Nov 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
THOSE WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE - A TRIBUTE TO REFUGEE DOCTORS
Sir - The recent Paralympic Games and their connection with the remarkable Dr Ludwig Guttmann prompt me to add that there were probably many highly qualified refugee doctors in this country who made unsung contributions to medical science and, in the process, never left their humanity behind. It made me recall how much I owe to one in particular.
In 1941 at the age of 16 I was struggling to make a living in Oxford as a seamstress. Through no fault of my own I was involved in a road traffic accident and admitted with minor head injuries to the Radcliffe Infirmary. There I was seen by a neurologist, Dr Wertheimer. I don’t know if he came from Germany or Austria, but he spoke with a marked foreign accent. He not only treated my injuries but saw a pale, young and rather emaciated girl and took the trouble to find out more about me.
I have to thank him for his guidance in letting me leave the sweatshop and directing me into the path of my future career. I never saw him again nor was I able to thank him. So I am writing this little tribute to all those surviving doctors who made a difference.
GUARDIAN COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES, BOSTON
Sir - The historic town of Boston in Lincolnshire, with around 25,000 inhabitants, would not have been expected to show interest in 1939 in helping Jewish refugees. Yet a local architect, Hedley Mobbs, who had become aware of the persecution and dangers threatening Jewish people in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia, decided to take action.
A devout Methodist himself, he approached other Christian denominations, business people and associations in the town in order to set up a committee to help refugees.
Before my sister and I, aged 13-and-a-half and 12, had arrived in London on 2 August 1939, on what was later to be called a ‘Winton Train’, the Guardian Committee for Refugees in Boston had already helped two older couples to come to Boston. One had come from Vienna, the other from Carlsbad, and both had been found accommodation.
My sister, Sonja, and I had been able to leave occupied Czechoslovakia thanks to the efforts of a group of farsighted people, among them Nicholas Winton, who had come to Prague to enable endangered children to leave. Once the operation to arrange transports of children to come to Britain had begun, Winton had returned to London to find homes and guarantors for the children before the British authorities would issue permits for them to come. Hedley Mobbs had responded with an offer to help.
At the end of August Sonja and I, together with another young Czech refugee, George
Rosenstein (now Roden), arrived at Boston station, where Hedley Mobbs had come to meet us with his 16-year-old daughter Dorothy. George was to stay with the Mobbs family; my sister and I were given a home by another member of the Committee, Florence Elsey, until a house rented by the Committee was furnished with donated goods, including even a piano, to accommodate all the refugees. At the time, there were plans to receive more Czech children but, as we learned later, the train scheduled to leave Prague in September was not allowed to leave due to the outbreak of war.
The majority of those 230 children perished. All through the war the Guardian Committee took good care of us all, solving any problems which arose. Sonja and I were fortunate in being given a place in the High School; George joined a tailor in the town until he volunteered in 1941 to join the RAF and then served in the Czech Squadron.
Most of the other members of the Committee remained unknown to us, but the Mobbs
family and Florence Elsey took a close personal interest in our welfare, treating us all as ‘family’.
When Sonja, George and I received the news that our families had perished, they were there to give us solace and support.
After leaving Boston we kept in touch and visited them until the end of their lives. Dorothy remained a close friend but sadly died in July this year, the last link with those who showed us such warm interest and affection when we needed it most. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.
BBC FILM ABOUT BRADFORD HOSTEL BOYS
Sir – It may be of interest to some AJR members that the BBC made a film about the 24 Bradford Hostel Boys on the occasion of their 50th anniversary in 1989. This can be seen on the internet: google ‘Bradford Kinder Transport’.
A VERY KIND AND THOUGHTFUL PERSON
Sir – It is with much sadness that I have to report that Henry Schragenheim, a family friend of long standing (our mothers were school colleagues) passed away in May at the age of 87 and I shall certainly miss the many indignant and irate letters he sent to the Journal on a regular basis.
He was steeped in Frankfurt am Main Avodah Judaism and bravely fought his corner continuously. I am sorry that in future I will no longer see his name in your columns. Perhaps other readers will feel likewise. He was a very kind and thoughtful person.
AJR PROPOSED REORGANISATION
Sir - Enclosed with the October issue of the AJR Journal, members will have received a letter from Andrew Kaufman outlining proposed structural changes to the AJR Friendly Society and AJR Charitable Trust.
Many of these changes are sensible but there is one pernicious suggestion. The transfer of membership to the new organisation also involves the removal from members of their voting rights. Future Boards will essentially be self-electing and self-perpetuating. We know that people who live in established democracies often don’t bother to use their vote, but this is not a good reason to remove their franchise any more than it makes sense to throw away a fire extinguisher simply because it has never been used.
I am sure the present Board is beyond reproach. But times and Boards change and should some future Board conduct itself in an unsatisfactory manner, members would have very limited powers to restore good governance. In this context, the removal of voting rights appears an altogether retrograde and unnecessary measure.
May I urge members to write to Andrew Kaufman and other Board members, and/or to attend the AGM on 15 November, to ensure our voting rights are maintained in the new organisation.
TWO JEWS, THREE VIEWS
Sir - I always look forward to the AJR Journal and consume every article and letter with enthusiasm - the same applies to the JC.
What I look forward to most of all are the controversies and differences of opinion. To use a cliché: two Jews, three opinions (at least!).
I learnt this at first hand when I was captain of Leytonstone Maccabi soccer team about 56 years ago. There can be nothing worse than being ‘captain’ of a Jewish soccer team because there are 11 captains all barking orders at the same time! Lovely!
In your September issue, Rudi Leavor writes: ‘I was offered orange with cranberry juice - an odd choice as many of those present may well have been on statins, for whom cranberry juice is a no-no drink.’
This is news to me. It is, however, well known that grapefruit juice should not be drunk if one is on statins and I’m wondering if Mr Leavor is mixing these two drinks up?
I’ve just read the packing slip with my simvastatin tablets again and only grapefruit juice is mentioned.
This will concern many of your readers who, like me, are on statins.
CUNARD SERVICES, STATINS AND SENIOR MOMENTS
Sir – Concerning Ernie Goldman’s letter about an Erev Shabbat service on a cruise liner (October): on all three Cunard Queen liners a simple request at once reserves a room for Erev Shabbat services with plenty of wine, challah and siddurim. I have held services, including short sermons, every time I have been on a cruise with Cunard with good attendances.
Fritz Starer (October, ‘No-No Drink’) is right about warfarin (not statins) not being compatible with cranberry juice. But I made another mistake in renaming my old school (in your previous issue) Alfred-Kerr-Schule. I should have said Judith-Kerr-Schule. Senior moments!
A THOROUGHLY ENJOYABLE AFTERNOON
Sir – We would like to say how very much we enjoyed the AJR Celebration Lunch at the Hilton Hotel in Watford.
The meal was good, the entertainment excellent and AJR staff as hard-working and friendly as always.
Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. We both enjoyed it immensely and look forward to next year.
THE CULTURE OF RESCUE
Sir - Readers of this journal will be aware from my previous letters of the unique interfaith relations that are part of besa, the Albanian code of honour which makes every family prepared to offer strangers hospitality and, if need be, help. Besa resulted in Albanians of various religions, often at risk to their own lives, saving over 3,000 Jewish refugees before and during the war, a fact still not widely known.
If besa were accepted elsewhere, the world would be a much better and safer place. Albania is the only country in which an Association of Friends of Israel is headed by a Muslim whose grandfather was an imam and it also has numerous Muslim members. A number of Albanians are already part of the Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem.
On 22 November at 6.30 pm the Wiener Library, together with the Albanian Embassy, will be holding an evening celebrating Jewish-Albanian solidarity against the Holocaust. The meeting, held at the Library and entitled ‘The Culture of Rescue’, will discuss Albania’s unique interfaith relations in order to encourage the adoption of such relations in the rest of the world. I do hope readers will be able to attend.
JOINT SUPPORT FOR REFUGEES
Sir - I was touched to read Dr Scarlett Epstein’s letter in the May AJR Journal about the JOINT’s support of refugees. Her warm words of praise for our efforts were especially profound as the JOINT is still helping needy Jews today. We’re providing critical food and healthcare to the world’s poorest Jews in countries like Ukraine with our partner WJR; increasing employment opportunities for people in the north of Israel with our partner UJIA; and investing in young Jewish leadership and rebuilding Jewish communities from Vilnius to Budapest. We’re also supporting victims of natural disasters in Haiti and Japan through robust development and rebuilding projects.
As we approach our 100th anniversary, our commitment to the principle that Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh - all Jews are responsible for one another - remains strong, determined and undiminished. If any of your readers would like more information about our work in 70 + countries, please look at our website, www.jdc.org, or write to me at email@example.com.
ONE BRUSH FOR ALL?
Sir – A serious reading of pre-Anschluss history will persuade Messrs Farago (October) and Tait (July) that while Austria had masses of underground Nazis, there were also powerful opposing political parties and a strong anti-German public opinion. Forced military occupation was therefore the only way to achieve the takeover.
That this brought the mob into the streets and led them to engage in familiar Nazi brutality was inevitable, but no valid reason for condemning a whole society. Our family lost everything, but in our despair we also received much sympathy and support from decent Austrian non-Jews.
GIVE IN TO TEMPTATION!
Sir - Ronald Leaton suggests (September) that readers avoid Austria. This is understandable if you remember what happened to Jews there. However, if you grew up in Austria and Germany, you can still appreciate the early-20th century art of these two countries. If you do, you can enjoy it at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan. In a lovely building on Museum Mile in New York, Ronald Lauder established this terrific gallery.
Lauder had a good friend by the name of Serge Sabarsky, with a gallery specialising in art of this period. Their intention was to open a place displaying early-20th century art only from Austria and Germany. But, before they could open, Sabarsky passed away and it was left to Lauder to carry out the plan. This he did in style. He proceeded to buy a large collection of Schiele, Kirchner, Klimt and others, jewellery and furniture. The most notable painting - and a visit to the gallery would be justified just to view it - is a Klimt, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. For that he paid a rumoured $135,000, the highest price paid for a painting at the time.
However, there are two further attractions in the gallery. On the ground floor you will find a lovely bookshop as well as the authentically Viennese Café Sabarsky. If you can get a table, maybe you could try the goulash soup and finish with one of the cakes, which are like works of art and might make spending on dinner unnecessary. The pastry won’t make you resemble the very slim Adele Bloch-Bauer, but I suggest you give in to temptation - just this once.
PRIDE IN THE JEWISH HERITAGE
Sir – Peter Phillips’s disapproval of those who fail to assimilate to his liking has become rather tedious. He berates ‘frummers’, Zionists like me, and elected Israeli leaders. He approves only of the long-deceased Ben-Gurion, a crusty old Labourite who ordered the Palmach to fire on a shipload of Holocaust survivors bringing in vital arms to the fledgling state, sending it to the bottom. If only he knew that B-G was the first PM to vote ‘frummers’ the largesse that irks him so!
I was a teenager when I landed here, so, unlike him, I don’t boast pukka English: my accent is tinged with traces of Polish, Yiddish, Yorkshire, Tyneside and East Midlands - all places I have passed through. This mishmash can be useful: if someone up north asks where I come from, I say ‘down south’ and vice versa! Not unlike Haim Ginsberg, who anglicised his name twice - first to Henry Gainsborough, then to Jones - having got fed up with being asked what his previous name was!
Integration is desirable but Mr Phillips’s idea of assimilation, devoid of any Jewish input, would lead to Jews in the Diaspora becoming an extinct species. He has clearly forgotten that fully integrated German Jews were sold out by their Landsleute.
Ashamed Jews tend to distance themselves from their heritage, yet there is much to be proud of: their success in exile despite all the odds against them and their turning that meagre strip of land called Israel into a great success - a leader in the scientific, high-tech and medical fields of important benefit to mankind. And yet, Israel is widely demonised, with marginal Jews playing a part in this defamation - they remind me of the Judenräte.
It was the Torah that sustained the Jews throughout their long exile. Their struggles and suffering centred round their religious beliefs. Herzl, in an effort to save the Jews of Europe, was prepared to settle for Uganda but was overruled. Nor would Argentina do, which Jewish barons were willing to fund and colonise as a safe haven. Finally, it was the teeming masses of the Pale, yearning for Zion, that prevailed. And it was their hardy sons and daughters who went out to till the soil and settle the land. These young Zionists may not have been religiously observant but they were inspired by the writings of the Prophets who had once trodden the same ground. Past glories and struggles for freedom against tyranny fired their imagination and led to modern Zionism and the eventual rebirth of the state.
NATIONALISM - CURSE OF THE MODERN WORLD
Sir – Dorothea Shefer-Vanson (‘Letter from Israel’, October) misunderstands certain historical events and their implications.
‘Legitimate’ is defined as ‘in accordance with law or conforming to established standards of behaviour’. Neither basis existed then (or exists now).
The Balfour Declaration expressed only the political view of the then British government and did not purport to go further.
The UN Partition Resolution expressed the opinion only of a majority of its members then voting – and not unanimously – and the organisation is now at least three times as large as it was then. Does Dorothea Shefer-Vanson believe that a similar resolution would pass today?
Herzl’s views, not accepted unqualifiedly, should surely be seen as of their time, when European empire-building was reaching its peak and the movement of peoples, not just individuals, into lands occupied by others seemed natural. The USA was not then complete, in the form we know it today.
Israel exists. The clock cannot simply be turned back. But the adoption of a better perspective is the essential requirement of moves towards a civilised solution.
My own view is that nationalism, anywhere, is the curse of, and a burden on, the modern world. Pete Seeger was right: ‘Yankee, Russian, white or tan, Lord, a man is just a man, We’re all brothers and we’re only passing through.’
SPEECHLESS FOR ONCE
Sir – Being consistently exhorted to recycle everything and to economise wherever possible - and maybe as I am naturally inclined that way - I have become quite adept at it, I think.
I had quite a shock recently on being charged some £5 in postage for just three letters abroad. One birthday card alone to a granddaughter in Israel cost almost £2 in postage - quite out of proportion to the £1 for three I normally pay for birthday cards at my cut-price shop. And what with 28 grandchildren (G-d bless them all), this all adds up!
‘Buy smaller cards in future,’ the lady behind the PO counter advised me, ‘and don’t recycle as it’s those labels you stick on and the selotape which is making them so heavy, and buy thinner notepaper.’
It left me speechless – a rare thing!
Art Notes (review)
Who or what were the Pre-Raphaelites? Tate Britain’s first major showing for 40 years leaves the question in the air. Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (until 13 January 2013) indicates that these artists, in direct contrast to their French Impressionist contemporaries, had no specific manifesto and were anything but avant-garde.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sprang onto the art scene in September 1848 in an emotional and spiritual rejection of the machine age and radical Victoriana. With the birth of the Chartist movement, they caused ruptures in the new industrial society, rejected modernity, and even dressed in the flowing, romantic garb of a long-gone era.
Sectarian divisions, scientific enquiry and social unrest, which began to erode the power of the established church, were grist to their artistic mill. But these artists looked backwards, not forwards: they were revisionists seeking to re-create the medievalism that preceded the High Renaissance of Raphael, Leonardo and da Vinci.
Or were they? Their luminary was the English writer John Ruskin, who reminisced about the liberation of the mediaeval age, when truth was valued above beauty: ‘The mediaeval principles led up to Raphael,’ he wrote ‘and the modern principles lead down from him.’ But from our 21st-century perspective, the Pre-Raphaelites’ often bleak and narrative paintings had little to do with his vision. Their precise observation of life, love and nature was not literal but dramatic – a truth mitigated by metaphor.
The Tate illustrates this with the sumptuous beauty of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s women – those familiar full lips and flowing auburn locks imitated by 1960s hippies.
Artists like William Shakespeare Burton often used literary sources or imaginary historical episodes like his Wounded Cavalier in the arms of a Puritan woman set in the English Civil War. His broken sword is plunged into a tree, symbolising his dying physical body, watched by a shadowy, bleak figure – perhaps the other disputant in a duel. John Everett Millais’s A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge is depicted with his forlorn lover. He wears purple; her black garb foretells tragedy.
William Holman Hunt’s The Shadow of Death portrays an athletic young man, whose upheld hands clutch at something unseen. His mother, opening a chest, sees his shadow on the wall, which prefigures his crucifixion.
And yet these hopeless romantics without portfolio moved art forward – despite their love of historical narrative – in the direction of the Symbolists, the Vorticists, the Surrealists – even Picasso himself, in terms of the distortion of the body into disparate forms. They loved Shakespeare and Tennyson and used their heroines as their subject matter, e.g. Holman Hunt’s The Lady of Shalott and Millais’s Ophelia, dead in the water under a green arbour, still clutching her flowers.
As in William Blake’s Jerusalem, these artists brought the Bible home. William Dyce’s The Man of Sorrows shows Christ not in the Judean desert but in some rocky Scottish firth. Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat truly evokes human suffering, while his The Hireling Shepherd attacks negligent Anglican clergy.
But the Pre-Raphaelites were criticised by Victorian society for their romantic liberalism, and their salvation from artistic isolation came – ironically – from Northern English-Jewish industrialist buyers.