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Jan 2010 Journal

Letters to the Editor

GUARDIAN ANGEL

Sir – Anthony Grenville’s remarks about Greta Burkill (November) brought back vividly the memory of a charismatic, hyperactive, tiny lady (born, I believe, in Odessa), who was married to Charles Burkill FRS, a mathematician of infinite patience and goodness who later became Master of Peterhouse College.

My mother, the dental surgeon Malli Meyer, formerly of Düsseldorf, whose husband was murdered by a rival Nazi dentist in Wuppertal-Barmen in 1933, had fled and worked in Brussels until, in 1937, the British government permitted a number of German and Austrian refugee dentists to practise in the UK without having to re-qualify. A patient had given her a letter of introduction to Greta, who became our organiser and guardian angel when, on her advice, my mother decided to settle in Cambridge.

With Greta’s help, my mother’s dental practice developed quickly, though she remained only partially aware of the eminence of many of her university patients, who included Hermann Lehman as well as many English FRSs.

If there is a heaven, Greta will surely be found there! She did wonders for so many refugees and helped many of the children to obtain a good education – including myself.

Dr Grenville’s articles in the AJR Journal are always of the greatest interest and enjoyment to me, particularly in recalling a past with which few contemporaries are still familiar. Please continue!
 

(Dr) John Goldsmith

‘SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE’

Sir – The ‘bluebirds’ of ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, like those of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (Anthony Grenville, December), are reminiscent of a once immensely popular play by Maurice Maeterlinck. Like the ‘Blue Flowers’ of German Romanticism, they have a symbolic resonance missing from the ‘blackbirds’ you offer as a contrast.

What Vera Lynn’s classic rendering of the song offered was promise of a better future other than ornithological observation. It was exactly what was needed at the time. And those of us who lived through it will always be grateful for the warm English voice which brought the promise to us. It is good to see a new generation finding it equally congenial.
 

 

S. S. Prawer

LIFT VANS OF LONG AGO

Sir – It was my very good fortune that during my first spring in England in 1940 I had two large boxes – known, I understand, as lift vans – sent to me by my parents from Germany. They arrived at my boarding school and the following day were taken to some depositary.

It was presumably not until 1948, when I married, that I found out where these boxes were being kept. In 1950 my husband and I moved into our first home and, I guess, it was about this time that I really became the very proud and grateful owner of some precious items from my home in Düsseldorf.

Somehow I was told that to enable my parents to send this cargo to England they had to pay either in duplicate or triplicate for each item. Most of the contents are still treasured by me today and hopefully will be by my children after I have gone.

Is there anyone who can throw some light on these long-ago events?
 

Liesl Munden

A CASE OF PERJURY?

Sir - I was saddened by the contributions from Fred Stern and Victor Ross in the December issue. Feeling Jewish rather than British is one thing - as if there was a conflict there! - but the anti-British tone common to both of them I find distressing in
people who are not asylum-seekers but once may have been.

I fail to see the logic in Mr Stern’s view that the undoubted shrinkage in the Jewish communy is due to British government policy and I am distressed by Mr Ross’s approach of ‘never allegiance, much less love’.

There must be much bitterness in the soul of a man who writes thus, and for that I am sorry for him. And as to allegiance, he might remember that when he got his
British nationality, now apparently despised but then no doubt much desired, he swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen or King George. Was that perjury?
 

F. M. M. Steiner

HOLOCAUST AND OTHER GENOCIDES

Sir - I am rather concerned that Holocaust memorial services and some memorial centres for Holocaust victims now include victims of other genocides, Rwanda for example. This seems to me entirely inappropriate. What are the views of AJR members?

Mary Rogers

POLES AND JEWS: A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE?

Sir – In the latter part of 2008, Professor Baruch Brent wrote an article in your journal praising the Polish people for their changed attitude towards Jews. I commented in a subsequent edition that Professor Brent was gravely mistaken in his view.

It has recently come to light that all Jews in Jedwabne, nearly half of the total population, were herded into buildings and burned alive by the non-Jewish population of Jedwabne. At first, Poland insisted that this crime was committed by the Nazis. Subsequently, when all the evidence was available, they had to admit that the crime had been carried out by the non-Jewish population of Jedwabne. They insisted that this crime was a lesser evil than that committed by the Nazis.

Poland refused to make an apology for this, stating that the Jews must apologise to Poland for the crimes committed by the Communists, to which some Jews belonged, in 1939-41. Some change of attitude!
 


 

M. Landau

ALBANIA’S ‘JEW-FRIENDLINESS’

Sir – I wish to echo Dr T. Scarlett Epstein’s letter (December) in praise of pre-war and war-time Albania. Like her and her parents, we had found a safe haven – or so we believed – in Yugoslavia, where we had emigrated from Nazi Germany in the summer of 1933. About half a year after the Anschluss, the Yugoslav government under the premiership of Milan Stojadinović expelled us suddenly.

My parents went from consulate to consulate but all doors seemed closed to us – which would have meant our repatriation to Germany (suicide might have been a preferred option).

Albania proved to be the only country willing to grant us asylum. Fortunately, one of my mother’s uncles, who had been in the UK since before the First World War, managed just in time to get us the necessary documents for our emigration to the UK. So, on 12 November 1938, we arrived at Croydon airport in a twin-engined Swiss Air Dakota airplane, the French having refused to let us travel through France even by train.
 

(Mrs Margarete Stern)

LEARNING FROM THOSE WHO LIVED BEFORE US

Sir - Peter Philips writes (December): How do I know that Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai, which is written in the Torah itself and was handed down from generation to generation, which is tradition? What Rabbi Hirsch wrote is recorded in his writings and, whilst we live in the 21st century, we have much to learn from those who lived before us. Does Mr Philips believe that the Ten Plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea occurred? If not, he cannot claim to profess the Jewish religion.

 

Henry Schragenheim

AUTOGRAPHED COPY

Sir - I am touched by Peter Phillips’s promise (December) to read my forthcoming book A Time to Speak and must apologise for the delay in publication, which is caused by technical problems. I am assured by my publisher that these have now been sorted out and the book is with the printers. It should be available in Israel by the beginning of January and in the UK probably a month later.

Unfortunately, I do not have copies available, nor for that matter Mr Phillips’s address, so I cannot take up his request for a signed copy. But, if he purchases a copy and sends it to me with a stamped addressed envelope, I will be only too pleased to sign it for him.
 

 

Martin D. Stern

FINGERS CROSSED

Sir - My wife and I, and no doubt many other participants who very much used to enjoy the get-togethers at the synagogue in Prentis Road, London SW16, will miss it all. We had some very interesting and educational lectures. We can only hope that the AJR will in future find a suitable venue: Bromley could be fine. We can then carry on where we left off with the pleasant afternoons.

Furthermore, we shall miss the lovely spreads Myrna Glass and Hazel Beiny laid on. We all enjoyed the tasty Leckerbissen. Keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t be too long and we shall meet up again soon.
 

Karl and Elisabeth Katz

THANKS, AJR

Sir – Thank you so much to Susie for your lovely birthday card, thank you your great team at Cleve Road, and I send my love to you all and all my friends at the AJR Centre.

I have settled down very much here in Israel and I must say I enjoy my life here. I live in a retirement village with all facilities to be busy and stimulated. If any of you come to Israel, do visit me. You’ll be amazed how lovely it all is.
 

Ilse Friedmann

ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS

Sir - The large majority of Jews in the world is concerned for the people of Israel. We are asked to give them our support and we do. But that should not mean that we blindly approve every act and policy by the current government of Israel. Our support has to have a moral basis. I appreciate that even within that confine there are bound to be differences of opinion. It is not possible always to be sure which measure will have the best long-term effect.
The Israeli government is opposed to the EU considering a plan endorsing the division of Jerusalem and making its eastern portion the capital of a Palestinian state. Israel claims that ‘the proposal undermines the future of the peace process by circumventing future negotiations’. Surely the important question is whether it will contribute to peace? Given that this is what the Palestinians are asking for, they are not likely to object, so it must mean that the Israeli government is the obstacle.
It is surely clear to us all that, short of a violent explosion, which will benefit nobody, a partition will take place and not just on Israel’s terms. The options are dwindling. A wise Israeli government would anticipate and welcome this new initiative.
The EU proposal also includes the recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. Again I ask myself: Why should Israel oppose this? After all, a Palestinian state is the aim of the negotiations. And how could Israel prevent such a declaration? By force of arms?
In November, Netanyahu said: ‘Now is the time to move forward towards peace. There is no more time to waste.’ If he had stopped building settlements when Obama asked him to, he would have shown his willingness to negotiate. Words are cheap. In my personal opinion, he is not representing the real, long-term interest of the Israeli people.
If our support for Israel is to count for something it must be honest. The Jews are my family but ‘My family right or wrong’ is not a philosophy that I embrace.
 

Eric Sanders, London W12

Sir - After her lengthy absence from these columns, Inge Trott has bounced back with yet another swipe at Israel (November), accusing it of poaching ‘Arab’ water and causing West Bank taps to run dry since April.

Intrigued to know how it’s possible for anyone to survive so long without water; I contacted an Israeli friend, Dr Oded Sagee, a water conservation expert. We know that since biblical times there have been cyclical famines in the Land of Israel due to drought and the Bible tells us that when this happened they went down to Egypt. They can hardly do so now, so in modern times relief comes in the shape of the IDF, who bring precious water to the Palestinians by army tanker. Israel is not in control of the West Bank; Abbas and his Palestinian Authority are. Incidentally, when Jordan was in possession of the area, there was no relief brought in from Jordan during droughts and the people were simply left to their fate and we never heard any cries of anguish then - but blaming Jews, and Israel in particular, is so easy and very much in vogue.

The problem is that there is hardly any Palestinian water infrastructure in place, with villages relying mainly on wells as they have always done. And when the water table drops due to lack of rain, the wells dry up, as in Israel. But Israel invests heavily in its water infrastructure, which includes conservation, recycling for agriculture, as well as costly desalination. And in spite of leading the world in water technology, it’s not enough, and there is currently a severe shortage. To conserve water, the authorities had to introduce a punitive 3- and 4-fold levy on water usage, which the West Bank Arabs refuse to pay, though the Palestinian Authority receives vast international financial aid. Although Israeli scientists can, for instance, convert rush-hour traffic into electricity, they are unable to reproduce a liquid compound of oxygen and hydrogen, otherwise known as water! What is rarely mentioned is that Gaza gets its water from the nearby Ashkelon desalination plant, which is the target of Gazan missiles. A direct hit would, of course, hurt Israel, but it would also cut off the flow to Gaza. But this does not figure in their mentality - first you cut the hand that feeds you!
 

 

Rubin Katz, London NW11

Sir - After her lengthy absence from these columns, Inge Trott has bounced back with yet another swipe at Israel (November), accusing it of poaching ‘Arab’ water and causing West Bank taps to run dry since April.

Intrigued to know how it’s possible for anyone to survive so long without water; I contacted an Israeli friend, Dr Oded Sagee, a water conservation expert. We know that since biblical times there have been cyclical famines in the Land of Israel due to drought and the Bible tells us that when this happened they went down to Egypt. They can hardly do so now, so in modern times relief comes in the shape of the IDF, who bring precious water to the Palestinians by army tanker. Israel is not in control of the West Bank; Abbas and his Palestinian Authority are. Incidentally, when Jordan was in possession of the area, there was no relief brought in from Jordan during droughts and the people were simply left to their fate and we never heard any cries of anguish then - but blaming Jews, and Israel in particular, is so easy and very much in vogue.

The problem is that there is hardly any Palestinian water infrastructure in place, with villages relying mainly on wells as they have always done. And when the water table drops due to lack of rain, the wells dry up, as in Israel. But Israel invests heavily in its water infrastructure, which includes conservation, recycling for agriculture, as well as costly desalination. And in spite of leading the world in water technology, it’s not enough, and there is currently a severe shortage. To conserve water, the authorities had to introduce a punitive 3- and 4-fold levy on water usage, which the West Bank Arabs refuse to pay, though the Palestinian Authority receives vast international financial aid. Although Israeli scientists can, for instance, convert rush-hour traffic into electricity, they are unable to reproduce a liquid compound of oxygen and hydrogen, otherwise known as water! What is rarely mentioned is that Gaza gets its water from the nearby Ashkelon desalination plant, which is the target of Gazan missiles. A direct hit would, of course, hurt Israel, but it would also cut off the flow to Gaza. But this does not figure in their mentality - first you cut the hand that feeds you!
 

Rubin Katz, London NW11

Sir - Inge Trott states that since March 2009 the West Bank’s Palestinians ‘have had no water in their taps’. Could she back this statement up with a reliable source?

 

Thea Valman

INVITATION TO VIENNA

Sir - In the December issue of the journal, I saw Karl Katz’s and Alan Kaye’s accounts of their lovely visits to Vienna. Mr Kaye also accused me of having views on Vienna which were apparently based on ‘a visit of a few hours’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have had to visit Vienna going as far back as 1955, as my clients (Jaguar Car Co) insisted on my presence when inspecting the new Fiat (ex Steyr) plant in Graz. We all stayed in the Imperial Hotel. I also visited Vienna several times to see my father, who spent a holiday there and had a heart attack.

I am astonished that Mr Kaye did not have the pride to refuse the invitation to visit Vienna at Austria’s expense. This invitation was refused by many people, including my late wife, who was due to be presented in parliament with an open apology for the wrongs done to her when she was ‘barred’ for refusing to go to Berlin as a swimmer, as were her two colleagues.

I wish to assure Mr Kaye that my opinion of Vienna and the Austrians is based on experiences gathered over a long period. The cost of ‘invitations’ should have been credited to the Compensation Fund, which paid out ridiculously petty amounts to the survivors.
 

John H. Lawrence

A HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE

Sir - On reading the December issue of the AJR Journal, I was intrigued by the letter from Karl Katz about Vienna and interested to see that he and Mrs Katz had stayed at the Hotel Stephanie in Leopoldstadt in the 2nd District. This was at the time - and I believe still is - the Jewish area.

I wonder if he was told that the Hotel Stephanie also had a Yiddish theatre before the Second World War, where Yiddish actors from Vienna, including my father and mother, Abisz and Klara Meisels, performed alongside visiting stars (mostly American) from abroad. I thought your readers and Mr Katz might be interested in this historical footnote.
 

Ruth Schneider

A BELATED COMMENT

Sir – Recently Tony Grenville regaled us with a perceptive account of the impact of the 60s on the social scene of this country, and our refugee community in particular.

I found an ingredient of this history missing, arguably the most important one: the enormous expansion in wealth accompanied by a substantial increase in disposable income beginning in the latter half of the 50s and epitomised by Macmillan’s election slogan ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ It reached a peak in the mid-60s, continuing into the 70s and 80s.

House and car ownership expanded rapidly and more advanced kitchen equipment relaxed women’s ties to the home. Youth found itself with increased employment opportunities and disposable income as well as greater access to higher education. This loosened the economic dependence of youth on the older generation and the release of decades of pent-up feelings caused by the economic tribulations of the 20s through to the 40s. The popular music scene became dominated by youth bands and, in politics, restless youth expressed itself in student riots throughout Western Europe, Paris and Berlin in particular.

Not that the UK was immune to student unrest, earning itself the soubriquet ‘revolting students’. Talking with many overseas postgraduate students I was lecturing, they seemed confined not only to Europe and the USA. Chinese students informed me of conditions in their homeland and it seemed clear that they too were subject to ‘youth revolution’, no doubt due to rapidly improving economic conditions. Only there this unrest against the older generation was exploited by Party officials and turned into the ‘Cultural Revolution’. In the USA, many of these student revolts turned against the Vietnam War and led to its ending.

The aftermath of this era persists in guitar-toting youth bands and aging trendies (beatniks, hippies). I can’t help wondering what effect this current reversal in global wealth expansion should it – God forbid – persist will have on the social scene.
 

Walter Fulop

IMMUNITY FROM SWINE FLU

 Sir - I have it on good authority that over time, from the expulsion from Paradise to the present, Jews have acquired immunity from swine flu. The reasoning is simple: no swine, no flu. What is not clear is whether that applies to all Jews who are Jewish or only to the ultra-Orthodox, the Orthodox, the Liberals, to those of Ashkenazi descent, those of Sephardi descent, to Zionists or, as a chacham has suggested, only to those permitted to enter Jewish schools.

 

Frank Bright,