Extracts from the Dec 2010 Journal
Jerusalem and New York: Gefen, 2010 (firstname.lastname@example.org); hard cover (large format) 520 pp., $39.95
This is a kaleidoscopically presented and richly illustrated book, dedicated to the author’s 12 grandchildren. It is not merely an autobiography but also a history of a large Jewish middle class family in Bohemia (going back to the eighteenth century), an account of the Jewish community in Bamberg, and a scholarly and well researched commentary on the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the creation and development of the State of Israel. Furthermore, Loval gives historical descriptions of the countries in which he has lived at one time or another (Germany, England, Guatemala, the USA and Israel) and provides vignettes of a great many people who have crossed his path, both famous and unknown, as well as of members of his extended family. Because the book is not always written in chronological order, and because it is partly based on the diaries of four people close to him as well as on his own, it is not always easy to keep track of the narrative.
Loval was born in 1926 as Werner Löbl, the son of a well-to-do Jewish family. His own diaries began in his childhood and consisted largely of events and dates that helped him piece together that part of his life. His sister Erika (later Erica) kept detailed and well written diaries at various stages of her life, beginning in her German childhood and continuing when she (and her brother) were pupils at Bunce Court School, the German-Jewish progressive boarding school transplanted in 1933 by a farsighted headmistress from southern Germany to the North Downs of Kent. Another diary was that of his uncle Robert, describing life before, during and after trench warfare in the First World War; and his maternal cousin, Ludwig Regensteiger, provided details of Werner’s mother’s birthplace. Finally, there was the diary of Dr Morgenroth, the head of the Jewish community in Bamberg, who chronicled the events of the Nazi period. Thus eyewitness accounts are dovetailed with Loval’s own narrative, to which they impart a high degree of verisimilitude. Because so many members of his family survived, Loval was able to illustrate his text with numerous photographs and documents relating to his family’s history.
The author does not claim to have written a reference book or a source of data, but ‘a non-objective account of my life, my times, and events as I saw and experienced them’. Although he does not provide a bibliography the reader will nonetheless find much information about the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century. For example, this reviewer had been unaware of the fate of the old cattle barge Struma, which in December 1941 attempted to reach Palestine with 770 Romanian Jews on board, more than 100 of them children. The British authorities were once again callous in refusing the ship entry and no other country was willing to accept it. Its clapped-out engine having failed, a Turkish tug towed the barge to Istanbul, where it remained off-shore for two months whilst the authorities were engaged in futile negotiations and conditions on board deteriorated catastrophically. The Turks were eventually pressurised by the Germans to tow the barge into the Black Sea, where it was promptly torpedoed by a Russian submarine. There was only one survivor - a truly horrendous episode.
The third and very substantial part of the book deals with Loval’s move in 1953 from New York to Israel, having already worked in the Israeli embassy for several years. There he remained and soon married Pamela; they had four children. Loval worked for many years in a senior capacity for the foreign ministry, mainly in the Department of Public Relations, where he had the opportunity of mixing with ‘the good and the true’. (The list of wedding guests in the King David Hotel included a large number of VIPs, the Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Dayan, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and several ambassadors.) Loval, who provides a well written potted history of Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel, was fortunate to have been able to play a significant role in the development of his adopted country, until he became a major player in real estate, having formed the ‘Anglo-Saxon Housing Cooperative’, which later developed a major branch in Cyprus. As well as being a highly profitable business, it also had a political basis as its aim was to attract well-off families from Western countries, primarily the USA and the UK, to Israel and especially to Jerusalem.
Werner Loval therefore had a highly successful career in more than one sphere, and he contributed substantially to the economic and cultural development of Israel. This was later recognised in various ways, in particular when he was made an honorary citizen of Jerusalem in 2000.
This book will be of particular interest to those wishing to extend their knowledge of Judaism in Germany and the development of Israel. (Loval was a prominent exponent and founder member of the religious ‘Reform Movement’ in the country.) I have, however, a few minor caveats, such as the occasional gratuitous name-dropping. For example, the author had to look after the Duke and Duchess of Argyll when they were invited to Israel, but was it really necessary to burden the reader with the sordid details of their scandalous relationship? His description of Bunce Court School, an avant-garde German-Jewish boarding school and prime example of German ‘Reform Pädagogik’ as ‘an English High School with its own prep school’ is fanciful to say the least! But my more serious criticism is that although half of this substantial book deals with Israel, Loval fails to address the problem of the Palestinians and how successive Israeli governments have signally failed to resolve a burning issue that threatens to engulf the whole of the Middle East and even further afield.
Published by the author, 2009, paperback, 3 vols., 760 pp., ISBN 978-3-00-026168-8; for further information contact Dr Rita Scheller, Husarenstr. 26, 30163 Hannover, Germany
Gerhard Salinger, an elderly Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, has lived in the USA much of his life and has worked there as an accountant. I am in no position to judge his worth as an accountant but, when perusing his now numerous books on the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe – many of these communities long forgotten – I have formed the impression that he has missed his vocation. He is, without doubt, a devoted, meticulous and unquenchable historian who is utterly determined that the Jewish communities that he has so lovingly researched should not be forgotten. Not only has he devoted many years of his life to this task but he has also been largely self-financed. His studies have involved travelling with a driver thousands of miles by car through the areas under study, looking up ancient records, visiting synagogues and cemeteries (or what is left of them), and bringing to life the names of those who lived (and died) there, together with as much personal information as he could uncover. This intense preoccupation is a labour of love and he is to be greatly admired for his efforts, which will be of huge importance as a resource to scholars researching European-Jewish history. It will also enable individuals to trace their families and provide them with valuable information. Salinger dislikes modern technology and, extraordinary as it may seem, his data are collected, analysed and written up without the use of a computer.
This book, the publication of which was greatly facilitated by Dr Rita Scheller, a practising Christian who was born in Pomerania and who has made a significant contribution to reconciliation between Germans and Jews, appears in three parts and deals with former Jewish communities in what used to be West Prussia – an area south of Danzig (Gdansk) – which has a chequered history. West Prussia was not established until 1772, after the first partition of Poland, when Frederick II of Prussia took it over. Before then Jews had led very restricted lives and were required to live in rural areas. Frederick II changed all that: poor Jews were expelled and only those who possessed at least 1,000 Taler were allowed to stay, although they were required to live in the towns, despite some resistance by the local populations. Radical improvements for the Jewish populations came about only after Napoleon’s victory over the Prussians in 1807, when Frederick III had to flee: under Karl August Hardenberg’s chancellorship, some reforms were made and the proclamation of 1812 conferred citizenship on most Jews living in the area. However, equal rights were not achieved until 1871, when Bismarck established the German Reich. Following the First World War, most of West Prussia was incorporated into the new Poland (1920). In the introduction to Part I, Salinger provides a scholarly history of this turbulent area going back to the Middle Ages.
In his Foreword, Salinger explains that he had a personal motive in selecting West Prussia for study: evidently members of his maternal family had lived there until 1830. They later moved to Pomerania (Hinterpommern), which likewise became entirely Polish in 1945. Only the smaller part of Pomerania called Vorpommern remained German, and Salinger has already published similar studies of these two areas. He explains that after extensive correspondence with the Polish authorities in many towns and villages he visited all sites in which it was possible to trace a Jewish past. On his trip, which took place in 2005, he took numerous photographs which enliven his text, and he has included many detailed maps which provide the reader with essential points of reference.
So how has he set about his seemingly overwhelming task? Take the town of Preussisch Stargard (now Starogard Gdanskie) as an example (see Part I). What can the reader expect to find here? Apart from a brief potted history, Salinger notes that two Jews, Mendel Salomon and Alex Baruch, were permitted to settle there in 1774 because they possessed more than 1,000 Taler. By 1812 there were 112 Jewish households, and individual names - both original and adopted later - are listed. The population had grown to 597 by 1840, to 688 by 1849, and to its highest number (802, 13.7 per cent of the population) by 1870. There was a synagogue, a rabbi and a school. Salinger goes on to list all those Jews who paid taxes in 1883, stating their names, occupations and places of residence. There is also a list of tax-payers in 1911. The names of two men who lost their lives in action during the First World War are given, as are extracts from the Secret State Archives in Berlin concerning the election of Jewish officials and other matters. There is a list of deaths, giving names and age, going back to1848, and a long list of deaths from 1857 until the community ceased to exist. It is striking that many died at a relatively young age. There is no information on where and how they died, but it is nonetheless an extraordinarily detailed survey.
On his visit to the town, Salinger discovered that the synagogue is now used as a shopping centre and that the greatly neglected cemetery has a number of gravestones, many severely damaged but five still standing upright, with the names of Mendelsohn and Wohlgemuth recognisable. Photographs of the former synagogue and the cemetery are provided.
I don’t expect that many readers of the Journal will want to rush to purchase a copy of this book, of which only a limited number has been printed. Only someone with a very personal interest in West Prussia, or scholars of Jewish history, would want to do that. But I intend to present my copy to the Wiener Library in London, where it will be accessible to anyone wishing to look up his or her family and I hope that some will find that helpful.
Gerhard Salinger is to be congratulated on single-handedly providing us with such a scholarly resource. I am greatly indebted to Dr Rita Scheller for some factual corrections.