Extracts from the Jul 2013 Journal
Most of our readers in Britain will be broadly familiar with the topography of the internment camps on the Isle of Man, where ‘enemy aliens’, including many thousands of Jewish refugees from Hitler, were detained by the British government in 1940. The names of camps such as Central Promenade, Hutchinson, Sefton, Onchan, Ramsey (Mooragh), Rushen (the women’s camp comprising Port Erin and Port St Mary) and Peveril have passed into the collective memory of the refugee community. Apart from Peveril, which was in Peel on the west coast of the island, Rushen in the south-west and Ramsey in the north, they were situated in or near Douglas, on the east coast, and still conjure up images of groups of boarding houses hastily requisitioned for wartime duties. The family camp, set up later within the women’s camp, was located in Port St Erin and included the resplendently named Ballaqueeny, the largest single boarding house on the island.
Not content with interning Jewish refugees as potential German agents, the British government also deported several thousand entirely blameless refugees overseas. The largest contingent was sent to Canada. Four ships carrying them left Britain for Canada: the Duchess of York, which sailed from Liverpool on 21 June 1940, the Arandora Star, which left on 1 July and achieved a sad fame when it was sunk the next day by a German submarine with the loss of several hundred lives, the Ettrick, which left a few days later, carrying internees who ended up in Sherbrooke Camp in southern Quebec, and the Sobieski, whose internees were accommodated at Fredericton in New Brunswick.
The sinking of the Arandora Star sparked a public revulsion against the internment of refugees from Nazism and contributed to a change in government policy towards the refugees and the ending of both their internment and their deportation overseas. By then, some 4,400 ‘enemy aliens’, all men, had been transported to Canada. Frederick G. Cohn’s novel A Lucid Interval (1999), a work of fiction based on actual experience, tells the story of two young brothers, Jews from Germany, who made a perilous escape to Britain via Lithuania and were reunited with their parents in 1940, only to be arrested and deported to Canada. It is one of a number of books that convey vividly the conditions prevailing in the Canadian camps and the emotional and psychological effects on the inmates of confinement under harsh conditions at a remote location in an unfamiliar land.
Though there was only one ship that took internees from Britain to Australia, the notorious troopship Dunera, which left Liverpool on 10 July 1940 with some 2,500 men on board, the story of those deported to Australia has attracted more attention than its Canadian counterpart. The wartime deportees arguably made less of an impact on the existing Jewish community in Canada and on Canadian society in general than was the case in Australia; the influx of a group of highly cultured, skilled and educated immigrants had a disproportionately large effect on Australian society, which was in 1940 still developing a sense of its own independent, post-colonial culture.
In Canada, there are few reminders of the deportees. By contrast, the prominent Australian writer and journalist Cyril Pearl, a Jew, wrote a book about the deportees, The Dunera Scandal (1983), and in 1985 the film The Dunera Boys, starring the big-name actor Bob Hoskins, was broadcast on Australian television. Though the disaster that struck the Canada-bound Arandora Star has ensured that its name has remained alive in the memory of the community of Jewish refugees from Hitler in Britain and beyond – the Austrian author Norbert Gstrein used it in his novel Die englischen Jahre (The English Years) (1999) – it is the Dunera whose name is most commonly associated with the deportations of 1940. That is probably on account of the appalling conditions that prevailed on board ship and the scandalous mistreatment to which the refugee deportees were subjected by the British troops guarding them. Anton Walter Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud who later joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was dropped by parachute into Austria in the last phase of the war, and Ken Ambrose, founder of the AJR’s South London group, left vivid accounts of their time on the Dunera for the Continental Britons exhibition (2002, funded by the AJR).
Less well known in Britain are the details of the internment camps to which the deportees on the Dunera were sent after their bedraggled arrival in Australia following eight long weeks at sea. However, since the 1970s the Melbourne-based Dunera Association has been dedicated to preserving the memory of the deportees, to researching and recording their history and to maintaining contact between the surviving former deportees as well as their descendants. Since 1984 the Association has published the Dunera News, which in March 2013 reached its 87th number and which contains a great deal of information about the two principal camps to which the deportees were sent. I am indebted for much of the following detail to this publication and to the Austrian scholar Professor Elisabeth Lebensaft, who recently visited Australia to research the Austrians among the ‘Dunera Boys’; the resulting paper, written with Christine Kanzler, is entitled ‘“It’s a Story You Will Never Forget”: Auf den Spuren österreichischer Dunera Boys in Australien’ (On the Trail of Austrian Dunera Boys in Australia).
The Dunera reached Sydney on 6 September 1940. From there, most of the deportees were taken by train to Hay, in the Riverina district of New South Wales, deep in the remote Australian outback, where they were housed in two camps (the third held Italian internees). Conditions in the isolated, semi-desert location were primitive and debilitating and the detainees suffered from heat, insect parasites and the sand that was continually blown into the huts accommodating them. The artist Johannes Matthäus Koelz, a political refugee from Hitler, recorded their arrival at Hay station: [more...]
The Claims Conference has successfully negotiated an agreement with the German Government which, taken together with the amount previously agreed upon, will provide approximately $1 billion over the four-year-period 2014-17 for homecare for Jewish Nazi victims, with the annual amount increasing each year through 2017. [more...]
The first AJR plaque, commemorating the life of Professor Sir Hans Krebs, has been unveiled at a ceremony at the Department of Biochemistry in Oxford.
Members of the Krebs family were joined by guests from various science departments in Oxford, representatives of the AJR, and members of the Oxford Jewish community.
Barred by the Nazis from practising medicine, Sir Hans fled from Germany to Britain in 1933. In 1953 he was awarded, jointly with another German-Jewish refugee, Fritz Lipmann, a Nobel Prize for his work on what is now known as the ‘Krebs cycle’, a cycle of biochemical reactions that converts harmful ammonia to urea. In 1958 he was knighted.
In 1965 Sir Hans had the honour of handing over to Lord Robbins, President of the British Academy, the proceeds of the Thank-You Britain Fund, an endowment collected by the refugees in gratitude to their adopted homeland.
One of Sir Hans Krebs’s sons, Lord John Krebs, unveiled the plaque and spoke about his father’s gratitude to those who had helped him settle in England. Lord Krebs, who is a zoologist and Principal of Jesus College Oxford, said he was honoured to be asked to unveil the plaque recognising his father’s contribution to science.
Frank Harding, a Trustee of the AJR, told those present that Sir Hans and other refugees had made a tremendous impact across a wide range of fields in the UK. He regarded the commemorative plaque as a follow-up from the Thank-You Britain Fund.
The AJR is hopeful that its next plaque will be in honour of ‘the father of the Paralympics’, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, and will be situated at the entrance to the National Spinal Injury Centre next to Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The possibility of placing a plaque on what was the Cosmo restaurant, now the Eriki, near Swiss Cottage in London, is also being discussed. [link]
‘Saints Alive and Kicking’ might be an alternative title to the National Gallery’s Michael Landy: Saints Alive (until 24 November 2013). This exhibition challenges the holier-than-thou images of saints in the Renaissance paintings Landy trawled as a newcomer to the National Gallery to present us with the awfulness they actually experienced. He also trawled junkyards, car boot sales and flea markets for the ironmongery needed to build massive, three-dimensional images of the sublime paintings he had seen.
So, as you enter the room, you are confronted by the skyscraper-tall legendary figure of St Apollonia based on a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The blonde and beatific saint in her red corrugated dress shudders like a haulage truck as you pass - as well she might, having had all her teeth pulled out!
Next - to the scholarly hermit St Jerome, whose appetite for pain led him to beat himself with a rock to banish ‘impure’ sexual thoughts. Landy has based him on three fifteenth-century paintings in the main galleries to create a headless figure whose torso ends in a mass of ironmongery above a single leg; with a gigantic thud a disembodied hand throws a rock at him. There’s a wooden St Catherine’s wheel - on which Catherine didn’t die because it was destroyed by an angel - but Landy lets you crank it into noisy action yourself. When she was finally executed with a sword it’s said that milk, not blood, flowed from her body. Ironically for its subject matter, this show is entirely bloodless.
The pièce de résistance is the Multi-Saint, based on four fifteenth-century martyrs who all died in horrific ways. This saintly amalgam stands with a pitchfork trampling on a green devil with webbed hands. I didn’t wait to hear the noise it emitted. I was reminded of Jacob Epstein’s poignant Rock Drill, in which the figure stands astride a mechanical drill mounted on a tripod. It was meant to convey fears of a dehumanised, mechanised society. Epstein said the piece possessed no humanity. The problem with this show - amusing and innovative in its way - is that by rendering his saints so large, Michael Landy has actually diminished them. There is no humanity here at all.
But R. B. Kitaj - Obsessions at the Jewish Museum is awash with humanity and sensitivity. The American modernist Kitaj spent 40 years in Britain describing himself as a diasporist, which defines his obsession with Jewish identity and the Holocaust. Kitaj uses primary colours to convey both the bustle and the quiet spaces in human existence. In The Wedding, the bridal couple are profiled facing the ceremony but you think the quiet, tiny figure in white left of centre is the bride. She is actually his adopted daughter Dominie. Less garishly, The Listener (charcoal and pastel) conveys the narrative of the Holocaust, crouching underground fearing discovery, while his alter ego reads in the sunlight. Kitaj depicts Holocaust refugees as alienated, crazy characters and victims as disembodied Jewish heads bounded with crosses and chimney shapes.
Although many books have been written about the lives of people affected by the Holocaust, each one records a different story and there are distinct circumstances and reasons for embarking on the writing. In this remarkable book, Susan Soyinka initially places the emphasis on why she felt obliged to write the story of her family and on how she spent some 18 years delving into records and painstakingly piecing it together. [more...]
Yitzhak Rabin, who served as prime minister of Israel during two separate periods - 1974-77 and 1992-95 - was a figure who towered over his generation. The first native Israeli (‘sabra’) to serve in that office, he was assassinated by an extremist right-wing Jew in November 1995 at the conclusion of a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
But the bare facts of Rabin’s life hold a deeper meaning because he seems to epitomise the history and ethos of modern Israel. Consequently, when I was invited to participate in a group visit to the Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv I agreed to go.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that behind the unassuming façade of the building that bears Rabin’s name lies a treasure-trove of information about Israel’s society and history that no other institution in Israel can match.
In my duties at the Information Desk of the Israel Museum I am sometimes asked by visitors from abroad whether there is any exhibition concerning the history of the State of Israel: I must admit that in the past I have found it difficult to come up with a satisfactory answer. But now I know where to send them - to the Rabin Centre.
Rabin, who grew up in Tel Aviv, was born in 1922 to parents who were among the first Zionists to immigrate to Israel from Russia. In 1941 he joined the Palmach, rapidly rising to senior rank within the organisation that eventually formed the basis of the IDF. During the War of Independence, in 1948, Rabin fought valiantly as the commander of the Harel Brigade, leading his unit into battle and securing the road to Jerusalem. He also participated in the armistice talks with Egypt held on Rhodes.
His military career culminated in his appointment as chief of staff in 1964 and it was under his command that Israel’s forces defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 in the Six Day War. Rabin was one of the first Israelis to visit Jerusalem’s Old City and the liberated Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University.
Upon his retirement from the IDF in 1968, Rabin was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the US and was instrumental in obtaining the sale to Israel of advanced weaponry. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973 he acted in an advisory capacity and was later elected to the Knesset for the Labour Party. Following the elections that unseated Golda Meir’s government he became prime minister. During that term Israeli forces executed the spectacular rescue of the passengers of a plane that had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and flown to Idi Amin’s Uganda.
The exhibition at the Rabin Centre tracks all these historic events as well as showing aspects of contemporary life in Israel and the world, even displaying a pack of the cigarettes that Rabin chain-smoked all his life. Rabin’s actual study is also on display and it is interesting to see his taste in literature and his considerable collection of art books.
Rabin resigned from office in 1977 as a result of the revelation that his wife had retained their dollar account in the US (this was illegal for Israeli citizens at the time). In the subsequent elections Menachem Begin’s Likud Party came to power and Rabin remained a Knesset member and minister of defence from 1984 to 1990.
The longstanding rivalry between Rabin and Shimon Peres concluded with Rabin’s election as leader of the Labour Party in 1992 and victory in the elections that year. Rabin became prime minister again and acted to attain the Oslo Accords recognising the Palestinian Authority. For that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but he also became the object of criticism and vilification within Israel by those who opposed him.
By a supreme irony it was at the mass rally held in Tel Aviv to express support for the Oslo Accords and condemn violence that Rabin was assassinated. The anniversary of his death, 4 November 1995, is commemorated in Israel. Many sites and monuments throughout the country bear his name but it is the Rabin Centre, also known as the Israeli Museum, that provides the most fitting memorial.