Dec 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
A MATTER OF BIAS
Sir - The following is in response to the letter by Professor Leslie Baruch Brent in your October issue.
The year is 1936. We are in Berlin. The Nazis have been in power for three years. Persecuted, impoverished, jobless German Jews are trying to emigrate. Few succeed. Nobody wants us. It is also the year of the start of the Arab Revolt, directed against Jewish immigration to Palestine. The Arabs kill hundreds of Jews. It results in a White Paper, the Peel Commission, which reports in 1939 and restricts immigration to 10,000 desperate Jews per annum, a minuscule number considering time was not on our side.
Palestine was a natural destination with the prospect of a state of our own so as not to have to depend on the whims of others. Instead of sympathy, the Palestinian Arabs displayed callous hate. Their leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, was a friend of Hitler, with identical aims. All those prevented from entering Palestine passed through the chimneys of Auschwitz. But for those who now call themselves Palestinians they would have lived.
In 1938 we went to Prague, as did countless others with nowhere else to go. I attended the Jewish school there and have a class photo taken in May 1942 before the school was closed. I identified 38 children, of whom 29 were murdered, and 81 parents and siblings, of whom 67 were murdered. They are not just numbers: my classmates looked at the camera and some of them still smiled. Not for long though. They died a horrible death. All of them would have had a fruitful life but for the Palestinians.
I read the Israeli-based Palestinian Media Watch. The Palestinians’ territorial ambition is all the land from the River Jordan to the sea and completely judenrein. They teach their children to hate Jews, no different from the Hitler Jugend. One doesn’t find any of that in The Guardian.
Three professors share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. All of them are Jewish - newsworthy in itself. Two of them are Israeli; one of them was born in one of those dreadful settlements (Kibbutz Sde Nahum). The third is a Viennese refugee whose daughter is a GP in Israel. One looks in vain for any of that on ‘Auntie BBC’.
Sir - I would like to thank my (‘quasi-Doppelgänger’!) Professor Otto Hutter for his measured response to my letter concerning the alleged campaign in the UK against Israel. It so happens that I agree with his view that I was unduly harsh in my comments on Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s article. Unfortunately, by the time I woke up to this, the issue of the Journal had already gone to the printers and I was unable to tone down the first sentence of my letter. This I am happy to do retrospectively, although I totally stand by the rest of my letter in defence of the British media, the much reviled Guardian and all.
I would, however, say this to Otto. Having ‘a goodly clutch of great-grandchildren’ in Israel should not blind him to the gross injustices continuously being meted out to the Palestinians, even to the Israeli Arabs. In my view, it is very much in the interest of his great-grandchildren, as it is of all of us, that Israel finds an acceptable solution to the Palestinian problem. If that were not to happen I would greatly fear for their future.
As for the intemperate response from Peter Philips: I am unaware that the evil Guardian - which is considered the leading paper in the world for its investigative journalism and its independent reporting, whatever he may think of it - has advocated an economic and sporting boycott of Israel, and I suspect this is a figment of his febrile imagination. As for switching to the delights of the Murdoch newspapers, I am most unlikely to follow his advice. I am surprised he didn’t include the Mail in his list of acceptable papers, though their recent vicious attack on Ralph Miliband might make that a trifle difficult right now.
Coming back to the ‘Letter from Israel’ by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson, I don’t know whether I am the only one who would welcome the occasional reference to the real problems facing that country.
Sir – It’s one thing for Peter Phillips to display his familiarity with the British theatre. It’s another to evaluate the relative objectivity of the pre-eminent British broadsheets. My wife Rosl and I have been readers of The Guardian since the days when it was called The Manchester Guardian, with Neville Cardus beautifully writing music reviews and cricket reports. In those days, it was an escape from the platitudes of the Daily Herald. Today, The Guardian is still the most objective newspaper in this country.
Yes, it gives greater prominence to the Palestinian ‘refugees’, but it also gives voice to the problems of Israel. When, not long ago, a group of defenders of all Israel’s actions wrote a long letter, The Guardian published it in full without comment. I have not seen in recent months, either in The Guardian or The Observer, any support for a trade or sports boycott against Israel. (Speaking of refugees, the Palestinians have used that word to describe themselves for two generations, and the AJR, which consists of people who ceased being refugees generations ago and is exceedingly well run by some who never were refugees, is doing the same.)
Peter’s ‘objective’ Telegraph calls the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden ‘a traitor’ and praises the most inept education secretary in living memory to high heaven, while the editor of the ‘objective’ Times tells us on TV that the savagely watered-down version of the report on the scandalous behaviour of the press, which recently received Royal Assent, is ‘the end of the democratic British press’ (or words to that effect).
MILIBAND AND THE MAIL
Sir – The dispute between Ed Miliband and the Mail reminds me of the history teacher at my school in Beuthen. It was 1937 and I was 13 years old. Her favourite subject was the wickedness of the Communists and Marxists and how they were trying to destroy the Fatherland. One day, when she was particularly angry about them, my friend asked her what was the difference between the Communists and the Marxists. Her answer was ‘Marxists are the Jewish Communists.’ There was another Jewish boy in the class but we didn’t say anything. Of course the Mail would never say that – I hope!
A LITTLE JEALOUSY?
Sir – In your last two editions I was astonished to see two gentlemen criticise Ruth David so much with regard to her article about visiting St James’s Palace on the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport.
Ruth David and I were in the same hostel in Windermere until the end of the war and I know just how sincere she has always been in her work for justice in this world of ours, lecturing in schools here and in Germany so that the events of the past can never happen again.
What upset these gentlemen so much that they had to write such unkind letters about her? Could there be a little jealousy involved due to her ‘recognition’?
Sir - In the part of Italy called the Maremma (the southern part of Tuscany) there are three hill towns worth visiting. Solarno and Sovana are lovely but the most important one is Pitigliano - or, as it is known, ‘Little Jerusalem’.
In 1598 a synagogue was built here and a ghetto was later established. By the nineteenth century, a quarter of the population was Jewish. During the last war there were only 30 Jews remaining. These were saved by local, Catholic families. Today three Jews remain there.
So what can a visitor see of what is left of the ghetto? There is what used to be a mikveh, a place where kosher wine was produced, a place where a shochet worked, a bakery where matzot was produced, and a site where the dyeing of fabrics and tanning of leather were carried out. The small synagogue was nicely restored in 1995. A place and area well worth making a detour for.
THE BEST JEWISH CLUB IN THE WORLD
Sir – I refer to Didi Metcalf’s reminiscences about her mother’s relationship with the Austrian-Jewish ski instructor Walter Neuron in your October issue. I knew Walter Neuron very well. He was, like me, a member of Hakoah, the best Jewish club in the world! He was a wonderful skier and water polo player. After the war he came to see me in the Austrian ski resort of Zürs: I had broken my leg and we just chatted away. I don’t think I knew Didi Metcalf’s mother, Helen Smethurst.
We are all getting very old! I could tell you lots more stories but can’t write them down. At our beloved club Hakoah we had many champions, junior and senior alike, and many famous Jewish people joined. That, of course, made for lots of jealousy in our sporting world. We had tennis, football and athletics champions too.
A WONDERFUL HAVEN
Sir – I read with sadness of the closure of the AJR Centre. I’m not surprised - I always thought the move from Cleve Road would result in a decline in the numbers.
The Centre was a wonderful haven for my stepmother, Trude Schrecker, during the last 20 years of her life and I have happy memories of joining her for a game of bridge during my visits to London. So, as I said, I heard the news with sadness and nostalgia but, of course, it must be much worse for recent participants.
Getting old, as my friend and AJR co-member Victor Ross once said to me, is not for wimps. I find it a constant adjustment of having to give up activities, losing friends and facing the closure of one’s favourite restaurant etc without the prospect of replacing them. Still, I suppose it’s better than the alternative - especially if you don't believe in a life hereafter!
Let’s at least hope that the publication of your excellent journal will continue for a bit longer.
BOATS TO PALESTINE
Sir - Does anyone have any information about the boats which travelled down the Danube to Palestine in the summer or autumn of 1939? We both have relatives who made the journey and would like to know more. We believe these boats may have been organised by Zionist organisations.
We have heard that they took only young married couples. I, Carmel, have been told that my aunt and uncle married on the quayside in Prague so that they could board the boat and make their escape. I think they were on a coal barge but they may have had to transfer to a more seaworthy vessel later on. My aunt and uncle were interned in separate camps on arrival in Palestine while Sue’s family were not allowed to land and were sent to Mauritius.
We would like to know more details about these escape boats:
• How were they arranged?
• What were they called?
• How were the Zionists involved?
• What was life like on them?
• We are particularly interested in the idea that they took only married couples and would appreciate information about this.
WHEN IS A POGROM NOT A POGROM?
Sir – I have tried – for two weeks at the time of writing – to agree with Michael Heppner (October, Letters) and have entirely failed.
My late wife, a Viennese Kindertransportee, never hesitated to refer to the event as ‘Kristallnacht’ and would have been astonished to learn that she was romanticising it.
Better to think that the Nazis would have been appalled at how Jews have been able to give the event an unmovable place in history - the absolute converse to the aim of their persecutors!
KINDERTRANSPORT AND IRELAND
Sir - I am a son of the ‘Kind’ Eli Fachler, who spent several years in Wittingehame, Scotland, after he arrived in May 1939. Also, I am the founder/chair of the Jewish Historical Society of Ireland and I write and speak about the Kindertransport.
I recently attended a performance of Diane Samuels’s play Kindertransport in Dublin. At the invitation of the director, I had earlier attended a rehearsal and told the cast some of the background to the Kindertransport. In the audience at the actual performance, I met two Irish members of the Friends (Quakers). They told me they knew of ten Kindertransport children who were ‘half-Jewish’, were taken from the UK to Ireland, and stayed in a school in Waterford. I had never heard of ‘half-Jewish’ children on the Kindertransport and had never heard of Ireland as a destination for Kindertransport children. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Millisle) yes – but not Ireland. Can anyone throw light on this?
A SECOND BOOK
Sir - Thanks very much to the people who responded to my earlier request for stories of betrayal in the Holocaust. The book is progressing and should be available in the autumn of 2014.
I would be interested to hear from people who had problems with their education and were denied degrees or had them withdrawn. I also understand that streets named after famous Jews were sometimes renamed and I should be glad to hear of any examples. All contributions will be acknowledged in the book.
CLUB 43 PROJECT
Sir - I am a historian who lived in Britain in the 1980s-90s and often went to Club 43. I am now working on a research project about it and would like to talk to former members. Were you a member of Club 43? If so, please contact me.
AJR LUNCH – A SINCERE THANK YOU
Sir - A belated but sincere thank you to everyone involved in organising this event. It was a really lovely afternoon. The meal was excellent, the staff most efficient and attentive, the musical interlude delightful. As always, it was good to meet folk for a ‘schmooze’.
AJR HOLIDAY IN WINDERMERE - A BIG THANK YOU
Sir – Once again, I want to say a big thank you to the AJR for organising a wonderful holiday in Windermere. Also, a big thank you to Myrna Bernard and Jim Sutherland for the way in which they took care of us. They worked so hard to make sure we had a good time and we were encouraged – but never pressured – to take part in outings. It was lovely to meet old friends and make lots of new ones. We all got on well from day one – hope we all meet again.
A HOME FOR GERMAN-LANGUAGE BOOKS
Sir - I can fully identify with the feelings of attachment that Mrs Kugler has for her books (November). In common with many refugees, my late father had a library which contained the full set of Jüdische Enzyklopädie, together with three sets of Goethe in Gothic script, the Leo Baeck Year Books, Journals of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society etc., etc. It is sometimes difficult for people who brought their books out of Europe, often under very difficult circumstances, to appreciate that today this information is readily accessible globally via the Internet, often without charge.
Apart from holding a few copies in central and loan libraries, there is less need for libraries to hold these books in paper form. Moreover, librarians have to balance the cost of holding printed material readily available elsewhere with other demands.
There is undoubted satisfaction in using a printed book rather than reading the same information from a sterile screen. Perhaps Mrs Kugler can gain some measure of satisfaction from knowing that information today is widely accessible worldwide to a young generation of scholars. It would also appear that antiquarian book-collecting continues to thrive – showing perhaps that digital and written information can happily coexist.
FIRST RABBI IN A PARLIAMENT OUTSIDE ISRAEL?
Sir - For the first time in Latin American history, a rabbi has been elected to the Argentine parliament. Fifty-one-year-old Sergio Bergman is a member of the centre-right party in opposition to President Cristina Kirchner and is close to the mayor of Buenos Aires, a possible contender in the next presidential election. Despite the age gap, he is also said to be a friend of the 76-year-old former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio - now Pope Francis I.
Bergman`s claim to be the first rabbi in any ‘national parliament outside Israel’ is doubtful since there was at least one Viennese rabbi in the Austrian parliament before 1914 and there have been at least two chief rabbis in the British House of Lords, not counting Rabbi Lady Neuberger.