Extracts from the Aug 2016 Journal
On 19 May 2016, a conference was held at the University of London’s Senate House with the title ‘A Modernist in Exile: The International Reception of H. G. Adler’, convened by Professor Jeremy Adler (King’s College London), H. G. Adler’s son, and Professor Elinor Shaffer (School of Advanced Study, University of London). Adler, one of that special breed of Central European polymaths whose oeuvre extended from scholarly studies to poems and novels, was a close friend of the anthropologist and poet Franz Baermann Steiner (see the report on the stone-setting in his memory in our January 2015 issue) and a friend of Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981; both the latter were refugees from Nazism who settled in Britain before 1939. The three men are sometimes referred to as ‘das Dreigestirn’, which translates rather weakly as ‘the triumvirate’, though the German word literally means ‘three-stars’, conveying more aptly the stellar nature of their contributions to literature and scholarship.
The May conference was a historic landmark: the first conference to be dedicated in his adopted homeland to the full range of works by a major refugee intellectual. H. G. Adler - he stopped using his given names, Hans Günther, because that was the name of the SS officer in charge of the deportation of Jews from the Czech lands - was born in 1910 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, where he studied at Charles University. In February 1942 he was sent to Theresienstadt (Terezin) with his first wife, Gertrud; in October 1944, they were deported to Auschwitz, where Gertrud opted not to let her mother go to the gas chambers alone. Adler was sent to work in labour camps and was liberated at Langenstein, a satellite camp of Buchenwald, in April 1945. He returned to Prague but left for Britain in 1947 to escape the looming Communist takeover. He died in London in 1988. Adler was the product of an extraordinarily highly cultured environment; he took a doctorate in musicology, but was later to emerge as a scholar across a variety of disciplines, combining historical, ethnographical and sociological approaches in his studies of the concentration camps, as well as writing major modernist novels and poems that drew on his experiences.
Adler became known principally for his study Theresienstadt 1941-1945: Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft (Theresienstadt 1941-1945: The Face of an Enforced Community) (1955), still the most detailed account of any single concentration camp ever written. His study of the deportation of the Jews from Germany, Der verwaltete Mensch – Studien zur Deportation der Juden aus Deutschland (The Administered Human Being – Studies on the Deportation of the Jews from Germany), was published in 1974. Neither book has been translated into English, though they are acknowledged as foundational works of Holocaust scholarship and though their author spent 40 years of his life in Britain. The conference held in May aimed to restore the balance between these historical/anthropological studies and Adler’s innovative and experimental novels and poems.
Thanks to the devoted efforts of Peter Filkins, the American translator of Adler’s prose works, the novels are at last becoming known in the Anglophone world. A Journey, Filkins’s translation of Eine Reise (originally published in 1962), appeared in 2008, that of Panorama (written in 1948, but not published until 1968) in 2011, and that of Die unsichtbare Wand (1989) (The Wall) in 2014. These are ambitious attempts to convey the experience of the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the concentration camps by means of the techniques of the modern novel; the unconventional innovations and disjunctions that characterise them are profoundly unsettling to the reader. Panorama employs a stream-of-consciousness style to encompass the stages in the life of Josef Kramer, a boy in Prague, a victim of the camps and finally a refugee in Britain, seen in a series of scenes resembling the views in the ‘wonder cabinets’ (the ‘panorama’ of the title) that toured country towns in the 1930s.
Eine Reise, described in the New Yorker as a modernist masterpiece worthy of comparison with Kafka or Robert Musil, chronicles the surreal and incomprehensible nightmare of deprivation, deportation and death that overwhelms and destroys the Lustig family, leaving only the son Paul as a survivor; the novel has been called a work of ‘Holocaust modernism’, and it stands as a living refutation of Theodor Adorno’s oft-cited adage that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. Through the figure of Arthur Landau, the main voice and central consciousness of Die unsichtbare Wand, Adler depicts, often with elements of fantasy and the grotesque, a trajectory similar to his own, in which Landau lives out in London what the novelist Cynthia Ozick describes in her review of the book in the New York Times as ‘the forlorn displacements of a melancholic exile’.
Of these three modernists in British exile, only Elias Canetti, born in Bulgaria in 1905, who had already made his name in interwar Austria with his novel Die Blendung, written in Vienna and published there in 1935, received the recognition that his achievements merited. Die Blendung was translated into English in 1946 under the title Auto-da-Fé, by the distinguished historian Dame Veronica (C. V.) Wedgwood. Canetti moved away from works of literature to pursue his interest in the phenomenon of the crowd that inspired his study Masse und Macht (Crowds and Power) (1960), though in his later years he published his celebrated autobiographical trilogy Die gerettete Zunge (The Tongue Set Free) (1977), Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in My Ear) (1980) and Das Augenspiel (The Play of the Eyes) (1990). Franz Baermann Steiner died in 1952, aged only 43; only later did his study Taboo, published posthumously in 1956, become a standard work on its subject. Steiner is known in Britain mostly to academic specialists, while Canetti, despite his Nobel Prize, has never achieved widespread recognition in this country.
It is therefore all the more pleasing to be able to welcome a novel that introduces the reader to the refugee milieu in which these three formidably erudite and creative men lived. Jeremy Adler’s novel, The Magus of Portobello Road (London: Alphabox Press, 2015, price £12.95), is an ambitious attempt to rework the Faust legend, familiar from Goethe’s drama, against the background of the London of the post-war decades that played host to a struggling and marginalised group of refugees from Hitler. The figure of Faust, the vastly knowledgeable scholar who, dissatisfied with his life, enters into a pact with the devil, has natural associations with the scholarly refugee intellectuals at the heart of the novel, in which magus-like figures are transported from their Central European intellectual habitats to North Kensington and Hampstead.
It is with pleasurable pangs of recognition that one reads the novel’s vivid re-creation of post-war London, in particular the drab, genteelly impoverished neighbourhood where North Kensington shades over into Wormwood Scrubs. This is where Gabriel Prince, a somewhat otherworldly intellectual who has survived the camps, has settled with his wife Beatrice and his young son Johnnie, from whose perspective as a child and teenager in the 1950s and 1960s much of the novel is observed. It is not difficult to recognise some features of H. G. Adler in Gabriel; the real counterpart to Jeremy Adler’s fictional Trafalgar Gardens is Dalgarno Gardens, W10, from where his father wrote to AJR Information in October 1956 requesting readers to send him material for a revised edition of his Theresienstadt study. A good part of the novel’s action takes place in North Kensington’s landmarks, from Portobello Market to Henekey’s pub on Portobello Road; pubs, including the King of Bohemia on Hampstead High Street, play a considerable part in the depiction of London as it swings into the Sixties. The figure of the Hampstead-dwelling writer Zachariah Stubbs (Starobinski) is loosely based on Canetti and the figure of Johnnie Prince’s ‘Uncle’ Frank on Steiner.
But the novel is far more than a realistic roman à clef. It is strikingly experimental, not least in the self-referential scenes that present the writing of a novel. Indeed, it is punctuated from the very start by characters protesting against other characters’ attempts to write novels. Johnnie’s interest in Faust is kindled by Uncle Frank’s reading from a life of the Renaissance occultist Johannes Trithemius, and he then goes on to work on a joint project with Zachariah, which fails in a characteristically bizarre manner to see the light of day. Fantasy and elements of the grotesque are woven into the texture of the novel, as in the futuristic machines and robots (named after the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) invented, the reader is invited to believe, by ‘Uncle’ Anton. When at the novel’s end the devil comes to claim his man, it is the acne-ridden, child-molesting publisher Jason Seymour-Hackles, who had rejected Gabriel’s manuscript, who is incinerated by a bolt of lightning in Chepstow Villas; after which the assembled literati and intellectuals ‘repaired to Henekeys for a drink’. A rollicking good read, which wears its learning and literary sophistication lightly. [link]
My paternal grandfather, Georg Falck, was a distinguished German-Jewish architect with a flourishing practice in Cologne. Seeing the writing on the wall early on, he emigrated with his non-Jewish wife and three children to Amsterdam within a year of Hitler’s accession to power, safe at least until the occupation caught up with them, when he was effectively confined to the house for five years. He was never able to work again. My father, Rudolf Julius, was sent to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1937 at the age of 17 and, after graduating in law in 1940, joined the Pioneer Corps. Later he enrolled in the Parachute Regiment and was killed at Arnhem, five years after seeing his family for the last time and three months before I was born in London to my English mother, Pauline. My pre-history, then, was such that I was predisposed to be fascinated by the great tragic upheaval which was Europe in the 1930s-40s.
My father’s background was doubtless what led me to read German for my undergraduate degree and later to undertake a research degree in 20th-century German literature, concentrating on the fascist mentality as portrayed by certain modern novelists. By this time I was married with two small boys and enjoying a break from my then career as a social worker, mainly with children. While I was conducting research for my thesis, the various strands in my background converged when I came across a reference to the remarkable Janusz Korczak, Polish-Jewish paediatrician, social worker, author and broadcaster, who ran an orphanage for some 200 children and was forced to take his charges into the Warsaw Ghetto when the Nazis sealed it off in 1940. He struggled desperately to give them some quality of life as well as to save them from starvation. When he and the children were eventually taken to the train destined for Treblinka he was asked if he wanted to save himself. ‘Desertion’, he is reputed to have replied, ‘is not in my vocabulary.’ As someone who had always wanted to write fiction - an ambition inherited from my mother this time - the words ignited a spark that led to my first novel, Shadow of the Wall, published initially in 1989. It seemed only right that the story should be directed at young people, Korczak’s absolute raison d’être, though I never consciously set out to write a children’s book. In my four published books it has always been the story rather than the potential readership which has motivated me.
I did a great deal of research and in those pre-internet days I was lucky enough to live in Oxford with easy access to a wealth of material such as journals and memoirs as well as histories. I was aware it was possible that survivors might read the book and I wanted to be true to the actual events and to the suffering and heroism - an overworked word perhaps but not when applied to Korczak and his co-workers - of those who perished. But I couldn’t let my main character die: this was, after all, a children’s book and the death of 199 other souls was quite enough for young readers. Hope had to flicker. So 14-year-old Misha, after facing numerous challenges while living with Korczak in the orphanage, manages to escape through the sewers, which was entirely feasible as it was the route taken by a number of survivors. I didn’t rescue him in order to write a sequel as at that point I had no intention of doing so but the book was successful - being published in America, where it won an award, and being translated into several languages - so my publisher asked me to continue Misha’s story.
That is how Misha came to be a partisan in the Polish forest, a courier for the resistance in Warsaw up to the time of the Warsaw (as opposed to the Ghetto) Uprising, and a prisoner of war in Germany. Finally, having lost everyone dear to him and knowing no one here, he became a refugee trying to make a new life for himself in England under the Polish Resettlement Programme (perhaps treating the entry criteria with a little fictional licence!). This sequel, Beyond the Wall (in the first edition entitled But Can the Phoenix Sing?,1993) is told partly from the viewpoint of Misha’s stepson as I wanted to highlight the gulf in understanding between members of a new generation and those of the previous one which has known appalling suffering. The contemporary plight of refugees, desperate to reach a safe haven and make new lives for themselves, unfortunately means that Misha’s story is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. [link]
Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild was born in Bradford, UK, was ordained by Leo Baeck College, and has lived in Berlin since 1998 serving mainly communities around Germany and Austria.
By the time this is published the initial excitement will have settled down – I hope. The country, having split almost evenly on this issue of national identity and international commitments, will be trying to work out what comes next and how to make the best of it. That has always been the challenge. It is usually the Jews who - based on experience - have to take these matters most seriously of all. We live in interesting times. But at least we live.
History is always interesting, the past is full of surprises, and the future is hard to predict. I write this sitting in Jerusalem on the day the EU referendum results have been published. With no desire to stimulate more angry readers’ letters than necessary (and as one who has been an expatriate for so long, I was not myself even able to vote), let me just say that from outside Britain it looks like an historic error has been made – but the future may tell.
Jerusalem is a city of so many nationalities living and dead it is almost impossible to count. Yesterday I was at Tzemach, at the southern end of Lake Tiberias. Here there is a plaque at the restored railway station to the Australian soldiers who fell in September 1918 in a battle against Ottoman Turkish forces. Ironically, it seems that most of the 100 or so soldiers who were killed and those others taken prisoner were actually not Turks but Germans, fighting for the defence of Ottoman Turkish interests. Nowadays, Turkey’s leader, so keen to dwell selectively on the past, is becoming aggressive towards Germany for not opening up to Turkey and her citizens. It seems that it was a fear of Turkey entering the EU which may have influenced many Britons against it, whereas anyone reading newspapers published outside Britain would have known that the chance of this happening is actually small and dwindling! There is also no gratitude for the sacrifices Germans made ‘back then’.
Yesterday I also visited Afule, where a plaque on the restored old station states that in November 1942 69 Palestinian Jews were welcomed here after their return by train from Nazi-occupied lands, having been exchanged for German Templars, who were considered dangerous potential collaborators!
I have just been reading a book concerning the increasingly desperate efforts of citizens of Germany and Czechoslovakia to get papers – any papers: a visa, a passport, a guarantee, a job offer, a work permit, anything – to enable them to get out and continue their lives in a less threatening environment. This morning I and other members of my family were seriously considering whether the time might have come to apply for German citizenship, based on the irony that my late father had been born a German before he was ‘ausgebürgert’ as a refugee in 1939 and later naturalised in Britain as an immigrant.
The mood in the world is changing and neither refugees nor immigrants are as tolerated as they once were - which is not saying much anyway - and no one can tell what sort of lives our children or grandchildren may have and what papers may be the best for them to possess. This journal is read mainly by those who were fortunate enough to become British (or by their descendants, who were therefore born British) and who became loyal British citizens, adopting a new nationality as a means of surviving. But there is no divine law that states that matters cannot change, that the enemy of one generation may be the friend of the next - and vice versa. There is a continuum between Gratitude, Loyalty, Patriotism, Nationalism - and Xenophobia.
The future is still very unclear but already strains are visible, that could theoretically lead to the political breakup of the United Kingdom. What would happen then to the Jewish communities in Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast? Would the ‘Board of Deputies of British Jews’ continue in its current form? I recall that when Yugoslavia broke up, the Jewish community became in effect the ‘last Yugoslavs‘ – everyone else had split into mutually antagonistic Serbs, Croatians, Slovenians, Bosnians, but the Jewish Federation still organised youth camps for children from all the communities of what had once been a united country, still retained links with their fellow Jews in what had suddenly become separate, even enemy states. For a period the only link between Sarajevo and the outside world was provided by radio between the Jewish communities in Sarajevo and Zagreb – I was once shown the room in Zagreb where in desperate times this communication was maintained.
Of course, we would not expect the same degree of brutal enmity in a less-than-Great Britain - I trust! It is, after all, a while now since the Battle of Culloden or the Highland Clearances - but the whole renewed political isolation outside the Union would mean the creation of new barriers where previously barriers had been removed and could lead to increased complications. For Jews, a people who have been mobile either voluntarily or involuntarily since the time of the Exodus, who have been in Exile or in Diaspora for millennia, who have settled or stayed in countries that were Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim or Atheist, the existence of barriers and borders has often been a major problem, and the removal of such barriers was always a blessing. As a youth I wandered across Europe visiting Jewish communities, taking part in Europe-wide Jewish student or youth activities, and was always aware of the essential futility and stupidity of extreme nationalisms. (After all, I had two grandfathers who had both fought in the First World War – but on different sides!) I grew up a proud Yorkshireman, a Bradfordian, a graduate of the British university system, and I carried my British passport with me wherever I went – and still do – in the certainty that Her Majesty's Government would fulfil its promise to take care of me in times of need. But ...
By the time this article is published the initial excitement will have settled down - I hope. The country, having split almost evenly on this issue of national identity and international commitments, will be trying to work out what comes next and how to make the best of it. That has always been the challenge. It is usually the Jews who – based on experience – have to take these matters most seriously of all. We live in interesting times. But at least we live. [link]
Martin Uli Mauthner
Martin Mauthner is the author of two books: German Writers in French Exile 1933-1940 (2007) and Otto Abetz and His Paris Acolytes - French Writers who Flirted with Fascism (2016).
The Polish food stores that have sprung up in Britain remind me of the delicatessen shops of my childhood. When I see the delikatesy here with their counters full of kielbasa I recall the large variety of meat sausage we used to call polony in South Africa. At those generally small, overstocked grocer shops the standard loaf was made of sourdough rye with caraway seeds. Sometimes pickled cucumber and rollmops came out of large wooden barrels. You might well hear Yiddish for the stores had been set up to serve the large East European community that preceded those immigrants who in the 1930s came to bustling, cosmopolitan but charmless Johannesburg from Germany and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. [more...]
It’s that time of the year again when the Royal Academy (RL) presents its much anticipated Summer Exhibition and, as ever, finds innovative ways to present the nation’s art.
This time, the theme is ‘Artistic Duos’, in which curator Richard Wilson has introduced more than 20 such couplings to showcase their divergent styles. They could be siblings, lovers or friends but, of course, the most obvious couple are Gilbert & George, whose massive new wall painting, Beard Aware, comments on hirsute ways to disguise. The Chapman Brothers are other noted participants in this new concept. You could say it was just another device to catch your eye but the most effective device may be smaller in concept and perhaps more poignant in imagery. The Small Weston Room, used to exhibit exquisite miniatures in the past, this year contains images by Bernd and Hilla Becher to reflect on disintegrating industrial architecture such as gas tanks and cooling towers, dinosaurs of the 21st Century.
Political or geographical events like the Japan earthquake of 2011 are noted by Japanese artist Aono Fumiaki in a moving tribute to that seismic event. He has created sculptures out of broken objects he has salvaged from those who suffered or died, in a gesture to memory, reconciliation, healing, survival and rebirth.
But one of the most powerful exhibits stands alone in the RA courtyard. Spyre, by architect/sculptor Ron Arad RA, is a 16-metre-high corten steel oval rust-coloured cone involving complex technologies and enabling the huge installation to rotate at different speeds into acrobatic variations. And, if that’s not enough, it contains a camera at its peak, relaying footage to a screen on the RA’s building. It’s impossible not to be aware of the threatening, military implications of Arad’s rather deadly looking installation.
Inside, the softer mystique of the oriental magic carpet is imaginatively supplied by Turkish artist and film-maker Kutlug Ataman. He has made a multi–image video installation to honour the late Turkish businessman and philanthropist Sakip Sabanci. It makes clever use of a multitude of tiny mobile screens, each a portrait of the thousands of individuals associated with him. Why magic carpet? Well, it is suspended across the ceiling of Gallery 1 and vividly suggests that mythological object in shape, harmony and colour.
Everyone will find something else to dazzle them in the Summer Exhibition. Look out for Kenneth Draper’s Reflections on a Quiet Place and David Nash’s award-winning Big Black. Using wood that has been felled or fallen naturally, his entry is a tall California redwood, which he has charred to form deep black, velvety surfaces. Anthony Eyton RA, a true painter’s painter, offers a truncated view in his Mantelpiece, with its bric-a-brac. No cleverness here, just delicate and intelligent brushwork.
Lulu Manasseh, a former Royal Society of Arts’ Young Designer of the Year who uses ancient scripts to give a fluid and slightly oriental feel to her work, is showing two exhibits. She used her winning bursary to study the art of India, Asia and South America, which has clearly motivated her direction. [link]
An evening to mark the 70th anniversary of the death in Jerusalem of the German-born Existentialist poet Else Lasker-Schüler was held at the Music Conservatory in Tel Aviv in June. The event took place under the joint auspices of the Leo Baeck Institute and the Association of Former Residents of Central Europe (now mainly composed of descendants of those former residents), and consisted of readings from Lasker- Schüler poetry and letters (in German and in Hebrew translation) and slides showing some of her pictures, as well as music performed by members of the Else Ensemble.
‘My Blue Piano’, the title of one of Lasker- Schüler poems, was also the title of a BBC radio play by the Scottish playwright Marty Ross which was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2007. The play combined the facts of her last days with the fantasies of her inner life. The last ten years of Else’s life were spent in Mandatory Jerusalem, where she was penniless and endured great physical hardship, being unable to work and living on the charity of a few friends. As she grew older the bohemian lifestyle of her youth was transmuted into an eccentric way of life and dress that didn’t find acceptance or understanding among the wider population of the city. Her objective situation, as well as the death of her son in 1927 at the age of 28, may have served to upset her mental balance, or even to generate depression verging on insanity, though no medical diagnosis of her condition was made.
The musicians at the evening performance in Tel Aviv, all young people from Germany and Israel, met several years ago as students at the Jerusalem Music Academy and today are members of various European orchestras. They played music by Hindemith, Mendelssohn, Bach and others with sensitivity and understanding, and one of their number informed the audience that they had decided to take Else Lasker- Schüler name for their ensemble in order to strengthen the ties between Israel and Germany as well as to emphasise the role of creative women, and women composers in particular.
After some introductory remarks by Reuven Merhav, the Chairman of the Association of Former Residents of Central Europe, Professor Itta Shedletzky, a world-renowned expert on the work of Else Lasker- Schüler, gave an analysis of one of Else’s poems, using her own Hebrew translation to illustrate the originality and significance of the text, as well as Else’s ability to create neologisms. Else was one of the few women exponents of the Expressionist school and as such occupies a unique place in the development and history of German art and literature. She was able to escape persecution by the Nazis for both her race and her art but was unable to find a haven of tranquility in pre-State Jerusalem, where insularity and provinciality prevailed in daily life as in the arts. Today her work is recognised internationally and monuments have been erected to her in Germany and Israel.
Else Lasker- Schüler oeuvre demonstrates her fascination with the Orient, and the few pictures painted or sketched by her that were projected onto a screen above the musicians show her undoubted talent and originality, as do many of her poems. Her drawing of a camel with an Arab rider, under which she has scrawled ‘Yusuf riding through the desert’, is a marvel of physical representation combined with deep insight into the rider’s emotions – and all this with consummate economy of line and form. Other slides showed her drawings of scenes in an Arab coffee house and individual characters whom she encountered (let’s not forget that under the British Mandate there was no separation between east and west Jerusalem).
Else also drew extensively on the Bible for her imagery: Biblical characters are portrayed as flesh-and-blood contemporaries in many of her poems, as well as symbolising more general currents and events. She also seems to have imagined that she could converse with them and her ‘dialogue’ with King David assumed a prominent role in her work and life. Evidently, the events in Europe leading up to and during the Second World War and the Holocaust affected her deeply: in one of her poems she asks ‘God, where art thou?’ And that is certainly a sentiment which many of us can share. [link]