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Oct 2007 Journal

Letters to the Editor


Sir - Here we go again! After 60-odd years, we have people complaining about internment. What is the matter with everybody? Here was a country which, out of the goodness of its heart, took in 10,000 children who in the majority would have been exterminated by an evil regime. This country then engaged the evil regime in a fight for its life. Consequently, it had to consider its own security. So it took certain actions, including interning people it considered to be enemy aliens. Unfortunately, members of the Kindertransport were swept up in the panic. So now, 60 years later, people are complaining. I say to them: just remember your luck that a country like England opened its doors to you and that you are able to complain – unlike millions of unfortunates who were exterminated.
S. Muller, Bloxham, nr Banbury


Sir – Liberated from Buchenwald and emigrating in December 1938 to relatives in London, I accepted the following September an engineering job in Manchester, where in June 1940 I was arrested and taken to Huyton internment camp. There on the same day a non-Jewish youth said to me: ‘Come with us to Canada!’ I agreed and found that ‘us’ were six communists who had left Berlin with the aid of their German underground network. Unobserved, we got on the troopship Ettrick, which had just unloaded 1,000 Canadian soldiers and was now loading for the return about 1,500 refugees and 1,500 German PoWs.

Why refugees and prisoners together on one ship? Canada and Australia had agreed to accept prisoners but, because of unemployment at home, objected to refugees. Among the Ettrick refugees was the grandson of the former Kaiser, also a boy of 15 whose father was a major in the British army. The boy was born in Berlin and his father had not ‘naturalised’ him - hence he was an enemy alien like all refugees.

By far the majority of German refugees were interned on the Isle of Man and in other British camps well away from an anticipated mid-summer 1940 German landing on the south coast with all the hazards affecting natives and refugees alike. Events on Jersey and Guernsey warned us that natives are not always friends of refugees. All measures taken thus regarded refugees as a threatened, not as a potentially threatening, minority.

In late September 1940, the danger of invasion subsided with shorter days and rougher seas, while in 1941 Britain was to be equipped to resist. Thus the release of internees overseas was necessary and in Britain opportune. Released persons could choose to return to work or offer to serve with an anglicised name in auxiliary troops, or even stay in camps overseas or at home. I went back to my job in Manchester and to endless exercises fighting fires lit by anticipated bombs that never came. My wish to fight was thwarted by the argument that my work was more important than my death in battle.

My practical plea is to understand that the fight of a nation for an independent existence has a much wider ambit than the worries of any minority and that the degree of empathy and practical genius governing this nation in extreme danger cannot but be admired.

M. L. Meyer, West Dulwich

Sir - Following your two recent articles on refugees, including internment on the Isle of Man, my wife Marianne and I visited Onchan with the express purpose of researching this subject. We have a brown, pre-printed postcard written by Marianne’s father from ‘Mereside, Empress Drive, Douglas’. At this address we found a hotel and restaurant whose owners had for two years been doing their own research and had found that this was the headquarters of the army commanders who had supervised the buildings in Douglas and Onchan and to which all post would be addressed for distribution to the different houses. When they took over the hotel, they had installed frosted glass in the windows of the restaurant with the letters ‘HQ’ surrounded by a circle of barbed wire.

The librarian in the Manx museum who dealt with this subject was extremely knowledgable, but lacked names of internees, depending on filling the gaps by word of mouth or written enquiries. If anyone can help with names of relatives or friends who were interned on the Isle of Man, please send them to Alan Franklin, Manx Museum Library, Douglas, IoM, IM1 3LY, tel (01624) 648 000, e-mail alan.franklin@mnh.gov.im

Rudi Leavor, Bradford


Sir – I would like to correct Eva Light (September) about naturalisation. I came to England on the Kindertransport from Vienna in July 1939 and went to non-Jewish foster-parents. Immediately after the war I too was made a ward of court. But not by one particular person. A judiciary committee was appointed by the relevant government department to fulfil that duty. Some time in 1947 I was informed that I could apply for British nationality as my parents had not survived. The usual procedures were waived and all I had to do was to complete the appropriate form and have it signed by a notary, for instance a justice of the peace. So I became a British citizen 3 months before my 18th birthday. However, I remained a ward of court until I reached the age of 21.

Lisl Bohea (néeTaussig), Gosport, Hants


Sir – Ever since my mother, Grete Exiner-Westman, who was employed by the Kindertransport project in Bloomsbury House until 1942, died in New York in 1991, I felt the adults who made these transports possible were not researched and written up properly. Eva Light’s letter proved this need once again. As far as I remember, my mother told me that Lord Gorell, who was involved as a trustee with the transports, volunteered to be the adoptive father of all the children so that they could apply for naturalisation and not be considered orphans at the time.

Susanne Dyke (née Exiner), Eastbourne


Sir – Re the loss of our culture (Fred Stern, August), I noticed to my consternation several years ago that all the German books at Cleve Road had been taken out of the bookcase and that all German magazines had gone. When I questioned the then management about this, they told me members only wanted to read in English. From my experience with the elderly, I have found that they want to speak, read and eat the way they did as children. My generation is to blame for the loss of Continental culture because they hid their origins etc from their children, trying to make them English.

(Mrs) A. Saville, London NW4


Sir – The main purpose of our visit to Wolfratshausen (August) was to inform the local people what happened to us in the 1930s as the time between the wars had been omitted in local publications about Wolfratshausen. They called us Zeit Zeugen and we were especially welcome in the local schools and schools further afield to talk with 14-16-year-olds. One school had done its own research about a local Jewish family, which is now part of the exhibition of photographs, newspaper cuttings and material collected from various archives, including one from Jerusalem. The exhibition also contains a video of interviews with ex-pupils in Israel, the USA, Canada and the UK. During our stay there was an open evening for the general public and a short presentation by each of us, followed by questions from the floor.

At the official opening, we spoke to many representatives of local government and religious communities, and members of the Jewish community in Munich. For myself, I think the efforts of the Wolfratshausen History Society were well worth supporting. It was good to see so many young people.

Bettina Cohn, Bristol


Sir – Recent correspondence in your columns touches on a point not made nearly enough of: the obvious parallel between the annexation of a large part of Germany by Poland and the occupation of parts of the West Bank by Israel. Throughout history aggressors have paid for their defeat by the loss of territory. The fact that the West Bank was part of the Kingdom of Israel seems about as relevant as the contention that Silesia was, centuries ago, a province of an ill-defined country of Poland.

Doubtless I will be accused of being naïve when I suggest it may not be altogether inappropriate to look at the example of Alsace-Lorraine, where people of German origin appear to be living quite happily under French rule (albeit that national barriers in Europe have, fortunately, become less relevant). As, it seems, the majority of Arabs within the current borders of Israel do. I have had a number of encounters with Israeli Arabs in Israel who were obviously well-disposed towards Jews. I recall an Arab waiter in a hotel in Eilat telling me he felt it incumbent upon him to visit the Arab countries – but he couldn’t wait to return to Israel. I would like to think he wasn’t just a good actor! 

John D. Phillip, Barnet, Herts


Sir – Kitty Schafer (September) mentions Attnang Puchheim, as did Victor Ross – ‘two words that gave me the giggles and can raise a smile even today’ - in the August issue. I have a different recollection of that place. Early in 1945, as prisoners of the Ebernsee branch of Mauthausen concentration camp, we were taken to Attnang Puchheim on at least two occasions to clear the railway station after successful bombing raids by Allied bombers. What a joy it was seeing Attnang Puchheim then! 

Ron Leaton (previously Roman Licht), London NW8


Sir – I read both articles on the difficulties of English (September) with the greatest interest but cannot agree that one should turn a blind eye – or even a deaf ear – to the transgressions committed by famous people. If it is only us (we?) who take exception to this, so be it! Having taught English to Cambridge Proficiency level to foreign au pair girls, I have always felt that they were the only ones who spoke English correctly, as regards the present generation. Jeremy Paxman is not of our generation and perhaps feels that his ‘lapses’ will endear him to his contemporaries.

It would be defeatist to follow the present trend, by famous (youngish) people, of disregarding correct grammar, whatever the experts might think about it. I would love to know whether modern German is similarly affected, but I think not. I believe it is a purely English idea that grammar does not matter.

(Mrs) Marion Smith, Harrow, Middx


Sir - To whom it may concern: As a late newcomer to this scepter’d isle without any English which was soon to bewitch, bother and bewilder me, I ask why is the ‘gh’ not pronounced in ‘daughter’, the ‘k’ in ‘knee’ and ‘knock’, the ‘p’ and ‘o’ lost in ‘cupboard’, the ‘w’ in ‘sword’ and ‘Chiswick’? Fortunately I had Frau Irma Loewenberg from the Rhineland as a teacher and she gave meaning to am, was, had been, shall be, shall have been - and I have been consulted in these matters by the natives, who remain impervious to my exhortation that ‘those ones’ is a grammatical inexactitude.

We had a dog by the name of Chumley. His reluctance to react to that name can only be ascribed to his superior breeding and the fact that he spelled it Cholmondeley. But then he was an English bull terrier.

Frank Bright, Ipswich


Sir – I am taking this opportunity to thank you for the AJR Journal. Without it I would be even more cut off from many activities. New Zealand is too far away.

Eva Hayman, Auckland