Jan 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
THANK-YOU BRITAIN FUND
Sir - Whenever the Thank-You Britain Fund is mentioned in your pages I feel a pang of discomfort. This is due to the subtle shift in emphasis when it comes to the Fund’s origin and history, with the AJR moving centre stage and I appearing among the extras.
In his appeal for funds in the November issue, Anthony Grenville refers to an earlier article which did indeed make more of the part I played, but always a little grudgingly and historically unbalanced.
The Thank-You Britain Fund (including its name) was my idea, and mine alone, brought into being by my letter to the Observer suggesting its creation as a grateful acknowledgement of how we refugees had benefited. There was an immediate and gratifying private and public response and I set the ball rolling by seeking the advice of Professor (later Lord) Robbins and Isaiah Berlin, both my teachers and later my friends. I well remember our ‘founding luncheon’ at the Athenaeum, at which time I was not even aware of the existence of the AJR.
Soon afterwards, I was approached by AJR Vice-Chairman Werner Behr, who said that similar ideas had been mooted within the AJR but conceded that I was the one who had pulled the trigger. I welcomed his approach, realising that as a private individual I neither commanded the machinery to launch a fund nor had access to names of refugees to whom the appeal could be addressed. (The appeal was written by me, characterised by Isaiah Berlin as the best begging letter he had ever read. Mr Grenville’s appeal letter, written jointly with the British Academy, goes even further than his article in claiming sole credit for the AJR.) Mr Behr became my contact with the AJR - and very helpful he was too, crowning his work with a mega contribution. Dr Rosenstock came in later, when the selection committee was formed by the British Academy. I cannot remember him ever making a significant contribution to our discussions in committee; I was the principal spokesman for the donors and the source of ideas for candidates and speakers, among them Roy Jenkins, Arthur Koestler and Jonathan Miller, all recruited by me.
My part shrank in importance as non-AJR notables with substantial academic credentials predominated on the Committee, but my colleagues never failed to acknowledge my role as the ‘onlie begetter’.
Perhaps I should be above minding at this late stage - the more so as I don’t regard the Thank-You Britain Fund as my major contribution to British public life and my sense of gratitude is becoming as misty as Mr Grenville's grasp of the history of the Fund. It may be of interest that I proposed to Lord Robbins that he approach the Honours Committee with a view to getting a gong for Mr Behr. He duly obliged and Mr Behr got his OBE.
Anthony Grenville: My article was intended as background to a fund-raising appeal, not as a detailed historical account of the Thank-You Britain Fund. For reasons of space alone, the latter was not possible. Readers are referred to my study Jewish Refugees from Germany and Austria in Britain, 1933-1970, pp. 254ff.
A PHOTO FROM RICHARD TAUBER
Sir – My stepfather, Paul Engel, worked for Tobis Sascha, a film importer in Vienna. Quite often he and my mother had to go to formal dinners, where they met other people in the film industry.
On one occasion, my mother sat next to Richard Tauber. She said to him during dinner: ‘Herr Kammersänger, I wonder if I can ask you for your photograph?’ He replied that of course he would give her a photograph and that he would inscribe it to ‘Frau Engel, my charming dinner companion, from Richard Tauber’. But she answered that her husband was very jealous and asked if he could just sign his name, which he did.
The next day my mother went to her favourite hat shop and asked the owner what he would give her for this photograph. She was told she could choose any hat she wanted. She chose a green hat and the photograph went into the shop window.
Sir – I am the son of Josef Bor, author of the book The Terezin Requiem. I refer to Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s ‘Defiant Requiem’ published in your November issue in the ‘Letter from Israel’ column).
I write to tell you that it pleased me that the memory of the Terezin events is still alive, now in the ‘third generation’. Just as Dorothea Shefer-Vanson remembers her father listening to Verdi’s Requiem, I remember my father doing the same. He played it again and again and, after some time, during one summer wrote the book.
Sir - The Wiener Library is looking for volunteers to help sort and index our Press Archive on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. If you can commit to either of those days on a regular basis for the next year and are able to read German, please contact me on 020 7636 7247 or at email@example.com.
Sir - I am studying for a Masters degree in Jewish History and Culture at Southampton University and am preparing a dissertation on the ways in which Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe were received and treated by the Jewish community in Britain.
I would be glad to hear from anyone with personal experience or from members of the Second Generation who might preserve family memories.
SEARCH NOTICE SUCCESS
Sir - In response to the search notice about the Krausz/Prochownik family which I placed in your journal, I am delighted to say that a few days ago I got a very cordial email from the twin granddaughters of Gertrud and Leo Prochownik. Their mother, the daughter of Leo and Gertrud, is 93 years old and still lives in London. She found the search notice in the AJR Journal and informed her daughters. They are very interested in what I've found out so far and will give me further information.
So the publication of the search notice in the AJR Journal was very successful and I have to thank you a thousand times for it. Let me say that it made me very happy. I'll send you a copy of the book I am writing about the artist Leo Prochownik as soon as it is available.
Sir - I noticed in your December issue a request from Peter Fraenkel to identify the student fraternities to which his father belonged.
We at the Wiener Library have a volume which lists all the Jewish student fraternities along with their respective insignia and flag/ sash colour/ designs entitled Studentischer Antisemitismus und jüdische Studentenverbindungen, 1880-1933, Thomas Schindler copy number 14218.
GUIDE FOR THE DISADVANTAGED
Sir – I picked up a guide to Frankfurt am Main written specially for people with disadvantages of all kinds - movement, hearing, sight, etc. It is 280 pages and free of charge. I thought that with our ageing membership, this guide might be very helpful and probably unknown to them. I presume it would be available from the German tourist office.
SPECIAL GENERAL MEETING
Sir – My apologies for not attending the recent AJR Special General Meeting. Unfortunately I live too far away now and need help with transport due to my age.
I hope the meeting went well and I thank Andrew Kaufman and his fellow Trustees for all the hard work they do. Also, the Journal is very informative every month.
‘LAW OF THE JUNGLE’
Before we shed too many tears for the Germans expelled after the war (review by Leslie Baruch Brent in your December issue), it might be as well to remind ourselves who these unfortunate Germans actually were.
In Poland the expulsion of Germans centred on what, in pre-war days, was the Polish Corridor. This area had become, under German control, the Reichsgau Warthegau and Danzig-Westpreussen. Both Gaue were administered by two of the most brutal Nazi Gauleiter - Greiser in Warthegau and Forster in Danzig-Westpreussen - who proceeded by inhuman means to Germanise their Gaue, murdering or deporting the Polish population, especially the farming population, and replacing them with Germans (part of the Drang nach Osten). It was these Germans in particular whom the Poles expelled back to Germany by, no doubt, very violent means.
The expulsions from Czechoslovakia were of a different order. The Sudeten Germans, having deliriously welcomed the Wehrmacht in 1939, fully participated in the vicious administration of the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, culminating in the appointment of Heydrich as Reich Protector. Following his assassination the village of Lidice was razed to the ground, its menfolk shot and the women and children deported to concentration camps, where they were probably murdered. It was obvious that after this atrocity there neither could, nor should, be a place for any German in the restored Czechoslovak Republic. The expulsions were conducted mercilessly and ferociously but it is as well to know why they happened and what their justification was.
Sir - Hatred of the once all-conquering, arrogant Germans was, of course, justified. A Dutch friend born at the end of the war told me about the after-effects of the utter desolation, starvation and famine besetting the Netherlands at that time. (There were no Jews left, with the possible exception of a few who had been hidden.)
This, of course, applied to many occupied countries. ‘There’s no such person as a good German!’ was the saying. It took some courage to say you came from Germany, even as a Jew. The attitude of some members of Anglo-Jewry towards Continentals survives even to this day.
It is unfortunate that in many instances the brutalities endured by the ethnic Germans affected many innocent people, including defenceless children. Wasn’t it always thus?
Many years ago I accompanied my husband to the German embassy for his annual Lebensbestätigung (life certificate). A woman started talking to us in a certain German dialect, complaining how long she was having to wait for her German passport. Luckily we had no problem and were soon on our way. But just as we were leaving, a gentleman in orthodox Jewish garb entered. I saw the woman look at him with utter disdain. Then I heard ‘Zyklon gas once again!’ My husband missed it as did everyone else. Outside I told him what she had said and he explained that she was Volksdeutsch - with all that implied.
WEST BANK ‘OCCUPATION’
Sir - I was very disturbed by Dorothea Shelter-Vanson’s recent ‘Letter from Israel’.
I would agree with her that anti-Semitism has been indirectly supported by some of the media, especially Channel 4 and the BBC. They report the sufferings of the Arabs, but the recent rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel were ignored. The press in the UK invariably highlights the alleged wrong-doings of Israel and so the multitude will, of course, indulge in slogans like ‘Free Palestine’ and disrupt any performances by Israeli orchestras. And the ‘occupation’ of the West Bank is sufficient reason for further anti-Israel/anti-Jewish demonstrations.
I keep on asking why after the Second World War the occupation of the former German East Prussia by the Russians and the forceful removal of all German inhabitants did not attract protests. The Germans were made to walk to the rump of Germany. Poland also occupied the eastern part of Germany, but at least provided transport for the displaced Germans. The explanation was that territories captured as a result of war belonged to the captors. And this was accepted. The West Bank was the last territory which remained in Israeli hands after the Six-Day War – other territories occupied were returned to the Arabs. Protests all round. Why?
DEPLORABLE STATE OF WEISSENSEE
Sir - I refer to Gordon Spencer’s letter in a recent issue of the Journal about the deplorable state of Weissensee cemetery. In 1987 I visited the cemetery for the first time and was horrified to see its neglected state. I did indeed start a fund to help clear it up and collected several thousand pounds. This cleared four ‘Felder’ and they put up a plaque commemorating this at one of the junctions of the main paths.
When I visited in 2011 it didn’t look too bad but I agree we may not have seen the same areas.
One can write to Herr Kohls, manager, at Friedhof Weissensee, Herbert Baum Str. 45, 13088 Berlin.
A BRIT FIRST AND FOREMOST
Sir – What a misguided letter from Bea Green (December), who feels I have ‘missed out’ by not having any other identity except that of being British! I would refer her to Norman Tebbit, who, quite correctly, challenged Indians and Pakistanis, whether born here or immigrants, to show their allegiance by backing England at cricket rather than the countries whence they came.
Ms Green is not a ‘Bavarian-Jewish Brit’, as she claims. She is a Brit first and foremost, and also Jewish. I assume she is naturalised, so how can she be Bavarian? I am also very surprised that she indeed wants to be Bavarian. Did the Bavarians not throw her out of Germany? As with Eric Bourne, her ‘Heimat’ is in Great Britain, the country that saved both their lives – and mine. I like Vienna, its food and its music. In no way am I still an Austrian nor would I want to be.
Art notes (review)
Henry, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver, c. 1610-12 The Royal Collection Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
It’s hard to imagine anything equalling the outpouring of public grief over the death of Princess Diana. But in November 1612, when 18-year-old Prince Henry Stuart, elder son of James I, died of typhus, thousands lined the streets as his sumptuous cortege passed by. In his short life, the young crown prince had brought chivalry, learning, naval exploration and a surge of Renaissance art to the Jacobean court.
British history might have looked very different had he, instead of the ill-fated Charles I, ascended to the throne. There might have been no royal conflict with Parliament or civil war and Charles might have kept his head.
In its first artistic tribute to Henry, The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, the National Portrait Gallery (until 13 January) captures in 80 paintings, miniatures and manuscripts something of the legend of the young prince, who espoused military, cultural and moral virtues and built the largest ship in the British fleet.
Henry’s court was a burgeoning creative community whose provenance was astonishing - the largest library, the first Italian Renaissance bronzes, the first antique coins and medals collection in England ....
In formal royal portraits by Holbein, Rubens, Inigo Jones, Ben Jonson, Robert Peak, and in two cameo works by the famous miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, the handsome face of the auburn-haired prince as child and teenager stares out as visitors probe his unfamiliar story and study his hand-written manuscripts.
The works portray him and his family and noblemen in the brocaded finery of the era. Isaac Oliver depicts him as the Prince of Wales in blue sash, white ruff and gilded, inlaid armour typical of the 17th century. Robert Peake the Elder paints him in sumptuous royal robes. He is shown as a child, holding cherries, symbolising innocence and virtue. In later examples, you can trace his resemblance both to Charles, as Duke of York and Albany, and his father. They enable you to gauge something of the man he might have become.
Henry studied French and Italian, Latin quatrains and maths, Homer’s Iliad, and perspective drawing - influenced by his father’s love of the liberal arts and sciences. While James’s pretensions earned him the nickname ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’, his son’s character was revered. In his teens he became focused on wider political and religious issues, but the greatest influence on him was David Murray, whose name Henry desperately called out on his deathbed.
The touching quality of the paintings reaches out across the centuries. The Queen in black, his sister, Princess Elizabeth, wearing a black armband. King James, we learn, cried out his name in the midst of policy meetings. So much was lost in the death of Henry, who was the transformative hope of Britain and Protestant Europe.
The way great art has influenced photography is explored at the National Gallery: Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present (until 20 January). Fronting the National Gallery’s own catalogue is Israeli artist Ori Gersht’s Blow Up: Untitled, a video and still life featuring a bouquet of flowers iced and then detonated on camera. Not an allegory for Middle East politics, one hopes.