in the garden


Extracts from the Dec 2013 Journal

The Miliband controversy in historical perspective

Those familiar with the tactics of the British press will not be surprised at its attempts to use the background of the Miliband brothers against them once they gained high office - David Miliband as Foreign Secretary in the last Labour government, Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party in opposition.
When the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940, the Milibands’ grandfather, Samuel Miliband, a Polish-born Jew living in Brussels, fled with his 16-year-old son Adolphe on foot to Ostend, where they were fortunate enough to board a ship that brought them to Britain as Jewish refugees. Adolphe changed his name to Ralph, volunteered for the Royal Navy – as he was not a British citizen he could not be compelled to join up – and later became a well-known Marxist academic at the London School of Economics. He was the father of David and Ed. Samuel Miliband spent the war years in Britain and went back to Belgium in 1946. But the difficulties he encountered there caused him to apply to the British authorities to return to Britain in 1948; in the event, it took him several years and repeated applications before he was granted permission to return in 1953.
The Sunday Times was the first to try to use the Milibands’ refugee background against them. On 6 April 2008, it ran an article claiming that in 1949 ‘the family of David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was branded untrustworthy and misleading by Home Office and Foreign Office when it tried to migrate to Britain’. At the suggestion of AJR Chairman Andrew Kaufman, I wrote a letter to The Times, protesting that this was a travesty of the truth. The real issue in this case was not the dishonest or underhand methods allegedly employed by Samuel Miliband in seeking re-admission to Britain, but the systematic attempts of the Home Office to refuse entry to Jews from Europe, even after the Holocaust. The Home Office decided in 1945 to restrict the number of Jews admitted to post-war Britain to two specific categories: about 1,000 child survivors from concentration camps were admitted, as were a modest number of ‘distressed persons’, camp survivors, mostly children or elderly people, who had relatives already living in Britain. As a response to the sufferings of the large numbers of displaced Jews in post-war Europe, this was grossly inadequate.
By contrast, some 100,000 immigrants were recruited from late 1946 to come and work in Britain under the European Volunteer Worker schemes. While Jews were excluded, workers from the Baltic states were favoured, even though some of them had extremely dubious wartime records. Numerous Ukrainians (mostly from those areas of Ukraine which had formed part of Poland before 1939) who had served in Nazi-organised units were also permitted to settle here. Samuel Miliband had a very strong case for re-admission: he had family in Britain, and he had previously spent six years in Britain, more than the period of five years’ residence normally required to acquire British citizenship. It beggars belief that he should still have been manoeuvring to regain permanent residence in Britain as late as 1953, when most people from Western Europe would have been granted residence easily enough.
The recent article in the Daily Mail branding Ralph Miliband, nearly 20 years after his death, as ‘the man who hated Britain’ took this process of casting a refugee family as outsiders, somehow not properly British, a stage further. On the basis of a few lines taken from a diary written by the 16-year-old Ralph Miliband in autumn 1940, in which he expressed his extreme irritation at certain British attitudes and institutions, the Daily Mail sought to build up a picture of a refugee and Marxist bent on attacking and undermining ‘British’ values and institutions throughout his life – an aspiration that he had, by implication, passed on to ‘Red Ed’, his son. Not surprisingly, Ed Miliband reacted strongly against this attack on his late father.
Most of those who have taken the Milibands’ side in the ensuing dispute have, quite rightly, pointed to the foolishness of judging a man’s life’s work on the evidence of a few comments that he had written in an adolescent diary. But it is worth considering what Ralph Miliband found in wartime Britain to provoke his anger and scorn. He had arrived in Britain in May 1940, just as some 25,000 Jews from Germany and Austria were being arrested as potential security risks, despite the obvious absurdity of interning Jewish refugees as spies and agents for the Nazis. Several thousand of the male internees were deported overseas; one ship carrying deportees to Canada was sunk by an enemy submarine, as were two bringing deportees back to Britain from Australia, with the wholly unnecessary loss of many hundreds of completely innocent lives. Miliband would without doubt have known of this, and who can blame him for feeling angry? Were the imprisonment and deportation of defenceless and blameless Jewish refugees consistent with British values? What sort of British patriot is it who would condone the stupidity and inhumanity of the British government’s measures, spurred on by the xenophobic hysteria whipped up in summer 1940 by the right-wing press?
Ralph Miliband was also incensed by the policy of appeasement pursued by the Chamberlain government, which had supinely acquiesced in Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938 and had then sold out its ally, Czechoslovakia, under the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938. European critics of British policy suspected, with reason, that elements on the right in Britain were not only unwilling to stand up to Hitler, but that they were also unsympathetic to the democratic, progressive regimes in countries like France (the Popular Front government, led between 1936 and 1938 by the Jewish socialist Léon Blum) or Czechoslovakia, admiring instead the ‘strong men’ leading Fascist movements. Was it not the then proprietor of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, who in January 1934 expressed his support for Oswald Mosley in the paper’s notorious headline ‘Hoorah for the Blackshirts’? Was Ralph Miliband wrong to despise those who sought an accommodation with Germany by cosying up to Hitler? Which more truly reflected patriotic British values – the refugee who volunteered for the Royal Navy, or the fellow travellers of the right whose notion of Britishness was to flirt with the Jew- and Red-baiting enemies of democracy?

Charles Kapralik

Twenty years ago last month, on 1 November 1993, Dr Charles (Carl) Kapralik died. He made an outstanding contribution to the organisations representing the interests of the Jews from Central Europe. Kapralik was born in Sereth (Siret) in Bukovina in 1895. After serving in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War, he qualified as a lawyer in Vienna and worked in banking and insurance. After the German annexation of Austria in March 1938, he was asked to advise the representative body of Vienna’s Jews, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, on the financial and currency issues that, thanks to Nazi regulations, bedevilled the emigration of the Jews of Austria. Kapralik was about to emigrate, but he and his wife Camilla decided to stay on, thereby facilitating the life-saving emigration of large numbers of Jews. The Kapraliks only left for Britain in March 1939. During the war, he was interned for six months on the Isle of Man.
After the war, Kapralik worked for the Central British Fund (CBF) for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation, which was continuing its pre-1945 work as the Central British Fund for German Jewry, established in 1933 to raise funds to enable Jews to emigrate to Britain from Nazi Germany and to support them here. In 1958, on the retirement of Myer Stephany, Kapralik and Joan Stiebel became Joint Secretaries of the CBF (now World Jewish Relief). From 1950 to 1969, Kapralik acted as General Secretary of the Jewish Trust Corporation (JTC) for Germany, which was responsible for the complex task of recovering unclaimed, heirless and communal property, formerly Jewish, in the British Zone of Occupation in Germany. The funds thus raised were used for relief projects for the victims of Nazi persecution, in Britain principally for the construction and maintenance of homes for the elderly. The CBF set up an Allocations Committee, through which the money received from the JTC was channelled to the homes, which were jointly administered by the CBF and the AJR. Kapralik gave many years of devoted service to the Management Committee that oversaw the running of the homes.
Kapralik’s greatest achievements arguably resulted from his skilful and tenacious negotiations with the Austrian government, as an expert member of the International Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, based in New York. His work secured for many thousands of former Austrian citizens the social security and pension benefits that Austrian legislation had initially denied them. Kapralik was also Vice-Chairman of the London-based United Restitution Organisation and an active member of the AJR. Fittingly, he spent the final years of his life in Heinrich Stahl House, one of the homes whose establishment owed so much to him.

Art Notes (review)

In the National Gallery’s new exhibition Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (until 12 January 2014, sponsored by Credit Suisse), we see the old order is dying: classical portraiture, with all its bejewelled formality, is on the way out. The ‘New Vienna’ presents a middle class in the flux of change. Immigrants flood in from across the Empire, new industrial money invigorates art but, sadly, what begins with liberalisation ends in nationalism and prejudice aimed at the new Jewish immigrants.
Artists with a Jewish background lead the art of protest art, the first tentative steps of Expressionism soon to be stamped on by the oncoming Nazi regime. Up to this point fin-de-siècle artists were commissioned by wealthy patrons and the work of the artists in this collection includes iconoclasts Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, Isidore Kaufmann and Arnold Schönberg, the composer of 12-tone music.
But the new modernism was diverse, from Schiele’s heart-rending family portrait, the flesh leathery, the faces introspective, a baby which will never be born, perched like a ghost between his mother’s knees.
In his own self-portrait with raised bare shoulder, Schiele anticipates Francis Bacon - spiky black hair and flesh exposed like meat. In another style, Schiele’s portrait of Erich Lederer shows a young man with a small pale head above an assertive body dressed in lederhosen and with a large hand on his hips. The work of Schönberg, by contrast, is grim and contained, the flesh colours a dull cobalt, while Klimt in his earlier work retains classical detail. His 1894 painting Young Girl Seated describes the intricate folds of a blouse in muted colours and his famous Portrait of a Lady in Black still retains its classical provenance.
But the Klimt we recognise bursts into action around 1904 in Portrait of Hermine Gallia, she of the surreal diaphanous dress, and in 1917 in his flowing and languid Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk.
But in 1846 little was rocking the boat. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s Portrait of Schaumberg’s Wife, for instance, gives Viennese society what it is accustomed to. Here are all the detail and sobriety of the classical painting, with trimmings of lace and brocade.
The emphasis on death - Beethoven’s death mask, as well as Schiele’s Portrait of Ria Munk, even Anton Romako’s wistful painting of his nieces (his two daughters killed themselves in 1887 while he himself died two years later aged 57) - can be read prophetically with regard to the future for Viennese art, but the Pre-Raphaelites equally had a propensity for the morbid.
Gerstl’s final work, Nude Self-Portrait with Palette, with its scrambled background and tousled hair, was said to have been painted shortly before his suicide.
Broncia Koller’s study of a young girl with a birdcage typifies change in art. Carl Moll’s 1906 self-portrait in his study, still classical in tone, with slanted light across the tiled floor, heavy wood furniture and sculpture, shows the artist in the background behind pale curtains - almost an afterthought. This is a view of a changing world: exciting, important and nostalgic. [link]

‘The beginning of the end’

The following is an extract from a letter from Katerina Lowova (Katia Gould) written on 22 September 1938 in the north-eastern Moravian town of Frýdek-Mistek to her boyfriend (later, husband) in London. Katia Gould died this year – see her obituary in the September 2013 issue of the Journal. The letter was translated from the German by Irene Gould (Ed.).
Dear Ete
I received your last letter today and am compelled to answer you at length as I am astonished how naïve you are in London. You say that by cutting off the Sudeten German areas a trouble spot in Europe would be removed. However, I and any sensible person aware of conditions here knows this would be the beginning of the end. Chamberlain has simply let Hitler dictate the destruction of Czechoslovakia and thus the end of a democratic Central Europe. He was simply bamboozled by Hitler. I have told you repeatedly that a sharp separation between the German and Czech areas is impossible. There are wide areas with 50 per cent Germans, not all of whom are Nazis - what will happen to them?
The issue of the Sudeten Germans will remain a problem in Czechoslovakia even if the areas are separated. Further, we have spent millions on building fortresses and these will now be used by the Nazis against us. The newly created borders lack all natural basis since for hundreds of years the Riesengebirge, Erzgebirge and Adlergebirge Mountains and the Bohemian Forest have formed the natural borders. It is impossible to defend the new borders. The most important point, however, is that Hitler will never be satisfied with the granting of his demands – he will always want more. He doesn’t give a damn about the slum areas. What he wants is the coal mining area and the steelworks - hence precisely the area in which I am living. He has dictated to Chamberlain once already - he will obviously do the same again. He has sold and betrayed a ‘friendly’ state in a way unknown in history. I should spit at every Englishman for the way they have behaved. They know they have signed our death sentence. And it is ridiculous and paradoxical to offer guarantees to Czechoslovakia after all the existing guarantees have so shamefully been broken.
From a personal perspective, this is our situation. Our house is some 200 meters from the River Ostrawitza. The Poles are demanding the Teschen and Frýdek districts up to the Ostrawitza (I should say that there’s not a single Pole in the whole of Frýdek). Ostrawa is 20 km away from us and German territory only 20 kms further. You can see our dilemma!
You are probably hearing the news in London from the German news office. These ridiculous and unscrupulous lies and distortions have probably added a lot to the Western powers’ change of attitude. However, I fear Chamberlain will soon understand what he has done: he has handed over Europe to the Nazis; he has destroyed the only democracy in Central Europe; he will sweep us into a terrible war. It’s clear that Hitler will demand not only the German areas – any reasonably intelligent person can see that. I don’t know whether you know that both England and France are now hated by every good person but that the whole world is laughing at Chamberlain, who let Hitler dictate war in order to keep the peace.
I could give you 100 examples and proofs of English insanity but am not in a position to do so by letter. I can only tell you that we are at the mercy of what pleases Hitler. Chamberlain carries the guilt and responsibility. It’s also clear that, whatever happens, the Jews will be the whipping boys. It would be interesting to know what the English statesmen intend to do with the giant stream of refugees - maybe push them into the Danube if that’s what Hitler wishes. And Chamberlain calls it peace-making!
Hitler wanted more rights for the Sudeten Germans. When he got them, he wanted the Carlsbad ‘Points’. When the Czechs wanted to give him the Carlsbad ‘Points’, he wanted autonomy. When he had the offer of autonomy, he wanted separation. When he had the separation, he ….

Letter from Israel

Harmony in the Old City of Jerusalem hopefully not just another mirage
Although I wasn’t in Jerusalem for Jerusalem Day this year, having been called away to fulfil grandparental duties, it was very much in my thoughts. I still have a very clear memory of those six days in June, just 46 years ago, when I was only dimly able to perceive the historic events that were happening all around me. This was partly because my knowledge of Hebrew at the time was minimal and also because I was cut off from the wider world due to the bombardment of Jerusalem by enemy forces and the battle that was being waged for control of the city.
In the first few years of my stay in Jerusalem, between 1964 and 1967, the Old City was inaccessible to Israelis. I remember being taken to high points in West Jerusalem, such as the YMCA tower, to peer out towards the crowded buildings beyond no man’s land which seemed to hover in the still afternoon air like a mirage, so near and yet so unattainable.
During those six days of fighting in 1967 the information coming over the radio waves was intermittent and incomplete and what little Hebrew I knew caused me to confuse terms such as Sha’ar Shekhem (one of the gates around the Old City of Jerusalem) and Sharm El Sheikh (the southernmost point of the Sinai Peninsula). Later on my error was pointed out to me and geographical reality began to impinge on my consciousness.
Soon after the ‘liberation’ of the Old City, I walked along dusty paths to the Western Wall before the area in front of it had been paved and was mightily unimpressed by it despite its historic significance. Since then I have visited the Old City on various occasions, taken tourists to its colourful markets, attended the swearing-in ceremonies of my children’s and grandchildren’s military service, and even occasionally searched there for suitable gifts to take on trips abroad.
But to my shame, my knowledge of Christian Jerusalem was limited. The city, both in reality and as a concept, figures very prominently in that religion, which, when all is said and done, has a pretty extensive following worldwide. Whatever the reason for my ignorance, in recent years I began to feel that this was a lacuna in my education. Having grown up in a Christian country and attended a grammar school where from the outset we diligently read The Pilgrim’s Progress, Lamb’s essay A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig, and similar high-minded texts, and where the Christian ethos predominated, I wasn’t a complete stranger to the tenets of that religion.
Actually one can learn a lot about Christianity from listening to Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St Matthew Passion. But for more serious students, I recommend watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which really is based on thorough research!
When the Israel Museum offered its volunteers the chance to participate in a ‘mini-course’ on Christianity in Jerusalem, I seized the moment. It consisted of an introductory lecture and three extensive tours of churches and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. At last I have visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, first built by Constantine in the fourth century CE and since then embellished and rebuilt by various hands, leading to today’s tense status quo between various Christian sects. I have walked along the Via Dolorosa, learned about the Italian architect Berlucci, who designed many of Jerusalem’s churches in the nineteenth century, when the European powers vied for hegemony over holy sites in the city, and trudged up the steep hill on which stands the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, commemorating Peter’s denial of Christ three times before the cock crowed in fulfilment of Jesus’s prophecy.
Walking through the narrow streets of the Old City, one is constantly obliged to manoeuvre one’s way through groups of pilgrims who have come from all four corners of the Earth to pay homage at the sites which they regard as sacred. It is a sobering experience to hear the different languages, observe the different clothing and customs, and note their reverence for the city that was sacred to the Jews long before the Christian religion came into being. It is also exhilarating to observe the harmony which prevails between the various groups, as well as between the Jews, Arabs and Christians who rub elbows along those narrow streets. Hopefully, this is not just another mirage. [link]

Letters to the Editor

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