England, where he benefited from, and became part of, the Kindertransport organisation that had already been set up by people in this country in November 1938, as you explained. He was a valuable link, but to call him ‘Britain's Schindler’ is totally inappropriate.
Sir – The holiday camp at Dovercourt referred to by Anthony Grenville was not a Butlins operation (letter to me from Butlins dated 26 August 1993). However, I remember seeing one or two Warner signs during my stay at the camp in December 1938 perhaps left there by the owners when preparing the camp for the refugee children.
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
Sir - I am a contemporary of Thomas Edmund Konrad (November issue) and we appear to have been in the same place at the same time, i.e. in 1944 Budapest. I consider it incumbent upon me to share my own recollections of those turbulent and bloody days and, in so doing, attempt to clarify events of which we were both a part.
Samu Stern was not alone in not wanting to believe the menace of Auschwitz: he was part of the vast majority of Hungarian Jews who felt certain that whatever befell their co-religionists further east, this could not happen to them. My own father was convinced that, being a faithful and patriotic Hungarian, the nation to which he considered he belonged would never treat him the way Jews in the east were treated. This notwithstanding my mother’s direct knowledge gained from interviewing and helping many from Poland and Galicia.
The Yishuv levied much criticism, after the event, of Hungarian Jews in general and Rudolf Kasztner in particular, for not resisting their own extermination. Yet I am not aware of any initiative from that quarter to suggest even the possibility of resistance. With the absence of most Jewish males between the ages of 21 and 50 on military labour service, this may not have been a practical possibility but, in any event, it was simply not considered an option at the time.
Mr Konrad seems to suggest that Kasztner’s train was one on which tickets could simply be bought. This, I am afraid, was not the case. ‘Passengers’ had to have a Palestine immigration permit, the gift of which was not in Kasztner’s hands. While there were undoubtedly individuals on the train who contributed to the bribes Kasztner had to pay the SS, the majority paid nothing and were selected strictly on the basis of their Zionist merits. There were, of course, suggestions that Kasztner profited from these contributions. Suffice it to say that when he and his family arrived in Israel they lived in a one-room flat in Tel Aviv and he had to eke out a living working for a Hungarian publication.
It is perhaps relevant if I quote my family’s experience of Kasztner’s activities. We were taken from a Budapest suburb to a brickworks preparatory to being loaded on to an Auschwitz-bound train. Our name was announced, together with the names of five other families, and we were all loaded on a lorry and taken to a special camp in Budapest, where we found hundreds of Jews from various parts of Hungary similarly rescued. We soon found out that the sole criterion of this rescue was one or more family members’ Zionist activity. There was no mention of any finnacial contribution from any of us. We were simply there awaiting the next train to Palestine, which, of course, never came.
A NON-REFUGEE COMPLEX
Sir – I have no refugee status. However, I do have what can perhaps be described as a ‘non-refugee complex’. This manifests itself as a distinct feeling of guilt that I was spared what was for so many simply the consequences of being born a Jew.
When acting as a convenor during Holocaust events for schoolchildren, the question is always asked ‘If it had been you …?’ In these sessions, people are able to imagine how they might have reacted in situations similar to the ones they have heard described by survivors. Raphael Jewish Counselling Service, from the chair of which I have just retired, is privileged to have several second-generation survivors among its clients. Perhaps there is one among your readers who has an answer to my guilt. Yes, I have learned to live with it, but it does somehow make me feel a part of – or is it apart from? - the AJR and I have a suspicion that your readers may like to know about it and possibly comment.
MONDAY MORNING NEWS
Sir - Spare us please extreme right-wing propaganda, especially if, like so much right-wing propaganda, it is such arrant nonsense (October issue, article by Fred Stern). Just to look at the key points:
‘[O]ur money’: That money can buy power is unfortunately true. We do our
best to restrain this by electing governments and local governments and by trying to prosecute bribery and corruption. To present it as a desirable or legitimate use of money is perverse or contemptible.
‘African nations which support [the Mugabe regime]’: It is positively immoral to suggest that because of our annual few million pounds of aid, we should be able to dictate the foreign policy of some of the poorest countries in the world. Did not most of us condemn both the USA and the USSR during the Cold War for ‘buying’ allies and encouraging proxy wars?
‘[We are] the only true refugees’: This would be utter nonsense were it not such a harmful statement. The Sun and The Mail do enough mischief by conflating asylum-seekers with economic migrants without your support. What, if not refugees, are the Tutsis who managed to flee from genocide in Rwanda to Burundi or the DR Congo, or the Negro farmers fleeing ethnic cleansing by nomadic, ethnic Arabs in Darfur?
Your editorial material usually upholds the liberal, humane standards from which we benefited. Please keep it so.
IN SUPPORT OF ISRAEL
Sir – I find it irritating to read the constant criticism by readers from the comfort of their armchairs in NW6, N12, Hayling Island, etc. Can I remind these ‘liberals’ that our Israeli brethren are being threatened with extermination by over 1 billion Muslims? The primary duty of any government is to protect the lives of its citizens by all means available. We are fortunate to have survived a Holocaust – do the critics really wish for another?
Sir - Some of our readers’ memories are conveniently short. How many remember early June 1967? Virtually every Jew went to a synagogue in the evening, some to pray whilst others were seeking comfort, but we all wanted to show our solidarity with our co-religionists across the sea who were staring in the face of another annihilation.
Our pride soon swelled after their victory - the few against the amassed combined might of their enemies. The Jews were fighters for their right to exist, not quitters.
For those with short memories, look up in your encyclopaedia ‘Entebbe and Idi Amin’ – his threat to execute all the Jewish hostages. Can anyone recall which nation spoke up for the Jewish hostages? It was the IDF who came to their rescue. We are fortunate in having many doers in our midst, who outnumber the knockers and pessimists. That is how we have survived for so long.
Sir – We should all support Israel and be grateful that it is there.
Sir – I feel Jews like Margolyes, Pinter et al, apart from not knowing Jewish history, are trying to show the non-Jewish world they are ‘with it’ by joining the media chorus of disapproval of Israel and its actions against the Arabs, aka ‘Palestinians’.
Sir – I strongly believe in a two-state solution, on the basis of proposals which have been agreed by Kadima, Labour and Meretz. Perhaps Rubin Katz (November, Letters) would give an outline of his peace proposals.
Sir – I found the letters on the Israel-Arab situation in the November issue most instructive. I learned from Rubin Katz that what I had understood to be a massive defensive wall between Israel and the West Bank was just a fence. It sounds quite endearing. I also learned from him that if you are religiously inclined, like the Hebron settlers – sorry, re-occupiers – you have carte blanche to do anything you regard as being in accordance with your credo.
Also from him and from G. J. Fisher and Alex Lawrence I learned that I must not be critical of Israel unless at the same time I criticise the Iranians, the Arabs and just about everyone else who has ever committed an injustice. It reminds me of the argument used by British Nazi sympathisers like Sir Arnold Lunn before the war that it was out of order to criticise the Nazis unless one had previously criticised the Communists.
From Trudy Gefen I learned that there is no Palestine because the name is only some 2,000 years old and there are no Palestinians because they all came from elsewhere. So I cannot be British because I came from Germany and, by the same argument, the Jews cannot be Israelis because they originally came from Egypt via the now defunct land route across the Red Sea.
Finally, having read this letter, your correspondent Dr Emil Landes from the same issue will think me a right proper nutcase.
Sir - I refer to Henry Herner's hate slogans (October, Letters) and would like to forward some from the ‘other side of the fence’. As an Austrian refugee in occupied Poland, I remember some of the many rhymes made up to help our morale. The one in German went like this: ‘Wir wollen keinen Führer von Berchtesgaden, Wir wollen keinen Maler von Gottesgnaden, Wir wollen kein Eintopf und Hering, Wir wollen essen und fressen wie Feldmarschall Göring.’ Needless to say, we couldn’t sing them while marching the streets!
AN ORDERLY QUEUE OF ONE
Sir - One of the more admirable characteristics of the British is the habit of queuing, which I adopted as soon as I landed. I even formed an orderly queue of one on many occasions. It is fair, classless, disciplined and - so I thought - efficient. Now, a professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University has shown, using game theory (whatever that is), that charging at the check-out and pushing your way to the cashier can shorten waiting time. Or maybe it will get you a black eye. He didn’t make it clear whether his findings were of universal application or applied only to Tel Aviv.