Mar 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
ANGLO-JEWRY AND THE REFUGEES
Sir - Antony Grenville, in his leading article ‘Anglo-Jewry and the Jewish Refugees from Nazism’ in your December 2012 issue, described in great detail how much British Jewry did in terms of financial and administrative assistance for us Jewish refugees, wanting to point out to us that we really shouldn’t complain that they didn’t welcome us on a personal level. This reminded me of the Bangladesh floods, when the UN helpers took people who were hanging down from trees and settled them safely in tents and thought this was all these people needed. However, having hung from a tree for some time, they had become traumatised. To be put into a safe condition wasn’t enough for them - they needed the warmth of a human relationship.
Similarly, when I came to England in 1939 as a 17-year-old after a dangerous escape from Vienna through Yugoslavia and Albania and a terrifying flight via Germany, I much appreciated the formal help I received. I registered at Bloomsbury House, where I was given a list of job opportunities. This buried my dream of becoming a medical doctor and I began my working life as a machinist in one of the Jewish sweatshops in east London. As my wages during the first few weeks weren’t enough to keep me alive, Bloomsbury House immediately, and kindly, offered me another 10 shillings a week. Though my life then was quite different from what I had expected it to be, I was grateful for the help I received. But I was like so many other refugees of my age who had grown up as assimilated Jews feeling we belonged to the country in which we were born but were then persecuted because we were Jewish. When I was thrown out of the Vienna high school because I was Jewish I decided that if ever I got out of Austria and married and had children, I would try to make sure my children had a positive Jewish identity, which I had lacked.
Thus, when I and many other Jewish refugees like myself managed to come to England, we desperately needed to find a group of people to whom we could belong and identify with. British Orthodox Jewry missed a great opportunity by not reaching out to us. We needed to belong but, though they helped us and we appreciated this, they did not seem to realise our most basic human need - to be welcomed and made to feel we belonged to a group of like-minded people. This made a lot of us join Young Austria with its left-wing background. We dressed up ‘girls in dirndls and boys in leather shorts’ and agreed to try to whitewash Austria’s persecution of us Jews for it gave us a sense of belonging. We also attended the generous parties to which the Quakers invited us where we listened to Mozart, Schubert, Strauss etc, music which brought tears to our eyes. Unfortunately, we were not invited to participate in any synagogue service or Oneg Shabbat. If they had made us feel welcome I might have become an Orthodox Jewish woman instead of an active member of Young Austria.
Eventually, I was fortunate in marrying an exceptional young man who came from an Orthodox Jewish background and who taught me to keep a kosher home. He also gave our daughters a Jewish identity. This gave me at last the feeling of belonging to the Jewish community that I had lacked. This experience made me give talks to numerous Jewish associations on the subject ‘From Assimilation to Jewish Identity’ - the opposite direction in which numerous young British Jews are now moving, to the regret of their elders.
Sir - Your December leading article brought back a few memories. My parents and I arrived in England a few weeks before the War as transit visitors on the way to the USA. For various reasons we could not proceed to the USA and so remained in England after war was declared, with permission to stay but not to take up employment. We finished up impoverished in a south Leicestershire village with my parents working illegally to sustain us.
My father approached the local synagogue for membership. As he couldn’t afford the fee we couldn’t become members. In 1944 he was given permission to work and earned enough money to join the synagogue so I could go to Hebrew classes to study for my barmitzvah. In the event, I was taught the alphabet and two blessings for the Torah reading. I shared that ‘special’ day with another boy who was being barmitzvahed. He had been taught the full portion; I said my two blessings. Towards the end of the service we stood in front of the pulpit while the minister explained that now we were men, we must participate in the community and be proud of our Judaism. The president of the congregation presented the other boy with two inscribed prayer books; I got nothing. The other boy went home to lunch and a party of friends and relatives; I went home to lunch with my parents.
An ex-banker from Vienna, who had worked as an odd job man and gardener in the UK, unfortunately died just after the war. He too had been refused synagogue membership because he couldn’t afford it. He was barred from the Jewish cemetery unless his widow came up with the full fees. My father organised a collection around all the refugee community and he was given a decent Jewish funeral. Sadly, there are as many stories of Anglo-Jews’ rejection of their Central European co-religionists as there are of help given by some - and more by compassionate gentiles.
Sir – In your article you say ‘Saving the young was a priority for Anglo-Jewry’. However, I would like to point out that it was actually the Quakers who arranged the Children’s Transport. They went to the House of Commons to do so. The Jewish Board of Guardians was more interested in finding kosher homes for the children but in many cases the children didn’t come from kosher backgrounds anyway.
And, when my book Laugh or Cry, a memoir of my journey on the Children’s Transport and afterwards, was published, I was given no write-up in any Jewish paper, whereas British newspapers showed much interest and I was even given a number of pages on the BBC website. I myself am from a multi-religious family and had a non-denominational background.
Sir - While Anthony Grenville refers to the German-Jewish refugees, who were assimilated and settled mainly in Hampstead, I am sure this applies also to Austrian refugees.
However, I would like to point out that there was another community of Austrian refugees who settled in north and east London. My family lived in Stoke Newington, where there was a large community, most of whom had lived in Vienna's 2nd District. We had friends from our apartment building who lived in the East End.
The community was warm and friendly and, whilst they had some fond memories of Vienna, most of these had been wiped out by the horrors they had undergone. We were unassimilated and traditional Jews; most of us were lower middle class and we struggled to make ends meet, but I have nothing but happy memories of that time.
AJR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE
Sir - I would like to thank you very much again for inviting me to the very tasteful and well thought-out memorial service, with the speech of Sir Andrew Burns and the prayers being complemented by the children, who sang the beautiful songs so well. I felt very honoured once again to be at Belsize Square Synagogue and I enjoyed talking to people I already knew as well as meeting new ones.
HORTHY AND THE HOLOCAUST
Sir – With reference to Francis Steiner’s letter in your February issue, Miklos Horthy arrived in Hungary and took power as governor of the country in 1920. In that year, his government passed a numerus clausus restricting Jewish enrolment in universities to 5 per cent in order to reflect the percentage of the Jewish population. The Jews were blamed for what were considered the unjust conditions imposed by the Treaty of Trianon at the end of the First World War.
Horthy’s government passed a series of anti-Jewish measures. The first, on 29 May 1938, restricted the number of Jews in each commercial enterprise, in the press, among physicians, engineers and lawyers, to 20 per cent. The second anti-Jewish law was passed on 5 May 1939. For the first time it defined Jews racially. People with two, three or four Jewish-born grandparents were declared Jewish. Employment in government was forbidden, they could not be editors of newspapers, and their numbers were restricted to 6 per cent among theatre and film actors, physicians, lawyers and engineers. Private companies were forbidden to employ more than 12 per cent Jews. One result was that 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their income and their right to vote. The third ‘Jewish law’ was passed on 8 August 1941. This law prohibited intermarriage and penalised intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews.
The Hungarian Second Army is probably the best known Hungarian wartime army because of the part it played in the Battle of Stalingrad. During its 12 months of activity on the Russian front its losses were enormous. Of an initial force of about 200,000 Hungarian soldiers and 50,000 Jewish forced labourers, about 100,000 were killed, 35,000 were wounded and 60,000 were taken prisoners of war. Only about 40,000 men returned to Hungary. Horthy did know that the war was effectively over for Hungary when on 19 March 1944 the German army occupied the country.
The most important point for me is that among the 600,000 Jews who died were my grandfather in Budapest and all my relatives who lived in the country.
IN MEMORY OF THE JEWS OF DRESDEN
Sir – Seventy years have passed since Victor Klemperer wrote in his diary (28 February): ‘The Hellerberg camp is totally isolated, cut off from the world. Evacuation is imminent, expected early 2 March with an early morning start tomorrow. None of them will we ever see again. Gassed if not already on the way, then certainly on arrival in Poland.’
This is in their memory: 281 Dresden Jews and my parents Martin and Lotte Reichenbach, who were murdered on arrival in Auschwitz.
WIESBADEN JEWISH LAWYERS
Sir - I have just received a wonderful book with very detailed biographies of Wiesbaden’s Jewish lawyers, published in 2011: Wiesbadens juedische Juristen - Leben und Schicksal von 65 juedische Rechtasanwaelten, Notaren, Richtern, Referendaren, Beamten und Angestellten. I understand this is now out of print.
The list of names is too long for printing. If an AJR member has a particular interest, please send me the name and I shall be happy to send photocopies of the relevant pages.
LAW OF THE JUNGLE
Sir - I was saddened to read Eric Bourne’s sweeping condemnation of the Sudeten Germans in the January Journal. He has made the mistake, as did the Nazis, of lumping everyone of the same ethnicity into an indistinguishable group.
My mother and her two siblings were brought up by a Sudeten German nanny. After the war, this unfortunate lady had to hide in the woods with her elderly father in fear of her life. She then escaped to East Germany, where she led a life of hardship under the Communist regime. My mother and aunt escaped before the outbreak of war and remained devoted to this lady, sending food parcels and occasionally making the difficult journey to see her.
The Czechs’ desire for revenge is understandable - but not commendable - after the welcome of Hitler’s army by many ethnic Germans and the atrocities of the occupation. However, particularly as Jews, we should never forget that an ethnic group is not an undifferentiated mass, but a collection of individuals who are humans like us.
Sir - I refer to the review (December) by Leslie Brent of Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. I was in Prague from June 1938 to July 1943, followed by Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and a slave labour camp, and I blame the Sudeten Germans for that experience. I then spent autumn to spring of 1945-46 in Teplitz/Teplice in the Sudeten when the remaining few Jews and Czechs spoke of the atrocities committed by the Sudeten Germans to the very end and declared how relieved they were that the place was now germanenrein.
The Sudeten Germans - actually Austrians - were traitors, fifth columnists, and the willing cause of Munich, the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, and the brutal occupation of the Czech lands, including Lidice, and they helped to encircle Poland and turn the German idea of a Shoah into reality.
Immediate pre-war Prague was full of Jewish refugees, first from Germany and Austria, then from the Sudetenland, driven out by the Sudeten Germans, who had taken to Nazism like ducks to water. Of the four families from the Sudetenland in our block of small flats in Prague-Liben, just one young man, Gottfried Bloch, survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The Fantls lived on the floor above us. They had fled from Dresden to Teplitz only to have to flee from Teplitz to Prague. Three of them died in the Auschwitz family camp. Their son Frederick, my schoolmate at the Jewish school, died on a ‘death march’ on 7 May 1945 within sight of the ghetto, the destination he and his family had left 20 months earlier. He was one of tens of thousands who perished in indescribable circumstances as a result of the Sudeten Germans' voluntary choice of politics.
Having done the dirty spadework, their enthusiasm for incorporation into Hitler's Germany meant that they fell into the pit they had dug for themselves - after all, they were sent heim ins Reich, even if they had preferred the more barbaric one.
After they had unleashed a wave of terror on the 30,000 Jewish inhabitants from October 1938 onwards, only 2,373 Jews were left in the whole of the Sudetenland by May 1939; they had expelled over 90 per cent of the Jews and seized their property. A total of 612 of the remaining men, women and children were deported to Theresienstadt between 18 October 1942 and as late as 7 March 1945, of whom 365 were murdered.
The author of the reviewed book and Leslie Brent are entitled to their moral qualms. I, having seen the perpetrators and their victims at very close quarters, take the side of the wholly innocent yet humiliated, tortured, starved, hanged, shot and gassed Jews who have no known grave. There were also many Czechs who suffered grievously from their former fellow citizens. To me at least, the expulsion of such a putrid body of Nazis from the Sudeten was a fully justified step. There were far too many instances where such justice was not done and certainly was not seen to have been done as it was in this case.
Sir - No one should be surprised by the remark made by Davis Ward, the Liberal Democrat MP, comparing the treatment of Palestinians by Israel to the death camps for Jews. This remark will add to his popularity with many of his constituents and make his seat more secure. Bradford has a population of, by a conservative estimate, 20 per cent of people of British Asian origin. George Galloway showed the way - Ward is just following Galloway’s example.