Jan 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
KINDERTRANSPORT REUNION - A GREAT DAY
Sir - While the euphoria is still with me, I want to tell you how very impressed my family and I were with the 70th Reunion of Kindertransport at the JFS in London. All of us who came here on a Kindertransport at that awful time in 1938-39 owe gratitude not only to those who took us in - and that has been expressed in many places and many times - but also to the AJR and the Kindertransport Reunion for helping to keep the knowledge of this unique event alive.
Erich Reich and his committee did marvels in organising things so well yet managing to keep the atmosphere so informal and friendly. It was wonderful to meet so many friends once more and to hear even more amazing stories - there is clearly an endless supply of these! The speakers were moving and informative and the Chief Rabbi’s address brought me and many of us to tears. It was a particular pleasure to see Bertha again: she is a true example to us all.
My decision to bring second- and third-generation family members with me for the day turns out to have been a good one. My 12-year-old granddaughter listened with rapt attention to everything that went on and will surely never forget this day. The presence among us, and happily sharing our tea, of HRH The Prince of Wales, was a thrilling bonus and will be remembered with much pleasure. All in all, a great day and my thanks go to everyone concerned.
Sir – My son Paul and I took part in the emotional, memorable and wonderful celebration, which was enjoyed by about 560 present. Thanks must go to all who made this event possible and organised it so well. We will always remember this wonderful event.
Sir – Thank you so much for providing such a wonderful and inspiring programme at the celebration of 70 years of the Kindertransport. The organisation was impeccable and we all enjoyed a most impressive and memorable day.
I feel, however, that there was a most regrettable omission in that there was no mention of the great contribution Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld made in saving hundreds if not thousands of children from Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia, some brought in personally under the noses of the Nazis at great risk to his own life.
My husband, Shmuel ben Yehuda Leib Borger, came to England from Vienna aged only eight with his two sisters in a group organised by Rabbi Schonfeld, who afterwards set up the Jewish Schools Movement and cared about and remembered each and every one of the children he saved.
All those Kinder and their descendants owe a great debt of gratitude to him for his valiant efforts on their behalf during this terrible time in history.
Thanks once again and very best wishes to Bertha Leverton and everyone concerned for providing us all with such wonderful memories of a fantastic event.
The 70th Kindertransport Anniversary Celebration was planned as an event to celebrate and thank those involved in obtaining permission from the then British Government to allow as many vulnerable children into the UK as possible. It was not meant to highlight any particular ‘heroes’ who made such spectacular efforts in helping children to get here once the 10,000 permits were granted. I very much regret that Mrs Borger feels we did not show appropriate appreciation for the wonderful work carried out by Rabbi Dr Schonfeld.
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
Sir - Regarding Mr Konrad’s article ‘Supping with the Devil’ (November), I am Samu Stern’s grandson. We lived in the same household in 1944 and, as a 17-year old, I was privy to much information about his meetings with Eichmann and the authorities of the time.
It is true that the members of the Judenrat did not spread the news about Auschwitz when they realised that the Jews throughout Hungary were being deported to that horrible destination. It has been documented that the details of the deportations, which identified their final destination, reached the Council shortly after the start of the deportations on 15 May 1944. They came from information provided by the Slovak railways to an orthodox rabbi in Nitra (Michael Weissmandl), who forwarded it to Fulop Freudiger, a Council member in Budapest. When the Council members confronted Eichmann with the information they received, he acknowledged the transports but insisted that their destinations were humanitarian German labour camps. He also warned my grandfather and the other Council members that if they were to spread their false ‘horror stories’ across the country, all the Council members and their families would be arrested, deported and possibly killed.
I vividly remember that I personally knew about the destination of the trains but I believed Eichmann’s threat. I was worried that if I told other people what I knew, my information might trigger a widespread rumour and I might become responsible for the arrest and death of my family. When I questioned my grandfather about this issue, he said I shouldn’t feel guilty because in Poland, where Jews had revolted when they learned about the death camps, their uprising triggered massive German reprisals and very few people survived.
My second comment is about the Kasztner train. I was on Kasztner’s list with my parents but we decided not to go and transferred our places to relatives. It is a widely held misconception that this was a train for the rich. Paying passengers were a minority and they actually saved the lives of more than 1,000 non-paying Jews by putting up the money the Germans demanded. Anna Porter writes in her book Kasztner’s Train (p. 233): ‘There were Slovak and Polish refugees, Communists and Conservatives, Neologs and Orthodox young halutzim who have trained for the aliya and were singing in newly learned Hebrew, and seventeen Polish and about forty Hungarian orphans.’ The selection was made by the Zionist leadership and those who worked for the movement were certainly given preference. There were also well-known writers, musicians, singers and scientists on the train – certainly not overly wealthy people. The majority of the people spent more than four months in Bergen-Belsen before being transferred to Switzerland. Almost everybody survived.
Mr Konrad’s conclusion that resistance by the Jews could have ‘led to a halt of the deportations’ is wrong. The fate of the Polish Jews shows it. Only Regent Horthy could have stopped the deportations, which he actually did on 8 July. Unfortunately, by that time 460,000 Jews had been deported. But 140,000 were saved.
Sir – I refer to George Donath’s letter (December) in partial response to my article about Eichmann, Samu Stern and Rudolf Kasztner. I agree with everything he says about the disbelief of Hungarian Jews concerning being exposed to deportation and worse. It is equally true that all men of ‘arms-bearing’ age were by then part of the Todt forced labour battalions. But I maintain that had the Jews in the Hungarian provinces known of the fate awaiting them in Auschwitz, they would have resisted deportation and it was Samu Stern’s sole responsibility that they were kept in ignorance.
It is also incorrect to make an exclusive connection between Kasztner’s train and Zionism. I know for a fact that places on the train were readily offered for money in the offices of the Jewish Council. I also know that some leading Zionists (like Kato Kiss of the Pester Lloyd newspaper, an erstwhile colleague of my mother) were refused a place on the train if unable to pay.
Sir - Eric Sander's strong reaction to my letter (November) is hardly warranted. I did not allude to anyone in particular. I also fail to understand why he should refer to me as a survivor in inverted commas – that’s a bit rich, coming from someone who saw the war out here, surrounded by his family.
Contrary to what he asserts, it would be silly of me to turn my nose up at Austrian confection. It is only certain Lederhosen-clad individuals that I find unappetising: we had a taste of it recently, on the occasion of Haider’s funeral. In fact, not only am I partial to Sachertorte and the celebrated millefeuille, but to Zwetschgen Knödel as well - the way my wife’s aunt from Galicia, then Vienna and finally Brooklyn, used to make it.
Mr Sanders lauds ‘a man called Wiesenthal’ for choosing Austria, but I
know of a man from Austria called Schwarzenegger who chose California.
Actually, Wiesenthal could have done with the ‘Terminator’ when there, as he had to have a bodyguard. And opting for Israel as his resting place says it all. Wiesenthal was there because of his work and not because he was smitten with the place – and, after all, that’s where the Nazis were.
Mr Sanders also states that 15,000 Jews live in Austria. Actually, most originate from needy countries like Ukraine and those who turn Israel down go to Austria and Germany, and they are not all Jewish. Furthermore, Israel recalled its ambassador since Haider.
How profound of him to proclaim that Torte is not anti-Semitic and that mountains did not participate in Jew-bashing, as if I would have it in for a wedge of cake or a range of hills. Though as a keen former skier, I spurned the Tyrol in favour of more benign Alpine regions - I mean people, not rocks! On one such trip, my wife and I were fully laden with three children and equipment and, as we were near the
German-Austrian border, I decided to drive into Garmisch-Partenkirchen to explore the former Nazi stamping ground. But as there was little snow at Garmisch we crossed over into Austria to Lermoos to look for snow. The children chatted excitedly in the cable-car, in the only language they know. A bunch of local rowdies responded, subjecting us to Nazi marching songs I last heard during the war. Others joined in the fun. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a Munich Bierkeller. Whether they took us for Jews, as distinct from foreigners, I cannot say, but it would not surprise me.
I realise Lermoos is hardly the most cosmopolitan of places, but it is the real Österreich - off the tourist trail.
I could never make myself go to Vienna, a city whose people were at the spearhead of Nazi barbarism and where my father and brother died. I did, however, go with the AJR to Berlin, where we were welcomed by the deputy Bürgermeister with champagne cocktails. After the formalities, he mingled with the guests. He could easily tell I was not German-born and was intrigued to know where I learned the
language. I had to tell him I picked it up as a youngster, from the Nazis in wartime Poland. Clearly taken aback, he smiled politely and moved on to the next person without uttering a word. As he was a fairly young man, I regretted having to make him feel uneasy, but it is a legacy that the Germans have to live with and do largely face up to - though not so the Austrians.
STARING INTO THE ABYSS
Sir - I am most intrigued to have had the dubious accolade of an extreme right-wing propagandist bestowed upon me by Francis Deutsch (December, Letters). To reply to his inconsistencies is unnecessary but, just to make my position clear: as an offspring of a middle-class Viennese family I believed in Socialism, like most of my tribe. I recall that the minute I heard on the radio that the then Labour leader John Smith had died, I predicted that Tony Blair would be the next prime minister.
I was actively supporting Labour and Tony’s election represented the zenith of my aspirations and hope. I was not alone. However, as Edward Heath remarked, eventually such people will fall from grace and the higher they climb, the further they fall. So did Margaret Thatcher, presiding over a more than 15 per cent bank rate, after decimating British industry, making pariahs of producers, and propelling the people into pencil-pushers.
The do-gooders and the self-appointed human rights activists have made common cause with ‘asylum seekers’, turning themselves into Israel-haters and anti-Semites. There is no room for them in our Association: they did not experience our plight. To compare our fate with that of others is odious.
The universal financial disaster was brought about by a handful of crooked American bankers, offering 125 per cent mortgages without collateral, being supported by many of the world’s banks, and rushing to make a fast buck in return for worthless papers. The result is universal impoverishment with all wrong-doers escaping punishment!
Our home-grown left-wing rulers, following the US right-wing president, have shown themselves totally incapable of foreseeing this all-embracing disaster. They were aided and abetted by their respective parliament by showering the wrong-doing banks with multi-billion pounds and dollars - yes, our money, all of which has disappeared into large black holes. Nothing - absolutely nothing - has been changed by their actions, certainly the ultimate mismanagement by the respective nations’ economists. The disaster we are facing was man-made. We are paying the price for falsely putting our trust into our rulers’ hands and into the banks which have robbed us of our money. We are staring into the abyss.
As Britain follows where America leads, this country will be led by people who are not likely to be sympathetic to us. England’s slave trade has seen to this. There will be no reversal of the avalanche to come. Democracy, for what it is worth, will be confined to the history books. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will envy the good life we are experiencing at present. By then, however, the majority will have escaped to the only country that will accept them with open arms – Israel. May God save us and future generations, though He has not saved six millions of His chosen people!
JEWS AS ‘VICTIMS’
Sir - A Jewish friend of mine recently told me he was fed up with the Jews in the Diaspora always being seen as ‘victims’. He blames this on the amount of coverage there is in synagogues, the press, books, films and theatre on the Holocaust.
He gave Kristallnacht as an example. He upset me. I was a Holocaust survivor, albeit I was only three years old when we fled from Vienna to London. I don’t want the Holocaust ever to be forgotten. However, having had time to reflect on my friend’s remarks, I am beginning to understand where he is coming come. Jews have won more Nobel prizes than any other group of people of our size. We are outstanding in the fields of science, the arts, business. Our doctors, lawyers, accountants are among the best. Many of our writers, musicians, film directors, actors have become legends. At one time, we had four Jews in Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet. We have great captains of industry, running some of the largest companies in the country. So should we try to stop being seen as ‘victims’ and speak out more about our many achievements?
Sir – According to a letter in The Guardian (15 November), the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Museum of Tolerance is to be constructed over a Muslim heritage cemetery in the centre of Jerusalem, the Supreme Court having so decided after two years of public outcry (including by Orthodox Jews) and legal challenges.
We wonder if this is a hoax in the spirit of Catch 22 and Monty Python. If it’s factual, we eagerly await a lyrical outburst from the Israel-can-do-no-wrong groupies on how this will contribute to inter-faith harmony. And indeed tolerance.
Sir - Although I agree with some of Peter Phillips’s reservations in his December article ‘Why am I a Jew?’, I would ask him to consider the possibility that some stories, myths and legends may well have had some basis in actual occurrences, which, over the centuries, have become distorted through ‘Chinese whispers’.
Could not Abraham, like many pagans around him, have set out to make a human sacrifice but, having had revolutionary ideas about the Divinity, the new phenomenon of a conscience pricked him? He then reasoned, like many pilpul-loving students over the years, that the substitution of a ram, with the resultant ‘soothing savour’, as the Bible and Socrates say, would equally obtain the desired results. Just a thought.