Dec 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
RETURN TO NEUBAUGASSE
Sir – Whenever the AJR Journal arrives at my house, I scan it then put it aside until I can give it my full attention. But not this time!
The article ‘21 Neubaugasse’ by Judith Gordon in your October issue caught my attention big-time and I couldn’t wait to read it! For I too was a child of the Neubaugasse - born and raised at number 70, just a short distance from where the Gelber family once lived.
My dad had a small shop in our third-floor apartment, selling and repairing radios. Further up the street were some large, fancy radio shops. But my dad had his long-time, loyal customers who didn’t mind climbing the stairs.
Our apartment house was large, consisting of two buildings connected by a courtyard. There were many tenants and we always had a cordial relationship with our neighbours. It came as a shock when neighbours and friends turned against us overnight once the Nazis marched in.
I was the only survivor in my family. A few months too ‘old’ for the Kindertransport, I managed to get to England on a domestic permit. I lived with a family, doing housework and caring for their young child. In 1941 I joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and served until the end of the war.
Some 50 years later, I finally returned to Vienna with my daughter Heidi. We stood outside Neubaugasse 70 and looked upward to where I used to live. All around us streetcars clanged, cars blew their horns and people hurried along the busy thoroughfare. Did anybody remember? Did anybody know? Heidi and I climbed three stories to the apartment and stood before the closed door. The door of the neighbouring apartment opened and a Turkish lady came out. We chatted and she invited us in. She made coffee and served pastries. She had lived in Vienna for 15 years. No, she knew nothing of the Holocaust.
We thanked her and left. Going downstairs, I paused for a moment. I thought of the Stormtroopers who, 50 years earlier, had rushed up these steps to fetch my mother to her death. ‘Are you OK, mum?’, my daughter asked. ‘I’m fine,’ I said.
And we left Neubaugasse 70 to return to our busy lives.
Sir – ‘Fame’ at last! I was born at Neubaugasse 36, as were my brother and sister. It was a really beautiful flat.
What a happy childhood I spent there, opposite the corner of Westbahnstrasse and Neubaugasse! Der Puppenpfeifer – how I loved that shop, the lovely windows and the various themes depending on the time of year!
I phoned my old schoolfriend, who lives in Leeds now. We started school together in the Volksschule Zollergasse. She too lived in the Neubaugasse. We had a lovely time reminiscing about places there.
I am 87 now. Then I was known as Mimi Blumenfeld. If anyone remembers me, I would like to hear from them (via the Journal).
Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my promise to my daughter to show her the Puppenpfeifer – after the war, it was gone.
I would dearly love to go to Vienna once more as I still love the city but my health restricts me. But I still have happy memories even though my father came to England and died here at the age of 58 from ill-treatment in Dachau and Buchenwald. I am always looking forward to your journal every month and still miss the meetings we had at Prentis Road, Streatham.
Sir - I was both saddened and shocked by the letter from George and Helga Lazurus (November). I fully share their views about the atrocities committed by many Austrians during the war and this can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.
But the present generation of Austrians, and indeed their parents, are not guilty of these crimes and cannot be held responsible for them. Rather belatedly the Austrian government has done much to make amends as far as that is possible, and the embassy in London has fully reflected this. Many ex-Austrians have been warmly and generously welcomed back on visits to their home towns. The very successful ‘Letter to the Stars’ programme a few years ago showed that many Austrians, especially young people, wanted to express their disgust concerning what happened in the past and to work for reconciliation with the survivors. My wife and I are happy to have many Austrian friends, including the family now living in what used to be my home in Vienna.
Sir - I refer to the letter from George and Helga Lazarus. They enjoyed the AJR’s annual Tea but were disturbed that a member of the Austrian embassy was to be present, in view of the part that country played in supporting the Holocaust. In the event, the Austrian representative was not present.
Today’s Germans and Austrians are like baalei teshuva (those who repent) and deeply regret what happened in their countries in the Nazi era. One must warmly welcome those who repent and not remind them of their former lifestyle. Most likely the member of the Austrian embassy who was to have been present was not even born so many years ago. And he would have come to express friendship.
When I was invited by my father’s hometown near Bremen, a local lady aged
86 came to all the meetings and outings. Her husband, a Christian clergyman, had spoken out against Hitler and had been taken away, leaving her with six children. Whoever in history heard of a country that persecuted Jews later paying compensation! These payments enable survivors to live in their old age without financial worries.
‘VOTE, VOTE, VOTE FOR CLEMENT ATTLEE?’
Sir – Professor Brent in his letter in the November issue seems to have overlooked several very important points in his enthusiasm for Clement Attlee.
First, with Sir Stafford Cripps, Mr Attlee very nearly bankrupted this country and caused the worst devaluation of Sterling, from which we have never been able to fully recover.
It is true that life in Britain is still largely based on his welfare system, which is now one of the major problems that has thereby been created.
The NHS has served this country very well up to now, but it is questionable whether future generations can continue to afford the luxury, with an ever-growing elderly population and the rising cost of new equipment, drugs and expanding methods of treatment.
The benefit system created by the Attlee government is the big problem that has now to be tackled. It has created a generation of spongers. There are perfectly healthy people who have never earned a living and are entirely supported at taxpayers’ expense, and it is certainly not because of a lack of jobs (why can others come from afar and obtain jobs?).
Also, we now have four out of ten of the working population whose salary/wages are paid by the state, whereby each taxpayer in private industry is having to support 40 per cent of a state employee. With ever-increasing automation, that is just not sustainable, so the public sector must be shrunk.
Finally, the unfunded pension system created by the Attlee government is producing an ever-increasing burden on future generations as current taxpayers are having to pay the pensions of yesterday’s employees.
THE FUTURE OF THE AJR
Sir – As a Second Generation member, I read with interest both Michael Newman’s article in the September issue and Andrew Kaufman’s message in the August edition.
I myself was not aware until these articles appeared that the AJR was operating with such a deficit. Furthermore, in the present economic climate, this deficit is likely to worsen. At the same time, considering the demography of the membership, there is likely to be an increased demand on the AJR’s Social Services department.
I myself have been involved with the AJR for more than nine years but it was only the recent articles which suggested to me the desirability, and indeed necessity, of leaving a legacy to the AJR if it is to continue performing its valuable function. I have now done so.
For those members who wish to leave a legacy but already have a will, I can assure them as a retired solicitor that a simple codicil would suffice without going to the expense of drafting a new will.
A FATEFUL FLIGHT
Sir – We are twice blessed in the October issue with Dr Grenville’s customary informative and intelligent contributions.
With regard to his article on Wilfrid Israel, some of us will recall the front page of our newspaper that reported the loss of BOAC Flight 777 - in the case of the News Chronicle accompanied by a photograph of the actor Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet.
I was surprised then and remain so by the realisation that civilian flights took place in or anywhere near war-battered Europe. Most people would not have dared to venture this, but it was suggested that Howard himself was engaged in undercover intelligence work for his country but that the plane was destroyed because the Germans thought Winston Churchill himself was on board.
As for Dr Grenville’s article ‘Lost cities of the Mediterranean’, is it not wonderful that, in the absence of national boundaries, Jews and countless others can live, work and express themselves culturally without fearing, or even insulting, each other?
Sir – In the summer of 1943 I was secretary to David Blickenstaff in Madrid, having fled from occupied France.
David was director of the American Quakers and of the American Joint Distribution Committee, which looked after mainly Jewish refugees in Spain, as mentioned in Anthony Grenville’s article in your October issue.
Wilfrid Israel came to our office to see David. He also saw me to give me a message from Dr Bell, the then Bishop of Chichester, who was instrumental in getting me to Britain in the middle of the war.
A few days later, Wilfrid left for Portugal to board that fateful plane to London. It was a terrible shock for all of us when David was informed of it. The British embassy told us the Germans were convinced Churchill would be on board.
‘A NICE JEWISH REFUGEE BOY’
Sir - Edith Argy (November) was inspired by her cousin Herb Feith. So was I. He and I became friends at Melbourne High School. In the late 1940s, influenced by a Victor Gollancz book, Herb persuaded a girl and shy, reluctant little me to join him in collecting money, door to door, for starving Germans. I think they were displaced Sudeten Germans, to my parents’ horror. ‘Civilised people don't even leave their enemies to starve, let alone their defeated former enemies,’ Herb said.
A PLEASURE TO READ
Sir – I’m writing to say how much I enjoy the AJR Journal. My father, Manfred Vanson, got it through the years until he passed away. Then my sister, Dorothea Shefer-Vanson – yes, the one who writes the ‘Letter from Israel’ – continued the subscription and she passes it to her sisters to read, and we all enjoy it. It is interesting and the English is of a very high standard. My profession is that of proof-reader and editor and I can assure you it is a pleasure to read a publication which has been edited and proof-read to a high level.
A WORD TO MY CRITICS
Sir - Thank you to Amnon Needham (October) for making it so clear why there is so much antipathy towards Israel. Arrogant, uncaring, self-centred - that’s how I would describe his views. And naïve! He didn’t like being David fighting Goliath. I should remind him that David won. We, the ‘liberal, enlightened and educated’, did not look on ‘with pity’ at the ‘inevitable destruction’ of Israel. With so many supporters in the USA and Europe, Israel was always going to win any war against its Arab neighbours, culminating, indeed, in its great victory in the Six-Day War. Israel did survive but in recent years has become weaker - not ‘stronger’, as he maintained. It has lost most of its allies.
Furthermore, where did I say that what cannot be seen (God) does not exist? Or that religious Jews should not have the vote? (Come to think of it, if the religious Jews refuse to do military service, it might be a good idea if they didn’t have the vote!) Also, nowhere did I argue that parts of Israel should be judenrein.
I also do not believe, as he does, that God gave Israel to us, and I am horrified by his saying that, if it were not for that one reason, we would have very little claim to it. Has he not heard of the Balfour Declaration and the 1947 UN vote?
Why does he want to ‘spill the other guy’s blood before he gets at our kids’? Is that what his ‘religious types’ are teaching Israeli children?
Lastly, why is he so arrogant as ‘not [to] give a monkey’s’ what gentiles think? Why not be grateful for what the majority have done since the Holocaust? Israel needs friends - but, perhaps, not friends like him!
Now to Rubin Katz (November), who accuses me of having no seichel. The reason he gives is that I suggested to a fellow Jew that he go and live in Israel, something Mr. Katz felt I had no right to do as I was a refugee from Austria! I can’t follow this logic. With regard to The Finkler Question, I don’t see myself as Finkler. I am neither ‘anti-Israel’ nor ‘anti-Zionist’. And I do not ‘abhor’ religious Jews. I simply do not feel I have anything in common with them, and I am upset that they now seem to be running Israel. Israel was set up as a secular state not a religious fundamentalist one. Mr. Katz defends Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s ‘gaffes’ by saying that ‘a curse or two never broke anyone’s bones’. That is pathetic. Lastly, he says that only ‘marriage and divorce’ are in the domain of the Beth Din. What about conversion? What about the fact that they dictate Mr. Netanyahu’s policies - because he knows he is in power only thanks to them? Stop kidding yourself, Mr Katz. Look around Israel and see what is really going on there.
Henry Schragenheim (November) spoils a good letter with his second paragraph. What on earth has the fact that 3,000 years ago Jewish kings ruled the people and that the king (which king?) read from the Torah in the temple on the festival of Succot, got to do with anything that is happening today? Anyway, how does he know this? Was he there?
Henri Obstfeld (November) has my sympathy. I posed the question as to who is a genuine Holocaust survivor because of people like him. Reading his history, I personally would say he is a genuine Holocaust survivor and so, I believe, would most people.
‘A POPULAR JEWISH MYTH’
Sir - I refer to Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s Letter from Israel in your November edition. She expertly displays her knowledge of world history but is quite wrong on one point.
She reiterates the popular Jewish myth that the Romans exiled the Jews from their country! I studied the history of that period in detail for my London University MA so I am qualified to state that all the Romans did in this regard in CE 70 was to take captive (as slaves) inhabitants of Judea, which was just a small area around Jerusalem. Jews remained (in large numbers) in the rest of Palestine. In subsequent decades, there was gradual migration to Galilee and in the following centuries migration from the Holy Land principally because of deteriorating economic conditions. It is noteworthy that the hereditary Jewish Patriarchate (the office of Nasi) remained in place in Palestine until the early fifth century.
A FULL LIFE: CLAIRE RAYNER
Sir – Some 15 years ago I indulged in a one-off luxury – a taxi to a theatre matinee. The play wasn’t my cup of tea but my encounter with the taxi-driver made it worthwhile.
He was a middle-aged Sephardi Jew and his hobby was research into genealogy. He told me his favourite book was The Running Years by Claire Rayner. ‘How I wish she would jump into my taxi!’, he said.
I told him I couldn’t promise that but that I had met Claire Rayner in connection with my many years’ participation in voluntary activities with Women’s Cancer Control. Mr Fernandez gladly gave me his address.
No sooner said than done. Claire was delighted to hear my tale. She got in touch with the gentleman and was delighted to sign his copy of her book. To my joy, she presented me with a further signed copy of her book. I have treasured her marvellously researched saga of the history of our people going back to 70 AD.
Being Claire Rayner, her vivid portrayal of the misery of poverty, snobbery and class distinction among our Jews in the so-called Good Old Days is all-pervasive.
Claire certainly lived a full life. With affection and admiration!