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Feb 2012 Journal

Letters to the Editor

HAS AUSTRIA REALLY CHANGED?

Sir - For the past 32 years I’ve been returning my Lebensbestätigungen, always from the same address, to the Pensionsversicherungsanstalt in Vienna. Imagine my consternation when, in mid-December, I got a letter from them asking me to complete and return unverzüglich (promptly) a form confirming my Ansässigkeit (residence), certified by my local tax office.

Official jargon always baffles me but I did get the gist of the letter. Get on with it or else! Guilty until proven innocent. At worst, I gathered, I might have to repay tax for all the years I had been drawing the pension. None of it made sense to me. The Pensionsversicherungsanstalt must know that our Austrian pensions are exempt from tax in the UK because the British government views them as restitution, although, of course, nothing can compensate us for our losses.

Fortunately, a second-generation friend e-mailed Michael Newman at the AJR and he responded with admirable speed. The AJR was dealing with it. What a relief!
To the best of my knowledge, only those of us who fled in our late teens or later and are now in our nineties have been contacted. The ‘Kinder’ were left alone.

In March 2009 I spent a most enjoyable week as the guest of the City of Vienna and the message throughout my visit was that Austria had changed, and I was persuaded to believe it. But has it really? This unsettling letter sent to the most vulnerable pensioners makes me doubt it!

Edith Argy, London W9

AN ENCOUNTER WITH LUDWIG SPIRO

Sir - I started at the AJR six years ago and in my very first week I was instructed to pick up the late Ludwig Spiro from his home in Northwood. Not a daunting task - but it was to turn into a little bit of a drama.

I set off from Stanmore vaguely knowing the way to Northwood and found his home quite easily. At 93 Ludwig was just a little bit scary as he had a voice that boomed and I had heard what an impressive man he was. We were going to our group meeting in Welwyn Garden City, where he was to be our guest speaker.

I went to put the address into the satellite navigation system built into my car. But nothing would make it work. Without displaying too much panic and with neither of us having a clue as to how to get to Welwyn, I telephoned Susan Harrod, our administrator at Head Office. She promptly got a map up on the computer and talked me through the way on the phone on the loudspeaker in my car. Ludwig was quiet and a little bemused.

We arrived on time. I phoned my husband to tell him of my brave adventure on week one of the job and he asked ‘Is the sat nav on a disc like a cd?’ ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘Oh, I thought it was a music cd and put it in the glove compartment!’ So my journey home was perfectly navigated only for Ludwig to comment ‘Excellent driving for a woman – well done!’ You can imagine my relief. He was an amazingly striking man and a fantastic speaker.

Hazel Beiny,

TRIP TO HOLLAND THANKS TO AJR

Sir – I am writing to thank the AJR for its involvement in the trip to Holland for the unveiling of a statue to the Kindertransport. It was a very special and moving occasion and many tributes were paid to all the agencies involved.

I would especially like to thank Andrea Goodmaker for all her care and thoughtfulness in looking after the ‘Kinder’ from the UK. She was very efficient and most kind. Many thanks to you all for all your work.

Ruth Jacobs, London N20

CLUB 43: HANS SEELIG PAPERS

Sir - I noted that you wrote about the end of Club 43 in December 2011. I am a cousin of Hans Seelig. We donated all Hans’s papers, including correspondence, to the Wiener Library in London. I do not know if it has been catalogued (there is a backlog), but I think that people interested in Club 43 should know that his papers, as well as photographs, are there.

Lois Gilman, New York

LIFE IN WESTERBORK

Sir - I have just come across the moving article ‘The short life of Kurt Herbert Ikenberg’ in the November journal and am grateful for the information it contains about life in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork. My grandfather, Moses Azdebal, was at that camp from 18 November 1942 to 23 January 1943, when he was transported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. So it was good to learn that there was no famine at Westerbork and I like to think that my grandfather, who was there without family, derived some solace from seeing young children like Kurt Ikenberg playing on the camp grounds.

The information about my grandfather’s time in Holland - he arrived in Haarlem from Leipzig in August 1940 - came from the Dutch Red Cross. I was surprised to learn from them that Dutch law requires that country to document the fate of all Jews who spent time in the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Eve R. Kugler, London N3

GREETINGS FROM BUENOS AIRES

Sir - I didn’t want to let the year 2011 pass without thanking you for sending me the AJR Journal every month. I always read every bit of it, including the advertisements! I love the Art Notes and the book reviews.

I often wish I didn’t live so far away and had the chance to meet and get to know some of you as I am a solitary ‘Kind’ here in Buenos Aires. I am still in touch with my lovely ‘foster family’ in Bath, eternally grateful for all they did for me during the eight years I lived with them.

May 2012 bring peace to this troubled world we live in.

Lisa Seiden, Buenos Aires

‘ERUDITE JOURNAL’

Sir – Thank you for sending me the November edition of the AJR Journal. As well as having the obituary of my very old friend and colleague Martha Blend, I have had the pleasure of reading so many informative and interesting articles (I had watched the BBC film on Hans Litten).

May I wish continued success for this unsurprisingly erudite journal, which demonstrates a wide spectrum of Jewish opinion. As a non-Jew, I applaud your contributors’ integrity and courage.

Ann Thomas (address not supplied)

15 SECONDS OF FAME

Sir – ‘Letter from Israel’ is always the first article I read on receipt of the AJR Journal and I was especially pleased to read Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s latest article ‘15 seconds of fame’ as it brought back memories of my own association with the Mann Auditorium.

As a temporary resident in Israel in 1961, I was lucky to be offered the job of English Secretary to the Director of the Israel Philharmonic, whose offices were located on the top floor of the Mann Auditorium. Built in 1957 in a very similar style to the Royal Festival Hall, but with better acoustics, so I was told, it was then brand new and the offices, with floor-to-ceiling windows from which one could see the sea, were a pleasure to work in until the air-conditioning broke down in mid-July!

One of the perks of the job was meeting some of the eminent conductors
and musicians who performed for the IPO such as Carlo Maria Giulini, who was exceptionally good looking, Isaac Stern, Sir John Barbirolli (the silver top of his walking stick contained a flask for an occasional swig of whisky) and his very imposing wife, Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, a musician in her own right. I was even given occasional tickets for a performance - worth more than gold dust - and thus was not short of new-found friends.

I have retained very fond memories of my time at the IPO and was therefore doubly upset when the Orchestra was almost prevented from playing at last year’s Proms by some Muslim fanatics who, to the best of my knowledge, have never been prosecuted.

Betty Bloom, London NW3

RELIGION ‘DYING OUT’

Sir – Margarete Stern’s thought-provoking letter in your January issue prompts me to put pen to paper.

I married many years ago into an Orthodox British family. The words ‘deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens’ were as alien to them as the German national anthem. My late husband and I attended numerous Jewish functions: engagements, weddings, barmitzvahs, funerals – all strictly Orthodox.

Many participants have passed away. Their children and grandchildren have (with the exception of four couples) all married out and none of their offspring have returned to Judaism. I am afraid that religion of whatever hue seems to be dying out generally, with perhaps the exception of Catholicism.

(Mrs) Marion Smith, Harrow, Middx

‘CREATING ANTI-SEMITISM’

Sir - Mr Phillips (November 2011) considers that Jews should not observe commandments of their faith because it creates anti-Semitism. This is like a Jew who washes his car on Shabbat instead of Sunday in order not to upset his Christian neighbour, and the neighbour cuts his lawn on Sunday.

When the Chief Rabbi attends a church he does so out of respect and friendship. He does not pray there and no one would think that he regards them as a branch of Judaism.

In 1930 the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg was invited to the installation of a new bishop.
He did not want to go into the church and also did not want to give offence by saying he was not going. So he took a taxi deliberately timed to arrive late. When he got to the cathedral he was told ‘You cannot go in, it has already started.’

Henry Schragenheim, London N15

STRICTLY DANCING LESSONS

Sir - Edith Argy’s done it again with her excellent memory and witty style, with which she managed to conjure up in me my own memories of days gone by. ‘Shall we dance?’ (December) is a case in point.

Dancing meant a great deal to my father and mother. It was at a dance that they first met and immediately fell in love, he at 19, she at 18. Six years later, in 1913, they married (as they wanted to wait till he was earning more money) and a further six years later she gave birth to my sister, and six years after that, to me. Their love for each other remained as fresh as at the beginning until my father’s passing, aged 74, in 1962, and so did his passion for dancing especially, or rather exclusively, the Viennese waltz, at which they both excelled.

At the Cumberland hotel in Bournemouth, by then an elderly couple, they were the focus of attention with their waltzes and the photographers would train their cameras on them. They even once won first prize as the best dancers of the evening.

I once heard my father say fully in earnest – and that greatly disturbed me – that he would sooner die than not be able to dance any longer.

With this sort of mindset my father was eager for me to learn ballroom dancing as was then generally the custom. So one day, when I was a young girl, he announced happily that he had seen an advert for dancing lessons in a window of a house in our neighbourhood and gone inside. He was amazed to find a middle-aged Scottish lady, who told him she was stone-deaf. He wouldn’t even have noticed that as she could lip-read and communicate perfectly. But how was she going to go about teaching me to dance, I wondered. I was not at all surprised to find that I seemed to be her only pupil. Yet she did have one more - a nice young man she never tired telling me about.

She produced the music by turning on her old-fashioned gramophone and stuck her head right inside to feel the vibrations as she couldn’t hear a thing. She would then whirl me around repeating ‘Quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, slow!’ She was very friendly and always cheerful. She probably didn’t depend for a living on these lessons. Towards the end of the course she did what she had been raring to do: she got the lad to attend my lesson and to dance with me. She meant well but I felt uneasy. He was non-Jewish, from Ireland. I even remember his name: Desmond Oulton.

I now know something I didn’t know then - that mixed dancing, with non-Jews or Jews, is forbidden in the Jewish religion, as is any physical contact between the sexes outside marriage. This is a precept ignored by most Jews, even by the strictly Orthodox in pre-war Germany, but it makes sense and is adhered to rigorously by today’s youngsters in the Orthodox world.

(Mrs) Margarete Stern, London NW3

RELYING ON REFERENDA

Sir - Anthony Grenville writes in the January issue that Napoleon III was the first political leader in modern times to rely on referenda, in 1851 and 1852. In fact, the precedent was set by Napoleon I, who had called two referenda - the first in 1802 to endorse his appointment of First Consul for Life, and the second in 1804 after he had made himself emperor. Before that there had been three referenda to endorse French constitutions: in 1793 (the constitution of that year), in 1795 (establishment of the Directory), and in 1800 (establishment of the Consulate).

Ralph Blumenau, London W11

LIBERATED FROM DACHAU

Sir – I read with interest David Wirth’s article ‘The wrong Munich’ in a recent issue of the Journal. Like his father, I went to Flossenbürg (I was taken there from Hungary) and, after working in Hersbruck, I too was liberated in Dachau.
I would like to mention that there was a plan to eliminate the Jewish prisoners before the US army’s arrival. They were marched out from Dachau but managed to escape. I decided to ignore the order to assemble and stayed in my barracks, where I was liberated on 29 April 1945.

Nicholas Marton, Bromley

DOREEN AND MARGARET

Sir – The following statement by Susan Cohen on Doreen Warriner in your August issue is incorrect: ‘By December 1938, Doreen had been drawn into the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC), which represented the Labour Party, Lord Layton’s News Chronicle Fund and the Friends. Not only was she entrusted with looking after Layton’s fund, but he also invited her to act as the BCRC representative in Prague. His sister, Margaret Layton, was secretary.’

In fact, Margaret was Baron Layton’s eldest daughter (and the mother of my late first wife Jane).

Professor Marc Wigan, Melbourne, Australia

A POLITICAL BABEL

Sir - On 11 December the UK vetoed an EU resolution to ensure stabilisation of the Euro and the banking system. Mr Cameron, the PM, thereby severed the UK from the mainstream of Europe. The Continent is isolated - again! The various factions, constituting the parties in the House, are at odds with one another on this major issue. His Coalition partner has openly expressed his disapproval of the PM’s action. At the time of writing, the Coalition is on the point of breaking up.

This island is now cut adrift - not only geographically but also politically - from the Continent on the decision of just one man. It has the undertones of the turmoil befalling other regions of the globe. This all-embracing issue has never been debated or put before the citizens of the UK. The PM used the last bullet in his armoury to shoot himself in the foot, creating a political Babel. Having severed its anchors, Britain, a political pariah on the Continent, is now all at sea and nobody will be there to rescue it.

The British press supports the move because ‘the PM stands up for Britain.’ In fact, his veto was enacted solely to support the financial interests of this country and their employees! Obviously, all other countries have the same concerns. This, like any other country, depends on its exports but, thanks to a former Lady, there is hardly an industry left that produces anything which enriches the Treasury. Perhaps the most glaring examples are the essential utilities, which have been lost to Germany and France! Many banks, however, which caused the universal upheaval, are in such dire straits, their share prices being in pennies and falling steadily, that the PM strove to rescue them three times so far, generously with our money, but without success. Now the banks are available at knock-down prices, those countries would be able to make shreds of the paper money that is now being printed as QE, not GE, not yet! The Arabs had their spring - we are having our British winter.

Fred Stern, Wembley, Middx