Jun 2008 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘FINE WORK’ OF THE AJR
Sir – Thank you for the very fine work the AJR has done for us all over many years. It was through the AJR’s efforts that I learned about Austrian pensions and claims. Also, the May article by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson brought back memories of my family’s treasures that are now untraceable and all I have is very happy memories of a lovely and loving family.
Re the letter by Peter Phillips, the team of Dr Ariel Muzicant helped just a few years ago to trace where my mother and 133,000 others were gunned down as they emerged from cattle trucks somewhere in Eastern Europe. It was through them that I at last had a death certificate and was therefore able to submit a claim for restitution. My father’s death certificate I had soon after the Second World War: the British Red Cross traced the small Dutch village which Dad had left for Auschwitz.
Sir – As usual, I enjoy the contents of AJR Journal and gladly continue my subscriptions for myself and my sister-in-law in the USA.
I am pleased to see that Victor Ross is back again. I agree with the comments of Peter Phillips (April, Letters): ‘I am a Jew racially. I am also a Jew religiously because I do not believe any religion makes more sense than Progressive Judaism.’ The English woman who saved the three of us knew nothing about kosher food. She was the only one to take us three into her humble home. Otherwise, I might not be here writing to you. This might be a blessing from your point of view!
Sir – I was shocked by the April ‘Letter from Israel’. The writer, on her return to London from Israel after many years, found an enormous increase in the number of Arabs. These are students, shop-owners, workers in many fields, and tourists. She then went on to state that the English media ignores Arab rocket attacks on Israel. All this, she suggests, is an indication of English tolerance of Arab attacks on Israeli Jews.
The link between Israel and Britain over the past 75 years, including the Palestinian Jews who fought with the British Army, Navy and RAF, is a powerful indication that the relationship between Israel and Britain (including England) remains strong. Long may it continue thus. Let us have no suggestion that it no longer exists.
Sir – So Dorothea Shefer-Vanson concludes that England is antisemitic. She bases her allegation on the assumption that criticising Israel’s government is equivalent to being antisemitic. On these grounds, she would class me as being antisemitic because I belong to Jews for Justice to Palestinians and Alternative Jewish Voices. Both organisations criticise the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Sir – So the Palestinians are not in fact Palestinians! According to the article by Mendel Storz (February), they are only Arabs who have been living in that part of the Levant since the seventh century CE. Well, that’s about as long as the Anglo-Saxon English people have been settled here in Britain. Do they not have a right to live in this land? Fifteen hundred years or so is an awful long time whoever you are, wherever you live. It is your home and your heritage.
The Israeli author Amos Elon made the point succinctly: ‘There is an unexpected element of irony in the fact that the Israeli Jews, who owe their existence as a nation to their extraordinary memory of past history, should now be forced to rely on the Arabs forgetting theirs.’
‘ISRAEL AT FAULT’
Sir – In the May letters pages, it’s the turn of the Israeli hawks. It’s all the fault of the terrorists; Gaza democracy is a sham. But in Newsround (page 16), Israel is regarded as the country with the most negative influence, second only to Iran. This is what bugs me. After all the charges and counter-charges, the consensus (and this includes very many Jews and a fair number of Israelis) is that Israel is at fault.
COMMEMORATION OF 1941 AMSTERDAM STRIKE
Sir - Looking through the AJR newsletter recently, I came across a small item by George Landers about the coming annual commemoration of the strike in protest against the treatment of Dutch Jews by the Nazis in February 1941.
This was the largest civil protest against Nazi occupation anywhere in the occupied lands and at any time during the Nazi period. Starting among tram and dock workers in Amsterdam, it spread to Utrecht, Hilversum and other areas before it was brutally suppressed by the Germans, who shot nine people dead, seriously injured 24 and arrested countless strikers.
By February 1941 the brutality of the Germans, supported by the vast number of Dutch collaborators, was well known to the Dutch. The Austrian Nazi governor of the Netherlands announced on 10 February that anyone with one or more Jewish grandparents had to register, a ‘service’ for which the Dutch local and national authorities charged a fee. On 22-23 February the first round-ups of Jewish men took place and 427 were sent to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and Buchenwald in Germany, where they all died within a year. The strike, publicised by an ‘illegally’ cyclostyled pamphlet which couriers risked their lives to distribute, started on 25 February.
So I decided to go along to the commemoration, which was held in the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein, the square in which the Jewish men had been herded together for deportation before the strike. The square is close to the Amsterdam Jewish Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue and now contains a bronze statue of a dock worker commemorating the strike. A few thousand people crowded around a temporary enclosure in which VIPs, cabinet members, the chairwoman of the Dutch parliament’s second chamber, representatives of trade unions, local authorities, ex-strikers and pupils from a Jewish school, as well as representatives of organisations such as the Anne Frank Foundation, participated in the ceremony. One senior politician quoted Sophie Scholl, a young Lutheran German woman executed by the Nazis for membership of the anti-Nazi student organisation Die Weisse Rose and for distributing leaflets: ‘One has to do something in order not to be guilty oneself. What is needed is a strong spirit and a soft heart.’ Many people left flowers at the foot of the statue.
For me, the event was a good excuse to pay a visit to the woman who hid me during the war and lost her husband in Neuengamme concentration camp as a result. I’m glad I went and sorry not to have done so in earlier years.
THE RABBI AND THE PARISH PRIEST
Sir – I vividly remember this beautiful part of Bavaria (May issue) as I did a lot of mountaineering with my father in this area.
In 1941, prior to joining the RAF, I was living in Ampthill, Bedfordshire working on invasion barges in the engineering department of a local factory. The Admiralty printed an appeal in one of the dailies for information on suitable German bombing targets, which reminded me of a suitable object – the huge power station at the end of the Walchensee, where the force of the water falling down to the Kochelsee drove the turbines.
With the aid of photographs and maps I was preparing a sketch when suddenly the door was thrust open and my landlord entered with two policemen and three soldiers, pointing at me with handcuffs at the ready and shouting ‘We have a German spy!’ A third policeman - I think a superintendent – entered and he recognised me as an air raid warden. I changed my lodgings the following day.
IN SEARCH OF HEINZ NATHAN
Sir – Does any reader of this journal remember Heinz Nathan and what became of him?
Heinz Nathan was a prominent sprinter in pre-war Berlin and a longstanding member of Sport Club Charlottenburg, one of the top sports clubs in the city. There, he was a member of the record-breaking sprint relay team in 1918-33, after which all Jewish members were expelled (including my late father and his three brothers).
On escaping to England just before the Second World War, Heinz Nathan got a teaching job at Rugby School, where he stayed many years (probably teaching German). Among the important items he brought with him from Berlin was an amateur film taken of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This amateur film had no connection whatever with the infamous Leni Riefenstahl film commissioned by Hitler.
The film Heinz brought to England would be of immense historical interest today, but unfortunately no one at Rugby School can throw any light on the fate of either Heinz or his film. If any reader can assist in tracing Heinz Nathan’s movements after retiring from his teaching job at Rugby School, or indeed the film’s whereabouts today, please contact me.
On a related topic, could anyone who has knowledge of any other amateur film of the Berlin Olympics please contact me.
VIENNA AUTOGRAPH BOOK
Sir - I inherited an autograph book containing signatures of stars of the opera, ballet, theatre and film, including Marlene Dietrich, Adele Kern, Michiko Meinl, Lillian Gish, Helene Thimig, Nora Gregor and Tibor von Halmay. The autographs were obtained in Vienna in 1935-38. I have been able to decipher about 30 of the signatures. As for the rest - about 20 - I have so far failed, although I have consulted volumes of the Deutsches Bühnenjahrbuch.
Are there any readers who may be able to identify the rather illegible signatures and tell me who these people were? An interesting observation on the Deutsches Bühnenjahrbuch is that several actors who appeared on the stage in Vienna in 1935-38 had entries in pre-1933 volumes but were absent in post-1933 volumes. Obviously they were still alive and performing, but they must have been considered undesirables (Jewish, Czech, Polish, etc) by the Nazis. Please contact me on 020 8467 5656 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sir - Seeing an article about Paul Rosbaud in an earlier issue of yours, I am reminded of an unforgivable lapse by a film critic writing about Citizen Kane when it was going to be shown on TV a few years ago. He could not understand the significance of the sledge being thrown on the fire when Kane’s house is cleared after his death. On his death bed Kane had murmured the word ‘Rosebud’ and part of the story of the film is to try and discover who or what Rosebud was.
As the sledge is consumed by the flames, the camera reveals only for a couple of seconds the word ‘Rosebud’ before the fire erases it. The sledge called ‘Rosebud’ was Kane’s prize possession as a child and he was using it when his father called him into the house to tell him that he was going to be sent away immediately and the sledge was unceremoniously left behind. So all Kane’s life was geared upon losing his lovely sledge in childhood, never to be regained, and he remembers it on his death-bed above all his other loves. In the cinema the sledge and its name could be clearly seen, albeit only briefly, but on the TV screen it was too small to be deciphered and the critic on his review copy missed the most important point of this magnificent film.
NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY AND THE EU
Sir - Professor Bryan Reuben’s letter about national sovereignty and the EU (May) confuses two entirely separate bodies: the European Parliament (which he wrongly calls corrupt and unaccountable) and the European Commission, which it is appropriate to call corrupt and largely unaccountable.
The accountability of the European Commission and the bureaucrats there is largely in the hands of the elected European Parliament. So do not shoot those who in a vastly imperfect system try their best, Professor Reuben. MEPs are as approachable as MPs are - I correspond with several by email and get replies particularly in relation to EU policy on funding the Palestinian Authority and accountability thereof. One does not need meetings in many cases to get the point across. The problem is what the MEPs can or cannot achieve in relation to the Commission.
Whether one likes the system or not, it is here and the fact is that it controls far more of UK life than Westminster does already.
Sir – I am sorry to have to bring the subject of pigs up again. These poor creatures were bundled and prettily dressed up and sold for billions by clever bankers in the USA who lost other people’s shirts, only to be snapped up by some very naïve British mortgage lenders. The result – officially known as the credit crunch – was, in reality, simply a case of buying pigs in pokes wholesale.