Extracts from the Jul 2015 Journal

German-Jewish refugees and German public service broadcasting

One of the most successful institutions established by the Allies in occupied Germany after 1945 was the system of public service broadcasting that originated in the British Zone of Occupation and was subsequently extended to the rest of the country. It was no accident that this development, crucial to the creation of a functioning democracy in post-Hitler Germany, was started by the British, for in the BBC Britain possessed the model of a broadcasting service independent of governments, political parties and commercial interests.
Less well-known is the part played by German-Jewish refugees in this transfer of a quintessentially British institutional structure to occupied Germany. Some had been involved in the BBC’s radio broadcasts to Germany during the war; others contributed to the creation of the very first public service broadcasting organisations in post-war Germany, often while on active service with the British forces. Among the latter were Geoffrey Perry and Walter Eberstadt. Geoffrey Perry (obituary, AJR Journal, November 2014) was born Horst Pinschewer in Berlin in 1922. He followed his elder brother Joachim Pinschewer (Peter Perry) to Britain in 1936, to be educated at Buxton College in Derbyshire. After leaving school in 1938, Geoffrey Perry set out on a career as a press photographer, but the outbreak of war put paid to his position as a staff photographer on the Daily Mirror. In July 1940, he was interned for four months, until he enlisted in the Pioneer Corps. He was commissioned as an officer in October 1943 and sent to Normandy with his unit in July 1944.
Towards the end of the war, as part of the planning for their post-war Zone of Occupation, the British made preparations to take over the German media. Lieutenant Perry, who had informed the authorities of his interest in this, joined the special unit known as T Force (‘T’ for Target) that was tasked with preserving Germany’s infrastructure; in his case, along with his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Lieven, a Canadian who had worked as a newspaperman, and Major Findlay, who had been a senior engineer at the BBC, the target was Radio Hamburg and the city’s newspaper offices, subsequently extended to all the newspaper offices in Schleswig-Holstein, from Hamburg north to the Danish border. When Hamburg was surrendered to the British on 3 May 1945, Lieven, Findlay and Perry made straight for Radio Hamburg and, with the support of troops attached to T Force, took it over. Perry was immediately dispatched to find the station’s transmitter, which could easily be destroyed and without which the station could not function. He located the transmitter in the suburb of Moorfleet, took some of T Force’s soldiers, plus the chief engineer of Radio Hamburg to show him the way, and occupied the transmitter.
Radio Hamburg had ceased broadcasting at 10.26 am on 3 May 1945 and the British had taken it over at 10 am on 4 May. At 7 pm on 4 May, the station went back on air, under Allied military control. An announcement to this effect was broadcast and Lt-Col. Lieven then handed the microphone to Geoffrey Perry, who proceeded to make what was effectively the first Allied broadcast to the German people. For the next two days, Perry, a native speaker of German, was the station announcer; his duties included introducing British and American war reporters who were making broadcasts from Radio Hamburg, both for local audiences and to be picked up for onward transmission. An added irony was that Perry found himself broadcasting from the same microphone that only two days previously the notorious Nazi propagandist William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw, had used for his final broadcast. The irony was compounded when Perry subsequently came across Joyce in woods outside Flensburg, shot him in the backside when he made to escape, and took him prisoner. Joyce was executed for high treason on 3 January 1946.
Walter Eberstadt was born in Frankfurt in 1921, into a banking family that had moved to Hamburg in 1930. He came to England in 1935 to be educated at Tonbridge School and then at Christ Church, Oxford, where his studies were interrupted by internment in 1940. Like Geoffrey Perry, he joined the Pioneer Corps and was commissioned as an officer, serving with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the ‘Ox and Bucks’) in Normandy, where he was wounded in action in August 1944. Back in Britain, he underwent training for one of the Information Control Units set up in the latter part of the war to control the press, publishing and broadcasting in what was to be the British Zone of Germany, and was sent to join the psychological warfare division of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) at Radio Luxembourg. Shortly after the end of the war in Europe, he returned to Hamburg, the city from which he had been forced to flee ten years earlier, with No. 4 Information Control Unit, which was to operate the city’s radio station.
Eberstadt, though not yet 25 years old, played an important part in laying the foundations for the radio station, which became Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) in September 1945; based in Hamburg, it also had a transmitter in Cologne, thereby covering the entire British Zone. In 1956, NWDR was divided into Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), serving Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, and Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), serving North Rhine-Westphalia. The model established by Eberstadt and his colleagues has thus survived to the present day: NDR now also serves Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the northern part of the former East Germany. Eberstadt had changed his name, returning to Hamburg as Captain Walter Everitt, but had retained his knowledge of German and of Germans, enabling him to make shrewd choices of personnel as the station was increasingly turned over to German-speaking staff. Though he had perforce to man the new station with Germans who had lived in Germany throughout the Nazi years, he was able to select those whose views had made them unsympathetic to the regime or those whose conversion to democracy was genuine.
Knowing that he had to work with people who were to some extent compromised by their past, Everitt interrogated potential staff members searchingly; his natural acumen enabled him to enlist men of the stature of Jürgen Schüddekopf and Peter Bamm. Among those with whom he worked in Hamburg were such future star reporters and broadcasters as Axel Eggebrecht and Peter von Zahn, names to conjure with in the German media world of the post-war decades. Everitt’s aim was to democratise and civilianise German society, to convince his German staff that they were not working for the British but were involved in laying the foundations for a democratic Germany for themselves and their fellow citizens. Everitt also played a key part in the broadcasts made by Hamburg’s first post-war mayor, Rudolf Petersen, which helped to shore up morale in the dark days of post-war hunger and shortages. He did, however, also take on Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, who defected to the Soviet Zone, where he employed his talents in the service of the East German regime, on the notorious programme Der schwarze Kanal. Eberstadt later emigrated to the USA, where he died in 2014.
The British contribution to the creation of the (West) German broadcasting system has not received the acknowledgement it deserves, remaining largely unknown to the public in both Germany and Britain. Nevertheless, in 2002 the Research Centre for German and Austrian Studies held a three-day conference in London entitled ‘“Stimme der Wahrheit” [Voice of Truth]: German-Language Broadcasting by the BBC’. The conference proceedings were published in 2003, as volume 5 of the Yearbook of the Research Centre, edited by Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove. Among the conference speakers were two of the greatest German experts on the subject: the late Jens Brüning contributed a detailed and knowledgeable piece on the BBC as a model for German post-war broadcasting, while Hans-Ulrich Wagner, the doyen of German scholars in this field, spoke on the role of the ‘London-Remigranten’, the refugees who returned from Britain to Germany, in the history of West German broadcasting. Wagner has recently published a further article entitled ‘Repatriated Germans and the “British Spirit”’ in the journal Media History, accessible online at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/8nyzjfCvegUSX5Fj8zr4/full
The German Service of the BBC used refugees to remarkably good effect in its wartime broadcasting to Nazi Germany: the actor Martin Miller’s parody of a speech by Hitler, ‘Der Führer spricht’ (The Führer Speaks), broadcast appropriately on 1 April 1940, still sounds hilariously accurate. Humour was one of the principal weapons deployed by the German Service to undermine enemy morale. The Features Section, headed by Walter Rilla, produced series like ‘Frau Wernicke’ and ‘Kurt und Willi’, scripted by Bruno Adler, or Robert Lucas’s long-running series of letters supposedly written by a particularly dim German soldier, Gefreiter Adolf Hirnschal (Corporal Adolf Brainshallow), to his wife. This was, one might say, a prelude to the institutional interaction between the BBC and Germany in the years after 1945.
Anthony Grenville [link]

Looted art in the GDR

The Nazis were not the only people in Germany who looted works of art from Jewish and
other families. This was also the case in East Germany after the Second World War. The result is that some German citizens who purchased works of art from galleries and auction houses in the post-war years may have inadvertently acquired items that were misappropriated from their rightful owners. [more...]

Art Notes

The fun starts at the entrance to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition (to 16 August 2015). The sweeping staircase is coated in multi-coloured strips, painstakingly laid by Turner Prize nominee Jim Lambie. Outside, on the Annenberg courtyard, Conrad Shawcross’s contrasting steel cloud-scape The Dappled Light of the Sun is more rollercoaster than cloud, promising not sunshine but rain.
For several years the Summer Exhibition has been engorged with random works shoved into every available space. Curator Michael Craig-Martin tries a different take: by painting the galleries magenta pink or turquoise, and putting less on the walls, he has enabled visitors to move freely around the space, in what he describes as choreographing the exhibition around people.
The show won’t give you a specific artistic direction for 2015 but it does open your eyes and mind to many different materials from which art can be made.
For example, you can’t miss Matthew Darbyshire’s super-life-size statue in the Wohl Central Hall, made from purple and yellow polycarbonate and steel and bearing the unbearable name Captcha No. 11 (Doryphorus). It looks as though it is made from CD boxes. Your eye is quickly drawn to Room III, where a jumble of hairy legs emerges from red shorts in an apparent rugby tackle by the well-known Academician Wolfgang Tillmans. Nearby, a more subtle image evokes Gauguin: Dancing in Solitude is a milky blend of shape and colour by Eileen Cooper RA. Tree No 7 by Academician Tony Bevan in acrylic and charcoal swirls attractively against its white background. A few figurative works share space with abstracts, including Untitled (Watch), a colourful acrylic on aluminium clock by Craig-Martin himself. Two subtle pieces by Mick Moon, Noon Fishing and Dawn Fishing, are both visually and texturally exciting.
Jock McFadyen expands the landscape theme he curates in Room II to invite a broader depiction of Britain. Notable are the contrasts between a snowy landscape bisected by a black path and another in which a massive white moon hovers over a deep blue sky dwarfing tiny buildings.
While political messages are rare this year, an imaginative narrative often takes over. Sculptures or two-dimensional art works resemble sets for Harry Potter or Game of Thrones – fantastical and threatening black, brooding shapes .… McFadyen’s painting of Dungeness under a calm blue sky is nominated for the Charles Wollaston Award.
Grayson Perry’s huge tapestry of Julie and Rob, a strong but tender Asian couple, dominates one end of the room. Room IV, curated by David Remfry, examines the texture of film and hair. I loved Amer Fort and Orange Yellow by Güler Ates, featuring the back of a woman veiled in orange in an old Indian fort. An untitled seated bronze figure with a tray by Mimmo Paladino exemplifies the excellent sculptures this year. Playful bronze miniatures sit beside Antony Gormley’s heavy abstracts.
But finally, to return to painting, I was struck by The Old House Dreams It Is Still There by Peter Messer - a tender image of a ghost building between trees and shrubbery which have long covered its traces.
Most of the 1,200-plus works in this year’s Summer Exhibition will be on sale to the public.

A century-long saga THE LADY IN GOLD: THE EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF GUSTAV KLIMT’S MASTERPIECE, PORTRAIT OF ADELE BLOCH-BAUER by Anne-Marie O’Connor New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, 368 pp. hardcover, ISBN 9780307265647

Anne-Marie O’Connor begins her monumental book with a Prologue that describes what happened at the end of the century-long saga about which she writes, when a young Los Angeles attorney comes to Vienna’s Belvedere Palace ‘to lay claim to a painting he had spent years fighting for’.
So there is no suspense in store for the reader as he or she proceeds through the three separate sections and 80 (short) chapters of the book. Nevertheless, it is a gripping story, laying bare in considerable detail aspects of the intellectual and artistic life of fin-de-siècle Vienna up until 1938. The first section also describes the intricate relations between the various sections comprising Viennese society, focusing in particular on the several branches of the Bloch-Bauer family.
The Bloch-Bauers played a prominent role in society as wealthy patrons of the arts and it was Adele, the young wife of Ferdinand, who was the model for Klimt’s painting. The second part of the book relates - again in considerable, and often harrowing, detail - what became of the family and other Austrian Jews after the Anschluss, describing exactly how their homes, commercial enterprises, stocks and shares, bank accounts and other property were stolen by the Nazis, aided and abetted by the Austrian population and authorities. The author also relates how individuals were abused, beaten, sent to concentration camps, raped and murdered. A few of the descendants of the Bloch-Bauer family managed to survive, however, and that is the key to what transpires in the last part of the book.
The third and final section recounts the six-year legal battle undertaken by an unknown American-Jewish attorney, Randol Schoenberg, grandson of the composer, together with Maria Altmann, Adele’s niece, to regain ownership of the painting from the Austrian authorities.
The author, who is a journalist, has used her professional skills to trace and interview many of the surviving members of a once prosperous and extended family. She has also spoken to officials at various levels of Austrian governmental, judicial and art circles, presenting the reader with a veritable smorgasbord of facts and figures pertaining to the myriad aspects of the complex litigation and emotional commitment of those involved.
As one reads the book the brilliant society of Vienna in the first third of the twentieth century takes shape before our eyes through the depictions of the painters, poets, writers and philosophers, many of them Jews, who were the flower of this society. Sigmund Freud, Alma Mahler, Stefan Zweig, Gustav Klimt and the painters of the Secession. Arthur Schnitzler and even Theodore Herzl grace the pages of the book with their presence, often situated in the cafés they tended to frequent, whether in order to drink their morning coffee, play chess, read the newspapers or meet friends.
Reading this book with hindsight one’s heart sinks at the insistence of certain members of the Bloch-Bauer clan to remain in Vienna in order to retain control of their possessions. While the reader knows the inevitable fate that awaits them - stripped of everything but lucky to be left alive at best, or shipped off to a concentration camp in the worst cases - we see how each individual does his or her best to retain every last vestige of decency and honesty. Adele’s niece, the newly-married Maria Altmann, is reunited with her bridegroom when he returns from months of starvation rations and hard labour in Dachau and the young couple are obliged to conduct their lives under the watchful eye of the Gestapo agent who has ‘appropriated’ their apartment. They managed to escape in just the clothes they were wearing (and a concealed pair of diamond earrings) by using false papers and pretending they were going to a dentist’s appointment.
Adele’s sister Luise managed to escape to Yugoslavia together with her husband Viktor and their two children. The family survived the Nazi occupation, although not without considerable suffering, but after the war the Communist government under Tito took power and Viktor was arrested for having been a ‘capitalist who cooperated with the Nazis’ and summarily executed. His teenage daughter Nelly was permitted to visit him in his prison cell on the night before his execution. This harrowing experience overshadowed her whole life. Nelly eventually emigrated to Canada, married a member of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, and became a leading figure in medical research.
Those two Bloch-Bauer descendants, Maria Altmann and Nelly Auersperg, were the leading figures in the legal battle to reclaim the Klimt painting and, while not always in agreement with one another as to the best way to proceed, both eventually benefited enormously (as did Randol Schoenberg), together with several other Bloch-Bauer relatives. The picture was purchased for $135 million by one of American Jewry’s leading figures, Ronald Lauder, and now hangs in his Neue Galerie in New York.
As readers will be aware, Woman of Gold, the British-American film of the story, went on general release earlier this year after having been screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. The World Jewish Congress (WJC) and The Weinstein Company announced that Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren would receive the WJC Recognition Award for her portrayal of Maria Altmann in the film and for helping to educate the public about the issues of Nazi-looted art.

Letter from Israel Gardens well worth a visit

In May, after several unseasonably cold and rainy days, the day for the tour of the Botanical Gardens by the group of English-speaking ladies to which I belong was dry and fine (and neither too hot nor too cold). [more...]

Letters to the Editor

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