Nov 2016 Journal
Letters to the Editor
DEATH OF A SURVIVOR
Sir – Following an operation, I had to stay in the hospital for a week. The general hospital was gradually turned into a geriatric one. It was a familiar hospital - I often passed it.
It was a solid, even charming building, well situated between Hampstead Heath and the Everyman Cinema. The pub at the end of the passage was frequented by people like Jasper Carrott and myself.
I was too absorbed in my own considerable problems to pay attention to my fellow sufferers. But there was a bed at the end of the ward that forced one to pay attention. The occupier was an aged – but not too old – German Jew, who kept us awake at night by screaming and shouting in a language, a very special German dialect, that no one could understand.
We didn’t know what was wrong with him. One of the nurses told me he had only a very short time to live. He should have been in a room of his own but that room wasn’t available at the time. Most of the nurses on the ward were ladies from the Caribbean. They were good nurses but German wasn’t their forte.
Next to my bed there was a cab driver, a heavy smoker like myself. We sometimes met in the smokers’ room opening off the corridor. He told me that the German had no visitors except, very rarely, a woman called Ilse, who told him that the man – called Albert – had been working with her in a small workshop owned by a German refugee. All the employees spoke German. A few years before, the owners had sold the workshop and retired to Majorca.
About Albert, she knew only that he had lost all his family – murdered or perished in the various concentration camps. He alone had managed to get to England a few weeks before war broke out. He had no family in England.
We tended to think that escaping from Nazi-occupied Europe was an answer to all problems. It is true that Thomas Mann produced some of his best work in exile. It is also true that Stefan Zweig committed suicide in exile.
Albert got very loud and demanding in his last three days. It was heart-wrenching to watch the West Indian nurse trying to communicate with him and failing. He couldn’t help either. ‘Why don’t you give him a strong sleeping pill?’ I asked her. ‘We don’t have that kind of medication on this ward,’ came the reply.
Albert died in the middle of the night. They removed him very quietly. I didn’t even wake up. The next morning I saw the empty bed.
The cab driver told me what had happened. My first reaction was not sorrow but anger that Albert was just as much a victim of Hitler as the family he had left behind.
AJR 75TH ANNIVERSARY SEMINAR
Sir – A great amount of work was done by AJR staff (and no doubt volunteers) who arranged this fantastic 75th celebration at JW3. We thank you so much.
At each session there was such an interesting, sincere, profound group of learned men and women on the panels - their chairpersons too.
As a second generation woman, I (Helen) felt emotional but thankful to have heard the many speakers. I returned home in the knowledge that there are organisations that are still here to help Holocaust refugees and survivors. There are also books we can obtain at the National Holocaust Centre and at the Memorial to be in Victoria Tower Gardens.
A most interesting two days: informative, dedicated, caring.
Thanks too to Judy Trotter for her constant attendance.
PS: The hot and cold drinks and delicious pastries were much appreciated too.
AJR LUNCH A WONDERFUL AFTERNOON
Sir – Once again the AJR gave all its members a wonderful afternoon at the annual Watford Party – good food, nostalgic music and, above all, good company!
It’s always so enjoyable to meet up with friends and colleagues from other parts of London whose paths we rarely cross as travelling becomes more difficult. To see familiar faces and catch up on personal news is a distinct pleasure and makes this annual event so very special.
My thanks to everyone concerned for making this day out possible for so many of us. It is greatly appreciated by us all.
Sir - We did so enjoy the AJR Lunch at Watford. It’s always such a pleasurable event and so good to meet up with old acquaintances and make new ones. Lunch was plentiful, delicious and, as usual, the musical entertainment quite delightful. Please pass our thanks on to all involved in organising the event – both at the AJR and at the Hilton. We wish you and your colleagues a very Happy New Year!
A black and white floral chiffon scarf was left behind at the Lunch. Could the owner please contact us (Ed.).
MORE OR LESS LAMARR
Sir – Victor Ross’s very well written piece in your October issue reminded me of a tourist trip to the Golan Heights some years ago. Trekking along the taped path indicating where the mines laid by the Syrians had not yet been cleared, we looked back into the valley below and replicated the Syrian soldiers’ view. An Israeli woman who was in the group went into hysterics. She explained that the soldiers must have looked directly on to her property. We thought she imagined potentially being in their line of fire but she said she was much more concerned they would have seen her sunbathing in her garden in the nude!
Sir - Victor Ross’s personal reminiscences of Hedi Lamarr’s figure in the October issue of the Journal must surely rank as the name-dropping of the year by coupling hers with that of US President Reagan!
THE JEWS OF MESOPOTAMIA
Sir - Anthony Grenville’s October article about Baghdad’s Kristallnacht begins with a sketch of the Jews of Mesopotamia. He writes that when King Cyrus allowed the Jews of Babylonia to return to Judea, many chose to remain in Mesopotamia and that ‘[t]here they survived the many conflicts, conquests and changes of regime that affected the area’, which he then goes on to describe.
I appreciate that this period was not the subject of the piece but the Jews of Mesopotamia, well over a million of them, did far more than just ‘survive’ and an entire article could be written on their achievements - without which it is arguable that Judaism might have disappeared from history altogether.
The Book of Ezra gives the number of Jews who returned to Judea as 42,360. Their descendants eventually fell under the rule of the Romans, who crushed all the revolts against them. Persecution intensified when the Roman Empire became Christian. Judea remained under Byzantine rule when the Western Roman Empire fell to the barbarians and the Byzantines abolished the Jewish Patriarchate. Scholarly centres were closed down and that meant that the work they had been doing on the Talmud (the Yerushalmi) could no longer be maintained.
The situation was very different in Mesopotamia. Ever since the time of the Babylonian Captivity the rulers of the area had recognised the Exilarch as the head of the Jewish community. Except for a relatively brief period of persecution by the Mazdaists (440 to 486 and again from 579 to 589), the Jews of Mesopotamia enjoyed complete religious freedom for the over 2,400 years before the Muslim conquest of the area (and that religious freedom continued for many centuries under Muslim rule). More importantly, there were centres of scholarship in the academies at Sura and Pumbedita. These accepted the leadership of the Judean academies as long as they existed but when these were suppressed, the Mesopotamian academies took over as the leading religious authorities for Jews throughout the world until the 1030s, when they closed and were replaced by academies in Spain. In particular, they took over the work on the Talmud: the Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli), much longer and more detailed than the Yerushalmi, became the authoritative text of the Talmud. They also produced the siddur (prayer book) which was used throughout the diaspora.
It is also the Jews of Mesopotamia who, participating in the urban and mercantile culture of the region, were the first significant Jewish trading community and so gave the Jews a tradition which would stand them in good stead when medieval Christian Europe excluded them from land ownership and agriculture.
When we consider the importance of the Talmud and the siddur in shaping the identity of Judaism for centuries to come, we can surely say that the Jews of Mesopotamia saved Judaism.
ALDOUS HUXLEY CONNECTION
Sir - I am the editor of Aldous Huxley’s Selected Letters (Chicago 2007) and am now preparing a supplement of more letters for the Aldous Huxley Annual. While preparing my supplement, I came across a letter to Huxley from Dr Hildegaard Grunbaum dated 27 December 1939 pleading for his help. Her two children, then 13 and 12, were, she hoped, going to be taken to England and she asked Huxley’s help in getting her a position as matron or similar at Prior’s Field, the school his mother founded and which Dr Grunbaum had attended as a child. She remembered all the Huxleys and hoped he could help. The fact that she lived until 1974 indicates that she did escape to the UK and her daughter, Marianne Cornelie Parkes, was featured in your June 2006 profile number.
I’ve been unable, however, to contact Marianne in order to ask whether she could add any information about Aldous’s possible intervention in 1939. I know that he and his first wife Maria actively helped Maria’s Belgian relatives during and after the war so it wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled strings to help get Dr Grunbaum into the UK.
Any help readers can give me would be most welcome.
(Dr) James Sexton, Vancouver, Canada
IN SEARCH OF OLD ‘SHEFFORDIANS’
Sir - During the dark days of the Second World War, following the ‘Operation Pied Piper Tomorrow’ broadcast, our community housed a number of children from the Kindertransport.
We have had several contacts with, and visits from, pupils of the Menorah Primary School in London. During their visits we have managed to arrange for them to meet members of the families that took in children back in those sad days.
We have also had visits from the grandchildren of those ‘Sheffordians’ who have come to see where their grandparents spent some of their childhood.
Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, who resides in Holland, has visited our community with a group of students from his university studying the Kindertransport routes into England. He unveiled a plaque in memory of those days.
If you can help Lody with any information about that time in Shefford, or any other contacts that he could track down, I am sure he would be most grateful. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
We would also welcome any other descendants of those ‘Sheffordians’ to come and visit our town.
A BEAUTIFUL GIFT
Sir – In your September issue you included an item stating that the University of Huddersfield and the Leeds-based Survivors’ Friendship Association were to create a major centre for memorialisation of the Holocaust.
In December 1938 my sister Hilde Gernsheimer (née Simon), aged 12, and I, aged 13, arrived in Dovercourt from Hamburg on what we understand was the second Kindertransport. We were among 25 girls offered shelter by a Jewish group from Leeds and Harrogate in what was to be the Jewish Convalescent Home in Harrogate.
We were fortunate in the good care we received and we attended local schools. In December 1939 I had a tonsillectomy at the Harrogate hospital. On Christmas morning I received a beautiful gift from Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood. It was a large chintz-covered sewing box that I treasured but I had to leave it behind owing to lack of room in my suitcase when in 1945 we emigrated to America.
I will be delighted if this information is of interest to you.
Sir – I read David Lang’s article on the ‘Righteous Gentile’ Aristides de Sousa Mendes in your September issue with interest.
After the fall of Paris in June 1940, my mother, sister and I took refuge in unoccupied France, in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, Corrèze. My father, who had enlisted in the French army, managed to be picked up together with the Poles at Dunkirk and made every effort to bring us over to England.
My mother obtained some transit visas and in February 1942 we arrived in Lisbon, where there seemed to be something amiss with our documents, and we were detained for several days before flying to England.
I was only 12 years old at the time and have always thought that mother had gone to Marseille for the visas but, reading the article on Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a thought crept into my mind regarding our detention in Lisbon – as to whether the visas were issued illegally. I don’t know whether there is any way of finding this out after the passing of so many years.
Sir - With reference to the recent article ‘Britain and the Holocaust’ by Anthony Grenville, may I ask some questions?
He implied that medical practitioners were prevented from practising. My father, a Viennese doctor, was allowed to work as a GP alongside an English doctor as early as 1941. How come? Also, he wasn’t interned in the Isle of Man, and again I ask ‘How come?’ Was internment selection completely haphazard?
I’d also like to know more about the correspondence between Anthony Eden and the Air Ministry. Who was it that didn’t want Auschwitz bombed? Also, how many Jewish refugees did the UK take from Europe between 1933 and 1938, between 1938 and 1939, and between 1945 and 1948? As for the £50 that had to be paid as a guarantee by sponsors – was that per family or per person? How much is that £50 worth now? Next, how many refugees came by boat, and how many by plane to Croydon Airport? Were these German and Austrian Jews stateless? Lastly, if the British did not send refugees without visas back to Germany, where did they send them?
I think another article by Anthony is needed.