Jul 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
WITH THE AJR’S HELP
Sir - As the daughter of refugees from Vienna, I knew very little until a few months ago about how my parents came to England as they hardly spoke about their lives from 1936 to 1939. Now, thanks to the AJR, I have a much greater insight into what happened to them.
My mother, Zofia Gelber, entered, thanks to the Quakers, into domestic service and my father, Samuel Willner, had a transit visa for America which brought him to Kitchener Camp and then to the Pioneer Corps.
Over the past six months I have learned so much about my parents’ early life in the UK so I am indebted to Anthony Grenville and the AJR Journal. As Dr Grenville mentioned in his articles relating to both subjects, very little has been written or mentioned about the Jewish refugees from Greater Germany who came into domestic service or arrived here on transit visas. If anyone can help me, I am interested to learn more about how they would have obtained their visas and what this would have entailed.
I was also fortunate to hear recently an excellent talk by Professor Clare Ungerson about Kitchener Camp at a meeting of the Manchester AJR Group.
Whilst in the Pioneer Corps, my father was reconnected with my mother, through an acquaintance he had met in an air raid shelter during the Blitz, as they had lost contact for two years. They were married in December 1940.
I have only ever known a little about my parents’ background so, with the help of the AJR, I now feel I have a much better understanding of their experiences as refugees from Austria in the UK.
CONTINENTAL BRITONS EXHIBITION
Sir - As a refugee who came with my parents from Czechoslovakia in July 1939, I should like to thank you for the excellent exhibition you organised and which I recently saw at Burgh House.
I also would compliment you on the excellent booklet which accompanies it. I do feel, however, that there was one more display board which should have given more prominence to the enormous economic, commercial and industrial contribution made by so many of the refugees. Harry Kissin (Lord Kissin) of Guinness Peat Group, R. J. Hulse of MedoChemicals, Victor Fox of Medopharma, Richard Mattes of Mattesons meats, Paul Somlo of Somportex, Tom and Richard Tait of Sterilin are just a few of the names that come quickly to mind and there are so many more which would justify research.
I did also regret to note that there was only cursory mention of people from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which I felt was a major omission. Also, little mention was made of famous scientists and the well-known Kindertransports from Prague organised by Sir Nicholas Winton.
I have taken the liberty of suggesting to Mrs Trudy Gold of the London Jewish Cultural Centre that they might consider the exhibition for Ivy House!
Anthony Grenville, AJR Journal Consulting Editor, who co-directed the 2002 exhibition, writes: The exhibition shown at Burgh House was a much reduced version of the ‘Continental Britons’ exhibition originally shown at the Jewish Museum in 2002. That covered some of the areas mentioned in this letter. ‘Continental Britons’ was specifically intended to depict the experiences of the mass of ‘ordinary’ refugees, not the prominent high achievers or the British rescuers. It focused only on the Jews from the German-speaking lands, as the story of those from Hungary or Poland would have required another exhibition. To include fresh display boards would necessarily have meant omitting some of the existing ones.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE WAR EFFORT
Sir – I read Anthony Grenville’s article about Fred Uhlman in your June issue with particular interest as it concerned the Free German League of Culture (Freie Deutsche Kulturbund, FDKB).
I feel that more mention should have been made of the literary merits of this organisation, with which my late brother (pen name Egon Larsen) was much involved, at least as far as their entertainment output was concerned.
Dr Grenville makes no real mention of the fact that many of the FDKB’s actors (e.g. Agnes Bernelle/Bernauer) were later given a chance by the BBC to take part in satirical plays to help in the war effort. While it is perfectly true that satirical plays do not win wars, I think it is fair that future generations should appreciate that there are many ways in which non-combatants were at last able to contribute to the endeavours to make Germany a decent country again. Their political efforts may not have been successful – but there are many ways to skin a cat!
WILTON PARK TRAINING CENTRE
Sir – I read Eric Bourne’s piece (June) with great interest as I was myself in the Intelligence Corps and was posted to Wilton Park after Armistice in 1945 and remained there until demobbed in 1947. I was attached to the Foreign Office, which ran the educational side under Dr Heinz Koeppler.
I agree with Mr Bourne and believe this unique re-educational experiment was well thought-out, well run and successful. The idea was to re-educate minds poisoned by years of Nazi indoctrination and to re-introduce them to democracy.
My task there was to organise transport for the many guest lecturers from public life - MPs, writers, politicians and journalists.
I still have the many press reports which were reprinted by the ‘students’ on the camp’s own printing machine. It also produced Wilton Park’s own paper Die Bruecke, in which thoughts about censorship could be expressed, thus getting them used to a free press in a new, democratic Germany.
I had daily contact with the ‘students’ and admired their cultural activities, which reminded me of the time I was interned in France as an ‘enemy alien’ and later as a prisoner of the Germans after the invasion.
My favourite task at Wilton Park was my weekly visit to London with eight prisoners in tail. Before departing, they were fitted out with civilian suits and the army vehicle left us at Oxford Circus to continue on foot. The purpose of these visits was to show them that London was still standing, with hardly any damage except around St Paul’s - and not a city in ruins as told by their leaders. We visited all the important places, including Speakers’ Corner, finishing at the Salad Bowl in Lyons Corner House, where they couldn’t get over the fact that they could eat as much as they wanted (except sweets)! When I went there a year later, I found the same girl still at the sweet counter and asked whether she remembered me. Her reply was: ‘Oh yes, you were that gentleman who always came with them foreign buyers from the British Industries Fair.’
I’m glad to say I always returned to Wilton Park with the same number of men I set out with.
BUDAPEST JUDENRAT AND WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING
Sir – May I add to Rubin Katz’s well-informed article about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and his defence of the organisers of that uprising (May issue)? The Jewish armed defence organisation ŻOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa) was not only preparing for the final armed resistance but was also organising help for the doomed Jewish population in the ghetto and later trying to help those few who managed to be in hiding outside the ghetto and whom they managed to contact.
In the ghetto, ŻOB organised the printing and distribution of news bulletins, the building of bunkers as hiding places during the deportation raids, secret passages in the ghetto, and some secret passages in and out of the ghetto.
The few couriers of the organisation who managed to live outside the ghetto (among them Michal Klepfish and Fajga Pelitel Mead – ‘Wladka’) were also looking for safe places for Jews to escape to. This was almost an impossible task in Poland. They provided false papers and some contact, especially for children. They also managed some contact with a few smaller concentration camps, with the Polish underground, and with Jewish partisan groups in forests. In 1943 my twin sister and I were 11 years old - we owe our lives to these activities of ŻOB.
BUDAPEST JUDENRAT AND WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING
Sir – I fail to understand why Henri Obstfeld (June issue) should wish to question the fact that the Warsaw Ghetto revolt was the first Jewish uprising in almost 2,000 years, since 132 AD in Judea. He instead cites the case of the Amsterdam non-Jewish tram-drivers, who struck in sympathy with the Jews. Admirable as their action was, it’s hardly relevant to the subject under discussion. Nothing compares with the Ghetto revolt, which will go down in the annals of Jewish history as the most poignant and heroic event, alongside the modern miracle of the rebirth of Israel.
Since Mr Obstfeld seeks to widen the issue, I would like to make some observations about the Dutch. They rank with the Poles as the most prolific wartime betrayers of Jews, yet they also comprise the highest number of Righteous Gentiles recorded at Yad Vashem – an honour they share (pro-rata) with the Poles. But the similarity ends there: whereas Poland has become one of the staunchest supporters of Israel in the international arena, the opposite is true of Holland. That country remains an enigma - they were very supportive of Israel in its infancy, but all that changed when they went on to embrace the Palestinian/Arab cause. The rest is history. Many of the Dutch would like to turn the clock back but it’s too late – the Muslim population of Rotterdam and Amsterdam equals, or will shortly surpass, that of the indigenous Dutch.
DISCOVERIES IN HESSE
Sir – Ernest Simon’s recent article reminded me of my visit to the resurrected synagogue in Romrod three years ago. This village belongs to the rural district of Alsfeld, where the local museum has been active for many years in rescuing the cultural remnants in many villages, as well as in Alsfeld, of once thriving and old established Jewish village communities.
The guiding force in this work is H. Dittmar, a now retired headmaster and member of the local museum committee. He was honoured for his work in the Berlin parliament a few years ago under the auspices of the Obermayer German-Jewish History foundation.
The large community in Romrod lost many of the congregation by moving to other villages in the 1880s through the activities of the anti-Semitic movement founded by Stöcker, which became sufficiently powerful in some localities to cause this early exodus.
A REMARKABLE MAN
Sir – May I add a few words to Andrew Kaufman’s excellent obituary of his father, Eric Kaufman? I got to know Eric after reading his profile in the March 2003 issue of the AJR Journal. In this article there was a reference to a niece of Sir Herbert Samuel, whom I recognised as Mrs Franklin-Kohn, under whose auspices I came to school in England in 1936. I contacted Eric to find out more, and we soon became friends.
Andrew says that on every Thursday Eric went to town to tour galleries and attend exhibitions, but in fact, on some of these Thursdays, Eric and I met for lunch at a restaurant in West Hampstead. These were most stimulating occasions, when the talk covered art, art history and the troubled history of Germany in the twentieth century – all matters on which Eric had expert knowledge. Although I was more than ten years younger than Eric, I had difficulty keeping up with him on our walks to and from the restaurant. He was indeed a remarkable man, and I miss him greatly.
‘CHURCHILL’S GERMAN ARMY’
Sir – Your television review in the June 2009 issue deals with a new documentary film of major importance, as your reviewer points out and accepts.
Why, then, does he not concentrate on reviewing the film – it is one hour long (!) – instead of using about half of his available space just to find fault with its title?!
Sir - May I correct your kind review of my composition Enosh in your June issue? ‘El male rachamim’ does not feature in Enosh, but I did sing it, to the Chief Rabbi’s acclaim, afterwards, at the National Holocaust Memorial Event in Coventry at the Belgrade Theatre on 25 January.
‘GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir - So Mrs Stern, poor deluded creature that she is, believes that the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, was actually written by God and not by man (see June issue). How did He do this? On stone? On papyrus? Men wrote the Torah just as men wrote the Books of the New Testament and the Koran.
But surely there is more to Judaism than the Torah? What about the Jewish race and the feeling of belonging? I am glad that Mrs Stern says I do not belong to the same religion as her. I do not seek recognition, as she states, because I would not want to belong to a religion as divisive as hers. I am a Jew - a Liberal Jew - and very proud to be one.
SPINACH ON THE ROOF
Sir - I am one of those eccentrics who, even as a very small boy, loved spinach. I still do. It was therefore with great satisfaction that in the May issue of your learned journal you saw fit to print Hans Danziger’s letter, which quotes the original German, which translates roughly ‘How does the spinach get onto the roof as the cow cannot fly?’
My dear wife serves it up regularly - though she abstains - and every time I say ‘Ah, the flying moo-cow!’, which alludes to the great poem of which she was unaware. Now, I know there are kindred spirits among our fraternity who contribute to the immortality of such sentiments. On the other hand, it has also confirmed my wife in her belief that all foreigners are mad.
OH WHAT A DREADFUL SITUATION
Sir - Oh what a dreadful situation
Has befallen our nation
We cannot yet travel into outer space
But ordinary folks don’t know their place
Continuous eruptions via the news
For once, the scapegoats are not our Jews.
Our Members of Parliament are under scrutiny
Their greed for money lured them into iniquity
This is the daily theme – from everywhere it seeps
But, dear reader, this analogy gives me the creeps.
Let us stop these negative themes
Don’t we fear the peril that therein teems
Many indulge in some escapades
Then enjoy blaming others for their mistakes
We must not forget that human beings are frail
I, for one, will not participate in this destructive trail.