Nov 2007 Journal

Letters to the Editor

INTERNMENT DEBATE

Sir - As one of the 4,000-odd ‘refugees from Nazi oppression’ who was shipped off to Canada in July 1940 as a 17-year-old ‘enemy alien’ under Churchill’s ‘collar the lot’ policy, I was interested in Anthony Grenville’s articles in the July and August issues. (I describe my own experiences in more detail in On the Fringe: A Sort of Autobiography, reviewed in your July issue.)

What was significant among the occupants of Camp B in the wilds of New Brunswick was the spontaneous development of groups which kept themselves apart from other groups. Orthodox Jews, secure in their sense of identity, carried out the prescribed rituals associated with the celebration of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, successfully established their need for a kosher kitchen, and employed the services of a ‘shabbes goy’ to light the fires in their huts with the onset of the colder season.
At the other end of the spectrum, leaders of the Austrian Communist Party in Exile saw in internment the potential for developing new cadres for political work among their youthful supporters. They set up courses in the Marxist approach to history and philosophy, but also identified the major goal of the Austrian party as the re-establishment of Austria as an independent, democratic country after the defeat of Nazi Germany, still problematic and years away.

In between these major groups was the mass of internees of all ages, many with academic and professional qualifications, who were instrumental in developing cultural and educational activities but did not neglect to establish the replica of a Viennese coffee house that became popular among the officers of the guards as well as the internees.

Many of my fellow internees, who were eventually released in Canada, had distinguished careers in the arts and sciences. Nine of them were later awarded the Order of Canada, and one, Walter Kohn, obtained the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1998.

Some time after I left Camp B to be returned to the UK, the role of the camp changed. Jewish and non-Jewish internees were segregated and dispersed to different camps, and the camp itself became the home of Canadian internees suspected of Fascist and Nazi sympathies, as well as of captured German merchant seamen. The most famous among them was Camillien Houde, the flamboyant mayor of Montreal. But that is
another story. It is told in meticulous detail by Ted Jones in Both Sides of the Wire, published in 1988.


Hans Reichenfeld, Ottawa, Canada

Sir – My father, Wilhelm Baumann, was interned at Onchan Camp, Isle of Man in 1941. At the time, I was evacuated to Dawlish, south Devon. Aged 12, I was first in a Habonim camp, then in a boarding school. On 10 March 1941 my father wrote to me saying he would be released that week in time for Purim. He told me they had wanted to send him to Canada. I wasn’t at home when he came back and didn’t know much about his experiences there.

My father was very careful when he wrote that letter as it was ‘opened by Examiner 7054’. The original letter is now in the AJEX Military Museum in Hendon together with his army brown sepia photos and Iron Cross of the First World War. On the German side!

 

Bridget Bow (née Brigitte Baumann), Barnet, Herts

Sir – Internment took place because we were German nationals (including Austrians, etc), even if we had thrown away our passports! It was very likely that spies could have pretended to be Jewish! This we understood at the time.


Bettina Cohn, Bristol

ASYLUM-SEEKERS GENUINE AND FAILED

Sir – Yes, ‘we too were strangers in the Land of Egypt’ and, with our particular background, we should show compassion and sympathy for the plight of our fellow-men (September, letters).

On the other hand, one must draw a line somewhere and there exists a vast and not subtle difference between genuine asylum-seekers and failed ones, i.e. economic migrants who, by abusing our lavish welfare system, become a burden on the state and, last but not least, on the tax-payer. I recollect that in order to enter the UK and obtain the then necessary visa, health and police certificates were pre-requisites plus sponsorship and a guarantee of firm employment - which stringent measures no longer apply today.

Another consideration is that many of the immigrants come from countries where hatred of Israel and antisemitism are rife and have been indoctrinated. The government has been hamstrung in applying more stringent measures, essentially due to the Human Rights Act and earlier UN legislation, which were not in force during the pre-war years. How many Jewish lives could have been saved?

 

Anthony Goldsmith, Wembley, Middx

GENERAL SETTLEMENT FUND

Sir - Now we know that settled claims in relation to the Austrian General Settlement Fund are being scaled down to about 15 per cent, it is evident what a huge mistake the Claims Conference has committed to let the Austrians off the hook when it is clear that the total valid claims are well over £1.25 billion - never mind the £480 million figure in Peter Phillips’s letter (September).

Whilst writing, I have just received a letter from the Fund in relation to my claim for family members. If the total claim is scaled back to 15 per cent, I should be receiving approximately $30,000. I do want this money, but I want those who really need it to have it. I do not know what influence the AJR can apply to get money from the Settlement to survivors in need speedily, but you should know I intend to give 30 per cent of whatever is paid out to the AJR as long as it is used to make payments to survivors in the UK in need (not restricted to Austrians), and the other 70 per cent to a similar organisation in Israel. It is clear survivors need funds for medical, dental and ophthalmic expenses, never mind food and whatever additional funds Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is paying out now.

Peter Simpson, Jerusalem

NUMBER OF JEWS IN BRITAIN UNDERESTIMATED

Sir - Mr Channing (July) greatly underestimates the number of Jews in Britain because he defines being Jewish as being Jewish by religion. So did the 2001 census, which specifically asked a question about religion and found 270,000 people to be Jewish in that sense.

But the total number of Jews in Britain is very much greater. Some have become Christian, but much more typical are those of us who have simply ceased to have a religious belief yet continue to think of ourselves, and are thought of by others, as Jews. Among the 70,000 refugees from the 1930s a large proportion falls into that category, especially among those from Germany. Many had ceased to be Jewish by religion generations ago.

Most ‘practising’ Jews have become increasingly assimilated and, I suppose, the degree of assimilation is even greater among those of us who are not Jewish by religion. Some - not many - have chosen to drop out completely, but the great majority of us secular Jews continue to think of ourselves as Jewish - even if the AJR is often prone to forget our existence!

 

Professor Walter Elkan, London NW8

ERZWUNGENER FREITOD

 Sir - The review of Erzwungener Freitod (October) reminded me of an erstwhile neglected corner of the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna which has recently been restored through the efforts of Professor Gerald Stourzh of Vienna University. It provided burials for those who had converted but to whom the Nuremberg laws were applied and were thus denied graves in other cemeteries. The history of those interred there has been researched and many of them committed suicide on the eve of their deportation. Incidentally, some of the graves are marked both by a cross and a Star of David.

 

Evi Wohlgemuth, London NW3

HELP WITH THESIS

Sir – In late 2003 you published a request from my late husband, Dr John Zamet, for information which would help with his PhD thesis ‘German and Austrian Refugee Dentists 1933-1945: The Response of the British Authorities’. He received an overwhelming response from relatives and patients of some 20 of those refugees, including photographs and valuable printed material, and he was lucky enough to meet and talk to many of the people who contacted him.

Sadly, he died in May this year, aged 74, two months after submitting his thesis to Oxford Brookes University, but I know that he would want me, through your journal, to express our sincere thanks for this invaluable help. The thesis will eventually be published as a book and will include a section on the individual personal histories of those dentists who succeeded in setting up in practice, and on some of those who did not manage to come to Britain. So, if any of your readers would like to add further memories (via the Journal), I will be able to include them.

Susan J. Zamet, London N6

‘OBVIOUS PARALLEL’

I would like to comment on the excellent letter in the October issue by John D. Phillip. Of course if you start wars, you should be ready to accept the consequences if you happen to lose. To the Arabs, this does not seem to make sense. Besides the examples brought by John Phillip, if this subject comes up in arguments you could also quote Hungary losing two-thirds of its territory to Romania, Slovakia and Croatia after fighting on the losing side.

 

Janos Fisher, Bushey Heath, Herts

AJR TEA A GREAT TREAT

Sir – How much my wife and I enjoyed this year’s operatic gathering in Watford! It was a long trip for us but well worth it. It was also the first AJR ‘meeting’ I have attended but I hope it won’t be the last. I was frankly amazed at the large turnout. I was just a youngster of not quite nine years old when I arrived with my parents in September 1939. We were lucky. The many we left behind in Berlin two days earlier ended their lives at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. They are still mourned. My own life was a happier one and I became education editor of the Daily Telegraph (18 years) and head of its Paris office (three years).

Please pass on my compliments to those who organised the event and to the editor of the AJR Journal, which I read with great pleasure. My dear late parents used to get it – or one very similar – and always read it from cover to cover. Now I follow suit.

John Izbicki, Tonbridge, Kent

Sir – Once again we enjoyed a wonderful annual Tea and concert at the Watford Hilton Hotel. I would like to show my appreciation for all the good work done by the AJR in arranging happy events and other outings to theatres etc and arranging interesting programmes at the Cleve Road Centre all year round. The meals are always good and everyone is made welcome there. Many thanks to Susie Kaufman and all the staff. We are lucky to have the AJR to look after us so well.

 

Josie Dutch, London NW2


Sir – What an enjoyable afternoon my husband and I had at the AJR Tea! The singers were in good voice and everybody enjoyed their selection of music. But, above all, we had the opportunity of catching up with friends from other parts of London and that was a great treat.

 


 

Meta and Joe Roseneil, Ilford AJR Group

RECOLLECTIONS OF INTERNMENT

Sir – In June 1939 my two sisters and I, the eldest, were rescued via the Kindertransport. At first, a marvellous English lady took us into her humble home but, after her death seven months later, my sisters went to foster-parents. I, just over 16, was employed in domestic service. Our father had managed to escape, but as he was already in his early sixties and heartbroken he couldn’t look after his beloved daughters. Apart from that, his wife, the mother of his three children, was left behind in Prague. A dire situation for a once successful father and provider who had already endured the trauma of uprooting his family from Berlin.

I was the only one at the time who managed to see my dad occasionally in his furnished room in Tufnell Park, London. One day, his spiteful landlady nearly shut the door in my face, saying: ‘Your father is gone. The police have taken him.’ What a shock! However, rumours about internment had already circulated via the refugee network. I gathered myself together. My next thoughts were: ‘It can’t possibly be the same as being taken by the Gestapo.’ Just the same, I was in a quandary.

What a relief when I heard from my dad at House 7: O Camp, Douglas, Isle of Man’ saying I shouldn’t worry - he was fine. I sent him titbits from my ten-shillings-a-week earnings. He was touched but said there was no need. A few months later he was released. Yet he spoke of his time in internment with affection, almost longing. A gregarious man, he was in the company of fellow refugees. He joined in all the interesting cultural activities. Apart from that, he was a great sportsman and the self-defence sport of jujitsu was his hobby. To the amazement of his fellow internees, the elderly man showed off his sporting skills to them. Most of them were much younger. He made friends there. He dreaded returning to his lonely life.

My father died in July 1946, in utter despair, aged 67. But his time as an internee was one of the few positive experiences of the later period of his sad and lonely life. Also, he was not forgotten. When those who knew him there heard my name, they exclaimed: ‘Are you the daughter of Karl Gumpel?’ Yes, I said with sorrow and pride. ‘He was a real character. We shall always remember him. He cheered us up. And the jujitsu!’

Laura Selo (née Gumpel) London NW11