Nov 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - Dare I correct the mighty Anthony Grenville? He has obviously not been going to the theatre very much recently. Terence Rattigan’s reputation has indeed ‘recovered from his fall in critical esteem 60 years ago’. In the last couple of years I have seen The Browning Version, Cause Célèbre, Flare Path, After the Dance and The Winslow Boy, all in the West End or at the National or the Old Vic and all to great critical acclaim. I missed The Deep Blue Sea, which was also revived. Tony should look at the theatre guides more often! What’s more, may I assure him that The Norman Conquests trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn is hilarious and he shouldn’t have given up after the first play!
It is with far less trepidation that I correct Leslie Baruch Brent. He attacks Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s ‘Letter from Israel’ on the grounds that it is ‘hugely biased’. Yet he cannot see that The Guardian and its sister newspaper The Observer are hugely biased against Israel. Both these newspapers are in favour of a trade boycott with Israel and are against Israel’s even taking part in international sports events. What punishments has Mr Brent’s beloved newspaper ever suggested should be meted out to Hamas or Hezbollah?
As for the BBC’s fairness - all I will say to him are two words: Orla Guerin!
Blinkering yourself with The Guardian and reading the tabloids at the hairdresser’s is not good for you, Mr Brent. You may be a scientist and you may think you are objective, but you are clearly not. Try reading The Times or The Daily Telegraph for a pleasant change!
Sir - We are contemporaries: he left on the first Kindertransport from Berlin as a 13-year-old; I was 14 when I left on the first Kindertransport from Vienna a week later. In subsequent years, each of us gained a PhD from University College London, in the 1950s each of us held a lectureship there (he in Zoology, I in Physiology), and in 1990 both of us became Professors Emeriti at the end of our formal academic careers.
So, whenever the AJR Journal carries a letter over the signature of Leslie Baruch Brent, I metaphorically raise my hat to my most eminent quasi-Doppelgänger and read what he has to say. Usually I find myself at odds with his point of view and sometimes I am pained by it. But of course I respect his right to express his opinion and hitherto I have not felt impelled to react. However, Professor Brent’s latest letter is not just an opinion piece. Rather, it inveighs against Dorothea Shefer-Vanson for having written a ‘myopic, ill-informed and hugely biased article’. As I invariably enjoy Dorothea’s ‘Letter from Israel’, I hastened to re-read that surprisingly offending piece.
Like my fellow scientist, I try ‘to view our sad world as objectively as possible’. But, in my eyes, Leslie’s allegations do not stand up. For one thing, Dorothea’s letter was in the main a report of a lecture given by Dr Alan Mendoza under the title ‘Understanding Delegitimisation: The War Against Israel in Contemporary Britain’. So Professor Brent would have more properly tilted his verbal lance against Dr Mendoza. Besides, Ms Shefer-Vanson expressed her own opinion in the mildest possible terms, viz ‘The version of Israel that is portrayed by the media in England tends to be skewed, probably because of the British predilection for supporting the “underdog”, in this case the Palestinians’; and ‘[T]he situation is not a straightforward black-and-white one, with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other’. Hardly stuff that deserves the brickbats handed out to her, I think!
I do not presume that I can influence the outlook of anyone who relies on The Guardian for news about Israel. As an ardent Zionist, blessed with a goodly clutch of great-grandchildren in Israel, I would surely be regarded as a compromised character were I to try. But just in case Leslie Baruch Brent and any who shares his opinion are unaware of the site, may I respectfully draw attention to Honest Reporting, the non-aligned watchdog that monitors the news for bias, inaccuracies or other breaches of journalistic standards in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sir – The major celebration of the Kindertransport is over, with publicity to a motley collection of celebrities, some of whom weren’t even born when we entered on our fateful journey.
On coming to Britain, most of us became de facto orphans in a strange country with a foreign language and I have the feeling we were never fully accepted by the English Jewish community – otherwise why the Association of Jewish Refugees, a refugee synagogue in Belsize Park, and separate welfare organisations?
Naturalisation was not automatic on joining the Forces and, I believe, a very important person mooted the idea of sending us all back when the war was over.
How different in the USA, where refugees past and present are welcomed and integrated into the community and are accepted as Americans!
I will shortly be going to Germany, where I have been invited to speak to schoolchildren, not for the first time. The young people of that country need to hear from somebody who was an eyewitness to the Kristallnacht pogrom. Most of us are now in our 80s or 90s so there is not much time left for them to listen to and learn from somebody who was there at the time.
Sir – Ruth David’s report on the Kindertransport Reunion event sounded at times like an amusing ego-trip – meeting the German Ambassador’s wife waiting for the loo and not forgetting the Bundesverdienstkreuz awarded to her. Finally, having to hide behind her son (unsuccessfully) as Prince Charles came towards her and seized her hand.
I am, however, not amused by her endorsement of the inane remark that the Kinder ‘had done more for Britain than any other immigrant group ever in the UK.’
I am still meeting with our rapidly dwindling group of War veterans and it would never occur to us to evaluate our efforts and denigrate those of other sections of the refugee community.
‘WE MUST SAVE THE CHILDREN!’
Sir - I am continuing to research for a book on non-Jewish responses to the Kindertransport refugee crisis in the UK. A few AJR members did get in touch with me about their non-Jewish foster parents and their stories are truly inspiring.
I would like to urge others to tell me about their experiences - good and bad - with English families, schools or hostels. Many of them were ‘quiet heroes’ and I would like to piece their stories together and, if possible, contact relatives (perhaps siblings) of those non-Jews who heeded Greta Burkill’s cry ‘We must save the children!’ Please contact me at email@example.com
Sir - Recent issues of your AJR Journal have understandably been devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport. However, I didn’t see a single word about the young Jewish men and women who led these transports but were allowed to do so as long as they returned. I knew a young Austrian woman in London in 1939 whose brother led some of these transports. However, he always had to return home to Vienna for the Nazis threatened to kill his family if he failed to return. I wonder if any study has been made of what happened to some of these brave young Jews.
Sir - In your October issue Michael Sherwood is ‘curious as to the motivation of individuals in returning to Germany after the 39-45 war.’ There is a very simple answer - they had nowhere else to go.
A dear cousin of mine, Gusti Jassy, turned back on her way to the station to join a Kindertransport as she didn’t want to leave her widowed mother alone in Berlin. When life in Berlin became too dangerous they went into hiding and were able to survive until 1944, when they were denounced and sent to Ravensbrück.
My cousin managed to keep my aunt alive and, after the War, in a DP camp, met and married a fellow survivor, Alex Neumark, together with whom she was eventually repatriated to Berlin. Not wishing to remain in Germany longer than necessary, as soon as they were able to obtain the necessary travel documents, they left for Paris, where Alex had a sister who had survived the War. They lived with her for six months but were unable to obtain a permis de séjour and thus neither work nor food coupons. They therefore had no alternative but to return to Berlin and live - like my own father - among the people who had murdered their families until they both passed away at an early age. As they say in Hebrew: ‘ein breirah’ - no alternative.
IN THE COUNTRY’S BEST INTEREST
Sir - I sincerely hope the AJR has publicised its solidarity with the Miliband brothers as with all victims of anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism, whether coming from the Daily Mail or any other source.
I have particularly strong feelings because my career was very similar to Ralph’s. Sometime in 1944 a lady came from the Home Office to tell me I was entitled to become a UK citizen under the ORM (Orphan, Refugee Minor) scheme. A few months later I duly swore allegiance to ‘King George VI, his heirs and successors according to the law’. A few days after that I was worrying over what I could do for Britain to thank it. Halfway up Blackheath Road I had a ‘Damascus’ moment. Of course, I should join the Labour Party - then a socialist democratic organisation - enabling me to work towards improving the lot of the mass of the population by striving towards equality of esteem in education, the nationalisation of the key sectors of British industry, providing decent free health care, etc!
For the same reason, but emotionally re-charged because I had become a father, I was active in the Direct Action Committee, the Committee of 100 and CND when it was founded. Ten or more convictions are battle honours. It was a pleasure to see the quality of life of the broad mass improving till 1979, since when it has been a struggle to preserve those gains.
I am sure my history is typical of very many in the AJR, just as there are some who no doubt share the Mail’s view that we are undermining the Great in Great Britain. Never let it be said that the bulk of the active left acted other than in the country’s best interest as we saw and see it.
With regard to Michael Sherwood’s letter, among those who returned almost immediately after the War were loyal Communists carrying out party orders. I heard from a London-born ‘second-generation’ woman now living in Vienna that her obedient Communist parents were ordered by the party to return to Vienna in 1945-46. They suffered considerable hardship there. I also recollect reading of a US Communist being ordered to return - and returning - to East Germany at about the same time.
THANK YOU, AJR AND JFS
Sir – We would like to thank Jonathan Rose at the AJR as well as the JFS for enabling us finally to learn how to access the internet. I am 87 and my wife 83.
Jack, the student who came to help us, was an excellent teacher who showed great patience and skill.
A GOOD HOME FOR GERMAN-LANGUAGE BOOKS?
Sir - In asking survivors and refugees from Germany who want to donate books to the Wiener Library and the University of London to arrange for volunteers to transport books there, these institutions are putting too great a burden on the potential donors, all of whom are elderly. Many of us do not have family or friends available to act as deliverymen. If we cannot find someone to help us, the alternative is to carry heavy books on public transportation, or to drive to London, where parking is at a premium, if it is available.
We are prepared to give away these books for nothing. Many of them are rare, out of print and valuable. These institutions are getting something they want, something that is often not available elsewhere. And they are getting it for free. It should not be beyond their ability to find volunteers to transport these books.
The Wiener Library and London University are unfortunately not alone in their cavalier attitude to donors of German books. Several years ago I offered a rare five-volume 1927 set of Jüdische Enzyklopädie, total weight over 15 kilos, to the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex. They indicated they would be pleased to accept the books and would ‘make arrangements’. I am still waiting for someone to come and get them.
REMEMBERING THE REFUGEES FROM HUNGARY
Sir - Reading the comprehensive article by Anthony Grenville about the changes in 1956, it occurs to me that many of us escaped to England in 1956 thanks to the uprising in Hungary in that year. Whereas we cannot compete with the numbers or importance of the Kinder, maybe we merit a mention too. A change that is not mentioned is the one that was brought about by the putting down of the uprising by the Russians, i.e. the waking up of some of the fellow travellers in the West. Yves Montand and Simone Signoret come to mind.
Sir – I was pleased to see in your October issue a letter by Marian McNulty mentioning my poem ‘The Tablecloth’, which she heard on Mark Tulley’s Radio 4 programme and liked.
If she is interested, she could get my New and Collected Poems, where this poem is published on page 44. Originally, it appeared in Family Arrivals, which is now out of print. I didn’t know the poem was used in Mark Tully’s programme but am pleased it found a good response.
Sir - Marian McNulty asked for the source of a poem by Lotte Kramer which had been read on Radio 4 and which she believed was called ‘A Tablecloth Unravelled’.
The poem is actually called ‘The Tablecloth’ and the three verses deal with its unravelling. It is one of 60 memorable poems by Lotte Kramer based on her own life experiences in the book Kindertransport, Before and After: Elegy and Celebration (2007). It is edited, with an informative introduction, by Dr Sybil Oldfield. I was a guest on its publication day and have a signed copy. A copy can be obtained by sending £10 + £2.50 to the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, Arts B, University of Sussex, Brighton BNI 9QN (attention Diana Franklin).
Sir - Regarding Marian McNulty’s query about Lotte Kramer’s poem ‘The Tablecloth’, this can be found in Lotte’s Selected and New Poems 1980-1997, published by Rockingham Press. The book should be available through any good bookshop but is also available on Amazon.
A UNIQUE SEDER DISH
Sir - I read with great interest Anthony Grenville’s article about internment in Australia in a recent edition of the Journal.
My father, Paul Gruneberg, had been interned on the Isle of Man before being transported to Australia on the Dunera. The terrible treatment the internees received on board has been well documented. I believe that all the internees on this vessel were eventually compensated to some degree and I have a letter from Major Layton (mentioned in Dr Grenville’s article) offering the sum of £31.10.6d for my father’s losses.
During his time in Tartura Camp 2, my father became the camp’s cobbler - somewhat of a change as he had been in the textile business in Leipzig! During his time in Tartura, he became very friendly with another internee, Emil Frank, just as my mother and I had become friendly with his wife and children on the Isle of Man, where we had all been interned. Emil Frank, a teacher by profession, became the camp’s carpenter and chazan. He led the services and on Passover took the seder, for which he made a dish. This he gave us when he made aliya to Israel with his wife to join his family there. We use this dish to this day. The younger grandchildren are intrigued about the story behind this seder dish, which must be unique.