Extracts from the Aug 2015 Journal
Writing about German Jews in British uniform in last month’s issue of the Journal brought to mind one of the most remarkable and entertaining autobiographical texts by a Jewish refugee who served in the British Army in the Second World War. Mark Lynton, author of Accidental Journey: A Cambridge Internee’s Memoir of World War II (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1995), was born Max-Otto Ludwig Loewenstein in Stuttgart in 1920, moving to Berlin two years later when his father was appointed head of a major German car manufacturer. The Loewensteins were a fairly typical assimilated German-Jewish family, proudly patriotic - Max-Otto’s father had won the Iron Cross in the First World War - well educated, financially secure, comfortably established in the upper reaches of the professional middle class, and with a certain cosmopolitanism of outlook.
That latter quality led his parents to send Max-Otto to be educated at the Lycée Pasteur, in the wealthy Parisian suburb of Neuilly, in 1933, and from there to Cheltenham College in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, in 1936. His parents emigrated to Holland in 1935, subsequently moving to the United States. Lynton’s description of Cheltenham as ‘an English public school of indifferent academic reputation, sterling social standing, and towering military distinction’ is typical of his ability to deal out ironically back-handed compliments to venerable British institutions. In 1938 he went up to St John’s College, Cambridge, to read law. But his legal studies took second place to his pleasurably leisured existence as a member of a highly privileged elite at an institution that seemed more dedicated to preserving antiquated social values and customs than to learning. At first, the university appeared to regard the war as little more than an annoying irrelevance, but on Whit Sunday 1940 the young Loewenstein was rudely jolted out of his lotus-eating languor: returning to his college after a hard day’s punting and drinking, he was arrested and interned. It was to be nine months before he saw Cambridge again.
Lynton’s account of his internment highlights its farcical aspects: the ‘staggeringly incompetent’ but occasionally kindly and well-meaning British soldiers who guarded the internees; the shambles behind barbed wire that was Huyton, the holding camp on Merseyside where he was first taken; and the absurdity of the entire operation of the mass internment of so-called ‘enemy aliens’, directed from Whitehall with a logic apparently deriving from Lewis Carroll. If Lynton’s time at Cambridge recalls Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, his years in internment and in the British Army recall Waugh’s darkly comic depiction of wartime service in his Sword of Honour trilogy. It was the same impenetrable and blinkered bureaucracy that saw Lynton shipped off to Canada on the SS Ettrick, in the improbable company of Hans Kahle, a convinced Communist who had commanded a division in the Spanish Civil War, and Fritz Lingen, a grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Lynton spent several months in Canada, unable to return to Britain until 1941 since the Home Office, believing him to have drowned when the SS Arandora Star was sunk on its way to Canada in July 1940, had ‘mislaid’ him there. But at least the Canadian camps provided modern comforts, equipped as they were with ‘every gadget known in the Western Hemisphere, some of which, I suspect, may not have reached England to this day’.
On his return to Britain, Lynton volunteered for the Pioneer Corps, serving in 251 Company, in an array of more or less futile and unsuitable occupations, including a hare-brained scheme to construct fake storage tanks to divert Luftwaffe pilots from attacking the oil storage facilities at Avonmouth, outside Bristol. His description of his company on parade in their new uniforms as ‘almost indistinguishable from a Gräfin Mariza [operetta by Emmerich Kálmán] rehearsal’ is classic Lynton. The time he spent back in Cheltenham, under the disapproving eye of retired army officers who had attended his old school, provided him with further rich material for a satirical depiction of establishment British attitudes and conduct. Eventually, he was selected for officer training at Sandhurst.
Having officially changed his name, Lt. Lynton was commissioned into the Third Royal Tank Regiment, an elite armoured unit with a proud record that had taken it from Libya to the Normandy landings. Lynton’s commanding officer was Colonel Teddy Mitford, brother of the five Mitford sisters. One of the most gripping sections of the book consists of Lynton’s account of the stubborn fighting in the Normandy bocage, followed by Eleventh Armoured Division’s rapid advance through France and Belgium, during which Third RTR was involved in the taking of Amiens and the vital port of Antwerp, in the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhine crossing at Wesel and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, ending up at Flensburg on the Danish border. Third RTR had outfought the Wehrmacht from the sands of the Western Desert to the Baltic Sea - but at great cost. Often in the van of the British advance, the regiment’s tanks frequently felt the force of the German defences, notably the 88mm anti-tank guns and the dreaded Tiger tanks. The life expectancy of a tank commander like Lynton was short; he was fortunate to have been wounded only once when his tank was hit, since his unit, 2,000 men strong, suffered some 600 killed.
Lynton describes the exhilarating but bloodstained advance across north-western Europe with gusto, and to no little comic effect. Here is a sample of his style, recounting the capture of one German town:
While nearing Neustadt, a small town north of Hamburg, the ‘telephone caper’ occurred to Teddy Mitford. He had come across some engineering unit restringing telephone wires who had told him that they had, quite by accident, tapped into the Neustadt Exchange a few miles up the road. He summoned me to join him, since I was the only German speaker in Third RTR, and suggested I try to phone the Neustadt garrison and talk them into surrendering, rather than put everyone to the trouble of fighting for it. […] I got hooked into the line, asked for the Neustadt commandant, and promptly got put through to him. After that it became pure farce.
Pitching my voice somewhere between Erich von Stroheim and Dr. Anthony, I outlined a scenario of hundreds of tanks, clouds of planes, and swarms of paratroopers, all bunched down the road for the declared purpose of obliterating Neustadt. The party at the opposite end, hearing of this imaginary Armageddon, clearly felt that Neustadt hardly warranted so much attention, and politely inquired what we wished him to do. On being told to fly white flags, sheets or whatever, from every building, assemble all his troops on the main square, men on one side, arms on the other, and do it all within ten minutes, he appeared to view that as an eminently sensible suggestion, provided he be allowed to phone his superiors to advise them that he was retiring from this war.
For all the apparent levity of Lynton’s account of his often picaresque progress through the wartime years, the courage of the men he fought with - even when they maintained the outer appearance of sheep-faced British stuffed shirts of the officer class - was beyond question.
After the German surrender, Lynton was involved in some of the most notable events in the British Zone of Occupation. He observed the taking prisoner of Admiral Dönitz, Hitler’s successor as Führer, and his cabinet at Flensburg, and was present by chance at army headquarters in Lüneburg when Heinrich Himmler was held there. He participated in the arrest of SS-Standartenführer Otto Bovensiepen, one of the early senior Nazi war criminals to be caught and brought to justice. Transferred from Third RTR to Military Headquarters at Bad Oeynhausen, Lynton was involved in the systematic pursuit and interrogation of war criminals. The high point of his activities here was his part in the arrest of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz. Interestingly, Lynton’s account makes no mention of Hanns Alexander, who, according to Thomas Harding’s bestseller Hanns and Rudolf, was the man responsible for arresting Höss; perhaps unsurprisingly, Harding makes no mention of Lynton either, though the latter was, or at least claimed to have been, an eyewitness to the arrest.
After a spell in Denmark, Lynton returned to occupied Germany to participate in intelligence work, first in military intelligence, then, from early spring 1946, in political intelligence, with 16 SHIO (Schleswig-Holstein Intelligence Office), based at Kiel. In this capacity, Major Lynton, as he now was, met some of the most influential figures in post-war West German politics, including Kurt Schumacher, Ernst Reuter, Karl Arnold and Konrad Adenauer (whom he disliked). Demobilised in August 1947, Lynton resolved not to resume his law studies. He held his internment against the British authorities, also the tardiness with which they agreed to grant him British citizenship (in March 1947, nearly two years after the end of the war). Lynton soon emigrated to the USA, where he built a successful career as a corporate executive. He died in 1997.
Anthony Grenville [link]
The AJR is not alone in this world. We are one of three parallel organisations, with the other two based in Israel and the USA, and which together form the Council of Jews from Germany.
I recently met senior figures in our sister organisation in Israel and thought our members here might be interested in their work, which is very similar to ours.
Israel’s equivalent of the AJR was established in British Mandatory Palestine in 1932. Its overall title is Irgun Merkaz Europa - the Central Organisation (of Jews) of Europe, meaning in fact Central Europe. Together with its subsidiary organisation, the Solidaritaetswerke, it is indeed Israel’s sister organisation to the AJR. The email address - http://www.irgun-jeckes.org - tells you exactly who they are!
Together they do much the same work in Israel as the AJR does in the UK for much the same constituency, namely German-speaking refugees from Nazi Europe. Membership stands at some 3,500, including many from the second and even third generations.
Their core values as described on their website are:
• Mutual assistance and social solidarity
• Volunteering and contributing to community and society
• Zionism and building the country
• Immigrant absorption
• Excellence in all occupational and knowledge fields
• Education and culture
• Civilised society
• Intellectual pluralism
• Preserving and imparting the heritage to descendants and society at large
Solidaritaetswerke provides welfare benefits through a network of inter-agency collaboration with elder services, community agencies, government healthcare providers and cultural frameworks.
They help hundreds of people, including Holocaust survivors and the chronically ill. They pay monthly assistance grants to those with financial difficulties (similar to our own Self Aid arrangements) as well as giving one-off payments for urgent needs such as dental care, glasses, hearing aids, emergency alert systems, and mobility aids.
In addition, they run eight ‘Parents’ Homes’ in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, accommodating nearly 1,000 residents. Having visited one of these ‘Homes’ in Jerusalem, I was enormously impressed not only by the quality of the buildings and gardens in which the residents can enjoy the sun when it’s not too hot, but also by the dedication of the staff who work there. If only we had such facilities in the UK!
There are over 500 social meetings throughout Israel every year.
They publish a full-colour magazine, Yakinton, which claims over 7,000 readers and
covers the same ground as the AJR Journal, with numerous life stories forming a regular
feature of the magazine. Their website has 20,000 monthly visitors. [more...]
Sir Nicholas Winton’s deed in rescuing 669 Czechoslovak children, most of them Jewish, might have remained unknown had his wife, Grete, not found a scrapbook containing the documentation while clearing out the family attic decades later at their home in Maidenhead.
Sir Nicholas disliked the repeated comparisons of his actions with those of Oskar Schindler, the industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factory. He said at the time that he felt he was doing ‘nothing remarkable’ and insisted he was not a hero because he had never been in danger – he had merely been ‘working from the safety of my home in Hampstead’.
Sir Nicholas - ‘Nicky’ as he was known to many - was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Bavarian Jewish family that had emigrated to England in the 19th century. His parents were Rudolph and Barbara Wertheim. By the time of Nicholas’s birth, the family had converted to Christianity, though the name was anglicised to Winton only in 1938. Sir Nicholas’s predominant attitude to his Jewish ancestry appears to have been that too much conflict was caused by religions dwelling on their differences rather than on shared ethics. ‘When I set out to try and bring children from Czechoslovakia,’ he said later, ‘I didn’t do it because they were Jewish children. I did it because they were children.’
In December 1938 Sir Nicholas, then a London stockbroker, was asked by a friend, Martin Blake, to cancel a planned skiing trip and meet him in Prague instead. On his arrival in Prague, he was introduced to the organisers of the recently formed British Committee for Refugees. There were an estimated 250,000 people, many of them Jewish, who were fleeing Germany, Austria and the German-speaking Sudetenland, which the Nazis had annexed. Others were from political families and opponents of the Nazis. Their living conditions in camps were squalid.
Sir Nicholas became determined to help at least the children of some of the families. He began taking names and found his hotel room besieged by families queuing all day in the freezing cold to ensure their names were on the list. Winton and his colleagues, Doreen Warriner, a lecturer at the LSE and organiser of the committee, and Trevor Chadwick, a schoolteacher, began to organise the evacuation of the children. The first flight of 20 left in January 1939; it was sponsored by the Barbican Mission, whose intention was to convert them to Christianity.
After three weeks Sir Nicholas returned to London with a long list of children and, after a day’s work in the City, returned home to Hampstead each evening to organise permits and travel warrants for them. The British bureaucracy moved unhurriedly, believing there was no urgency as war was deemed unlikely, and the government demanded a bond of £50, no small sum in those days, for each child as well as the nomination of foster parents. ‘If America had only agreed to take [the children] too,’ Winton said, ‘I could have saved at least 2,000 more.’
Frustrated by the slowness to react of the British authorities, Sir Nicholas personally organised the children’s placements. As the situation in Czechoslovakia grew more desperate following the German occupation of the entire country in March 1939, he began forging the Home Office entry permits. That summer eight rail transports were conducted. A ninth Kindertransport, which was due to leave on 1 September 1939 with 250 more children, was cancelled by the Germans and most of those who would have been on board were transported to concentration camps. Nevertheless, Sir Nicholas saved at least 669 children, including 561 who were Jewish, 52 Unitarians, and 34 Catholics.
Most of the children, sent across Europe alone or with their brothers and sisters, would never see their parents and relatives again. Of 15,000 Jewish children who remained stranded in Prague after war was declared in September 1939, only about 100 survived.
With the outbreak of war, Sir Nicholas became an ambulance driver in Normandy but was evacuated at Dunkirk and then joined the RAF. After the war he worked for a time for the International Committee for Refugees and took charge of selling Nazi booty to aid Jewish organisations. He later worked for the International Bank in Paris, distributing loans to the war-ravaged countries of Europe. It was there that he met his Danish wife, who was a secretary at the bank. The couple had three children, one of whom died in childhood.
Sir Nicholas was able to retire early and he devoted himself to fundraising for Mencap and the Abbeyfield charity, which provides accommodation for elderly people. It was for this work that he was appointed MBE in 1983.
In the late 1980s, Sir Nicholas approached the BBC to try and trace some of the ‘Winton children’ - those he had helped bring to the UK in 1939. He was moved to do so by the discovery at their home in Maidenhead by his wife, Grete, of a scrapbook in which he had inscribed their names, addresses and dates of birth, together with photographs of the children at the time of their rescue.
Eventually, Sir Nicholas turned to Elisabeth Maxwell, who showed the scrapbook to her husband, Robert, and within weeks the story appeared in the Sunday Mirror. At the same time, appearing on the BBC’s That’s Life programme, hosted by Esther Rantzen, Sir Nicholas was unaware that he was surrounded in the audience by those whose lives he had saved, their whereabouts having been traced by the programme’s researchers.
Sir Nicholas subsequently received many awards from the Czech authorities, including in 2014 their highest award, the Order of the White Lion. In 2001 he was the subject of a Czech documentary The Power of Good. In the same year, his story, Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation: Save One Life, Save the World, co-authored by Vera Gissing, one of the children he had saved, and Muriel Emanuel, was published. In 1999 he received the freedom of the city of Windsor, an honour he shared only with members of the Royal Family. Having been appointed MBE for other charitable services, he was knighted in 2003. In 2014 Sir Nicholas’s daughter Barbara published an account of his life: If It's Not Impossible ... The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton.
In June 2013 Sir Nichol.as was a guest at a Reunion organised by the AJR commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport.
Sir Nicholas himself insisted he had never been a hero. He claimed that it had been his colleague Trevor Chadwick, who had stayed in Prague to organise the evacuations, who had been the real hero. However, writing to Sir Nicholas to award him the Order of the White Lion, the Czech President, Miloš Zeman, said: ‘You did not think of yourself as a hero but you were conducted by a desire to help those who could not defend themselves, those who were vulnerable. Your life is an example of humanity, selflessness, personal courage and modesty.’
Grete died in 1999. Sir Nicholas is survived by his children Nicholas and Barbara and by two grandchildren.
Sir – I wish to apologise unconditionally to George Vulkan for causing him such distress. What I want to reiterate is merely this: There existed during the war, and for many years after it, a boarding house at Number 4 Adamson Road popular with refugees from Nazi oppression. It was run by one Mrs Pick and one Mrs Sachs, after whom it was called Boarding House Sachs. [more...]
Matan Ben Cnaan Annabelle and Guy Photograph: Matan Ben-Cnaan/National Portrai/PA
Israeli artist Matan Ben Cnaan has won the £30,000 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery for his painting Annabelle and Guy. His super-realistic portrait of his friend Guy and his step-daughter Annabelle with their dog is based on a theme from The Book of Judges.
The narrative concerns a vow made to God by Jephthah before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites - that if he won the battle he would sacrifice the first thing that greeted him on his return. He assumed this would be his dog but, in fact, the first welcome came from his daughter. Jephthah honours his vow after allowing her to wander in the desert with her friends, weeping that she will never marry and trying to come to terms with her terrible destiny - which she, noble soul, totally accepts out of love for her father.
The Biblical theme reflects a similar dilemma in the Greek myth on which Mozart based his 1781 opera Idomeneo. But here the god Neptune, who has rescued King Idomeneo, is prepared to forego the sacrifice of the first thing the King sees – his own son.
Greek mythology has supplied a happier ending. Ben Cnaan’s brooding painting seems at odds with the fierce Israeli desert sunlight, which implies a problem between the seated father, whose hand rests on the intended sacrifice, a panting boxer-type dog, and the child, standing stolidly behind him, her hand restinggently on his shoulder. Both are dressed in blue and there are sharp shadows of trees etiolated by the sun.
Perhaps the subtext to this painting is a more contemporary political one - to do with land, possession and the threat posed to Israel’s national integrity. But does it convey Jephthah’s Biblical message? Well, no. The ominous quality of this painting reflects Ben Cnaan’s early love for Rembrandt and Titian and the facial intensity and composition detail shared by both artists in Ben Cnaan’s portrait. But I could not feel the Biblical message.
In an interview with freelance journalist Richard McClure, the 35-year-old artist said: ‘For me Biblical themes are like the mythological and religious inspirations for the Old Masters. They contain the most extreme and complex situations and moral.’
Ben Cnaan hints at parallels between Jephthah’s dilemma and Guy’s struggle with his faith and the secular world, symbolised by his casually dressed daughter. This more abstract parallel gives the work an exciting definition.
I particularly liked the Second Prize-winning portrait, Eliza, by Leicester-based Michael Gaskell, who won £10,000 for his pellucid head-and-shoulders portrait of his niece. The acrylic painting has a touch of a Florentine Old Master but the idiom is contemporary as it conveys the mind of a young girl contemplating womanhood. Its particular charm is in its suggestion of all ages of womanhood.
The third prize of £8,000 went to 36-year-old Spanish artist Borja Buces Renard for My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening. His mother Paloma and brother Jaime are depicted in soft focus in their living room in this quiet and reflective family portrait, which invites you in to a delicate moment in their lives.
It’s something we see almost every day on our TV screens. Hundreds of people are packed into rickety boats as they throw themselves onto the mercy of the sea and the countries of Europe. It’s enough to wring the hardest heart. A similar story has been unfolding in South-East Asia but there, it would seem, some kind of solution has been found and Malaysia has agreed to accept its fellow Muslims.
Many people in Europe, including governments, object to granting these people sanctuary. Many of these unfortunates have paid considerable sums of money for the privilege of being tossed by the waves for days and many have perished in the process. Many of them are exploited by unscrupulous racketeers who take their money, abuse them physically and sexually, and send them on their way without food or water.
These people come from the countries of Africa, where conflicts, poverty, corruption and hopelessness are endemic. Others come from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Libya, where orderly government has collapsed, wars are being fought and no one is safe from danger.
They are refugees.
Anyone reading this journal knows what that word means, whether at first hand or at one or two removes. It is a word that has defined an entire generation of Jews who were forced to flee their homes in Europe. Though I was born in England, to this day I still proudly define myself as ‘the daughter of refugees’.
The Jews of Europe who tried to find shelter in the years following Hitler’s rise to power were subjected to rigorous restrictions. A sponsor or place of employment had to be found, a place of residence guaranteed or an affidavit provided, and to all this were added the exorbitant taxes that had to be paid in order to be allowed to leave Germany. The heartbreak arising from having to leave home and family was not confined solely to the children who were fortunate enough to obtain a place on one of the Kindertransports.
At that time, no one thought of getting into a crowded rubber dinghy and throwing themselves onto the mercy of some kind person out there. No one expected to be provided with food and accommodation after enduring a hazardous journey and being exposed to the elements. The nearest thing to that experience may have been that of the illegal immigrants to pre-State Israel but that didn’t save very many Jews from the fate the Nazis had prepared for them.
Mankind has always been on the move. Millions of years ago Neanderthals and Homo sapiens migrated from one part of the African and European continents to another in search of food and shelter. Migration is an integral part of human nature and as we all know there have been more than a few battles for territory and booty in the course of human history. But unless one tribe was being threatened with extinction by another, the people involved in this kind of movement could not be defined as refugees.
Israel has its own refugee problem. First there are the Palestinians who left Israel in the course of the War of Independence in 1948 and have been kept in that state of limbo ever since. Their children and grandchildren have the same refugee status and demands. They continue to live in poverty and privation in UN-sponsored refugee camps and are not enabled to obtain citizenship in the Arab countries where those camps are situated. The contrast with the Jewish refugees who left Europe and scattered all over the world in the 1930s and 1940s, rapidly becoming self-supporting, could not be greater.
In more recent years, Israel has been forced to contend with the problem of people coming from Sudan and Eritrea, seeking refuge and a way out of the conflicts and poverty that afflict their countries. Faced with a constant flow of these refugees, Israel felt obliged to build a fence to prevent their entry from Egypt and a special holding camp for those who nonetheless managed to enter. Some of them have found low-paid work but many of them constitute an almost insoluble problem.
Many Israelis come from families that were themselves once refugees and find it difficult to harden their heart to the problem of the refugees of today.