Jul 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
FROM BACON TO GRENVILLE
Sir – I am glad (but hardly surprised) to notice that my admiration for Anthony Grenville’s lead pieces in the Journal is universally shared by your readers. The essays are, of course, splendidly informed things – models of their kind: if they were (or are) to be included in a collection, it would, I suppose, have to bear some such title as ‘The Rise of the Essay from Bacon to Grenville’. I can’t offhand think of a work which captures an historical moment or biographical overview so graphically and viscerally as Dr Grenville’s captures these. If I were still active in my profession, I would pounce on them as required reading assignments.
I assume that nine-tenths of your readers are Brits. I myself happen to be a Yank by adoption but, like most of your devotees, I am a German Jew, born in Fuerth in Bayern, vintage 1925. (By a most amusing coincidence, one of the Journal’s indefatigable correspondents, Mrs Margarete Stern, and I dated in kindergarten some 80 years ago – we’ve not seen each other since.)
My family and I came to the States, via Montreux and Port-au-Prince, in 1940. After a brief stint in the army, I studied and commenced to teach English and Comp Lit at Cornell, Stanford and Harvard; from 1963 until 2003 I taught more or less continuously at Cornell. For the past five years or so my wife and I have halved the year between our digs in Ithaca (New York) and a mediaeval pile near Toulouse.
Sir - Once again, wonderful reading Anthony Grenville’s AJR essay(s). I just ordered two Erich Heller books - should have been more clearly on my radar screen. And his comments on the misuse of the Holocaust could be reprinted in the States as well.
A FARMHOUSE NEAR TRING
Sir – The front-page article by Anthony Grenville in your May issue, ‘Lotte Kramer’s collected poems’, interested me very much as I once briefly shared a dormitory with her. It’s a small world, as they say!
It’s the last paragraph in the article which I found so intriguing. It was during the London Blitz that my parents felt it advisable for us to find somewhere out of London – but not too far out of London – to stay. So my father phoned Fritz Valk, the actor, mentioned in your journal not so long ago, for advice. He suggested Mrs Fyleman, with whose family he was very friendly.
So one afternoon in the autumn of 1940 we were driven to some small hamlet near Tring called Cow Roast after the local pub. It was a rambling house, more like a farmhouse, with a pig in the backyard etc. My parents were shown to a bedroom on the ground floor and I was shown to a dormitory in the basement as far as I remember, which I was to share with a small group of Jewish refugee girls from Mainz in Germany and their middle-aged teacher. And a typical schoolmistress she was! The group came across as well treated but unpaid slaves who had to work as farm hands and domestics in return for their board and lodging. The girls were a little older than I, who was only 15.
I doubt if I knew their names and I don’t remember their faces, but a few things have stayed clearly in my mind. My parents and I weren’t happy there and we soon found ourselves alternative accommodation a few doors away and eventually moved to some hotel opposite Tring Station, again on the recommendation of Fritz Valk, whose mother had also become a resident there. To our great surprise, Sophie Cahn, the teacher, felt disappointed at my leaving together with my parents, suggesting that it would be ‘good for me’ to join her group rather than continue with my schooling!! We found this rather mind-boggling, to put it mildly.
Some years ago I actually did get in touch with Lotte Kramer and exchanged letters with her but the matter rested there.
Sir – I was particularly interested to read of Lotte Kramer’s Rhine poems as I had just been reading The Conquest of Nature by David Blackbourn. This deals with the Germans, landscape and water – specifically the first section, on the taming of the Rhine. To read Blackbourn is to want to read Lotte Kramer and, I should think, vice versa.
As for Mary Essinger’s letter on Dickens and Fagin: we didn’t have to wait for 20th-century hindsight for severe criticism of this anti-Semitic presentation. At least one Jewish acquaintance (I think a Mrs Davies) wrote a complaining letter to Dickens. He replied with a rather awkward explanation but, more positively, included in Our Mutual Friend a conspicuously virtuous Jew, Mr Riah – who, moreover, is forced to do the dirty work of the odious gentile Fledgely.
‘STAMP COLLECTING FOR GROWN-UPS’
Sir – With reference to the recent article by Anthony Grenville, I dare say that I am not the only collector at my age (96) who must have a massive amount of stamps which have been collected over the years. One in particular includes a commemoration with reference to Stephenson. If I am not mistaken, he originally introduced the use of postage stamps, but I may be wrong.
Sir – A recent obituary in the Journal refers to ‘Nazi-occupied Austria’. I have never seen a reference to ‘Nazi-occupied Germany’ since Hitler only got into power by chicanery.
Austria was not invaded by force: the German army and the SA and SS were welcomed with open arms. After all, their leader, Adolf Hitler, was an Austrian.
GUT SKABY HACHSHARA
Sir – Whilst researching my mother’s family – she came to England aged nine as a ‘Kind’, the only member of her family to survive – I recently discovered that my uncle, Ernst Freudenthal, spent some time in 1939-40 at Gut Skaby hachshara. The only information I have been able to glean from the internet is that it was located to the west of Fürstenwalde, not far from Neuendorf. If any readers are able to tell me anything about this hachshara, I would be immensely grateful.
By coincidence, I saw the reference to the Gut Winkel in Vivien Harris’s recent piece the day after I learned Ernst went to Gut Skaby. I too am unable to say why he was there; Ernst had grown up in Laisa, a village near Marburg, then from 1935-1940, as a teenager, he seems to have moved each year, to Coburg, then Düsseldorf, afterwards Frankurt, before going to Gut Skaby and then Marburg, from where he was deported in 1942.
‘AT HOME IN ISRAEL’
Sir - I worry about Rubin Katz. I do not understand why he does not believe that Jews can assimilate. I worry even more that he thinks that we will always remain foreigners in England. In my case, I came to England aged 3. I was educated here, I do not have a foreign accent, and I consider England my homeland. I may have been born in Vienna, but so what? Except that I like Austrian food, and enjoy Mozart and Strauss, I have nothing in common with the Austrians. It is there that I would feel foreign.
Where Rubin is right is that I abhor faith schools, but I do not only hate Jewish faith schools. I am equally against all ‘religion’-based schools: Christian, Muslim - the lot. We are British. Let our children and grandchildren go to British schools, not complicated by religion. (By the way, I do not disapprove of independent schools - if you have the money to pay their fees, great!)
As for Rubin telling me what I should think about Tzipi Livni, what arrogance! I don't give a damn that her father was high-up in the Irgun because it is probable that without the Irgun and Stern gangs Israel would not have been created. Also, why should she have agreed to become Netanyahu's number 2 when she, in fact, won the election, not Netanyahu! He should have agreed to become her foreign minister, thus keeping the ‘frummers’ and Lieberman out.
Rubin, it is always nice to have you disagreeing with me but, please, in future do get your facts right!
Sir - The Israeli Habima Theatre recently performed The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre. As readers will recall, Palestinians and their sympathisers demonstrated outside the theatre and did their level best to interrupt the performance inside.
Entry to the theatre reminded one of security at airports. There are many other theatre groups performing this season. Among them were theatres from countries of such paragons of freedom of expression, democracy and equality as Russia, China, Belarus, and the non-existing state of Palestine. None of them needed the extra security precautions. We are indeed the chosen people!
Sir – Thank you for informing me that my subscription to the magazine is expiring. I will not be renewing my subscription and it’s not a question of the money.
Although over the years I have very much enjoyed reading the stories of refugees, I am uncomfortable with comments about Israel. I feel that the politics of the State of Israel – or rather the government – have no place in a magazine about Jewish refugees. I’m not referring to people’s individual experiences but to a few of the pro-Israel editorials by Anthony Grenville, for example. In a magazine for Jewish refugees from the Third Reich, I feel that Israel has no place.
Assuming that mine is a minority position and that other readers enjoy reading about Israel, perhaps a critique of the government of Israel would make interesting reading.
I have seen the effects of the occupation of Palestine, now in its 44th year, on both Israel and Palestine. Both communities suffer from poverty and violence as a result of the militarisation of the area. The 20 per cent of the Israeli population who are Arabs do not have the same rights as other Israelis. With jails full of Palestinians arrested on ‘security’ warrants and without any charges, how can we talk about Israel as a democracy?
There are wonderful aspects of life in Israel and, as I say, I don’t think it should be talked about in the AJR magazine. However, if it is to be talked about, let’s discuss some of the above issues.
Meanwhile, I thank you so much for the past issues of the AJR Journal, which my mother, a refugee, also enjoyed.
Sir – I have just been reading a book that has affected me deeply: I Shall Not Hate, by the Palestinian medical doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish (£8.99).
The author describes his life in Gaza, where he grew up and lived with his family, mostly exposed to the dangers coming from their Israeli neighbours. This is what Elie Wiesel said of the book: ‘This story is a necessary lesson against hatred and revenge.’
The Jewish Chronicle said: ‘Humbling, courageous and important … This heart-rending book has the power to change the Middle East with its love, humility and extraordinary strength of character.’
Art notes (review)
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrated in the National Portrait Gallery’s touring exhibition The Queen: Art and Image (until 21 October 2012), combining the nation’s best-loved portraits with some of the most bizarre. Elizabeth II survived that blip in public emotion after Diana died, when a resentful public considered her just too British to share their feelings, and now recession-hit Britain has moved swiftly into Jubilee celebration mood. The portraits range from the high art of Pietro Annigoni, whose full-length 1950s and 1969 paintings are shown together for the first time, to offerings by Andy Warhol – who has done an Elizabeth Taylor on her – and even Gilbert and George, who have had a go with a pair of Coronation crosses made up of miniature portraits.
Annigoni’s earlier profile portrait of her in black queenly robes and regalia suggests the seriousness of the girl-queen. Elizabeth, barely three years on the throne, had already adopted the full trappings of majesty. The artist was inspired by the Queen’s recollection of how as a child she liked to look out of the window to see people and traffic passing. The tender young trees in the background emphasise the youthful isolation of someone bred for power, yet still delicate and vulnerable. This painting in tempera, oil and ink on paper on canvas is a throwback to the Italian Renaissance, which had long fascinated the artist. In his companion portrait, her dignity, austerity and isolation seem complete.
Chris Levine’s Lightness of Being, showing the Queen in ermine, crown and pearls and with her eyes closed, is derived from one of over 10,000 individual images created by Levine with holographer Rob Munday in their work Equanimity.
Dorothy Wilding’s 1952 photograph of the glamorous young queen in a black evening gown reminds us of the beauty she was.
The contemporary royal view is more relaxed, featuring family and public events. And then there is that bleak moment showing her staring at the floral tributes to Diana. Thomas Struth’s recent portrait of the Queen and Duke at Windsor Castle combines formality with that warm feel of a couple who have grown old together.
Many art lovers are inspired by the sunsets and seascapes of our great British Impressionist Turner, but do we consider who inspired him? The National Gallery’s Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude reveals as his mentor the late 18th-century artist Claude, whose well defined figures, usually from Greek myth, are dwarfed by landscape. Turner, who shared Claude’s fascination with light, created more organic canvasses, his figures equally merging into the landscape. Claude’s colours though are sharper - the blue water, ships, the white surf around the oars.
It is interesting to watch Turner experiment with the blending of light and landscape. But he had to reconcile Claude’s pastoral French scenes with the English Channel, the climate differences, the sun and milky clouds. Claude’s favourite Italian sites along the rivers Tiber and Tivoli inspired Turner’s views of the Thames Valley and the industrialisation of the landscape. But his subtle, evanescent sunrises are the picture by which we know him best.
The Inspiration of Decadence Dodo Rediscovered: Berlin-London (1907-1998) opens at the Ben Uri Gallery on 22 June (to 9 September 2012). This is the major part of the exhibition Dodo (1907-1998) – Ein Leben in Bildern, which was staged at the Kunstbibliothek Staatliche Museen in Berlin earlier this year and reviewed in the April issue of the Journal.