Jun 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘LUCKY TO BE ALIVE’
Sir – I may be a bit late with my comment about Anthony Grenville’s article ‘“Underpaid, underfed and overworked?”: Refugees in domestic service’.
England saved my life and I am very grateful to the country I entered on 8 August 1939. My reason for writing to you is that I would love to know whether there is anybody else here in England who came as a refugee and stayed in the same village.
I too was in domestic service from August 1939. I married my dear late husband in Sheffield in October 1942. Like me, he was a refugee from Germany. I was not used to domestic work nor had my husband ever worked on a farm before, but we counted ourselves lucky to be alive. Although we had tickets for America, we decided to stay in England.
Having worked separately in Yorkshire, we moved after we were married to a village
in Nottinghamshire, where (now 92 years of age) I still live. Sadly my husband died in 1980.
We immersed ourselves in village life. I became president of our local Women’s Institute and my husband formed a small dance band, in which he played piano.
After many years on the farm, my husband was employed in an agricultural shop in the nearby market town.
From the very beginning, we made many good friends in the village who appreciated our contribution to local life and admired our positive attitude in spite of our very sad past. We never lost our Jewish identity.
LITTLE BLUE BOOK
Sir – How well I remember that horrible little blue book we were handed at Dovercourt when we arrived in England!
I was so disgusted with it that I tore it up and threw it away. My sentiments were the same as Ernest Kolman’s (May issue). Now I have found out that this book was not issued by the British government of the time but by the English Jews. They must have been frightened that we would cause fresh anti-Semitism by our behaviour, as they caused hostility when they came here in 1850-1914. How wrong they were! We were much more educated and cultured than they.
By the way, I don’t know of any English Jews who looked for brainy/talented youngsters to help them fulfil their potential. The Gentiles sent me back to grammar school and saw that I had piano lessons again. All Lady Reading was prepared to do for me was to want to make me a kitchen maid in her house! Fortunately, the hostel warden came to my rescue.
‘GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir – The response to my letter in your April issue was predictable and it made me happy.
As for Jack Lynes’s reaction, I must have touched a raw nerve. He rails at me for writing that there are ‘Progressive “rabbis” who don’t believe in anything, not even in G-d’, stating that he has never come across any. But that is precisely what Peter Phillips wrote about in his article ‘God on Trial’ in your February issue, in which he says that neither he nor some Progressive rabbi believes in stories in the ‘Old Testament’, as he calls it.
I quote Mr Phillips: ‘So, very puzzled, I asked him why he was a rabbi. His answer made everything clear to me. “I believe that I must teach the idea [italics in original] of God.’ He continues: ‘So this means that my rabbinical friend does not believe as the Orthodox do, that the Torah was written by God. To him, it was man-made because, like the Ten Commandments, the Torah was necessary for its time.’
So there you have it straight from the horse’s mouth, all very wishy-washy! He denies the fundamentals of Judaism.
Incidentally, is Peter Phillips not aware that the Ten Commandments are an integral part of the Torah and not something apart from it - which has, in his opinion, like all the rest, become obsolete?
So, as I have said before, what, if anything, is left of Judaism if we do not accept it, believing it to have outlived its relevance?
There is no Judaism without the Torah, which has been preserved throughout the ages by its true adherents, who, despite all hardships and persecutions, have clung to it tenaciously in all four corners of the Earth, passing it on to their children, thus guaranteeing its continuity. They are the ones who’ve kept it going!
The greatest chutzpah is to call yourself a rabbi only to mislead others and to call the religion you’re practising the Jewish religion, which it clearly is not. Call it what you like – only don’t call it Judaism.
Some of you – certainly not all – may still be considered Jews by reason of your race, but that too will, in the not too distant future, cease to be the case.
In your May issue, Peter Phillips, addressing himself to me, ends his letter: ‘I am sorry to belong – in theory, if not in practice – to the same religion as you.’
Calm down, Mr Phillips, rest assured that, although we may belong to the same race, we certainly do not belong to the same religion. Why do you seek recognition?
UK GOVERNMENT ‘PRO-JEWISH’
Sir - I feel both saddened and surprised at the very biased letter by Mrs E. Holden published in the May issue of the AJR Journal. Our government has consistently expressed its commitment to the security and welfare of Israel and, for example, led the walkout at the recent Durban II conference during the disgraceful speech by Iran’s president. Strong trade links between the UK and Israel continue to flourish, in spite of the boycott attempts by misguided and ill-informed organisations. Like many individual friends and supporters of Israel, some government ministers have expressed criticism of certain actions by the Israeli government, and surely it is the right and duty of friends to do so if they feel these actions are wrong.
Regarding anti-Semitism, does Mrs Holden know that Holocaust education is now a compulsory part of the curriculum in all state secondary schools and that two students from each school are enabled to visit Auschwitz each year? Is Mrs Holden aware of the continuing activities of the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism and of the recent London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism called by the British Government and attended by MPs from 40 countries? It also seems unlikely that a government unconcerned about anti-Semitism would put so much effort into promoting the widely supported commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day each January.
Sir - I continue to enjoy Anthony Grenville’s essays in the AJR Journal. His combination of reprising historical episodes that have been eclipsed, along with his insightful analyses, is really amazing, and I find virtually every issue worth reading. I feel that about few other publications!
OUR 70TH ON FILM
Sir - Before entering into the above subject, I must refer to the ending of my letter in the April issue of the Journal under the heading ‘Anti-Semitism at the National’: ‘It is better to get Burnt by the Sun than in a gas oven. We must act before it is too late!’ I didn’t think it necessary to spell out that there is only one country in the world that would welcome us and that whatever other hardships we might endure, anti–Semitism wouldn’t be one of them. We had to move once before - just to sojourn here.
Ah the film! Did we ever in our lives expect that we would live to take part in the 70th anniversary of our Kindertransport? Well, we did and we even had a film made as a record of it. Loading it into my recorder, anticipating an hour or so of reliving that joyful event, I first thought there was something wrong with my equipment. There was a loud snap, crackle and pop accompanying images of, undoubtedly, speakers from the platform, wildly oscillating across the screen, addressing about 650 Kinder with some of their offspring. I checked my TV, the disc for scratches - no it wasn’t that - the Chief Rabbi just couldn’t keep still, moving from left to right and back again until he went out of view altogether, but still talking. He wasn’t the only speaker performing these antics. They all did, to the accompaniment of loud bangs interspersing their worthy speeches. I was thinking of having to replace all my equipment. Oy veh!
Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be the film-maker! The committee didn’t choose an amateur to film such a unique, unrepeatable event - or could they have? But, no, we had Viennese music accompanying the entry of Prince Charles to the tea party. As much as I liked the music, it never stopped - not even when His Majesty conversed with Kinder at the tables. It was a rehash of the silent films! There I was, for just two seconds, talking with the Prince, the camera taking in the back of my head. Some memory! I just hope he and his mum weren’t sent free copies, shaming the AJR!
Only when HRH took his place to address us did the waltzing stop. After that, it was sheer mayhem, the camera seeking out the photographer’s favourite faces at random for a couple of seconds a time, showing off hundreds of fade-ins and fade-outs in the process to a medley of Tyrolean-type music. It was 5 in the morning when I switched off in bewilderment, having watched a horror film for more than five hours, not even having seen the end. And I paid nine pounds for that?
The doorbell rang - it was 7 o’clock. Totally dazed though I was, a welcome smile from the AJR driver with two parcels of meals-on-wheels brought me back into the real world. Then I realised it had all been a terrible nightmare.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Sir - We live in times of unscrupulous profiteers and chasms of moral decay. We have our champions of justice and people of compassion. Looking back to the plight of the Jews caught in the grip of Hitler’s wrath, we find too many villains. But also unsung heroes.
A modest grant from the Austrian Zukunftfund has enabled us to start work on a documentary film: Back from the Brink. In it, the viewer relives, through intimate interviews, the harrowing experiences of four European Jews hanging on to their lives by a thread, two steps from death at the hands of the Nazis. All four are saved, brought back from the brink, not by chance or luck, but through the selfless compassion and moral courage of non-Jews. The four tell their stories as if they happened yesterday, still amazed that others would risk their lives for them. To our knowledge, such a film has not been made before.
Yes, we know of the Holocaust. Let us also give praise to those who saved Jewish lives at the risk of theirs and be inspired through the film’s examples of compassion to ensure future generations will do the same when called upon.
Our goal in making the film Back from the Brink is to have it shown to an international television audience, especially as part of the annual Holocaust features, thereby helping to ensure a more humane world society. Through the initial grant from Austria we are fairly assured of European distribution. But we have a wider vision: to instil courage and conviction. The Shoah Foundation has promised to help us with the worldwide distribution of our film. For further information, please contact me at the address below.
‘REMEMBER, NEVER FORGET’
Sir – Recently on holiday in the Surrey area, we visited the Haslemere Educational Museum. We discovered there was an exhibition entitled ‘Remember, Never Forget, Remember Never Again’ by Year 8 (13-year-old) pupils building a memorial to commemorate the Holocaust. The pupils are from the local Woolmer Hill School.
This remarkable exhibition, which was opened by local dignitaries, took place from 31 March to 24 April. I can do no better than recommend readers to visit the website - www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk – or telephone 01428 642112. There is a video showing the exhibition with live comments by adults and participating children.
BUDAPEST JUDENRAT AND WARSAW GHETTO REVOLT
Sir - Rubin Katz’s article in the May issue made interesting reading. He holds that ‘the Ghetto revolt was the first general uprising in Europe.’ That appears too general a statement: there are some adjectives for ‘uprising’ missing.
The Dutch version of the Wikipedia states (my translation): ‘Since the winter of 1940 members of the National Socialist Defence Section of the NSB (National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands) had started to trouble Jews living in the Amsterdam Jewish quarter. They humiliated Jewish inhabitants and stole their possessions. The inhabitants of the Jewish quarter – a mainly poor neighbourhood – fought the NSB gangs and formed resistance squads.’
Witness reports describing these actions are found in part 1 of Louis de Jong’s book De bezetting na 50 jaar (The Occupation 50 Years On) (The Hague: SDU, 1990). These activities led to a strike on 25 February 1941. At first the Amsterdam tram drivers left the trams in their sheds, followed the same day by a general strike which spread to other towns and regions. Because the Dutch resistance was only just starting to get organised, the German occupier was able to use draconian measures to subdue the population.
The strike is commemorated every year on 25 February. This observation is not meant to diminish the Warsaw Ghetto revolt in any way, but the resistance squads’ actions and the strike in Holland took place earlier. Hence I wonder: was it the first?
DER HUND MIT DER WURST
Sir - Mrs Goldwater’s memories of her father singing alternative words to the Anvil Chorus (April) brought back happy memories for me. My father sang those words too! He had other rhymes as well. For instance, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would begin ‘Der Dollar faellt, doch er wird wieder steigen’ and Aida would begin ‘Celeste Aida, wann kommst De [he was a Berliner] wieder?’
Sir - May I add to the letters in the past two issues of the Journal offering alternative lyrics to the Anvil Chorus. My father’s version:
Hab’ ich dir nicht gleich gesagt
die Wurst die schmeckt nach Seife (pronounced Seefe)
Hab’ ich dir nicht gleich gesagt
die Wurst, die Wurst ist Trefe.
Sir - I recently asked your readers for words to accompany the Radetzky March and would like to thank those who helped. One thing is clear - every family seems to have its own version! Looking at the internet doesn’t really help either as there doesn’t seem to be a definitive version. One AJR member reminded me of another song, concerning the antics of a dog: ‘Ein Hund kam in die Küche.’ That one comes to a sad end as the cook kills it.
Pablo Picasso, the father of Cubism, is the undisputed master of the jig-saw - the subtle (and not so subtle) joke in art. And if great art asks you not just to view but to complete the picture, then go and see Picasso: Challenging the Past (National Gallery until 7 June) for its riot of ideas, energy and sensuality.
Picasso quotes from Velazquez, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne, prising open their great works like a pearl from an oyster and repainting them in his own image. Sometimes his own face appears beguilingly within the face of his model, often reduced to a squiggle. But even as he pares down his vocabulary, he is always a sensualist, suggesting a dialogue with the nude figure. He will often present himself as the Spanish alpha male, exploring archetypal swashbuckling swordsmen.
But this artist could not bear his ageing, and so he painted himself as an idea, even a minotaur in the memory of the beautiful women he depicted. These voluptuous nude paintings perfectly complement his Cubism and are a celebration of life, love and art. Picasso’s self-portrait of an eighteenth-century grandee, Self-Portrait with a Wig, shows him staring out of an impressionistic swirl of white, almost as though he had lost patience with the formalism of this style. But in fact he was just demonstrating how a swirl of oblongs and curves can shock you out of the comfort zone with which you tend to regard Old Masters.
The seventeenth-century ruler who made Persia the pinnacle of an open society, expanding the silk route with Europe and encouraging religious diversity, may seem astonishingly modern, but he was not above a few Machiavellian tricks of his own. Shah Abbas usurped the throne from his father and ordered the assassination of his guardian and later his son. But he was also generous and promoted political and diplomatic renewal, exchanging Iranian silk for gold and silver and introducing a golden age for the arts. Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran (British Museum until 14 June) offers an array of stunning calligraphy, beautiful silks and gold-ground carpets as well as the blue Chinese porcelain which reflect his diplomatic courtship of China as an ally against his Ottoman enemies. Abbas also exchanged ambassadors with Mughal India, smoothing the flow of commerce between their countries, as some of the opaque watercolour paintings with gold indicate.
Imagine having your hands manacled together for 50 days because, as an artist, you offended the strict laws of nineteenth-century Japan! Japanese print artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Royal Academy until 7 June) managed to outwit the stringent laws of his time with dazzling satire and sheer chutzpah. In Kuniyoshi’s narrative prints of warrior culture and gorgeous geishas, you can detect the emergent animated cartoon. Beneath it all lurks the darkness and fear characterising Eastern military exploits, typified in the Chinese adventure tale The Water Margin. Kuniyoshi was a leading figure of the ‘floating world’ school of Japanese art, dramatising the great Eastern myths of the past.
The Claims Conference has announced changes to the Goodwill Fund that could allow certain claimants the right to receive reparations for properties they or their families owned in the former East Germany.
The Goodwill Fund was established by the Claims Conference in 1994 to make payments to entitled owners, and their heirs, of properties in the former East Germany. It was set up following the expiry of the German National Restitution Law in 1992, enacted after German unification in 1990.
The changes mean that if an application is made after 31 March 2004 (the previous deadline) which otherwise would have been eligible under the Guidelines, it can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for inclusion in the Goodwill Fund provided it meets either of the following conditions:
a) The claim was submitted by an original owner of the property or spouse of the original owner, or
b) The claim was submitted by a child, grandchild or great-grandchild of the original owner who can prove, through medical documentation, that they were unable for medical reasons to file an application in the period immediately before the deadline of 31 March 2004.
Following German unification in 1990, the German government introduced a national restitution law. The law entitled the former owners, and their heirs, of homes and businesses and other properties in the former Communist country to claim restitution.
At the expiry of the restitution law in 1992, the Claims Conference was appointed the legal owner of all unclaimed properties formerly owned by Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the former East Germany. Acting in the guise of the Successor Organisation, the Claims Conference then welcomed claims and arranged for individuals to recover properties.
At the end of 1998, the Claims Conference changed the rules of the Goodwill Fund. While continuing to assist claimants via the Successor Organisation, the Goodwill Fund entitled the Claims Conference to retain 20 per cent of an award to successful claimants as an assessment for services. This portion of the compensation was used by the Claims Conference to provide social and welfare programmes that support Holocaust survivors and refugees worldwide.
Written enquiries should be sent to Central Office for Holocaust Claims (UK), Jubilee House, Merrion Avenue, Stanmore, Middx HA7 4RL, by fax to 020 8385 3075, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org