May 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
ANGLO-JEWRY AND THE REFUGEES
Sir – A recent letter by Sylvia Hurst, whose memoir on her Kindertransport experience elicited no response in any Jewish paper, touched a chord in my experience too. I also came to England on the Kindertransport. As a ten-year-old, I didn’t want to leave parents, siblings and home, but I had no choice and know that this parental decision changed my life. My parents were among the first to be deported en masse in October 1940, when Baden, the Palatinate and the Saarland were ‘cleansed’ of Jews.
I inherited the letters written by my parents to my older siblings and included them in my book. I was living in the USA while I worked on this book. It took considerable research. I sent it to various Jewish publishers. Some were interested but felt that profit was unlikely. I returned to live in the UK and tried a few publishers here, but without success.
In my home town of Leicester, I eventually met Barbara Butler, who works and publishes for Christians Aware. She was only too willing to publish, conscious of past persecution of Jews by Christians. The book appeared last year under the title Life-Lines. George Vulkan wrote a warm review of the book in the AJR Journal.
Friends and publishers suggested I send the book to be reviewed by the Jewish Chronicle. I did. No reaction whatsoever. Eventually I heard that they felt I should have had a Jewish publisher and not a Christian one; hence they were not interested. Is it the old dislike of German Jews? Did their trials not affect/move British Jews?
In the office of Christians Aware in Leicester hangs a painting by a local artist, a copy of one of the most famous photographs of the War and an icon of the Shoah - an elderly Orthodox Jew bent under the weight of the bundle on his shoulder, presumably a blanket containing the remnant of his erstwhile possessions, which he will need (or not) wherever he is sent. I assume the Jewish Chronicle too has such a picture on its walls?
Sir – I read the various articles on refugee experiences with great interest.
I am now well into my nineties and spent a lot of time – too much! – as a housemaid until (in 1942) I at last obtained a job as a ‘temporary civil servant’ with the Foreign Office. However, I noticed no mention was made by anyone of the fact that – after the First World War – a fair number of Jews entered Germany in search of better living conditions – and work – from Poland etc. From the way the ‘grown-up’ German Jews spoke of them, I would say they were not made welcome (by our grown-up relations) in Germany, so perhaps we should not judge the British Jews too harshly regarding their attitude to us!
A WONDERFUL PORTRAIT
Sir - I have just read Anthony Grenville’s article on Hermann Sinsheimer in the AJR Journal (April). Frankly, I am impressed and I congratulate you on this wonderful portrait. It is probably the best thing I have read on ‘Sins’ in such a short format.
SCHOOL FOR ‘HIGH FLYERS’
Sir - In response to Fritz Starer’s letter ‘School for “high flyers”’ in the April issue, the new Chajes Gymnasium is situated in Simon Wiesenthal-gasse 3 (Donau underground) in a large complex near the new Hakoah Sports Centre. There are classes from Kindergarten upwards; the students are apparently mainly from Russian and Israeli families; the headmaster and most of the teachers are non-Jewish.
I attended two major Chajes reunions over the years (one in Tel Aviv in the 70s, the other in London) together with my husband, Felix, who was an ex-Chajesnik as well as a Kind. He was forced to leave the Gymnasium at the age of 12 as he had been booked to go to Palestine - a scheme that eventually came to nothing due to Arab protests. Meanwhile, the Chajes was needed to house Jewish children expelled from their own schools after the Anschluss.
I count some of my closest relatives and friends, including my late husband, among the alumni: my cousins Norbert Brainin (of Amadeus fame) and his brother Hugo, my own brother Harald Brainin, and our close friends the Helfgott brothers, Isaac and Alfred (Avraham Shomroni), as well as several other friends we got to know in London in later years.
Some of the above are sadly no longer alive. I agree with Fritz Starer that it would be interesting to have a history of ex-Chajesniks. We used to subscribe to a Chajes Newsletter, sent out by a dedicated ‘old boy’ named Uri Spielvogel. The Newsletter continues thanks to the devotion of Uri’s daughter Sasha (email@example.com). For further information, there is a Chajes website about the ‘new’ school. Avraham in Israel (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Hugo Brainin in Vienna (email@example.com) would be more informative than I can be.
Sir - In your April issue you published a letter from Fritz Starer drawing attention to the Chajes Gymnasium in Vienna. He asked for information about the re-establishment of the school.
My late mother, Erna Baginsky (née Goldenberg, 1918-2010), was a student there before coming to England in 1938. Visiting Vienna in 2006, I found the school at the address she had given me and by following the route she had described from her home in the 20th district. I was surprised to find that there was a school there of the same name. I took a couple of photographs before the security officer sadly, but understandably, asked me not to take any more pictures.
There is information about the school and its history on the website http://www.zpc.at/schule/willkommen If Fritz Starer would like to contact me he is welcome to do so.
JEWISH REFUGEES FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Sir - I was interested in Leopold Wiener's article (April), recounting how he and his parents managed to get to England plus the story of his family.
I too came from Czechoslovakia. I came alone on one of Sir Nicholas Winton's children's transports. I was born in Prague. My parents and little brother and countless other relatives perished.
I too have been reading the AJR Journal for many years and regret the fact that so little is ever mentioned of Jewish refugees from my country and, indeed, others, of whom there must be a considerable number – from France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium etc. We are vastly outnumbered as the refugees from Austria and Germany came in their thousands. However, the Journal can only publish material that it receives so it is really up to us - albeit the minority - to provide the input.
FRANKFURT UNVEILING IN MEMORY OF DIPLOMATS WHO HELPED JEWS
Sir - Your readers may be interested to learn that on 8 May a plaque will be unveiled commemorating Robert T. Smallbones and Arthur Dowden on the site of the former British Consulate General in Frankfurt. The two diplomats were Consul General and Vice Consul respectively from 1932 until the outbreak of war in 1939.
Following the Nazi rise to power the Consulate became a safe haven for many Jews, particularly after Kristallnacht. Furthermore, through the unceasing efforts of Smallbones and Dowden, many Jews were able to escape from Nazi Germany. After November 1938 the so-called Visa Scheme was set up by Smallbones in co-operation with Otto Schiff in London, with the tacit support of the British government. As a result, several thousand Jews - some sources speak of 48,000 - reached safety in this country.
STORY OF THE DUNERA
Sir - I am a historian living in Vienna and, together with a colleague, I am working on a project to discover the fate of those Austrians who were shipped from Britain to Australia aboard the Dunera, and especially of those who stayed in Great Britain after the war. Their story must be told in Austria and Germany as well. I would be grateful to make contact with any survivors, their families or friends and to receive any reliable information about them. I am planning to come to England later this year, but I would be glad to make contact before that. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A BIT OF ‘BRITISHNESS’
Sir - It saddened me to read Peter Phillips’s rather unfair criticism of Margarete Stern’s excellent and interesting article ‘A pointless topic’ in your March edition. Of course, we are all glad to have received the citizenship of our host countries, but what one feels, one can discuss ad infinitum. Suffice it to say that we are a dying-out generation. The next one will never know the happy youth I and many youngsters like me spent in Vienna until 1938. That does not mean I would like to go back and live there – unfortunately one can never recapture one’s youth!
The letter by Tom Winter in your April issue made me smile as I too, when arriving in London in June 1939, changed my loyalty from ‘Good Old Hakoah’ to FC Arsenal! When, after the War, my husband and I got season tickets to Highbury, we felt like we had won the ‘Bingo’ prize. We are still football (soccer they call it here) crazy, watch every game on TV, and are fiercely loyal to our Arsenal as well as to the England national football team. So maybe there is still a bit of ‘Britishness’ inside me!
Sir - Margarete Sterns’s honest expression of feeling not completely British elicited a response by Peter Philips: ‘I suggest to her that maybe she should return to Germany.’
Her feeling was and is surely an understandable reaction shared by many refugees. His response is reminiscent of the frequently heard unkind remarks during the War years ‘Why don't you go back to your own country?’
Sir – Why does Peter Phillips bother to write an ill-tempered letter about Margarete Stern?
She told us she is a loyal British subject. Surely that is enough. For the greater part of my life I have had little contact with Jewish people. I used to attend Friends’ meetings. I still remained a Jew. Variety is the spice of life.
Sir – I read the article by Margarete Stern with interest. How does it place me, who have lived my first 14 years in Austria, over a quarter of a century in Israel, and the rest in England? All these countries are to varying degrees components in my life, in addition to my Jewish heritage.
It is Israel and Britain that matter in my lifetime and in both countries I was, and am, totally involved economically, culturally and socially. This involvement made it possible for me to identify with Israel at the time and with Britain now without having to measure how Israeli or English I am. I never had the need to pretend and never had any obstacles put in my way.
Belonging for many years to the Thames Valley Liberal Synagogue allowed me to embrace my Jewish heritage. Probably I am a lucky person for being able to incorporate all this – being active and involved helped it all along. It may sound unconvincing and simplistic but for me and my family it has worked.
MEHR EIN BUKOVINER?
Sir - The letter ‘Echter Wiener oder Schlawiner?’ from Margarete Stern (no relative) in your April issue reminded me of the humorous description of many a Viennese Jew as ‘nicht ein echter Wiener, mehr ein Bukoviner’. For those not familiar with pre-WW1 European geography, Bukovina was a province to the east of Galicia annexed by Austria from Moldavia at the end of the eighteenth century and the easternmost province of the Austrian part of the Dual Monarchy.
PENICILLIN: THE UNTOLD STORY
Sir – Concerning the report in your April issue of the talk by Professor Michael Spiro on ‘Penicillin: The Untold Story’, I am reminded how my late uncle, Dr Gerhard Weiler from Oxford, who owned and ran the Microanalytical Lab, told me that the lab did a great deal of chemical analysis in the development of penicillin. At the time, his lab was unique in England, having been brought to Oxford from Berlin at the invitation of Sir Robert Robinson, head of the Chemistry Department at the University of Oxford. Another scientist involved with the development of penicillin was Dr Chain, who - according to my late uncle - never got the recognition he deserved!
I’m sorry I missed this talk, which would have been of great interest to me.
ISRAEL HAS AGED VERY WELL
Sir - With regard to Peter Phillips’s article ‘Israel has not aged well’ in your April issue, as the adult Israel became middle-aged, he prospered, though still surrounded by many fractious neighbouring ‘cousins’ who continued to murder one another at an increasingly rapid rate as they descended into anarchy. Unable to bully Israel and force him into the sea, the ‘cousins’ decided to spread malicious rumours to all who would listen. They were ageing very badly.
As for the distant bystanders, they were irritated and not a little incredulous by that very small person who was prospering while all around were suffering financially and were only too anxious to listen to the ‘cousins’ gossip and accusations. They were not ageing too well either.
Unfortunately, some mishpoche in the periphery with the bystanders found it convenient to join in the tut-tutting at Israel’s audacity to defend himself from the surrounding large bullies. The mishpoche had become a grumpy old man. He was lecturing Israel from the comfort of his armchair, demanding standards of behaviour that the bystanders had never met themselves. He was ageing badly too. How sad!
Sir – I’m pleased Peter Phillips is somewhat relieved now that the religious parties are out of the Israeli coalition (April, Point of View). Actually I’m not enchanted with the Shasniks either, but I support my country right or wrong. After all, it’s up to the Israeli electorate to decide. However, we are not there yet. Peter still has certain reservations: he now blames the Jewish state for the increase in anti-Semitism, rather than those who promote it, like the BBC, a hostile press, several parliamentarians and the convicted felon Lord Ahmed. Peter even has Tzipi Livni in the Knesset, whom he approves of. So on the whole, there isn’t much for us to dispute, and we should call a truce. Anyway, I will be taking time out because of various commitments.
As a result, Gerald Curzon (December, Letters) can now breathe a sigh of relief: he will no longer have to put up with my ‘rambling letters [which] are not only tedious but full of irrelevances’. My ‘beating the Zionist drum’ must be particularly irritating to him. Readers of this column are now entitled to savour some of Mr Curzon’s superior penmanship since he is so critical of mine. But if his last effort is anything to go by, I wager they will be sadly disappointed.
HOPE FOR ‘THIRD PARTIES’ OF THE RIGHT
Sir - I read with interest Anthony Grenville’s comments about UKIP in the March Journal.
Readers may be interested to know that my partner, Janet Clarke, who joins in all the AJR functions with me, is the local campaign manager for UKIP. She recently ran an active campaign in a seat which had become vacant in Runnymede Borough Council due to the death of the Conservative member. The seat has now been won by UKIP, showing that there is some hope for 'third parties' of the right after all.