Sep 2011 Journal
Letters to the Editor
RELOCATION OF THE AJR CENTRE
Sir - As Chairman of the AJR, I was shocked to read the intolerant and, I have to say, ignorant letter from Walther Kohn. Factually, the AJR is using the premises of Belsize Square Synagogue as a tenant for its Day Centre. We could just as well have gone to a United Synagogue. We chose, however, to go to our close friends at Belsize Square, back to our roots and back to where we started our Day Centre over 25 years ago.
Perhaps Mr Kohn should come and sample what the AJR Centre has to offer, either now at Cleve Road or from January in Belsize Square, and maybe then he will see the error of his ways.
I can do no better than to end with citing a measured and suitable response from our friend Paul Burger, Chairman of Belsize Square Synagogue (see his letter below).
Sir - As Chairman of Belsize Square Synagogue, Walther Kohn’s letter in your last edition has been drawn to my attention by several of our ‘shared’ members. We at Belsize Square have always valued the relationship we have with the AJR and it is not for me to comment on the content of this letter.
I would, however, like to correct the factual errors. Belsize Square is an Independent Synagogue, which over the last 70 years has prided itself on opening our doors to all Jews of any denomination in our community. I would like to assure your readers that Orthodox, Masorti, Reform and Liberal Jews frequently attend our services and are most welcome.
We look forward to continuing and extending our excellent relationship with members of the AJR.
Sir - Shame. Sadness. Sorrow. Just three of the sentiments Walther Kohn evoked in me when I read his observations about the relocating of the Paul Balint Centre to Belsize Square.
What is so sad is that he has still to learn the lesson Hitler taught so well - that ‘A Jew is a Jew is a Jew’ and that specific allegiance, or indeed intensity of observance, is of no consequence.
May our New Year and Days of Penitence offer the Walther Kohns in our society the chance to seek out the commonalities of all their fellow Jews and together enjoy a year of understanding, peace and harmony.
Sir – I and my Holocaust survivor parents have long been associated with the AJR and moved from and to all its premises. Many members of the AJR have been, and still are, members of Belsize Square Synagogue. The threats quoted by Mr Kohn are completely offensive.
As a Jew, I was brought up in the United Synagogue before transferring to German Liberale services and congregations familiar to my background, which is a joy. Belsize Square Synagogue welcomes all Jews.
The venue chosen by the AJR’s Trustees would have been discussed and approved. Hermolis would have been contacted and other venues sourced. Walther Kohn hoped it would not be too late to find a different venue, but we look forward to welcoming the AJR to our Kehila and its pleasant, practical premises.
Sir - I am a member of the United Synagogue and I find Mr Walther Kohn’s letter rather narrow-minded. Members of the Paul Balint Centre go there for their entertainment and to meet and mix with friends. As it is now being relocated to Belsize Square Synagogue, people will be going to the AJR club and not to pray in the Synagogue.
Sir - Does Walther Kohn really believe that the religiously observant would not go to Belsize Square Synagogue because it is a Liberal synagogue? What appalling bigotry - particularly since Belsize Square does not even belong to ‘Liberal Judaism’. It was founded by German Jews as a place to worship when they fled their homeland and settled in England.
Also, when Mr Kohn refers to the Chief Rabbi, may I point out that Lord Sacks is only Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations and not of all British Jewry. I would also like to know where and when Lord Sacks called ‘them’ destroyers of the faith. Is he referring to ‘Progressive’ Jews or the congregants of Belsize Square?
Assuming Mr Kohn has quoted Lord Sacks correctly, I should point out that, although Lord Sacks is a brilliant broadcaster, he is hardly someone likely to bring unity to our very divided religion: I remind you of his behaviour at the funeral of his friend Rabbi Gryn and his fatuous letter to Rabbi Padwa.
Lastly, surely Mr Kohn can do better than quote a 19th-century rabbi who said that Reform Jews ‘have permitted that which God has forbidden us.’ Does he not believe in progress? He obviously does not believe in ‘Progressive’ Judaism. Belsize Square was founded as a synagogue for German-speaking refugees. I cannot think of a better venue for the Paul Balint Centre.
PAYING LAST RESPECTS
Sir – I have recently returned from Maly Trostinec, where my dear parents and sister were taken from Vienna on 10 May 1942 and shot on arrival.
Some 1,500 Jews from Vienna, Cologne and East Prussia suffered likewise. Though I knew my parents and sister had perished, I have known the terrible details only since 2002, when I visited the Austrian State Archive in Vienna. This was confirmed by Yad Vashem. Since then, I made up my mind that I wanted to go there, to pay my last respects and say Kaddish.
How I was to go about it, I had no idea. I didn’t have the confidence to make this journey on my own. The answer came when, at an informal meeting at the Austrian Embassy, the Ambassador told me about a lady in Vienna who was organising a trip to Minsk and Maly Trostinec. This seemed the perfect answer. So it was that I joined this small group and, with the help of a local guide, we were taken to the forest where our people perished. I said Kaddish and was able to dedicate a plaque on one of the trees to the memory of my loved ones. There was a memorial service at the Jewish cemetery and an extensive tour of the former ghetto.
I came back mentally and physically exhausted, but pleased that I was able to say my last goodbye, which I was not able to do as a child when I left Vienna. All this just two weeks before my second barmitzvah.
‘THE ENGLISH GERMAN GIRL’: FACT AND FICTION
Sir – Regarding the review in your July issue of the novel The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons: three of our KTA members in the US read the advance copy of this book, which was sent to us. I immediately pointed out errors to the author, but was told it was too late to change anything. Here are some of the major mistakes all three of us found:
1. Until leaving Berlin in June 1939, I and one of the persons who also came from Berlin clearly recall that Jews were not required to wear the Jewish star then.
2. Jews were able to buy groceries at that time, the same as the rest of the population. Only after the war began were Jews restricted to shopping late in the day.
3. After the war began, there was no longer any possibility of writing letters directly to England.
4. Cutlery was not taken away from Jews then - only valuables like gold, jewellery, and some real silver.
5. It seems very unlikely that the father would have insulted the policeman, who was only trying to be helpful. My own father was grateful to a policeman friend who warned that action against Jews would be taken in a few days.
6. The word ‘pfui’ was not constantly used by educated people: it only would have been used when things were really disgusting or dirty.
The other doubtful part is about the Kremer family, who were supposedly very orthodox. Since abortions are not permitted in the Jewish religion, it is very unlikely that such a family would have opted for this so-called procedure. It is shocking that any family, orthodox or not, would have done this without at least talking to the girl about it. Of course, we realise this is a novel, but it is based on history and should therefore not have distorted the facts.
Sir – I am writing on the fourth night of rioting and we are now witnessing arson on a grand scale. Nobody could have guessed this, but it should not come as a surprise. The growing disenchantment of sections of society has been in evidence for a long time. The psyche of the perpetrators of the crime is well known. How is it that their actions were not anticipated? The answer lies in the incompetence of the establishment.
Watching the TV channels induces despair, particularly when hearing the platitudes of the leaders of our society instead of a logical dissertation of the state of affairs, leading to a satisfactory conclusion and correct actions. A propos society, Mrs Thatcher pronounced that ‘there is no such thing as Society’, only to be contradicted by our PM, proclaiming a ‘Big Society’. We don’t hear much about that now. Now we shall hear even less about it!
Meanwhile, the hacking scandal is relegated to the back burner, but buckets of whitewash are ready on standby, while gallons of printing ink ensure a large readership. We see the police being attacked as they watch immobile the arsonists, bomb-throwers and looters, grabbing anything they can find behind the broken glass. The use of truncheons seems forbidden, as are water cannons, because the law-makers fear the culprits would claim compensation under the ‘Human Rights Act’!
The world is seeing in disbelief the utter ineptness and sheer incompetence of the British establishment’s leaders. Assuming the Olympics will not be cancelled, will foreign ticket-holders trust our police to provide their security? This country, like several others, is in financial turmoil, created by the banks, whom of necessity we trust. The three pillars of the establishment - parliament, police and press - have tumbled. No wonder one can hear the outcry ‘There is something rotten in the state.’
Sir – I have just read the letter by Maria Hull (née Lederer) about her father, Dr Richard Lederer. I too lived in Baghdad, from 1935 to 1942, and met her father on many occasions as a number of refugees or escapees from Hitler’s regime lived there, sometimes passing through to settle in the Far East. We got to know almost all the German-speaking Jewish refugees, who also became firm friends.
European cultural activities in Baghdad were practically nil, so we often invited each other to parties, where we held mock trials, debates and poetry readings or listened to recorded classical music. We formed a private club and called it ‘The Enemies of Baghdad Life’, these evenings often turning into drinks parties with home-made food. I still have some of the doggerel I wrote and read out at these events. I also met the young baby Prince Feisal and was invited by his father, King Ghazi, to print a kiss on his forehand on a visit to lunch at the palace.
Sir – A few weeks ago, I was catching up on the latest world events on Sky News. As many readers will know, each night they invite two guests to review the next day’s papers. On this occasion, the guests were Eve Pollard and Sir Robert Winston. They discussed the death of Lucian Freud and it occurred to me that all three of these people were second-generation Jewish refugees. How incredible! My friend Eve Pollard, ex-editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express, has spoken at a number of AJR group meetings but, despite our best efforts, Sir Robert Winston has declined. Sadly, our opportunity to invite Lucian Freud has now passed.
‘OBSESSION WITH CZECHOSLOVAKIA’
Sir – I find the title of Margarete Stern’s letter (June) rather inaccurate. The word obsession usually means a fetish or mania and I don’t think her sister’s feelings about Czechoslovakia were a mania. I believe her sister had an admiration for a genuine democratic state before the Second World War, a feeling I could share with her. I was born and bred in that country and loved it. Most of us would not believe what happened later.
Sir – I am very grateful to Susanne Medas and Heinz Vogel (July) for pointing out my error regarding the late President Masaryk. It was definitely Tomas Mazaryk whom I had in mind, whom my sister so much admired and whose picture is still in this flat. What I do not understand is that my sister adored him to such an extent even after his death but she doesn’t seem to remember all the facts clearly either!
I am learning such a lot through your correspondence pages.
‘DE-JUDAISATION’ OF THE HOLOCAUST
Sir - Kitty Hart-Moxon’s harsh criticism of Peter Simpson (May, Letters) is unjustified. If Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) was instituted with the aim of including other mass killings, it should have been called Genocide Day from the word go.
The Europeans initiated HMD to assuage their conscience - they had much to atone for - with Tony Blair coming on board later. We must never forget that Britain shut the gates of Palestine, thereby sealing the fate of countless escapees in their greatest hour of need. The Christian world always felt more comfortable with Jews as the eternal victims, but, since they began to hit back, Israelis, and by extension Jews, are portrayed as cruel oppressors by the liberal-left and ‘Jews for Hire’. This victimhood has been transferred to the Palestinians, with Israelis grotesquely portrayed as the new Nazis. The Palestinians too are trying to jump on the HMD bandwagon with their ‘Holocaust'’ and what may seem unfitting today becomes the norm tomorrow.
I rarely attend HMD as I always come away dismayed. However, I did make the effort this year. The MC sounded like an actor with splendid diction, but the words were clearly not his. There were readings, poems and citations, but no mention of the six million. If Mrs Hart-Moxon was there, I wonder if it registered with her that Jews were only mentioned once, included in the tally of victims. Never mind the enormity of the Holocaust and that the ‘Final Solution’ was about Jews. The uninitiated would hardly learn that the Nazis were out to murder every Jewish man, woman and child.
HMD is the cause of the steady de-Judaisation of the Holocaust and the day turned into an all-embracing event, where Jews by name hardly feature.
THE BOOK WITH ‘INCORRECT QUOTATIONS’
Sir - Although I fully agree with Thea Valman’s excellent review of The Hare with Amber Eyes in your June issue, I was surprised to find that in this book almost every quotation or translation from the German is incorrect. Two examples among many: Thomas Mann’s ‘Gedanken im Kriege’ is here rendered as ‘Thanks be for War’; ‘Liebestod’ is translated as ‘Love of Death’.
Though somewhat irritating, these errors do not detract from the overall enjoyment of this memoir.
TOURING IN TRANSYLVANIA
Sir – Two years ago my wife and I attended a talk at the Romanian embassy in London on the restoration of the synagogue in Medias, Transylvania. The talk was given by a young German woman.
Recently, while touring in Transylvania, we decided to look up the synagogue in this picturesque town. We easily found the magnificent building, which was of course closed. Going next door to find someone to show us the synagogue, we were met by a young woman – the lady who had given us the talk in London. In a few days she was leaving for Washington to try to raise the much-needed money to continue the restoration. Part of the ground floor is beautiful and in reasonable condition; upstairs is a sorry sight, with hundreds of prayer books – some from the eighteenth century - piled high. The aim is to turn the building into a cultural centre, while saving much of the original. There’s not a single Jew left in Medias.