Extracts from the Feb 2015 Journal

Memorable memoirs (II)

Unlike Elisabeth Castonier, the subject of my article in December 2014, who was an established writer by the time she came to Britain, Ingrid Jacoby (née Pollak) was only 12 when she came to Britain in 1939 on a Kindertransport from Vienna, together with her older sister Lieselotte (‘Putz’); they were taken in by a family in Falmouth, Cornwall. Though her father escaped to Britain, her mother remained in Vienna and fell victim to the Nazi genocide. After this rupture in her young life, the quest for a relationship of loving, supportive security became a dominant theme in Jacoby’s depiction of her inner world.
Since her childhood, Ingrid Jacoby has been a passionate diarist; I found My Darling Diary, the three published volumes of her diaries, a delightful and utterly absorbing read. The first volume, subtitled A Wartime Journal, begins shortly before her forced emigration from Vienna and continues through her time in Falmouth, from June 1939 until her departure for Oxford (to a secretarial college, not the university) in autumn 1944. The two subsequent volumes, both subtitled The Girl in and out of Love, cover a decade of her life in Oxford, ending in 1955 on the eve of her marriage. These diaries are, in my view, among the finest to have come out of the experience of those Jewish refugees who fled from Hitler to Britain as children or teenagers; Jacoby’s account of her life as a child refugee, as an adolescent schoolgirl in wartime Cornwall, and as a young woman in work and – repeatedly and passionately – in love in post-war Oxford has the power to move its readers deeply, not least because of the author’s high gifts as a writer.
The young Ingrid Jacoby rapidly developed a remarkable maturity in her writing. Within a few months of her arrival in Britain, she was writing fluently and idiomatically in English, while recording with great insight the emotional state of a young refugee in unfamiliar surroundings and exploring the mood switches and nuances of feeling affecting a girl growing into adolescence. Most notable, perhaps, is the sophisticated way in which she uses the literary form of the diary: she addresses her diary directly, giving it the appearance of a personality of its own, as a partner in an internal dialogue she is conducting with herself. This allows her to reveal her innermost feelings as if to a trusted confidant and also to create a reflective distance between herself and her feelings as she discloses them to ‘my darling diary to whom I’ll tell everything’. She often teases her diary (and her readers) by delaying or withholding information and appearing to seek its approval for her thoughts or actions, and tests her reactions to the people she meets and the events she experiences by running them past the constant, if mute, companion of her daily life.
Jacoby was at first unhappy and homesick in Britain but her antipathy to the country rapidly dissolved when she moved from her unsympathetic first family to St Joseph’s, the home of Miss Davis, who took in children. She was rapidly integrated into the community of this small but happy institution, where she forged lasting friendships, particularly with Connie, Miss Davis’s niece. Jacoby was happy in Falmouth, remote though it was, enjoying walks on its beaches and excursions to beauty spots on the Cornish coast. She found ready acceptance at the girls’ High School in Falmouth, where she studied successfully for her School Certificate. Her assimilation into English life was largely accomplished through her school, where, despite her foreign accent and evident otherness, she participated to the full in the friendships and feuds, the short-lived crushes and fevered passions particular to those institutions. Jacoby became known as ‘Inky’ to her friends, a nickname that mutated into ‘Inky Polly’, ‘Inky Dinky Doo’ or just plain ‘Nanks’. Her picture of school life in its many and varied facets is amusing and touching; it lives on in the memory as an intense little world of its own.
Jacoby’s life was subject to the restrictions of wartime, aggravated in her case by her status as an ‘enemy alien’. That status did much to intensify the sense of being an outsider that marked the first period of her life in Britain and contributed to the feelings of inferiority and isolation that she confided to her diary. These, however, tended to decrease noticeably when the current object of her affections took an interest in her. In many ways, Jacoby’s diaries reveal her to be not unlike many other middle-class schoolgirls in wartime Britain, thrilling to films like Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, singing popular numbers like the novelty song Mairzy Doats, and eagerly joining in the games and festivities at Christmas and New Year.
Falmouth, then still an important port, was the target of air raids, which killed one of Jacoby’s classmates and repeatedly disrupted her studies; in the months before D-Day, it also played host to numerous American soldiers, whom Jacoby regarded, like many other middle-class English people, as brash and somewhat uncouth ‘Yanks’. Though the experience of wartime did much to cement Jacoby’s admiration for the British and her determination to stay in Britain as a fully integrated member of British society, the fate of her mother, who was deported to Minsk, hung over her life as a permanent reminder of her lost Viennese past.
A new chapter in Jacoby’s life began when she moved to Oxford, initially to take a secretarial course, though she was soon drawn to a career in the world of books. Her first job was a lowly appointment at Oxford City Library, where she encountered a young woman who wrote poetry: Elizabeth Jennings. After a brief spell working at a correspondence college, Jacoby took a position at one of Oxford’s most prestigious bookshops, Parker’s, in the Foreign Department, which appears to have been almost exclusively staffed by German-speaking refugees. Her rapid ascent in Oxford’s cultural world reached its peak when she was taken on by the renowned firm of antiquarian booksellers A. Rosenthal & Co., then located in Turl Street. The firm had numerous celebrated clients: once she found herself being introduced to the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and, on asking another client for his name, was told ‘Leopold Stokowski’ (the conductor).
Jacoby lived in a series of flats across north Oxford, from which one can trace the existence of a lively community of Jewish refugees there. She lived for a time in Lonsdale Road, renting a room from Mrs Labowsky, mother of the distinguished medievalist Lotte Labowsky, who held a position at Somerville College; not to be outdone, her sister Lieselotte rented a room from the eminent biochemist and pharmacologist Hugh (Hermann) Blaschko in Park Town. Among Mrs Labowsky’s friends were Mrs Guttmann, wife of the spinal injuries specialist Ludwig Guttmann, Mrs Cosman, mother of the artist Milein Cosman, and Mrs von Hofmannsthal; not many 25-year-olds have the opportunity of discussing Der Rosenkavalier with the librettist’s widow. Through the network of refugee enterprises, Jacoby also found a typing agency, through which she could augment her salary. Once she was told to give priority to the work of an important client; this turned out to be the philosopher Karl Popper. The agency even sent her to work at All Souls College as a temporary secretary for Isaiah Berlin, then the most eminent Jewish academic in Oxford.
Jacoby’s diaries also record her love life, from youthful romances with Oxford undergraduates to serious relationships with more mature men, among them Jewish refugee academics. The highs and lows of these love affairs come across with power and immediacy, as the diary entries chart the ebb and flow of her feelings with great sensitivity - as well as an unusual degree of honesty in the description of sexual experiences. At a party at the university’s Department of Human Anatomy, where her sister worked, Jacoby met her husband, Stan (Stanislaw) Tkaczyk, a non-Jewish Pole who, rather to her relief, changed his surname to Joseph. And it is as Inga Joseph that Jacoby is now known, having moved to Sheffield, studied modern languages at Sheffield University, and become a teacher, as well as a wife and mother.
Yet the diaries also reveal much about the darker side of life as a foreigner (naturalised, admittedly) in post-war Britain: the isolation of the young refugee in a predominantly British world that often looked askance at any outsider from a foreign country with an ‘alien’ culture and identity. Jacoby oscillated between her natural tendency to assimilate into British life – she entered into Oxford’s cultural and social life with some gusto – and the Viennese identity that formed part of the foundations of her being. Coming from a family that was already heavily assimilated before 1938, Jacoby’s feelings towards Jews and Jewishness were, as her diaries show, deeply ambiguous. Only by the end of the diaries, within the security of her impending marriage, did the author appear to find the stability for which she had yearned.
Anthony Grenville [link]

ART NOTES

Of all the royal dynasties subjected to academic and literary-historical assault, the Tudors must be in the front line. The merciless Henry VIII and his mainly hapless six wives have exercised the public imagination, most recently through Hilary Mantel’s award-winning books and plays. Henry’s history is horrendous but this was also the king whose divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn ushered in the Reformation.
What did they look like, these titans of the Tudor world? Well, you might be surprised to know that the Tudors were painted long after their deaths. Many of their most familiar portraits were created by unknown artists. Now the National Portrait Gallery is showing The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered (until 1 March 2015, admission free), claiming hidden secrets in their survival. A portrait of Elizabeth I, for instance, was airbrushed by an 18th-century artist and a beetle is revealed trapped in varnish in a 16th-century portrait of the young King Edward VI, after Hans Holbein the Younger: X- rays prove 18th-century modernisers painted out the large, stiffened wings which formed an impregnable halo around Elizabeth’s head to make her image more accessible. The need for this makeover, according to Dr Tarnya Cooper, the Gallery’s chief curator, was that portraits of Elizabeth 1 were valued later for her role as the proponent of Protestantism. These works share a microscopic attention to detail of dress and texture.
There are six portraits of Henry VIII, legs astride in white stockings, arms akimbo. The lavishness of Tudor costume speaks to ultimate power, compared to the more contemplative, ascetic portrayal of Henry VI, founder of the Tudor dynasty, by an unknown early 16th-century Flemish artist.
In a 16th-century painting after Hans Holbein the Younger, we see Edward VI, young son of Henry VIII, in an elaborate hat, his childish features gazing out into a world he will not live to change. In a later painting by an unknown English artist, the young king’s clothes slightly mimic the style of his father - the fur-lined doublet, the white stockings, his feet standing square.
But then comes Queen Mary I, with her unstinting religiosity, modestly dressed with a crucifix high on her collar. There are five portraits of Mary, daughter of Henry and the displaced Catherine of Aragon, and she wears on her face both the insult of their divorce and the sublime cruelty of her father’s reptilian ambition. Here is the stern-faced ‘Bloody Mary’, who briefly and brutally restored Catholicism to Britain when she took the throne on the death of her half-brother Edward.
Several portraits of Elizabeth I include one by the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard showing her in high ruff and sleeves like the Tower of London. Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger presents her in ethereal white, recalling the sense of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. It is fascinating to discover filial likenesses in these paintings. To see Anne Boleyn in Elizabeth’s face you have to go elsewhere to study Anne’s features and search for a likeness. You may just notice it.
Gloria Tessler [link]

LETTER FROM ISRAEL Elections again!

And so once again, only two years after the previous election, Israel’s long-suffering population has been thrown into the maelstrom of another election campaign - though perhaps maelstrom is too strong a term to describe the boredom and drudgery of being exposed to another round of groupings and regroupings among the various parties and personages concerned.
The constant rearrangement of alliances and allegiances within and between Israel’s political parties – with new ones emerging, old ones disappearing and existing ones undergoing a sea-change, so that individuals formerly associated with one of the opposing parties are accepted into a new fold with open arms – is disturbing if not downright confusing.
It reminds me of nothing so much as the way in which amoeba once emerged from the primeval slime, grew excrescences and limbs, incorporated foreign bodies, and eventually became more complex life forms.
Israel is still under the influence of the longest-running show in town, the trial for corruption of the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his right-hand-woman Shula Zaken. The latter is currently serving a much-abbreviated prison sentence in return for her help in incriminating her former employer. Olmert has so far managed to use the judicial system to the best advantage and has not yet spent a single day in jail. Nothing of all of this inspires confidence in either the justice system or the people who seem to rise to the top, like scum on the surface of standing water.
This unfolding story, together with the relentless mud-slinging and mutual recriminations that are at present prevailing among the former ministers of Bibi Netanyahu’s cabinet - with Bibi leading the pack, baying for blood, no matter whose - is not designed to foster the confidence of the general populace in its politicians either. Not only are allegiances easily switched in order to attain positions that appear beneficial, but party ideologies are adapted to changing circumstances, and those who seek to appear as leaders are shown to have feet of clay, and possibly even more than feet.
Proportional representation, the electoral system that was adopted when the State of Israel was founded, largely because it was already there, suited those who were then in power and little effort was required to amend it, has caused Israel to be plagued by splinter groups, mini-parties and endemic instability. Government by coalition has never been the most stable of systems and provides fertile ground for the blackmail and/or bribery of coalition partners in order to remain in power. Recently the threshold for entry into the Knesset has been raised, and it remains to be seen whether this will have the hoped-for benefits.
The ‘first-past-the-post’ system that is used in the UK has its disadvantages, but tends in the end to create a more stable government and one that is less vulnerable to threats from within. It also means that minority groups and interests tend to be less well represented - though bearing in mind what this has achieved in Israel that might not be such a bad thing.
I personally am pessimistic, despite the predictions of the pollsters, and believe that the political picture will remain pretty much as before, albeit with a further shift to the right. I think it was Churchill who said that democracy is a terrible system but the alternatives are even worse. It’s a depressing thought.
 [link]

Letters to the Editor

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