Jun 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - My initial reaction to the correspondence headed ‘A matter of bias’ in your May edition – ‘Netanyahu and Gove - a marriage made in heaven’ - was unfair and a bit brutal. But certainly both are unappetising on their different levels.
The regimented and punitive ‘patriotism’ admired by Janos Fisher and Peter Phillips has rather a dubious history: persecution of conscientious objectors, McCarthy, Vietnam (the last two deplored in retrospect by the Americans themselves). G. K. Chesterton thought ‘My country right or wrong’ was like ‘My mother drunk or sober’.
Michael Gove wants the First World War commemorated in the words of Rupert Brooke, not those of Sassoon or Owen. He likes knowledge chopped into unconnected goblets and rigorously memorised for exams which feed into league tables. He discourages the sort of extended studies which develop thought. He favours academies or ‘free schools’, which are often ideologically homogeneous and which (ideally) aim to exclude or brush under the carpet pupils unlikely to boost league table statistics. Come to think of it, Netanyahu wants to brush Palestinians under the carpet - so, alright, the affinity is there! Thank goodness for your correspondents Eric Sanders and Leslie Baruch Brent!
On the other hand, I am solidly with Peter Phillips against the otherwise excellent Victor Ross in that I feel thoroughly assimilated in England. I regard my wife as a friend rather than an acquaintance and don’t feel our relationship would be closer if she were an American. I have felt very comfortable and ‘at home’ visiting New York. I am drawn to Jewish American writers, both refugees like Bellow and natives like Heller (even gentiles like Sue Grafton and Flannery O'Connor), but also to Wodehouse and Vaughan Williams. I have never identified with any sport (except tennis). However, I have read C. L. R. James and could imagine myself in an alternative existence following cricket. But never baseball!
It occurs to me that, having been uprooted at an earlier age than Victor Ross, I am a rather facile serial assimilator. I had no difficulty in becoming an enthusiastic Belgian, learning French and Flemish and being equally loyal to my Belgian comic and the ubiquitous portraits of the late Queen Astrid. After a brief spell of romanticising myself as a Belgian exile in London, I was gradually and uncomplainingly swept to North Wales, where I won a prize for learning Welsh. (Perhaps facility at learning languages encourages assimilation.) For the last 49 years I have been comfortably ensconced in Durham City.
I trust Mr Phillips has by now thoroughly regained his strength after his hospitalisation and I leave him with the reflection that my late friend and distant relative Fritz Goldenberg/Fred Gillard was severely reprimanded by his cousin, settled in Australia: ‘How can you live among the English after the way they treated the Irish!’
IN SUPPORT OF THE ISRAELI PEOPLE
Sir - Janos Fisher disapproves of my opinion on the basis that I am ‘sharply critical of the Daily Telegraph’. He must refer to my describing it as a far-right paper - which he does not dispute. He states that the Telegraph is pro-Israeli, ‘although not as pro-Israeli as in the days of Conrad Black and Max Hastings’, and ‘incomparably more on our side than the anti-Israeli and anti-American Guardian’. Generally, he may well be right on those points. But does he know that, prior to the last election, Max Hastings voted Labour and now writes regularly for the Daily Mail and contributes articles to the Sunday Times and the Guardian?
As for Conrad Black, I’d rather not have him for a friend. Through his Canadian company Hollinger Inc, he bought up newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph. A few years ago he was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice and now is banned from entering the USA.
Obviously a right-wing newspaper and a right-wing politician, such as Mr Gove, will support an Israeli right-wing government. If I considered everyone who is critical of Israel's policies and actions my enemy, as Janos Fisher suggests, I would be my own enemy. Surely, supporting Israel must mean supporting the Israeli people and not every action by its current government.
Gerda Mayer refers to my criticism of the Education Secretary as invective. My comments were not personal but, I insist, very much to the point. She is surprised that my letter was published. Not a very tolerant attitude!
Peter Phillips’s statement ‘Obviously Mr Sanders does not believe that children should have the same opportunities of education that he and I enjoyed’ truly baffles me. Where was this? Four years of Hauptschule (secondary modern) and four miserable, anti-Semitic years of Realschule (grammar school) in Vienna until the day Hitler marched in - is that what he calls ‘the same opportunities of education’?
As against that, I spent 20 happy years teaching in two London comprehensive schools (not at the same time), in which children of all abilities and from greatly varying backgrounds really did have equal opportunities. Mr Gove’s education policies are not producing equal opportunities for children nor does he seem to understand the problems of teaching and learning. Last year the members of the National Association of Head Teachers condemned the climate of bullying, fear and intimidation created by Mr Gove and passed a vote of no confidence in his policies. So did the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers.
Peter Phillips also writes about the Edward Snowden affair. This is a complex issue and really irrelevant, brought into the correspondence over the claim that the Guardian is anti-Semitic. When you start throwing stones irrationality takes over. In branding Edward Snowden as a traitor Peter Phillips compares him to a possible ‘whistleblower’ on Bletchley Park. That would have been during the war, when Bletchley Park was spying on our enemies. But Snowden has shown up friends spying on friends. Some of his revelations have been published by outlets such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and The Guardian.
Israel, albeit very small, is today an independent, powerful state. The 120 seats in the Knesset are shared by no less than 12 parties. Is every member of the Knesset who criticises the government's policies anti-Israeli? Is every Israeli who does? Would you, out of blind loyalty to Israel, approve if Israel annexed the West Bank and deprived all its Arab residents of the right to vote? I would not.
Sir - I sincerely wish Peter Phillips a speedy and complete recovery from his recent serious operation, but I will not continue this correspondence on the subject of treason. When Peter equates Bletchley Park - a defence organisation targeting military objectives in times of war - with GCHQ and its capability and willingness in times of peace to invade the privacy of ordinary people, it is clear that we will not be able to reach agreement on what ‘treason’ means. But I am reassured that the British and American governments seem to have recognised the need to introduce some kind of control over what GCHQ and the National Security Agency may or may not do.
‘WHY DON’T YOU PEOPLE GO HOME!’
Sir - Further to Anthony Grenville’s article in your May issue on refugee immigrants outside the north-west London area, my parents and I arrived from Czechoslovakia late in 1939 and lived for one year near ‘Finchleystrasse’. We had no help or support from anyone other than initial advice on renting a room from a fellow refugee. At the end of 1940 we moved to the East Midlands (Leicester), where I grew up and have continued to live ever since. We had no assistance from any Jewish or non-Jewish body or organisation. Indeed, the opposite was true of the local Jewish community: not only did they refuse to allow us to join the Jewish community because we couldn’t afford the fees but a local member was heard to say ‘Why don’t you people go home!’
In contrast, there was a considerable number of refugees from Central Europe who formed a refugee ‘self-help’ club where members could meet and get to know each other on social terms and form friendships which often lasted for the rest of their lives. Some refugees who had emigrated earlier (1933-36) managed to establish themselves and contributed hugely to Leicester/Derby/Nottingham. Companies like John Bull Rubber with its Jewish MD contributed to the war effort, ultimately making a personal huge donation to the local university. A glass manufacturing company founded by Czech Jews contributed to war products, ultimately employing hundreds of people. Small and large textile companies founded before and after the war employed hundreds of people, exporting and bringing valuable currency into the country. How much more the refugee community could have contributed to industry, science and the professions had the ‘English Jews‘ extended a helping hand of friendship to their co-religionists!
Sir - I have just read Anthony Grenville’s article in the Journal about a book by Bill Williams mentioning a Mr Apfelbaum. I would like to tell you of the amazing coincidence regarding this gentleman and his family.
I came to the UK on the Kindertransport and, in order to make this possible, my foster parents, Mr and Mrs Needoff, the well-known Manchester bakers, attended a meeting with Mr Apfelbaum at which they said they would take me into their family.
I was very happy with the Needoffs and was treated like their own daughter. I have remained close friends with the Needoffs’ natural daughter, Fay Lipman, and their daughter-in-law, Mirrie Needoff, for the last 75 years!
Mirrie’s late daughter, Hilary, married a local photographer, Jack Henry, about 40 years ago. One day I was chatting to Jack and was stunned to learn that his father was Mr Apfelbaum - the same gentleman who was instrumental in my coming to the UK and staying with the Needoffs, his wife’s grandparents.
Sir - I was interested in Anthony Grenville’s article on the out-of-London experiences of the émigré Jewish community and I appreciated his dealing with Professor Bill Williams’s latest book.
Many years ago Bill was much involved with the Birmingham Jewish Research Group and helped us with our investigations into the history of our local Jewish community, which also included the book by the late Zoe Josephs (to which Anthony also refers). As a longstanding friend of Zoe and whose late husband, Dr Harry Josephs, was my professional partner in our West Midlands medical practice for about 20 years, I was impressed with her zeal for accuracy and meticulous attention to detail. In that context, she might have been a little disconcerted to have become, according to Anthony Grenville, Zoe Joseph. Harry’s and my patients often did not understand that although our names were similar we were not related to each other - and certainly we were not father and son!
‘THE ENGLISH WAY’
Sir – Having read the letters on ‘the English way’ of knitting, I can’t refrain any longer from adding my own little share to this interesting topic.
It was at the Royal Hotel – not very majestic, I dare say! – in Tring, where we were staying for three years during the Blitz, that we met a family of fellow refugees from Frankfurt whose teenage daughter, Doris, used to be seen knitting the Continental way, which, in this country, always attracts attention. Then one day, all of a sudden, she had switched over to the British way, which looks so much clumsier and more like crocheting.
Incidentally, I heard from my husband that his stepfather acquired a pipe soon after coming to these shores as he considered this more British than merely cigarettes. (Fortunately German continued to be spoken in their house rather than the heavily accented English so often heard in refugee circles which used to get terribly on my nerves.)
While in Tring, my mother often felt terribly bored having no household to look after so she asked me to get her some wool from my school to enable her to knit for the Forces. The wool was given out free together with a leaflet of instructions, the pattern (this didn’t exist on the Continent). My mother couldn’t make head or tail of it so she asked me to have it explained at school and to pass on the information to her. The teacher in question had, of course, no idea that the wool was intended for someone other than me but my mother felt so happy and got going producing scarves and then progressing to mittens, one pair after another.
I felt my heart missing a beat when at assembly one day the headmistress read out the names of all those pupils who had produced a record number of items for the Forces and were to be awarded a badge. My knees felt like jelly and my face flushed as I stepped up to the front of the hall to a chorus of cheers. I, one of the clumsiest people at any kind of needlework, the bane of most of my needlework teachers! I felt positively bad as I hadn’t deserved it.
‘Was tut eine Mutter nicht alles für ihr Kind’, as my aunt Paula used to say. In this instance, it was the other way round: ‘Was tut eine Kind nicht alles für seine Mutter.’
I’ve still got the badge – well, actually two as my grandmother had caught the bug as well - but she got her wool somewhere else!
Sir - Further to the letter from Bronia Snow in your May issue, my mother did not want me to knit her ‘foreign way’ and asked an English friend to teach me to knit. Years later, my daughter, watching my mother and me knitting, asked her grandmother to teach her to knit as she realised the Continental method was much faster. Hence the granddaughter of a refugee whose mother was born in London knits the Continental way from choice!
Sir – Bronia Snow admits that when knitting socks for the troops, she was unable to turn the heel unless guided by her friend Beate.
While briefly stationed at Aldershot, I was issued with a ‘spare’ pair of socks, clearly of donated origin, beautifully knitted but without any bend – just two straight tubes closed at one end. However, when strapped firmly into ‘boots black ammunition’, they did a grand job and lasted until my demob.
At least I know to whom I was so warmly indebted. Thank you, Bronia!