lady painting

 

Sep 2006 Journal

Letters to the Editor

Back to Vienna

Sir - The letters in your August issue, with their mixture of fixed views and prejudices, are leaving me perplexed. For a start, I cannot understand the concept of hating Vienna. Who or what does Harry Needham hate? The city, its houses and its streets? Its citizens? The large majority of those surely cannot be made responsible for the sins of previous generations. Mr Chapman makes the point that Vienna contains right-wing extremists - which is, of course, true. Nevertheless, in the council elections a few years ago, when Haider's propaganda attempted to win votes by appealing to antisemitic feelings, his party was soundly thrashed. Perhaps Harry Needham should also hate London, which now has a very large population with antisemitic views.

In 1946-47 I was stationed with the British occupation forces in Vienna and made a number of friends there, some of them social democrats who had survived the war and a goodly number of young students. Since then I have made friends with Austrians who have been, and still are, actively working to expose the evils committed by Austrian Nazis and to ensure that the younger generation is aware of them.

I also have to admit that I enjoyed the Vienna New Year's concert in January 1947. I doubt whether any of us who were refugees could ever escape from the cultural environment in which we grew up, nor do I see any reason why we should.

Equally, I am surprised at Rubin Katz's condemnation of Daniel Baremboim. He is not the only Israeli who attempts to build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis. For that he deserves praise.

Finally, I must respond to David Kemp's letter about the bombing of Dresden. I can only imagine that he is too young to have lived through the war. Surely those of us who have, will not share his views. Retribution is also a branch of justice but, quite apart from that, the citizens of Dresden were just as responsible for Hitler and the war as those in other parts of Germany. Not to condemn the bombing is not equivalent to having no compassion for the individuals who were burned alive. However, I must accept that there are people who share his opinion that the bombing was a war crime. What I object to is his arrogance in branding those who do not condemn the bombing as being as morally deficient as those who deny the Holocaust.
Eric Sanders, London W12

Sir - In 1956 I was in Vienna with my mother. A non-Jewish friend who had remained in Vienna was urging her to return and live there again: 'Things are absolutely different now, dear lady!' After he left us, she spoke sceptically about his assurance. Nevertheless, she and my father spent a number of holidays in Austria. They never visited Germany, nor would they buy any German products. (My siblings and I have to a great extent followed their example, more out of habit than anything else.) Now, what makes this less than rational is that Austrian antisemitism was well known to be more enthusiastic than the German variety. One of Austria's postwar achievements was to impress on everyone that Hitler was German - and Austria an innocent victim of rape.

The lesson I draw from all this is - very much in line with Edith Argy's - is that our response, rational or not, to the legacy of hatred and persecution is a personal matter for each individual. I repudiate in principle any duty to my fellow Jews or my murdered relatives and friends to boycott Austria and/or Germany.

George Schlesinger, Durham
George Schlesinger, Durham

Back to Vienna

Sir - The Righteous of Austria: Heroes of the Holocaust, reviewed by Peter Phillips in your July issue, has a forerunner. The Austrian historian Erika Weinzierl wrote Zu wenig Gerechte (Too Few Righteous), subtitled Österreicher und Judenverfolgung 1938-1945 and published in 1985 in a second enlarged edition. In her foreword, she said the book was long in the making and that the final spur for completing it came after her visit to Yad Vashem in December l967 and her wish to acquaint Austrian youth with what she had learned there. Erika Weinzierl may be considered a successor to Irene Harand, the long-forgotten, courageous Austrian campaigner against the Nazis in the 1930s.
Michael Hellman, London NW3

City of Dreams

Sir - Pardon my correction, Mr Grenville (July issue). The reason why the Nazis were welcomed in Austria is not the decline in democracy (1934-38). The whole world was in the grip of an economic slump - particularly bad in Austria and Germany. When Hitler came into power in Germany, he did improve the economic state there. Motorways were built and the Volkswagen was introduced. Unemployment fell. Law and order were restored.

No wonder the Austrians fell for Hitler! He promised them work and better times. They also fell for his anti-Jewish policies. The Roman Catholic Church agreed with Hitler's takeover of Austria because they were afraid of Communism and socialism. Tyrol, Styria and Salzburg were particularly Nazi-friendly. When I talked about the Anschluss to a Roman Catholic priest I knew, he said: 'That's what the people of Austria wanted.' That's why the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy told the Austrians to vote for Hitler in the plebiscite. I remember it clearly.
(Mrs) A Saville, London NW4

Sir - Thank you for your rich evocation of both The Third Man and current Vienna. 'Harmless Hapsburgs and Soppy Sissi' had this household in stitches. As the BBC's Balkan expert Mischa Glenny puts it: 'Austria, and its slightly cloying social atmosphere'.

I would welcome your thoughts on a second post-war film set in Vienna, which you would probably recollect if you saw it. This was Four Men in a Jeep, about the American, British, French and Soviet soldiers who jointly patrolled Vienna. While it was not up to Third Man standard, I remember it as interesting. The only actor I can still name is Michael Medwin as the Englishman. The film reflected Cold War realities, but treated the Russian as a human being. Channel 4 was to show it a couple of years ago, but cancelled without explanation.
Andrew Sheppard, Dublin

Bahnhof Grunewald

Sir - Eric Kaufman (July) states that Bahnhof Hamburg was the transportation point for Berlin's Jews to the concentration camps. Not so. The Hamburger Bahnhof is a gallery displaying contemporary art. The shipping in cattle trucks of Berlin's Jews took place from platform 17 of Bahnhof Grunewald, the beautiful wooded suburb of West Berlin. When I visited this memorial - so aptly sited where something dreadful actually happened - some years ago, it struck me that the wrought-iron work all along the platform, listing numbers and destinations, contained an error frequently made. It referred to Jews. It should have referred to German Jews or, even better, Jewish Germans. I was not part of an ethnic minority when I grew up in Berlin. I was a German. I was a Berliner. Still am. Now a London-type Berliner. I don't allow a Hitler to define who I am.
Peter Zander, London W1

Bombing of Dresden a "War Crime"

Sir - David Kemp is obviously unaware that the last Jews remaining in Dresden were about to be deported to extermination camps when the raids by British and US Air Force bombers took place. The resulting chaos saved their lives. The 'good' burghers of Dresden no doubt supported the bombing of Warsaw, Rotterdam, Coventry and London - to name but a few - by the Luftwaffe, as well as the deportation of their fellow Jewish citizens.

War crime be damned! What did the populations of German cities expect? Care parcels from heaven? Mr Kemp will no doubt classify me as 'morally deficient' - especially when I tell him that I flew in a bomber at low level over West Germany in May 1945 and, on seeing the destruction of cities large and small, came to the conclusion that there was a god of justice in heaven after all.
Ernest G. Kolman, Greenford, Middx

A Tribute to the Quakers

Sir - The response to my article, which you kindly published in your June issue, has in itself been a tribute to the Quakers. I have tried to respond to each letter, phone call and email. Greatly encouraged, I plead again for anyone who received help from the Quakers to contact me. You may have been met on a railway station on your way to the Kindertransport or, like myself, you or your parents may have had a guarantee from Quakers which enabled your parents to obtain a visa to get out of Nazi Europe to England! Perhaps you had help which falls between these two categories. If you have not contacted me, please do so now. Should you not have had a response from me, please contact me again.

Let me remind you that in Yad Vashem, in the Role of Righteous Gentiles, there is not a single British or American Quaker's name. This terrible omission we may be able to correct, with your help. I think the response I have received is the most wonderful tribute to the AJR Journal and those who work on it. It is proof that the Journal is serving a wonderful purpose and fulfilling a real need.
Peter Kurer, Cheadle, Cheshire