Feb 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - I was delighted to read the letter ‘From Theresienstadt to Switzerland’ from Dorothy Graff, Melbourne, in your December 2012 issue. She described the identical journey my dear late mother undertook in February 1945.
My parents had been in Theresienstadt since September 1942. My father had just passed away from typhus at the end of 1944 and, when my mother was asked if she wanted to go to Switzerland, she fully expected to be sent to another camp. Naturally she did not believe this was where she was being sent but thought she had nothing to lose. She also thought she might just see her two children again - and by a miracle she actually did.
Your correspondent mentioned all the places my mother went to. The first postcard, saying that she was alive and that my dear father had passed away, came from St Gallen. I couldn’t believe the miracle. I immediately sent a prepaid letter to verify it.
The hotel my mother lived at was the Edelweiss, and her job was to take care of the hotel linen.
I am trying to remember the names of some of my mother’s friends in Switzerland. One was a lady called Löwensen and there was a Hungarian couple, Dr Braun and his wife. Also, there was a nursing sister called Hirsch in Lucerne - she had a sister in Manchester, with whom we became very friendly.
My mother was Anna Horn and my father Herman Horn of Chemnitz, Saxony. He arranged many musical and cultural evenings in Theresienstadt during his time there.
I would love to hear from anyone who knew my mother. Please contact me through my daughter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE DAY I KISSED RICHARD TAUBER
Sir - Like Inga Joseph (December, Letters), I, a fellow refugee from Vienna, met Richard Tauber in London. But it was I who gave the great singer a kiss.
Our meeting in 1939 was, however, unrecorded by me as I was not yet seven years old at the time. It came about after my father, Salamon Brainin, had been given two complimentary tickets for an operetta called Land of Smiles, performed at the Golders Green Hippodrome. Papa had chosen me, his youngest child, to accompany him to the theatre. I clung to him throughout the performance, excited and frightened in equal measure by the colourful costumes and loud singing. When the show finished and the applause had died down, Papa, holding my hand firmly, asked if I would like to meet ‘Onkel’ Tauber. I nodded dumbly and we went backstage.
I wasn’t then aware that the singer had been a client of my father in Vienna, at Gebrüder Brainin Pelze on the Bauernmarkt, and, following emigration, at Brainin Brothers in London’s New Bond Street, where my father and uncles were fortunate enough to be able to continue making and selling elegant furs. There they supplied Mr Tauber’s wife (as well as his mistress!) and were introduced to several of his influential friends.
In the Artists’ Room, I hid behind Papa while the two men shook hands. Then he pulled me forward and introduced me, saying ‘Das ist meine Kleine, die Putzi’ (This is Putzi, my little one). Herr Tauber bent down to shake my hand and I saw the greasepaint on his face. I was ready to hide once more when my father said confidently ‘Komm, Du kannst dem Onkel ruhig ein Pusserl geben!’ (Go on, you can give Uncle a little kiss, can’t you!) Hot with embarrassment, I gave the great singer a quick peck on the cheek, clinging on to Papa the while. Within a few moments the men shook hands again and we were safely outside, Papa carrying a large envelope.
Back home, the family crowded round us. The envelope was opened. It contained a black-and-white studio photograph of the singer across which he had scrawled his name and added ‘Für die liebe Putzi’ (For dear Putzi). The following week my mother had it framed and for a while I was the envy of my siblings (my English friends, of course, had never heard of him!). The photograph, alas, did not survive our move to a new home.
Sir – How anyone could have been excited by a kiss from Richard Tauber with his monocle and schmaltzy ‘Leise flehen meine Lieder’ beats me. Huh!
HORTHY AND THE HOLOCAUST
Sir – I refer to the review in your January issue of Paul Lendvai’s book Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism. I was deeply saddened by the way in which Lendvai shows how Hungary has, similarly to Putin`s Russia, moved from a relatively brief post-Communist democratic dawn back to authoritarianism, but I slightly disagree with a statement that appears to make Admiral Horthy solely responsible for wiping out Hungary’s Jews.
I do not know if this was a misunderstanding in the original book or in Mr Ország-Land’s review. Granted the Regent intervened too late - after the deportations began, following the arrival of the German ‘envoy’ Veesenmayer - but he did intervene eventually and stopped the deportations. As a result, at the end of the war Hungary appears to have been left with the largest number of survivors of the indigenous Jewish community of any Continental country (possibly after France). Nor can Horthy be blamed for the massacres in Budapest, when the Arrow Cross storm-troopers - men and boys who turned out Horthy himself - went on the rampage in the final weeks of the siege of the city. There are sufficient sticks to beat this questionable figure without blaming him for what he eventually, and inadequately, tried to prevent.
BUT STATUES DON’T TALK …
Sir – I am writing in connection with the article by Ruth Schwiening in your December issue. In Vienna in 2010 for a Stolpersteine ceremony for members of my mother’s family who had been murdered in the Holocaust, I spent my last evening walking along the Path of Remembrance in Leopoldstadt. Rounding a corner, I too saw a man on his knees and, as I drew closer, I could see he had a small scrubbing brush in his hand. However, he was not a statue but a real person who then stood up and entered his home after cleaning the Stolpersteine on the pavement outside his home.
The irony of the situation was not lost.
IN DEFENCE OF WEISSENSEE
Sir - In response to the letter by Rudi Leavor (January), the last word I would use to describe the Weissensee cemetery is ‘deplorable’.
When I came home from Berlin in October 2012, having attended the laying of four Stolpersteine, my mother told me there was a family grave at Weissensee and that after the War my Oma had returned to Berlin but had been unable to find the grave on account of bomb damage.
Due to the kind help of Mary Bianchi and Herr Pohl at Weissensee, I was sent a map showing the location of two family graves. I returned to Berlin and went to Weissensee map in hand and found the grounds beautiful. Much has been done to put right the damage; the paths were cleared and it had been snowing recently. The walk to the grave was emotional for me but I found within a few minutes the graves of my great-great-grandparents, one perfect, the other demolished. On my return home, my mother then told me about another family grave there.
Herr Pohl not only located this grave but also obtained copies of the death certificate of my great-great-grandmother and other papers and her last two addresses. So again I flew to Berlin, this time with my daughter, and we visited both addresses and Weissensee. The grave of my great-great-grandmother, Lea Luise Nebenzahl (née Siodmak), is amazing, with the most beautiful words. Two of the three graves have been there since 1902 and 1903 and look perfect. I am now waiting for a quote to have a new stone erected in place of the one demolished. Sadly not everyone there has survivors to do this.
Also in your January issue was an article entitled ‘Jewish film-makers in Germany during the silent era’. Mentioned in the article is Seymour Nebenzahl. He was my great-great-grandmother’s brother-in-law and managed to go to the USA before war broke out. Also mentioned are Robert and Curt Siodmak - could they be brothers of Lea Luise Nebenzahl née Siodmak? Another trip to Berlin beckons ….
THANKS FOR THE COOKBOOK
Sir - Just to say a big thank you to the AJR for the cookbook you sent as a seasonal gift. It is much appreciated and I’m really looking forward to trying some of the delicious recipes during the rather dull-seeming months of January and February.
The AJR is so valued by all the elderly folks who go to regional meetings and is of very real therapeutic value, so thank you so much for all your hard work.
THANKS FROM STOKE MANDEVILLE
Sir - Thank you for your kind words about the AJR visit here. I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the day and meeting so many of your members.
Will you please pass on thanks from WheelPower to all who attended for their generosity on the day and subsequent donations, which to date have reached just over £300.
ANTON WALBROOK BIOGRAPHY
Sir - I am writing a biography of the émigré actor Anton Walbrook and wondered if any AJR members might have personal recollections, anecdotes or other information they might wish to share. As you are no doubt aware, Walbrook provided financial assistance for Jewish refugees during the war and, I believe, for some years afterwards. There are a number of references to him in the AJR Journal archives but I am very interested in hearing from people who encountered him in person.
Regarding my background, I am a former librarian and archivist who now volunteers at the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, part of Exeter University Library. I wrote a short article on Walbrook for the Centre’s website and was interviewed at his graveside for the ‘Life and Death in Hampstead Project’. I recently gave a paper on Walbrook at a conference in Senate House, London, where I spoke on his portrayal of Prince Albert in two films he made after arriving in England: Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938). I am a devoted fan of his films and enjoy collecting Walbrook memorabilia. Most of my published work to date has been on the history of photography, although in 1991 I curated an exhibition at Glasgow University Library on another Viennese-born émigré, Rudolf Schlesinger (1901-69).
LOOKING FOR STORIES
Sir - Following the interest in my book on Holocaust rescuers, The Other Schindlers, l am now researching into those who betrayed Jews in the Holocaust.
I should be really grateful to hear from any of your readers who have stories to tell. I am particularly interested in cases of betrayal by neighbours, school-friends, teachers and others but want to hear from as wide a spread of countries as possible. Any photos will be copied and returned or can be emailed. All stories will be clearly acknowledged as in The Other Schindlers.
DOES ANYONE KNOW?
Sir – Do any of your readers know why in her 1946 novel Westwood (Vintage reprint 2011), Stella Gibbons drew such a vicious picture of Zita, the German-Jewish refugee?
Also, do any readers have any information on Elsa Olga Hollis, author of Mistress und Maedchen, a comprehensive German and English domestic phrase-book containing simple recipes in both languages (Cobden-Sanderson, 1937, 3rd impression, 3s 6d)?
GREETINGS FROM A BAVARIAN-JEWISH BRIT
Sir - I do understand Peter Phillips (January, Letters) not wanting to be an Austrian: Jews in Vienna suffered terrible humiliation when Germany took over in 1938 to the delight of the Austrian population. But after the war the Austrians ‘pretended’ to have been victims.
No, the Bavarians did not throw me out. At one point, the Chief of Police of Munich advised my father, a lawyer, to try and get out as things were hotting up: ‘Machens dass S’ rauskommen, hier wird's brenzlig!’
The Weisse Rose movement occurred in Munich. And, after the War, several of my non-Jewish classmates ‘found’ me in England.
As for Norman Tebbit: I wouldn’t go to him for advice on any subject! What does trouble me is anti-Semitism in this country. Will my grandchildren emigrate to Germany?
And finally, to soothe Peter Phillips’s brow, a little grammar lesson: Bavarian and Jewish are both used adjectivally qualifying the noun ‘Brit’.
A belated happy New Year from Bavarian-Jewish Brit Bea Green.
THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS
Sir – Further to my November letter, I appreciate the lengthy responses (December) of Mark Schuck and Rubin Katz, but both attribute to me thoughts I do not hold and considerations or analogies I can only regard as irrelevant to the basic question I raised.
Indeed, I might agree with some of what both have to say but the Balfour Declaration was cautiously drafted and imprecise and no legal case can be built on it.
Israel exists. The question is: Where does it go from here? Not far on present evidence – and please do not misinterpret that!
May I add only my regret at Mr Katz’s reference to ‘uncivilised’ and ‘backwardness’ (people and region). Do I hear, again, the sound of broken glass?
Sir – I was pleasantly surprised to see the letter (November) from Solly Kaplinski, Executive Director, Joint Ventures, JDC, Jerusalem. I had the honour of meeting him only once, but I never forgot the mentsch or the name. At the time, Solly was with Yad Vashem. It was on Yom Hashoah 2005, at a world gathering of Survivors and Liberators in Jerusalem marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. We mingled with retired Red Army generals, their chests festooned with medals. One high-ranking officer pointed to a medal on his chest: ‘For the Freedom of Warsaw’, where I had been liberated. On that notable day, Solly gave me the honour of placing a wreath on behalf of the Child Survivors at the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters’ Memorial and of reciting the Kaddish at the eternal flame.
Further to Dr Scarlett Epstein’s reference to the American Joint’s good work, I would like to bring up an example of their cloak-and-dagger operations in wartime Poland that is little known. This goes back to the dark days of 1944 in Warsaw, which had been declared judenfrei by Hans Frank, the Nazi hangman of Poland, as a birthday present to his Führer. This was after the epic Ghetto Revolt the previous year. At this time, my elder sister and I were ‘passing for’ non-Jews in ‘Aryan’ Warsaw. She had a forged Kennkarte and I, a 12-year-old, was armed with a baptism certificate. This was genuine enough - except that I was not that baptised boy, though I was pretty well versed in the catechism for children.
My resourceful sister somehow made contact with a Polish courier from the Joint, whom she would meet secretly in a park, and he handed her an envelope containing about 20 US dollars, which went some way during the Qar. It’s amazing how the Joint managed to operate in Warsaw right under the nose of the Gestapo. They apparently got the funds into Poland via diplomatic channels and the Polish Home Army distributed it to any covert Jews they could locate, with the Home Army taking their cut. Regrettably, contact was lost when on 1 August 1944 a general uprising erupted in the capital and, in the ensuing street fighting, the city was obliterated and the entire population ruthlessly driven out. As a result, I lost my safe house.
DISTURBING BUT LOVELY FILM
Sir – A DVD of the disturbing but lovely film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, directed by Vittorio de Sica, has just been released. The film contrasts greatly with most of de Sica’s other work, the most famous of which is Bicycle Thieves (regarded by some professional critics as the best film ever made).
In The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a wealthy Jewish family leads an idyllic life in pre-war Ferrara during the Mussolini era. But the family ignores the rising fascism and pays the ultimate price for doing so. I strongly urge readers who have not previously seen this film to take this opportunity to see it.
Art Notes (review)
Two years ago the Ben Uri acquired Marc Chagall’s Apocalypse en Lilas, the artist’s powerful response to the Holocaust, in which the crucified Christ in a tallit is shown with a Nazi at the base of the cross, an upside-down clock and two flying figures holding a Sefer Torah. The Museum’s latest acquisition, Chaim Soutine’s La Soubrette (The Waiting Maid, c. 1933), suggests something apparently calmer, yet with an equally disturbing message - about time and place in society.
The Soutine was purchased after 18 months of negotiations with Sotheby’s, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council, England and other public bodies, including several philanthropists and private donors. Other than three landscapes at the Tate and a portrait of a young woman at the Courtauld, this work is only the fifth by Soutine in a public collection in London. The artist falls within a selection of Ben Uri’s collection of the artist’s contemporaries, including Chagall, who fled native restriction and persecution for the artistic freedom of Paris.
Soutine sold La Soubrette at auction in Paris in 1937. In the expectation that the name Chaim would limit his appeal, his first name was changed by his dealer or the auction house to Charles.
This portrait of a young servant girl whose eloquent nose points down to her white rumpled apron demonstrates the depth of the artist’s vision. The background is dark, the girl’s face a rounded triangle with an inverted, pointed chin, also reflected in the shape of the apron, and her eyes and clenched mouth suggest cynicism and sadness at her domestic lot.
The outline of the jug to her left is the only other detail and sketchily emphasises the unusual shape of her face and her otherness - the sense that she is there to serve but has a deep and impenetrable private life of her own, no less fragile than the glass jug.
You can’t help asking - is this a Jewish painting? In its servile and humbled character, does it prefigure the fate of European Jewry, which the artist escaped by his early death?
Perhaps this is too much to read into it but, as I study this painting, it seems to me increasingly that the face tells a story that dares not speak its name. Certainly, the interior life of the Minsk-born artist is present in this portrait, as it is in many of his other works, including his dreamy landscapes of tumbledown shtetl houses that to us today strongly evoke Sholem Aleichem and the Anatevka of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.
But it is portraits like La Soubrette that speak to us of an eccentric and private anguish. Typical of Expressionism - although some critics argue that Soutine cannot be simply defined by it - many border on caricature but for their artistic integrity.
These faces are so asymmetrical that they cannot be contained by their bone structure and seem to leap out of the canvas, urging us to look, look and look again in order to grasp something that is ungraspable - Soutine’s secret universe.