Sep 2012 Journal
Letters to the Editor
Sir - Every month when I receive the AJR Journal, I read it and think that I must engage in the conversation. I find the learned articles fascinating, although for the first time I found the article about Gerhard Hauptmann in your July issue of no interest. Thank you for your work and your publication.
I continue to be amazed that more than 70 years after the exodus of Jews from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Association of Jewish Refugees not only survives but plays an important role in the lives of the surviving refugees and some of their children and grandchildren. Having ‘forgotten’ to identify myself as a refugee for more than 50 of my 83 years, I now look forward to the arrival every month of the AJR Journal, with its mixture of erudite articles, controversial correspondence and tributes to those who contributed so much to winning the war and rebuilding post-war Britain.
With great respect and my condolences to those who lost their parents in the Holocaust, a surprising number of Kindertransport children (including me) were eventually reunited with their surviving parents. Those refugees who came to the UK as mature adults are now dead and those who came as young adults are now well over 90 years old. Some of their stories have been recorded; others live on only in the memories of their children and grandchildren. It is to be hoped that those memories too will be recorded before it is too late. As my ‘English’ children are complete strangers to that north-west London refugee culture, they are unable or unwilling to record my stories and the stories of my family and, as I am not sufficiently well organised to do it myself, I am looking for a researcher who could help me to write things down and look through the records in my cellar.
I would also like to find information and stories about the work of the Jüdische Kultusgemeinde in Vienna after the Anschluss in 1938. I know they ran Umschulung classes - teaching those hoping to emigrate such practical skills as cooking, waiting at table and fountain-pen repairing - but they did far more to help people to leave.
Sir - I have just received the August edition of the AJR Journal a few days later than normally (I usually get it on the 1st or 2nd of the month) and was beginning to have withdrawal symptoms .... As usual, I found it so interesting and you seem to have a few new contributors, which makes it even more satisfying.
I read it through (brooking no disturbance from grandchildren) and saw Joan Salter’s article on Yugoslav Jews. Since I was (at last) in Croatia and Slovenia recently, I felt very close to that community, who helped my parents with such kindness from individual Jews, until overtaken by the same fate as the rest of European Jewry.
With best wishes for your continuing, interesting journal.
FORUM FOR DISCUSSION
Sir – I shall certainly not be the only reader to regret Rose Marie Whalley’s ‘farewell letter’ in your July issue.
I agree (from a position of far less experience) with her views on Israel, but I fail to see why she feels discussion of Israel is out of place in the AJR Journal. On the contrary, what better forum for discussion than a journal read by Jews, and their sympathisers, but not wedded to any firm ideology?
Some years ago, I wrote a fan letter because I was delighted with the Journal - interesting articles, amusing reminiscences but, above all, its open and varied correspondence columns. I also remember once being rung up by the editor because a letter I had submitted was capable of differing interpretations. Notice: it was not censorship but ‘Are you sure you want to say this?’ (I withdrew it because of the ambiguity.)
I am heartened by the tolerant inclusion of some wildly eccentric letters. If you sift letters according to high criteria of ‘good sense’, there is a danger that some interesting marginal views will not find expression. I am a gut-reactor without a lot of precise information and here I may get published alongside the most erudite and well-informed. We Netanyahuphobes alongside the Netanyahuphiles!
Look at the July correspondence: Rose Marie Whalley, plus praise for a Palestinian doctor’s account of life in Gaza, alongside a complaint about disruption of an Israeli theatre company!
Other letters start different hares. Mr Peter Phillips’s staunchly non-Austrian make-up makes me think of Ed Miliband’s far more attractive speech recently (relating to Scottish independence) in which he gratefully acknowledged influences from all the places he, and his parents, have lived in.
My message to Rose Marie Whalley is: please don’t abandon us. Stick around, and let us benefit from your experience and eloquence.
ISRAEL: THE ‘REAL’ ISSUES
Sir - Dorothea Shefer-Vanson’s August ‘Letter from Israel’ was, in my opinion, pure, unadulterated dross and a complete waste of magazine space. I seriously doubt whether more than a handful of your readers would have found her narrative even remotely interesting!
She would be better focused commenting on the real issues that this country is currently having to confront, such as increasing poverty, self-immolations, the growing number of homeless people, drug and alcohol abuse, possible attack from a bloodthirsty despot using chemical/biological WMDs, and the contentious issue of the conscription of the ultra-orthodox into the military.
Just a few weeks ago, the police ran a very successful sting operation to ensnare perverts who were attempting to procure (via internet chat rooms), and then arrange, clandestine meetings with young children for the express purpose of having sex with them.
Within the next few months, the Iranian Hitler will have to be confronted by using extreme military force and that will have profound consequences for the rest of the world - indeed, the course of human history will be irrevocably changed.
So you can see that the picture of idyllic and carefree living that Dorothea has so vividly delineated is actually far from reality for the greater proportion of the population here.
ISRAEL AND THE MEDITERRANEAN
Sir – Will Dorothea Shefer-Vanson (August) kindly enlighten us as to the location of any part of Israel from which the Mediterranean may be seen to the east? Does she know where to find her elbow from any other part of her anatomy?
En passant, did Wilfrid Israel (August, review by Leslie Baruch Brent) not share his misfortune with the actor Leslie Howard? If so, the German high command made two (or three) mistakes that day.
BIBI AND THE RELIGIOUS PARTIES
Sir - Benjamin Netanyahu lost the last election by one vote to Tsipi Livni but, while she was unable to form a coalition government, he was. This was thanks to the religious parties, who backed his Likud party rather than his opponent’s Kadima. Why, one asks, was Netanyahu willing to break up his huge coalition with Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz on the issue of the Haredim? The answer is simple: he has again put his desire for power before the desire of his people.
The religious parties do more or less guarantee him 19 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Shas brings him 11, United Torah Judaism 5, Yisrael Beitenu 3. He obviously feels they are more likely to keep him in power than Kadima under Mofaz or Yisrael Beiteinu under Lieberman. This is why he also supports the ultra-orthodox, mainly American, settlers now living in the occupied territories. The fact that Israel was created as a secular state - and, indeed, was such under its first leader, David Ben-Gurion - seems irrelevant to him. As does the fact that most Israelis are secular. It is truly a disgrace that the Haredim are exempted from military service.
At the same time, in a state circular, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar refers to his ‘terrible pain’ at the funding by the Israeli state of the salaries of 15 Progressive rabbis. He complains that ‘the honour of heaven has been defiled’, describes the Progressive rabbis as ‘uprooters and destroyers of Judaism’, and ends his polemic with ‘Woe unto us that in our day such haters of Israel have raised their heads and that the State has come to recognise these destroyers of religion as clergy.’
Has Netanyahu commented on this scurrilous attack on the Progressives? No. Will he? No. Why won’t he? Because he needs the Shas party to keep him in power and it is power, not morals, which motivate him. Little wonder that I worry greatly about Israel, with leaders like Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chief Rabbi Amar at the helm.
WILFRID ISRAEL: A QUESTION OF CREDIT
Sir - In response to Leslie Brent’s review of the DVD of Wilfrid Israel, the Savior from Berlin, I disagree strongly that ‘the DVD almost certainly gives him more credit than he deserves’. In my view, Wilfrid deserves every bit of credit the DVD can give him. He could have taken his family wealth and gone to almost any country in the world and been welcomed for his wealth. Undoubtedly, this is what most of today’s tax-dodgers would have done! I ask myself what I would have done in his place. Would I have had the guts to do his rescue work - in constant danger of my own and others’ lives? But he continued even after war broke out. There may even be more rescue missions than we have evidence for.
I first learned of Wilfrid Israel in response to a question I was asked by a member of a school audience I was speaking with a couple of years ago. I was asked how enough trains could have been organised to get 10,000 children to Britain when I had just told them how difficult the Nazis were making life for Jewish families. A perceptive question indeed - and I freely admitted I had no idea. But I promised to find out. Now, a picture of Wilfrid Israel is on the PowerPoint disc of photos around which I tell my story in schools.
An element in the film that intrigues me is the short clip of a traumatised girl wearing a headscarf and looking out of a cattle truck. She is a Roma girl called Settla. You can see her photo in the exhibition of the Nazi genocide against Sinti and Roma in the Heidelberg Documentary and Cultural Centre for Sinti and Roma. Her photo also appears in the catalogue of this exhibition. I wonder why it was chosen for the Wilfrid Israel DVD and where the producers obtained it.
GUT SKABY HACHSHARA AND ERNST FREUDENTHAL
Further to my letter in the July issue of the Journal, I would be most grateful if any information relating to the Gut Skaby Hachshara and Ernst Freudenthal could be sent to me at email@example.com.
Sir - I am writing on behalf of a private initiative organised by the condominium owners of an apartment building in Vienna, of which I am a member. We are gathering information about the Jewish inhabitants of our building who were ousted from their apartments, deported, murdered or fled the country during the National Socialist era. Our group of condominium owners intends to have ‘Stones of Remembrance’ set into the pavement in front of our apartment building to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Nazis who were once tenants (http://www.steinedererinnerung.net/downloads/folder_englisch.pdf).
The task has fallen to me to research these former tenants and, in the Austrian Federal Archives, I have come upon one woman who fled from Vienna to England via Le Havre in 1938. Her name is Adrienne Berkun. She was born on 6 October 1908 to Moses Berkun and Flora Berkun (née Mandel) and was a kindergarten teacher in Vienna. At the age of 68, in 1977, she wrote to the Austrian Government about the loss of her parents’ apartment, their and her possessions, their bank accounts, etc in the hope of some form of restitution. She also wrote that she was receiving a pension from the British government and that she had remained an Austrian citizen. Her last address, according to the Austrian Federal Archives, was 9A Gilda Close, Bristol BS 14 9JU.
We would like to know if Adrienne Berkun is still alive - or, more likely, the exact date when she passed away and where - and we turn to readers of the Journal for any information they can possibly supply. When we set the dates of birth and death of the victims of National Socialism, as well as the dates on which they fled the country or were deported, on brass plaques in front of our condominium, we intend to be as precise as possible. Thank you in advance for your kind assistance.
Sir – Reference is made to a letter by Thomas Tait in your July issue. I was a prisoner with my father, first in the Cracow ghetto then in the Plaszow camp. When the Russian forces were approaching the West, we were transported in goods trains to Mauthausen concentration camp. Here, I was given the number 86833. We were then sent to St Valentin sub-camp, where we worked at the Nibelungen Werke (a branch of Steyer-Daimler-Puch). Conditions were awful: frequent beatings and a starvation diet. My father died on 12 December 1944 from pneumonia, due mainly to very poor medical assistance.
The Nibelungen Werke was bombed twice so that work there was impossible. The prisoners were then transported to Ebensee camp, where conditions were appalling. I recall that very few, if any, Russian prisoners survived.
Of all the internment places I was in, the Austrian ones were by far the worst. I wish to suggest to possible holidaymakers to try to give Austria a miss, although geographically it is a nice place. A friend, Bernard Grunhaut, did survive but died of a heart attack at Cracow railway station. Another survivor was Mauritz Grunbaum, born in Wieliczka, who was the camp barber and disappeared after the war with his girlfriend to South America. I find it my duty, since there are very few survivors still alive, to warn friends and co-religionists about the traumatic war experience of many people in Austria.
SCHOOL EXHIBITION PLANNED
Sir - Whilst conducting interviews for our Heritage Lottery Fund Oral History Project (we were awarded a grant in 2011 to conduct our three-year project) with present and former older villagers in Upper Broughton, Nottinghamshire, one memory recalled was that of a young boy from the Kindertransport who came to live in the village. He lived in Broughton House with Mrs Worthington, a teacher at the local primary school. She was asked to give him accommodation by Mrs Victor Smith. It is thought the boy was about seven and came from Germany.
Unfortunately, this is all the information we have and we would be extremely interested to learn more both for our planned exhibition and the local history pack we plan for the primary school.
We plan to hold the exhibition in April/May 2013, highlighting changes and events that have taken place in our village from around the 1930s to the 1960s.
The village primary school has closed and children now go to a primary school in the nearby village of Kinoulton. They and their teachers are very keen to learn about their local history and, if we could include this little boy, it could provide a local perspective to the global situation at the time.
If anyone has any information or suggestions of other avenues to explore, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01664 823530.
Sir – Now that many Yiddish expressions have been added to our vocabulary over the years, readers must have noticed the proliferation of Arabic words that one now finds frequently in the media: jihad, sharia, halla, intifada, sunni, shia, ramadan, haj and so on.
Some of these admittedly have no acceptable translation and it is more convenient to use the original. I sometimes wonder if there is a divide between the Sunnis and the Shias where language is concerned. Witnessing the incessant fighting in the Middle East, I feel an urge to use my limited Arabic and shout ‘Allahu akhbar!’