Sep 2009 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘MY VIENNA IS DEAD’
Sir - I was intrigued by the two articles in your July issue concerning the experiences of Viennese ‘returnees’. I returned to Vienna three or four years ago on business connected with pension rights.
I left Vienna with my mother early in January 1939, arriving in England on 9 January. She came on a domestic permit to a titled English family in Surrey. I was nine years old (ten that summer) and interned with her on the Isle of Man by the autumn.
We had lived in Huetteldorf, my maternal grandmother had lived in Leopoldstadt, my paternal grandmother had had an apartment on Mariahilferstrasse. Even as an adult, I had vivid memories of my childhood home and always felt I would be able to find my way around in Vienna quite easily. I even recalled the tram ride home from Leopoldstadt and the hot chestnut seller on the corner by the tram stop.
When I was actually there, it was like being in a strange, foreign and unknown city. Although I tried to find the places I so vividly carried in my memory, I was like a lost soul. I couldn’t connect with the local population although my German is fluent. The Jewish people I came across were nearly all immigrants from the East, wearing the traditional gabardines, zizith, black hats and peyot. Trying to find a synagogue in Patzmanitengasse my grandmother had attended, I found a kosher butcher shop and enquired. I was invited to a stiebel on Friday night. They didn’t know of any temple in the area.
I came to the conclusion that ‘my’ Vienna was as dead as all my beloved family. I think it probably died with them in 1942. Unlike your writers, I never want to see the place again. I am British, I feel very English, I love ‘my’ English/British history, England is my home. I love it and belong to it - warts and all!
SAINSBURY’S AND THE KINDERTRANSPORT
Sir - I recently attended Sainsbury’s AGM and, during ‘Question Time’, we were delighted to learn from a shareholder that her husband, coming to England on the Kindertransport, had been collected from Liverpool Street Station by Lord and Lady Sainsbury in a Rolls-Royce and cared for during the war. When they got married in 1959 they were given a wedding present by the Sainsbury’s, so the association continued for a long time.
The chairman and everybody present very much appreciated this story, which highlighted the caring attitude of Lord and Lady Sainsbury.
LITTLE BLUE BOOK
Sir – Yes, had it not been for the help of the Quakers, my family and I could easily have ended up in a concentration camp! However, S. Muller (August), please allow me to sympathise with the person who complained of her mother’s treatment on arrival in the UK. I have no memory of the ‘little blue book’ but I still have some very bitter memories of those black days.
Confused and unhappy Austrian refugees, unable to speak a word of English, my mother and I were taken in by quite a wealthy family, where she became a domestic slave (I don’t use that word lightly). In exchange for our bedroom and food, my mother did all the cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing and child-minding. When she didn’t understand how to use some of the woman’s domestic equipment, she was shouted at and physically pushed around. Imagine how I felt at seven years old, witnessing this cruelty. It was the first time I had seen my mother cowed and miserable. She had had to leave her husband, sister and mother in Vienna and was not able even to post them a letter as we were not allowed money for stamps. She couldn’t get a work permit to allow her to earn anything for all her labours.
Things got better when father joined us in England and volunteered for the British army. At that point, my mother was given a work permit and wages. The very kind headmaster of my junior school finally dissuaded the other children from spitting at me and throwing stones. He also set about teaching me English, so I managed to win a grammar school place a few years later.
Believe me, my family has been eternally grateful to Britain for saving us in 1939 and we have done our best to repay our debts. But please, Mr Muller, don’t think that everyone here greeted us with kindness and generosity!
Sir - If S. Muller, whose letter appeared after mine in last month’s issue, were to take the trouble to read my letter, which gave excerpts of the actual content of the booklet, I hope he would retract his unwarranted attack on Mrs Saville. Would it not be safer to acquaint oneself with some - if not all - the facts of an argument before passing judgement?
Was Mr Muller a refugee and, if so, when did he arrive in this country? Does he exclude himself from those ‘who otherwise would just as likely have ended up in the gas chamber’?
Sir – My parents and I also received this ‘blue book’ on arrival in the UK. I am very grateful that my parents tried their best to abide by its contents and, although they never lost their ‘foreign’ accent, they acquired a very good working knowledge of the English language, because for a long time only English was to be spoken at home. Their adherence to the spirit of the book enabled me to lose all traces of a foreign accent and to blend into the British-Jewish community, which saved the lives of my parents and me. Sadly, several people were treated harshly but that was less than suffered by many in the British armed services, who saved us all from the Nazis.
AN INNOCENT REMARK
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s leading articles are always stimulating. His ‘Duet for One’ in the August edition reminded me of an incident many years ago when I needed extra cash and spent an evening in an English-Jewish home as waitress and dish-washer. When the gentleman took me back to our flat in his car, I said it was the first time I had met an English-Jewish family – assuming, of course, that he recognised by my German accent that I too was Jewish. To my embarrassment, he replied: ‘Well, now you know we are quite normal like everybody else!’
I meant no offence by this innocent remark, but it taught me to be more careful with my ‘observations’ in future!
JEWS AND ARABS
Sir – It was reported in the Jewish press that Jews for Justice for Palestinians are intent on extending their pernicious boycott of Israel - despite a recent European Court ruling that this amounts to unlawful discrimination. Peter Prager (August) loses no opportunity to trumpet his membership of this deplorable organisation – he ought to hang his head in shame. Coming as it does from a Jewish group, it has a particularly adverse effect on Israel’s legitimacy and it also fuels anti-Semitism.
To berate Israel for its failure to provide Israeli Arabs with air-raid shelters is the height of hypocrisy. Many of them welcome casualties, as it provides them with propaganda value. Furthermore, they are not the target and stand on rooftops cheering when rockets rain down on Israeli towns, and when these stray and hit Arab houses - that too is Israel’s fault! Israeli Arabs bear no allegiance to the Jewish state and consider themselves Palestinian, but would not want to live there and demand all the benefits that Israeli citizenship bestows.
Admittedly, Arab towns and villages have a problem with their infrastructures, accruing huge deficits because few of them pay taxes and building shelters is hardly a priority for them. They have their own mayors who are appointed from within. The authorities are reluctant to intervene because of the international outcry this would provoke. The only thing the Israeli High Court can do is to appoint an Israeli professional as acting mayor to sort out the shambles, but all he can do is battle nepotism, which is rife in clannish societies, and try and convince people that paying local taxes is in their own interest. Driving through Arab areas, you see virtual palaces springing up that would put many Israeli homes to shame. However, they tend not to take pride in their surroundings beyond their own homes and you hardly ever see any trees or flowers and streets are strewn with trash. This has a lot to do with their culture. Should any reader brand me a racist simply for telling the truth, so be it!
Sir - We have all become accustomed to being told by the media that Israel is to blame for all the difficulties that Arabs are facing. Thus it is a great relief to find that the 2009 Arab Human Development Report, which draws on contributions from more than 100 Arab scholars, puts the blame fairly and squarely on the way various Arab governments treat their own citizens.
The Report identifies the urgent need for Arab governments to provide ‘guarantees on universal human rights and freedoms – especially those of women, better protection for the environment, tackling poverty and hunger and expanding access to affordable health services’. The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) noted that the Report highlighted that in six Arab countries there was an ‘outright ban on the formation of political parties, while restrictions on political activities and civic organizations in other countries often amount to de facto prohibition … National security measures such as the declaration of emergency law ‘often serve as a pretext to suspend basic rights, exempt rulers from constitutional limitations, and afford security agencies sweeping powers …’.
Pointing to the poverty and hunger despite the comparative affluence in the region, the Report said that one in five people live on less than $2 per day, below the internationally recognized poverty line, but stated that a more accurate estimate would be that ‘20 per cent of Arabs live in poverty’ (UN News, 21 July 2009).
Sir - Peter Prager must feel proud he is a member of Jews for Justice to Palestinians as some sort of super-class of Jew. Good luck to him! But what puzzles me is why he should think anybody else is interested. My late parents - refugees from Vienna - quickly learnt the lesson that in the UK one does not discuss one’s personal political opinions. Shame that Mr Prager never learned the same lesson.
Sir - I take issue with Peter Prager and the Merkin sisters who are spending time and effort defending the Israeli Arabs. May I suggest that there is virtually no emigration to the rich - or indeed the not-so-rich - Arab states, as I guess it is realised that the welcome would be lukewarm or less - even if they could gain entry. In none of these Arab countries would they enjoy more freedom than they do in Israel.
I also have to take issue with A. K. Mikkelsen, who believes the AJR is in favour of Netanyahu and Likud. I wonder what his opinion is based on.
Another point I’d like to raise is the prevalence of articles and letters in the magazine concerned with Germany and Austria. It feels the letters written by Rubin Katz are a voice in the wilderness.
On a lighter note, I smiled when looking at the headline for this month’s AJR concert in Watford: ‘German and Austrian operetta’. Difficult to imagine that there will be no excerpts in the programme from Die Csardasfuerstin or Graefin Mariza by Imre Kalman or from the operettas of Pal Abraham or Viktor Jacoby. At the risk of provoking adverse comments, I would also like to mention The Merry Widow and The Land of Smiles by the Hungarian-born Ferenc Lehar. These operettas might be described as Viennese - but certainly not German, or indeed Austrian.
LETTER FROM JERUSALEM
Sir – I was interested to read (July) that Bertha Leverton is to emigrate to Israel. I made the same move recently to join my children, who made aliya during the 80s. I have, however, retained my subscription to your journal as there are always interesting articles in it concerning Israel, especially Jerusalem, where I now live.
For instance, last month there was a fascinating article on the beautiful Botanical Gardens by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson. I have since become a member of the Gardens.
Then, I am an inveterate reader of the numerous plaques here. On reading one regarding the abduction and murder of Alexander Rubowitz, I wondered where I could find out more about this horrible incident. Well, in the July issue there is a review of the book by David Cesarani about it. The only problem is where I would be able to buy this book.
Then there are frequent references to the Arandora Star and Dunera incidents, in which my late father, Martin Sulzbacher, was involved. In your obituary of Hannah Striesow, you state that her husband was a lucky survivor of the torpedoed Arandora Star. She was then able to claim she had given permission for him to be sent overseas. In our case, my poor mother was not even aware her husband had been on the Arandora Star. At the time, she was stuck in the Isle of Man with us poor children. Never mind ‘giving permission’! He was sent to Australia on the Dunera as described in the article ‘Dunera Boys’. Please continue to send me copies of your wonderful journal.
Sir – Anthony Grenville’s reference to Ackerman’s chocolates (August) brings back nostalgic and gastronomic memories of the nearby, irreplaceable Cosmo Restaurant.
‘GOD ON TRIAL’
Sir – I hadn’t wanted to enter into a slanging match with Peter Phillips. However, I cannot let the matter rest.
First, regarding the Jewish ‘race’ to which he so proudly belongs, this is a hotly disputed issue taking the Jewish people as a whole. No one who has been to Israel will have failed to notice that Jews of all shades and social characteristics abound there. There just is no such thing as a pure Jewish race, as there have been outsiders coming to join our group from the earliest days of our existence. But, if left to Reform and the Liberals, the Jewish ‘race’ would have got diluted even more as no one - not even Peter Phillips - can deny. Moreover, ‘belonging’ to a certain race is an accident of birth and nothing to be proud of.
I was once asked by a non-Jewish lady what I would do if a child of mine were to marry a black person and I replied that I wouldn’t mind in the least, provided that person was an observant, practising Jew.
If left entirely in the hands of the Liberal or Reform Jews, the whole ideal of Zion and a Jewish home in the Land of Israel would long ago have sunk into oblivion. I have in my possession some Liberal prayer books from pre-war Germany which prove my point. These people were bending over backwards to make what they considered a favourable impression on the ‘goyim’. Alas, they were to learn the hard way what being a Jew entails.
It was only after the establishment of the State of Israel that the Reform and Liberals tried desperately to jump on the bandwagon and gain a foothold and recognition there. They had suddenly turned into Zionists!
As for Peter Phillips’s ‘feeling of belonging’, in my opinion it is nothing but worthless sentimentality if not accompanied by observance of the mitzvot such as, for example, Kashrut.
In order for Peter Phillips to extend his knowledge of Judaism, I suggest he try Project Seed, which should be very rewarding. Their phone number is 020 8958 0820.
OUT OF SIGHT
Sir - Leafing through the February issue of your erudite journal, I noticed that the redoubtable Rubin Katz puts himself to the right of Ghengis Khan, but he doesn't say how far. I can easily trump that. I have always maintained that I am so far to the right of Ghengis as to be completely out of sight!