Extracts from the Sep 2014 Journal

Kitchener Camp: Exhibition and book

A group of musicians at Kitchener Camp established an orchestra and performed regular concerts for local residents in and around Sandwich on Saturday evenings (from In Pictures: Kent's Haven for German and Austrian Jews – BBC)
An exhibition devoted to Kitchener Camp, ‘Four Thousand Lives: The Kitchener Camp Rescue’, was recently shown at the Wiener Library. The exhibition, drawing on the Library’s unmatched collection of documents relating to National Socialism and the Holocaust, vividly brought to life the story of Kitchener Camp. This was set up in early 1939 at Richborough, near Sandwich in Kent, as a transit camp to accommodate Jewish men from Germany and Austria who had been arrested during the pogroms of November 1938, detained in Nazi concentration camps and then released on condition that they left the Reich promptly. Some 4,000 men were rescued and brought to Britain in this manner. Kitchener Camp closed in May 1940. My article about it, ‘Saved by a transit visa’, appeared in the AJR Journal of May 2009.
The exhibition was curated by Toby Simpson of the Wiener Library and Professor Clare Ungerson, formerly of Southampton University, who has written the first, and very welcome, full-length study of Kitchener Camp. Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain, 1939, was published in 2014 by the History Press of Stroud, Gloucestershire, at £18.99. It relates how in December 1938, Anglo-Jewish grandees like Professor Norman Bentwich and Sir Robert Waley Cohen undertook the daunting task of financing the renovation of Kitchener Camp, a disused First World War military camp, and of organising the reception, accommodation and maintenance of the camp’s inmates. This was achieved in a remarkably short time: by the end of January 1939, Jonas May, who had acted as Secretary of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade before being appointed Director of Kitchener Camp, and his younger brother Phineas, who became its Welfare Officer, had taken up their posts.
The launch of Ungerson’s book accompanied the opening of the exhibition. Those present heard short addresses by the author, now living in Sandwich, by the Right Reverend Michael Turnbull, formerly Bishop of Durham and also resident in Sandwich, and by Adrienne Harris, Phineas May’s daughter. Ungerson’s familiarity with the town of Sandwich is one of her book’s major assets, grounding it solidly in Kitchener Camp’s locality. Through careful local research, she has unearthed a fascist element in pre-war Sandwich, which included supporters of Oswald Mosley like Lady Grace Pearson, who was President of the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce, and Captain Robert Gordon Canning, who financed the fascist publication Action. However, fascist propaganda attempting to exploit the presence of the Jewish refugees at Kitchener Camp to arouse anti-Semitism in the town appears to have met with little success.
Ungerson has undertaken much detailed archival research for her book, though it remains eminently readable. It begins with an eye-witness account of the so-called ‘Crystal Night’ pogrom, which led to the incarceration of the future Kitchener Camp men in Nazi concentration camps. Similarly, the chapter on the Anglo-Jewish response focuses on an individual actor in the unfolding drama, commencing with a vignette of Norman Bentwich arriving at his office in January 1939. This approach gives the study considerable human immediacy, though it does mean that little space is devoted to the broader historical background. (For an account of Nazi policy towards the Jews in the Reich and the problematic issue of their emigration, see the opening chapter of my book Jewish Refugees from Germany and Austria in Britain, 1933-1970.)
Perhaps the strongest sections of Ungerson’s book are those that deal with the Anglo-Jewish figures, in particular Norman Bentwich, whose papers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem she has mined to good effect, or Julian Layton. Prominent figures from the refugee world, however, are not always given the space they merit. ‘A Mrs Schwab from the Welfare Department of the German Jewish Aid Committee’, for example, was Anna Schwab, a Jew of German origin long resident in Britain who worked tirelessly for the refugees from Hitler, in particular as Chairman of the Hospitality Committee of the Jewish Refugees Committee. Her daughter was Alice Schwab, who for many years wrote the ‘Art Notes’ column in AJR Information, and her granddaughter is Rabbi Julia Neuberger. Ungerson’s book is to be recommended as a sound study that will help to fill a significant historical gap. [more...]

Pickled history

On 9 May, Europe Day, the flag of the European Union is customarily flown on government buildings. This year, however, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, keen to burnish his anti-European credentials, opted instead to raise the flag of Jersey on his ministry, to mark Jersey Day, the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Channel Islands from German occupation, which lasted from 30 June 1940 to 9 May 1945.
Pickles used the flag-raising to indulge in the kind of celebratory discourse customary on such occasions. This presents the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands as a period during which the majority of the islanders remained staunchly opposed to the occupying forces, withstanding the blandishments of the German authorities until they regained their cherished freedoms at the war’s end. The image of the Channel Islanders as nobly enduring the hardships and humiliations of occupation while retaining their loyalty to their ancient liberties and to Britain, their mother country, reflects, however, only part of the story. For it is well known that the civilian administration of the main islands, Jersey and Guernsey, continued uninterrupted under German rule, with the bailiffs of both islands, the most senior officials, remaining in office and carrying out the instructions of the German authorities. That extended to measures taken against the small number of Jews still living on the islands when the Germans arrived.
The history of co-operation between the Channel Islands authorities and the Germans has remained under a veil since 1945, when the British government decided to sweep it under the carpet and undertook no prosecutions for collaboration. Studies like Madeleine Bunting’s The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands under German Rule, 1940-45 (1995) have acquainted scholars with the historical role played by island officialdom, but the popular image of the Channel Islands at war remains that presented in Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s bestselling novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008), in which the islanders are solidly hostile to the German occupation and those involved in active resistance risk deportation to concentration camps.
Organised resistance on any significant scale was plainly impossible on the Channel Islands, small communities that were easily controlled by an occupation force that numbered one German for every two islanders; under such circumstances an element of co-operation was unavoidable. But where Jews were concerned, the island authorities arguably went well beyond that. The few Jews resident on Guernsey had to register with the authorities, who then supplied the Germans with their names. Most endangered were the handful of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, of whom three were deported, among them Theresia Steiner, born in Vienna in 1916, who had come to the Channel Islands as a domestic servant with a British family and was trapped there; she died in Auschwitz. A play based on her fate, Theresa by Julia Pascal, set in Guernsey and broadcast by the BBC as a radio adaptation in 1996, was not permitted to be performed on the island.
Whereas these Jews were deported, the island authorities protected freemasons, another Nazi bête noire, when the Germans sought to implement measures against them. Presumably, freemasons were recognised as part of the island community, while Jews - and especially ‘alien’ Jews from abroad - were not. The fact that the population of the Channel Islands contained so few Jews is itself significant, as minority groups were probably deterred from settling there by the islanders’ pronounced sense of their own regional identity, fuelled by their exposed position a short distance off the French coast. Even before the war, the Channel Islands were alone among the regions of the United Kingdom in taking no Kindertransportees, an indication that their strong sense of traditional British nationality went hand in hand with an exclusive attitude towards those perceived as non-British.
In France, President Jacques Chirac formally acknowledged the culpability of the French authorities for their part in the deportation of the Jews, in a speech delivered in July 1995 at the Paris bicycle velodrome known as the Vélodrome d’Hiver, where Jews were held following the notorious round-up of 16-17 July 1942. No memorial to the deported Jews like the statue that stands on the site of the Vel d’Hiv exists in the Channel Islands. And as long as celebratory, triumphalist narratives like Eric Pickles’s prevail, very likely none will. ‘We are stronger as a society when we celebrate the ties that bind us together’, he intoned. But he omitted to mention that the ties of national identity that bind a community together can sometimes act as barriers that exclude ‘outsiders’ from that community – even to the extent of delivering them up to those bent on their destruction. [more...]

Art Notes

Max Weber New York (1912)
Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album, at the Royal Academy until 19 October 2014, shows 400 photographs from that transformative era between 1961 and 1967, depicting the fleeting energy of the 1960s.
Selected for Hopper’s first major exhibition in Texas in 1970, the images were rediscovered only after his death in 2010. Taken with a Nikon F camera with a 28mm lens, a gift from his future wife Brooke Hayward, some are raw, edgy and casual as though anyone could have snapped them. But together they represent a portfolio of lost times. As a young actor at the beginning of his Hollywood career, drawn to the Los Angeles art world, Hopper encountered artists such as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. While lacking Warhol’s sophistication, his interest in advertising billboards reflects the latter’s obsession with his own ad world.
Hopper photographed Allan Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead rock band. He became obsessed with Hell’s Angels bikers, whom he saw as contemporary cowboys, representing escape from American culture and, in their grittiness, the rejection of the ‘American dream’. The images are swift and often messy – Coca Cola ads, graffiti and ‘Keep Out’ signs; the black people of Alabama; a US army truck, half in focus; American flags.
Hopper’s lens captures Martin Luther King’s speeches to an array of microphones; a hippy girl dancing with the slow seductiveness of Salome; a man weighing himself against a sign offering Blue Chip stamps; a sexy image of Paul Newman, a trick of light placing him in a latticework of nets; and a dancer posed in a snake costume.
Hopper began taking photos at the age of 18 when under contract to Warner Bros. He never made money from them. His subjects are snapped as they are dressing, posing, or with blurred faces. They range from speakers at Hyde Park to a Mexican bullfight. They are like collective stills from a transient and random life.
Hopper was born in 1936 in Dodge City. His directorial debut in Easy Rider attracted a huge youth counter-culture which would come to represent the 1960s for all time. Easy Rider itself heralded the road movie.
On the eve of its centenary next year, the Ben Uri presents the first British exhibition of Max Weber since 1913: Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London, 1905-15 (until 5 October 2014).
Weber’s New York (1912), one of the 11 works shown, is more than a Cubist exercise: his towering edifices have a kind of menace, suggesting an emotional overcrowding of humanity. The Dancers (1912) offers another perspective: an angularity in the dancers’ momentum is less rhapsodic than anguished. With a touch of Picasso the figures meld and blend, yet also seem to self-parody. The dance becomes a grimace and it is this energy which is so exciting.
Matisse was his tutor but Weber makes few concessions to his former master’s preoccupation with colour and shape apart from a deceptively simple and charming graphite line drawing of him, which seems almost to flow from one line, and Apollo in Matisse’s Studio (1908), portraying the back of a male nude in viridian and ochre colours, while Matisse is a tiny figure in the background. [more...]

Letter from Israel Hand in Hand

 While widespread unrest, followed by outright war, continued throughout Israel in a blazing summer of discontent, the Hand in Hand organisation continued its work of building bridges and establishing co-operation between Arabs and Jews, mainly through its work in its unique bilingual schools.
Hand in Hand, which was founded in 1997 by two visionaries, one Arab the other Jewish, seeks to demonstrate that Jews and Arabs can learn and live together and thus change the world together. Conscious of the fact that the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel live in highly segregated environments, whether in adjacent neighbourhoods of the same town or in separate towns, and that this affords little scope for interaction, the organisation seeks to bring the two groups together, doing this by means of elementary and secondary schools. While fighting in Gaza was continuing, the organisation arranged for Jews and Arabs to publicly demonstrate their desire for peace and good relations.
The first bilingual Arabic-Hebrew elementary school was established in Galilee with the support of Israel’s Ministry of Education and donations from all over the world, and similar schools are now also to be found in Wadi Ara, Jerusalem
and Jaffa. Initially, each school was co-directed by an Arab and a Jewish principal and each classroom co-taught by Jewish and Arab teachers. Recently, however, once the basic values of equality and multiculturalism had been firmly established, the schools moved to a single-principal model, though maintaining a staff that comprises equal numbers of Arab and Jewish principals and teachers.
The festivals of each religion are celebrated and the respective cultures studied. The parents at each school participate actively in the extra-curricular activities and, currently, with some 3,000 parents and adults involved, Hand in Hand is the largest grassroots Jewish-Arab organisation in Israel and is expected to continue to expand despite current setbacks.
Peace education, conflict resolution and leadership development are fundamental to the organisation’s innovative curriculum. The general situation is integrated into discussions and lessons that help Jewish and Arab children communicate with and understand one another, even though they may not necessarily agree on all points.
Thus, for example, in March 2014 an Identity Exhibition was held at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem, representing the culmination of months of learning in the first- to the ninth-year classes and reflecting the various layers of identity: personal, familial, communal, religious and national. By studying the curriculum, pupils learned about their multiple identities, deepening their understanding of themselves and their surroundings. [more...]

Letters to the Editor

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