Jul 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
Sir – I read Anthony Grenville’s excellent article ‘Anglo-Saxon attitudes’ (April) regarding a piece in The Independent on Sunday by Sir Oliver Miles, who ‘seems to have been voicing the typical concerns of a Foreign Office Arabist’.
The matter was furthered by an article in The Independent by Richard Ingrams, ‘who broadened it out to cast doubt on the impartiality and reliability of Jews in political matters generally, by implying that Jews have an overriding loyalty to Israel’.
This type of propaganda is rightfully refuted in your journal and elsewhere but, on second thoughts, I feel Dr Grenville’s article would have been even more effective had it ended with a recommendation to obtain a copy of an easily and quickly read short book, Beyond the Call of Duty – British Diplomats and Other Britons Who Helped Jews Escape from Nazi Tyranny. All is not as ‘black’ as may appear - there are cited in this book, by Sir Martin Gilbert, so many heroes of the British Foreign Office and other British officials, specifically named, who, at considerable risk to themselves (and sometimes also to their families), saved many thousands of Jewish lives.
Furthermore, a mention of the wall plaque erected to honour these British diplomats and other named British officials, and of government ministers and officials who assisted in having this plaque erected, would not be amiss in one of Dr Grenville’s excellent articles (see short mention on the last page, page 60, of Sir Martin’s book). In this connection, the Duke of Edinburgh’s short speech at Yad Vashem, where his mother is honoured as a Righteous Gentile, should be known widely and is well worth quoting.
Doubtless there are many of today’s British Foreign Office diplomats and officials who, if they knew about and were proud of what their named predecessors had done during the Second World War, would themselves do likewise today. However, we must all do our utmost to prevent a second happening!
ELEANOR RATHBONE: A FOOTNOTE
Sir – As a footnote to Anthony Grenville’s fine tribute to Eleanor Rathbone (June), it is perhaps worth recalling that in 1938 she wrote a book entitled War Can Be Averted. It was a powerful plea in support of ‘collective security’ as the way to deter the aggressors. Alas, the aim was not achieved. The book was published by Victor Gollancz in the series Left Book Club Topical Book.
A DAUGHTER OF HER CENTURY
Sir – It was a delightful surprise to read in your June issue Martha Blend’s review of my book A Daughter of Her Century (Clucket Press, www.tattybogle.com). Even the quotations show she read it with interest and sympathy and I would like to thank her for it.
As you know, I am 86 (honestly, it’s not my fault – it happened when I was occupied with other things!) and began to write after my retirement from psychology 20 years ago. I had some short stories published in Cosmopolitan and London Magazine, both magazines which I have alas outlived.
The book you reviewed had been sent to a number of publishers, some of whom refused it out of hand (‘No Holocaust books please – we’re inundated!’) without reading it. Many refusals came wrapped in high praise: The book, they said, was good but there was no market for it.
They were wrong. The 650 copies produced by friends of mine are almost sold out. People told each other about it and wanted copies for their friends. Yours is the only review printed. The sequel is almost finished: It is about the first years in England, where I got married and where my jobs varied from skivying in a boarding school to lecturing at Leicester University. It would be nice to see it incorporated in the book but it is not terribly important – I cherish the thought that you and others have enjoyed it.
Sir – Just before the introduction to ‘Emmerdale’ on ITV there is displayed a fleeting shot of a beautiful old house, The Mound , at the lower end of Long Crendon, Bucks. This fleeting glance at the old house brings back to me nostalgic memories of my youth.
My two brothers and I came to England from Berlin via the Hook of Holland to Harwich, where we were temporarily housed in a holiday camp. From there couples from all over the country came and selected children they wished to foster. My eldest brother was already 15 and therefore old enough to start work – but that’s another story.
My brother Hans and I were selected by three families in Long Crendon and fostered by them and the headmaster of Lord William’s School in Thame. Professor Gomme and Mrs Gomme who owned The Mound had us to stay with them every summer holiday from school.
I shall be forever grateful for the love, care and attention we received, not only from the three families but also from the headmaster of the school, and for the wonderful start they gave us in the absence of our parents, who died in a concentration camp in December 1942.
Sir - The northern-based AJR social workers have learned that four members of the AJR living in the north of the country are survivors of a ‘death march’ who were liberated and then billeted in Kaunitz, a small village in Westphalia, Germany. It may be possible for them to meet. If readers in other parts of the country have had this experience and would like to make contact, please do. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at PO Box 295, Hyde, Cheshire.
MORE SUCH HOLIDAYS PLEASE!
Sir - While on a week’s holiday with the AJR in Bournemouth on 9-16 May, we had a chance to meet new people and renew old friendships. We stayed at the Hotel Royale, the atmosphere was pleasant, the weather was kind to us (perhaps slightly on the coolish side), but there was no rain so that nothing disturbed our leisurely activities.
Carol arranged some outings and was very attentive to our requests. The hotel was very good and the food was excellent. The informal meetings after dinner in the lounge were pleasant and some of us spoke about our life experiences, which were of interest to all of us. After all, our history has a common theme and some of us were reminded of our own past. All was well organised and Carol’s experience contributed to the success of the holiday. Hopefully, we will have similar holidays in the future.
Sir – We again had a pleasant holiday in Bournemouth and I believe all of us enjoyed it. The weather was good - sunshine every day. The hotel was excellent, food very good and plentiful, and all the staff very helpful, kind and always smiling.
Again, as usual, our AJR ladies kept an eye on us and helped wherever and whenever they could.
There was a little difference in our programme. Carol had a brilliant idea and, one evening as we sat together, we had a personal introduction programme, each saying a few words about ourselves: ‘My name is … I was born in … I fled from Hitler to … Nobody objected to talking about their escape to Britain or to other countries to save their life and, as we know, true life is usually much more exciting and moving than fiction.
I knew several people in our group from earlier holidays, but now I found out more – it helped our relationships and respect for each other.
Thank you all for taking part so willingly and thank you, Carol, for the excellent idea.
MANCHESTER REFUGEE CLUB
Sir – I refer to the recent letter by Lisa Wolfe (Steinberg) about the Refugee Club opened in 1941 by Rabbi Dr Papo, minister of the Didsbury Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. The club came to an end when Dr Papo emigrated to Rhodesia.
Rabbi Dr Papo is my late father. I was born in Salisbury (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1945. If any readers who knew my late father wish to get in touch with me, could they kindly do so via the Journal.
HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AND REFUGEES
Sir – I cannot let the letter from Martha Blend (June) pass without challenging it. While I regret that she was saddened by the ‘mean-minded distinction’ made by Anita Lasker Wallfisch and Kitty Hart-Moxon between camp survivors and child refugees, unless Martha Blend has personal experience of life in a concentration camp, she frankly cannot compare one situation with an entirely different one and I believe her letter was offensive to your previous correspondents, who are known, brave survivors.
In my case, my late father was a survivor of Dachau concentration camp, whereas my mother and I were refugees from Berlin, arriving by plane at Croydon Airport in August 1939.
Jews survived the Holocaust in many ways. But those who survived the concentration camps are the only Holocaust survivors.
Sir - Hans Weinmann’s definition (May) is authoritative and ought to close this aspect of the debate. Indeed, one can isolate the distinguishing features to universalise it to apply to all survivors. The criteria are ‘target group for extermination’, ‘living in occupied or controlled lands’ (of the aggressor), and an opening and closing (if appropriate) date.
‘A refugee’ has a statutory definition. S/he is a person unable to seek the protection of his/her country of birth or nationality ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’ (1951 Refugee Convention). In Britain, s/he remains a refugee while on limited leave to remain, for reason of having sought refugee status.
Once the right to remain becomes unconditional, the refugee is - broadly - indistinguishable from any other member of the public.
Because of our experience, we in particular ought strongly to resist anything that brings us near the habit of many European countries of speaking of second- or third-generation refugees (or for that matter ‘immigrants’), or even our using the lazy way of describing someone by their apparent ethnicity (e.g. African, Jew, Ethiopian). It opens the door to prejudice and hence to discrimination. Let us instead rejoice in the unpronounceable surnames we share with our fellow citizens.
Sir – Ossi Findling (May) believes wartime interrogators are a dying breed. Not so! I am certain that quite a number are still around in addition to him and me.
My rank was ‘S/Sgt. 20yrs old. Function: Interrogator, Interpreter General Assistant to Police, Fire Brigade, Courts’. Sadly, I also had to find Russian prisoners and forced labourers in Germany and hand them over to Russian officers. I learned years later that the returnees were eliminated.
Sir - Dr Basil Lee (June) is absolutely correct that the Kaddish was not originally a prayer for the dead but is, in fact, a repeated assertion of faith in God. It was originally designed as a ‘punctuation mark’ to be said by the sheliach tsibbur (prayer leader) to separate sections of the liturgy; the so-called chatsi-kaddish (half-Kaddish, strictly speaking a misnomer since it contains the essential part and the other versions have additions) was a ‘comma’ and the kaddish titkabal a ‘full stop’ after each public prayer service. The latter is somewhat obscured by the custom that arose about 900 years ago to say Aleinu after it.
Basil Lee then asks ‘[W]hy is it reserved exclusively for male members of the congregation?’
Originally, a son would act as sheliach tsibbur on weekdays for the year (actually 11 months) after his father’s passing and on the yahrzeit. Since women do not generally participate on weekdays, they are exempt from any obligation to engage in public worship and cannot therefore, should they be present, take on this role.
The same would apply to a son under the age of bar mitsvah but, since hopefully he would eventually be able to do so, the saying of Kaddish was instituted as an alternative. In a large congregation, there may be more than one mourner yet only one could act as sheliach tsibbur, so the custom was extended that all mourners would say Kaddish.
I wrote an article containing further material on this topic entitled ‘The Orphan Kaddish’, which is reprinted in my book A Time to Speak (Devora Publishing, 2010, email@example.com).
STOLPERSTEIN IN VIENNA
Sir – Like Mr Vulkan (in a recent issue of the journal), I made contact with Stones of Remembrance in Vienna with a view to paying for commemorative stones outside my grandparents’ former home in Vienna’s 2nd district. I was told that their location did not fit in with the circuit of stones they were arranging and that they wanted to put the stones outside a place nearby - but not their home. I thought this was pointless and declined to participate.
Incidentally, your letter-writer Laura Selo referred to the song to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony as Ida. I know it as Freida. My late father would sing it every time he played that symphony. It certainly brought back memories.
Sir - A recent letter in the Berlin magazine Aktuell mentions that Jewish telephone subscribers in the 1939-40 directory for Oranienburg had separate entries. This enabled a set of students now to identify Jews in order to supply Stolpersteine. It is a case of a scheme to discriminate against Jews having an unexpected beneficial outcome.
It reminds me of the distribution in my primary school in Berlin around.1935 of blank family-tree forms for pupils to ask their parents to fill in all details of ancestors going back to great-grandparents. One of these details was Bekenntnis (religion), in order to discover if any ancestor was Jewish. My father had to do a lot of research to fill this in and its beneficial outcome was that we now have a complete family tree. Having made copies, of course, we gave it to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is exactly the kind of artefact they want. I would encourage any reader who has similar articles to donate them speedily.
YIDDISH THEATRE IN VIENNA
Sir - I have only recently joined the AJR having only just discovered its existence and its value to us remaining few. The recent letter from Ruth Schneider hit a chord.
My late uncle Josef Friman was apparently a well-known actor in pre-war Vienna and either he had some immunity or he was too famous to be exterminated by the Nazis. It was he who was instrumental in arranging the escape of all our families (at least 15 of us) to Europe. However, no one would speak of what or how it happened. It may just be that he worked at the Yiddish theatre in the Stephanie and Ruth’s parents might have known him or of him.
By the way, I revisited Vienna about 10 years ago with my partner and we found it loathsome and still very anti-Semitic. Plus ça change ....
‘WHERE WERE YOU ON D-DAY?’
Sir – With regard to your recent article on this subject, on 6 June 1944 I was one of 60 paratroops dropped in the mountains south of Rome in ‘Operation Hasty’. As my war report said: ‘A force of paratroops was to be dropped behind the front of the German 44th Infantry and 4th Mountains Divisions to operate on their main line of retreat – Highway 82 – with the object of preventing the enemy of carrying out demolitions designed to hamper the advance of the 2nd New Zealand Division.’ The broad idea was for us to shoot up as much enemy transport on Highway 82 as possible and so hasten the enemy retreat.
During daylight we used to hole up in the mountains, some of them over 2,000m, and at night came down on to the road to lay our ambushes. In the event, we only managed to do this once because the Germans sent a whole brigade to find and destroy us.
Thankfully we eluded them – we had split up into small groups – and, although we only partly achieved our object, we succeeded in drawing off several thousand German troops from their front for a whole week.
Incidentally, Rome was liberated on 6 June.
Sir - Just to say (again?) with how much attention I always read the Journal, although it can also generate some sadness. I appreciate how even-handed the publication is. Keep it up!