Extracts from the Feb 2014 Journal
In June 1987, AJR Information published a letter from David Fisher, who, with Anthony Read, was writing a book on the ‘Crystal Night’ pogrom of 9-10 November 1938. In line with the growing trend among historians to supplement archival material and written documents with eye-witness testimony, Read and Fisher wished to include first-hand accounts of the events of that night in their book. Fisher’s letter requested AJR members who ‘have stories to tell which have never found a wider audience than their immediate family circle’ to contact him. The book appeared, first under the title Kristallnacht: The Nazi Night of Terror, then as Kristallnacht: The Unleashing of the Holocaust (1990), and has since disappeared from view.
Fisher’s letter elicited at least one response, from Mrs C. K. Rosenstiel, née Meumann, of Putney, London SW15, a Jewish refugee from Berlin, who had a very unusual story to tell. I am indebted to her son, Mr Colin Rosenstiel of Cambridge, for sending me her reply and other documents that provided the inspiration for this article. Mrs Rosenstiel’s letter recounted the remarkable story of the offer by a high-ranking German army officer to help his Jewish neighbours escape arrest during the pogrom:
In the afternoon of 9th November 1938 our neighbour, the wife of Colonel, later General Hans Oster, called to offer the shelter of their home to my father who was a lawyer aged 58. The news of the arrest of Jewish men had spread to both our families. The Osters and our family lived on the same floor of a Berlin apartment block. There were two staircases, one for tradesmen. Mrs Oster proposed that if the Gestapo called at the front door, my father could easily slip across to their flat by the back door. [more...]
And I remember that line spoken by Max Adrian, the actor and comedian, in drag, gently mocking the Viennese refugees with their nostalgia for the coffee houses and elegant lifestyle! That must have been during the war, when bitter-sweet revues were still acceptable and before we knew the full story.
I have always remembered Vienna. I was ten years old when we left, just six weeks before the war, my parents and I together - the luckiest day of my life. Very few in our large family were as lucky. My childish memories of Vienna, coloured by my parents’ stories of cultural and intellectual pursuits, by their appreciation of beauty and their love of the city, were somewhat clouded by my experience of exclusion from school and every activity I enjoyed, of bewilderment and fear and humiliation.
Like many of us, I have been invited several times to visit Vienna as a guest of the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS). Twice I made an excuse, the third time - last October - my family persuaded me to go and I did. Other Viennese refugees have written about the kindness and dedication of the largely non-Jewish organisers, the generosity and efficiency of the JWS, the appropriately sensitive programme. And all that is true. There was much talk of reconciliation, restoration, recompense, resilience and restitution. But in a fabled coffee house, I heard an older couple talk about Austria’s need for a ‘strong leader’.
The gracious grandeur of the city moved me but I couldn’t feel comfortable. Then something happened that transformed my visit. The Vienna Philharmonic had issued an invitation to the descendants of exiled and murdered Jewish players to coincide with our stay. We joined together for some events but we were not programmed to attend concerts. It just happened that on a free afternoon a few of us were offered the opportunity to listen to a rehearsal of Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. That was all we expected: the privilege of hearing music in the gorgeous, gilded Musikverein (all performances were sold out). We were seated in a box next to the stage; the orchestra was already on stage. Enter Dr Hellsberg, the Vorstand of the Vienna Phiharmonic. There is no exact translation of Vorstand - it is a mixture of head, chief, principal, chief executive, director, chairman - but Dr Hellsberg is none of these. He plays the violin as a member of the orchestra; he is not the leader, he is the elected representative and speaks for the musicians.
Dr Hellsberg welcomed the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the musicians who ‘disappeared’. Then came the moment: he asked the players sitting at the desks of the victims to leave the stage and the family members of the victims to take their places. Then he addressed the musicians and the ghosts of musicians and their descendants:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of the Vienna Philharmonic:*
This is a very special day which is unique in the annals of our Orchestra's rich history. It is very significant for us all to have with us today a group of people who are the descendants of members of our Orchestra who were exiled or murdered during the era of National Socialism. On behalf of the Vienna Philharmonic, I extend to them the warmest of welcomes.
Three of these people are Charlotte Slodki, her daughter Linda, and her nephew Roger Salander - the daughter and two grandchildren of our exiled second violinist Berthold Salander. Despite her 93 years, Charlotte has come all the way from New York with her daughter. Roger Salander lives in Breitenfurt and is known to many of us as a clarinetist and teacher at the Conservatory.
We welcome Lilly Drukker, the daughter of our exiled first violinist Josef Geringer, who has come from Philadelphia with her husband. She is 86 years old and a stellar witness to history. We greatly admired her appearance in the documentary Schatten der Vergangenheit (Shadows of the Past).
We are also pleased that Eva Perigo and her son, Peter Lancaster, are here today. They live in England and are the granddaughter and great-grandson of our former oboist, Armin Tyroler, who was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz. At the time of her escape from Austria, Eva Perigo was just two and a half years old.
Two other relatives of persecuted Vienna Philharmonic musicians now residing in Austria whom we also welcome are Mag. Helen Rupertsberger-Kopp, the niece of our second violinist Leopold Föderl, who returned to Vienna after the war and taught here at the Academy. We also welcome Mr Kurt Schmid, the nephew of Rudolf Jettel, our principal clarinetist for many years and a prominent teacher.
I am very happy that all these honoured guests were able to accept our invitation and spend a week in Vienna, where, in addition to today’s rehearsal, they will visit our museum and archives and hear the concert on Sunday. At this time, I would like to thank Mag. Bernadette Mayrhofer, who not only compiled the detailed and well-researched biographies of the exiled and murdered Philharmonic members for our website but also personally established contact with their relatives. It is she who paved the way for the presence of our guests here today and it was she who, together with Simone Iberer, dealt with the logistical aspects of flights and assistance.
We owe additional gratitude to the Jewish Welcome Service as well as to Mag. Susanne Trauneck and Mag. Milli Segal. It is fitting that our guests have been integrated into the Jewish Welcome Service’s programme. This has special meaning for me because it reminds me so vividly of our collaboration with Leon Zelman, who was so closely involved with us, and with me personally, regarding the Memorial Concert in Mauthausen in 2000. I believe he would have been very pleased with today’s events.
Leon Zelman, whose family was eradicated and who himself survived several concentration camps, always endeavoured to present the Vienna of today to exiles and survivors of the National Socialist dictatorship. In his spirit, ladies and gentleman, we introduce to you the Vienna Philharmonic of today. We are well aware that we live not only for the here and now but, as we look towards the future, we have the responsibility of dealing with the Orchestra’s past. With this in mind we see ourselves as an association that has existed for 171 years and of which every musician holds permanent membership. This is especially true of our exiled and murdered colleagues. Twenty-five years ago we paid tribute to them in our concert programmes, the same as we have done this year on our website. This Saturday we will unveil a commemorative plaque in the Vienna Philharmonic Museum.
But the most important fact is that the memory of the victims from among our ranks is of special concern to us - that their memory remains vivid. That is why we wish to welcome you here, on the stage of the world’s most beautiful concert hall, where your fathers and grandfathers performed and where they made their contributions to the Vienna Philharmonic. We do this neither out of a sense of duty nor as Vergangenheitsbewältigung - coming to terms with the past. I regard this expression as problematical as it implies the concept of making amends. But there is no way to make amends for a murder and there is no way to make amends for the damage to a soul caused by persecution and expulsion. There is nothing which can repair one’s own mistakes and omissions: what happened or didn’t happen is now a part of history.
But in the awareness of our own history and our own responsibility we can establish new parameters. We hope that through our invitation and your time spent with the Vienna Philharmonic, you will be assured that the sufferings and sacrifices of your fathers, grandfathers and relatives have sharpened our senses to the ethical and moral responsibilities which our orchestra must exercise. Your ancestors have the unique place which they deserve, in our consciousness and in our hearts.
The conductor rose to his feet and the musicians silently exchanged places again with the descendants. The emotional rehearsal of stirring music composed by a devout Christian seemed fitting. It finally gave us permission to weep.
After a closure of ten months, it is worth paying a visit to the refurbished Kenwood House, home to great paintings by Gainsborough, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, among 63 from the Earl of Iveagh’s Collection.
The change is imperceptible. The elegant Georgian house has been repainted and its flagship Great Library, established by its first owner, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, has a repainted ceiling in pastels of pink, green and blue, inset with miniatures by Antonio Zucchi, the gold leaf detail hidden by removable paint. It has been refurbished for the first time in over two centuries in accordance with its original design.
The exterior details, created by the 18th-century Scottish architect John Adam, look cleaner now, but in a strange way more synthetic than before the Heritage Lottery Fund, ArtFund and Wolfson Foundation poured £5.95 million into it.
This essentially pretty - almost chocolate-box ¬¬- house with its pediment sand-painted to look like stone and its Doric and Corinthian pillars, is set in the rolling grounds of Hampstead’s Kenwood, beautiful in all weathers, even on the muddy, windswept day I saw it. A portrait of Lord Mansfield stares down in disapproval at the muddy feet on the Persian carpet.
The sculptures include a Socratic bust with a carefully sculpted curly beard. Some are original marble and some, like the statue of Mercury, are plaster copies. A cast of Flora and a Muse is taken from Syon House in west London.
The Orangery is now peopled by children with ipads sitting on the floor. Each room has a linen-bound guide. Some renewed pieces have been added to reflect the wishes of Kenwood’s last owner, the 1st Earl of Iveagh, who donated the house to the nation in the 1920s.
The paintings always surprise, even though bad lighting can make viewing a struggle. Some early Turners beneath a high atrium were almost invisible because the frame lights were off and others are hung too high. In a room full of pallid, limpid beauties, you can find Sir Joshua Reynolds’s cloudy skies and prayerful ladies, Gainsborough’s Lady Briscoe and Her Dog, and even a small Constable.
A must-see is Rembrandt’s marvellous self-portrait as an older man: his calm and wise eyes, his bulky body, simple white cap, and the sense of just having wiped his palette clean to surprise us with his fresh candour. Also Van Dyck’s Princess Henrietta with her little black page boy and Vermeer’s Guitar Player, showing a rosy-cheeked woman seen off-centre and glancing sharply over her right shoulder. Franz Hals’s arresting portrait of Pieter van den Broecke, in a lace collar, almost as familiar as the Laughing Cavalier, grins beneath his untidy brown hair.
Ferdinand Bol, a pupil of Rembrandt, painted his Portrait of a Lady with a detailed white ruff setting off her pellucid skin. Reynold’s Miss Cox and Her Niece seems a charming indulgence in a house full of formal, wistful ladies. And then comes Landseer’s Hawking in Olden Times, in which a hawk is flung at a heron, whose death throes in a flurry of wings fill the sky.
Angelica Kauffman’s cameo self-portrait shows her as the Muse of Design with Poetry. Other famous works include George Romney’s Spinstress, featuring the beautiful Lady Hamilton, his lover, in a long white shawl.
I thought I was past the age for epiphanies but one cannot choose the time for a revelation: the revelation decides when its time has come. Mine came one evening, a short while ago, after watching a television programme on the American musical theatre. The message was loud and clear: this particular art form and, to an almost equal extent, the movie business, was created by Jews - a massive contribution to the cultural life of the nation and its hold on the international imagination.
The lesson? When Jews act as messengers of the Muses or operate in the territory where art and commerce overlap, they leave their mark. Wherever they are allowed to do so, they season the native pie. Only in America are they not just seasoning - they are pie.
This has explained - too late to act upon it - a recurring experience that has puzzled and pleased me. Whenever I arrived at JFK on my frequent trips to New York I had my adrenaline rush, a sense of heightened anticipation that owed nothing to free champagne on Concorde. Elation turned my head. Great things might happen at any moment. Suddenly sharper, cleverer, I felt twice the man I was in England. Others have reported similar experiences.
England is where I live my double life: publicly, at work among English colleagues whom I would call acquaintances rather than friends; privately, among family and an ever diminishing circle of survivors, in an almost exclusively German-Jewish refugee milieu, cosy and shrinking. (At a recent milestone birthday party, the carefully drawn-up guest list consisted of fellow refugees and their descendants with or without gentile partners, with not one bona fide Englishman - Jewish or otherwise - in sight.)
It's time to come clean: I am a snob, and generalisations are the snob's oxygen. I do not feel truly at home among the English, and ill at ease in the company of English Jews. I consider the typical Germanophone refugee (i.e. me) better educated, more refined, than his English peer, who did not make the detour via Germany, Austria, Switzerland (the Marx-Freud-Einstein triangle) but took the short cut from Poland, Russia, etc to London's East End and thence to Stamford Hill and The Bishop's Avenue, bypassing the gas chambers and much else besides.
There are inconsistencies in this analysis which I recognise. The majority of creators of American popular entertainment are the very people with whom I don't mix in England. I don't know what makes them more palatable in Hollywood; it could be the rough environment against which they don't stand out; it could be the leavening of refugees such as Lang, Lubitsch, Loewe, Lamar, Lenya (confining myself to one initial letter keeps the list within bounds).
Why the relative paucity of the Jewish contribution to English culture? Of course, there have been, and are, prominent Jews in every walk of life, as ever with a disproportionate share coming from Hitler's cast-offs, but no one can claim that they have significantly helped to shape the England we know today. Without them the scene would be much the same. They lack critical mass; they are without a power base. There are just enough of them to stir up routine anti-Semitism without the compensation of political clout.
Of course there is anti-Semitism in the United States - quite enough not to have to go looking for it - but who cares when there is a powerful political lobby that can make Congress quake. As for a Jewish lobby in this country, forget it. Years ago, I was part of an attempt to get one going and the fiercest resistance to our efforts, to the point of downright hostility, came from certain sections of the Anglo-Jewish establishment.
I understood none of this when I arrived in this country, lucky to be let in, lucky to be alive, thankful and anxious to show my gratitude. But I have never felt that I belonged here, that I was other than a guest, respectful of my hosts and generously tolerated by most of them.
The revelation was about the difference that being part of the pie makes: that in America you belonged from the day you arrived, however outlandish your name, however crude your accent. You are, from your first day, what you can never hope to become even after the 80 years I have lived here.
Historians have put more grandly what they have defined as American exceptionalism - a fundamental egalitarianism that has nothing to do with equality of outcome and everything to do with equality of human dignity. Just the right climate for a Jew.
Possibly one of the best-kept secrets in Israel is the existence of the formidable charitable association of Reuth. Reuth is the Hebrew word for friendship and that certainly sums up the philosophy of the organisation.
I’ve been living in Israel for almost 50 years and didn’t know of the organisation’s existence, though I was acquainted with Beit Bart, a home providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly that Reuth has established in Jerusalem. But Beit Bart is just the tip of the iceberg, as I found out recently when I visited Reuth’s impressive Medical Center in Tel Aviv. In addition to this well-equipped hospital, which provides a wide variety of medical services and care using state-of-the-art equipment, the organisation has sheltered accommodation in Tel Aviv (Beit Shalom) as well as providing subsidised housing in the form of purpose-built studio apartments (Beit Bracha, Beit Achva), also in Tel Aviv.
The origins of the organisation lie in the early 1930s with the arrival in pre-State Israel of the first immigrants from Central Europe, Germany in particular. Some of those who came at that time were able to bring financial and material resources with them, enabling many of the women to give their time and energy to charitable causes. This, after all, had constituted an important aspect of community life in Germany and the ethos of helping those less fortunate and serving the community continued to play an important part in the lives of many of those immigrants. Thus, a group of ladies organised themselves as ‘Women’s Social Service’, setting themselves the aim of serving the elderly, the needy and the chronically ill.
They began by establishing a soup kitchen for impoverished refugees from Hitler’s Germany and extended this to cater for all immigrants. The commemorative volume published in Hebrew to mark its seventieth anniversary in 2007 contains fascinating photographs showing women dressed in the height of 1930s European fashion (hats mandatory, of course) meeting to discuss the needs and aims of the organisation.
Other pictures show the same women, now wearing more practical garb, toiling over enormous cooking pots, as well as those enormous cooking pots being hauled by muscular men down to the beach where the ships unloaded immigrants arriving in the Land of Israel. The objective was to feed the hungry as soon as they stepped off the boats. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those early activities were conducted in German as the notice above the first soup kitchen reads ‘Küche, Sozialer Frauendienst, Kosher Rabbinatsaufssicht’ alongside the Hebrew lettering.
Among the myriad other charitable activities in which they engaged, the ladies of Reuth raised funds to lease land in Tel Aviv, commissioned architects and building constructors, and erected several apartment blocks containing small, but well-planned studio apartments that were provided to needy tenants who paid a nominal rent. Originally, all the tenants were Holocaust survivors, though today they constitute only 40 per cent of the residents. These apartments are still functioning in their original capacity though they are in need of constant renovation due to their age.
Today, the Reuth Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which started out as a convalescent home, is a fully-fledged hospital with a large number of employees. It has a special department for treating eating disorders, extensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy departments, rehabilitation and chronic care wards, and the only facility in Israel that combines respiratory care with dialysis. The hospital is about to build an extensive addition, which will greatly increase its current 350-bed capacity. In addition, Reuth’s Norma Center offers follow-up care on an out-patient basis.
Everything Reuth does is imbued with the spirit of the organisation’s original mission - to provide services in a warm and caring atmosphere, paying attention to getting every last detail right, maintaining an aesthetic environment and, above all, giving those who require their services a feeling of being wanted, loved and understood. Care is not limited to any one segment of the population and, walking through the corridors of the hospital, one comes across representatives of every segment of contemporary Israeli society.
Reuth enjoys the support and fund-raising activities of its friends all over the world, especially in England, the Netherlands and the USA. Many of those who are active in these associations have family or other connections with the original founders, continuing the tradition of aid for the less fortunate. [link]