Leo Baeck 2

 

Extracts from the Mar 2016 Journal

Fin-de-siècle Vienna and its chroniclers

The American historian Carl E. Schorske, who died in September 2015 aged 100, was one of the greatest and most innovative of the intellectual historians working in the second half of the twentieth century. It was Schorske who, with his seminal study Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York, 1980), took the concept of Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century and gave it the full substance and significance with which we now associate it. Few historians have possessed his wide range of cultural reference and his ability to relate developments in literature, art, music, architecture or psychoanalysis to their historical, political and intellectual background. One historian who did was Peter Gay, born Peter Fröhlich in 1923, who fled Germany with his family, arrived in America in 1941 and went on to write political history (The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx), cultural history (Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider), and an acclaimed study of Freud. Gay died in May 2015, aged 91.
I first encountered Carl Schorske through German Social Democracy 1905-1917: The Development of the Great Schism (1955), his meticulously scholarly but eminently readable study of split in the socialist movement in Germany that led to the emergence of two warring parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists. In Fin-de-siècle Vienna, he established Vienna as the ‘laboratory of modernism’, the cradle of such crucial pioneering influences on the modern world as Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy, or the music of Gustav Mahler and, more radically, Arnold Schoenberg. These great innovators had, according to Schorske, all broken with the historical outlook characteristic of the liberal, rational thinking that had dominated the nineteenth century: ‘Vienna in the fin de siècle, with its acutely felt tremors of social and political disintegration, proved one of the most fertile breeding grounds of our [the twentieth] century’s a-historical culture.’ Across a broad range of intellectual and artistic activity, the Viennese creators of a new culture represented a revolt against the value system of liberalism that had previously been in the ascendancy.
Schorske set these developments within the framework of the politics of imperial Austria in the half-century before 1914, relating them in particular to the weaknesses and deficiencies of Austrian liberalism. The liberals had suffered a stunning defeat through the failure of the revolution of 1848, which, they had hoped, would establish a democratic, constitutional form of government in the Habsburg Empire but was instead brutally suppressed by the resurgent forces of reaction united behind the monarchy. That the liberals came to power in the 1860s was due almost entirely to the incompetence of the Habsburg autocracy, which achieved the feat of losing the war of 1859 in northern Italy to the French under Emperor Napoleon III (otherwise notorious for his military failures in Mexico and in the Franco-Prussian war). When Austria was defeated by Prussia in the war of 1866, losing its traditional position as the leading power among the German states, it became even more obvious that fundamental reform was necessary and that Austria must embark on a new, progressive path.
But the new dawn proved illusory. The liberals failed to reform the institutionalised bureaucracy of the Habsburg Empire and to create a democratic Austria on the model of the parliamentary systems of government of Western Europe. Instead, they were rapidly overtaken by new mass movements both on the left, with the creation of the Social Democratic Party, and on the right, with the rise of the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger and the Pan-Germans of Georg von Schönerer, both avowed anti-Semites. In Vienna, the stronghold of Austrian liberalism, the election of Lueger as mayor in 1895 marked the seismic shift that had taken place in politics, the eclipse of classic liberalism by the populist mass movements of a new era. With characteristic acuteness, Schorske focused on ‘the phenomenon of the disintegration of Austrian liberal society under the impact of anti-Semitism’, in his analysis of Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Der Weg ins Freie (The Road into the Open) (1908); the title ‘refers to the desperate attempt of the cultivated younger generation of Viennese to find their way into the clear, their road out of the morass of a sick society to a satisfactory personal existence’.
The crisis facing the new generation of Viennese writers, which had originated in the political threat to liberalism and its values, also made itself felt in the authors’ dawning awareness of the inadequacy of existing literary and aesthetic models, principally the realist novel that was the dominant form in the nineteenth century. Schorske devotes the opening chapter of his book to two writers, Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, whom he saw as pioneers of literary modernism, as they confronted the dilemmas posed by ‘the disintegrating moral-aesthetic culture of fin-de-siècle Vienna’. Unlike their counterparts in London or Paris, the liberal, progressive intelligentsia in Vienna had been too weak to emancipate themselves from the dominant aristocracy. In consequence, according to Schorske, they had felt constrained to adopt elements of the traditional, dominant Baroque culture of Vienna, which, with its amoral sensuousness and its emphasis on the ephemeral nature of human existence, had little in common with the liberal ethic of industry, self-discipline and service to the community. The weakness of liberalism in politics appeared to leave writers like Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal with no road forward in literature, other than pessimism, resignation or a flight from the modern world into a realm of pure art.
With great brilliance and erudition, Schorske demonstrates how a similar dilemma affected artists and intellectuals across a wide range of activities. In the field of architecture, he describes the building of Vienna’s Ringstraße and the reactions to it of two great modernist architects, Camillo Sitte, author of Der Städtebau (City Building) (1889), and Otto Wagner, creator of the Österreichische Postsparkasse (Postal Savings Bank) building. Schorske also covers the artists Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, the composer Arnold Schoenberg, the politicians Lueger and Schönerer, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. His approach has come under fire, notably from Steven Beller, in Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938 (1989), but Fin-de-siècle Vienna remains a memorable monument to a remarkable era.
One of the most striking literary figures to emerge from Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century was Karl Kraus (1874-1936), the writer, journalist and satirist who edited and wrote the celebrated journal Die Fackel (The Torch) from 1899 until the year of his death. The labels ‘journalist’ and ‘satirist’ convey only inadequately the range and quality of Kraus’s writings, which also included aphorisms and plays, as well as a large number of substantial and thought-provoking essays. Kraus’s writings were unique in their highly original and polemically pointed style and in their inimitable humour, which mainly used language to pillory and deconstruct the objects of his criticism. He targeted those who held power and influence in Austria, the press (especially Moriz Benedikt and the Neue Freie Presse), manifestations of hypocrisy in such spheres as sexual morality and, above all, the corruption of language.
These all feature prominently in Kraus’s extraordinary masterpiece, the anti-war drama Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind), conceived in 1915 but only published after the fall of the Habsburg autocracy, first in Die Fackel in 1918-19, then in book form in 1922. The problem with the play is its sheer unstageability: my edition, published by Pegasus Verlag in Zurich in 1945, runs to over 700 pages, with an enormous panorama of scenes set on the various fronts on which the Austrian armies were fighting (as well as on the home front, where the favoured scions of the aristocracy were lining their pockets and sweet-talking their young ladies). The play is seldom performed, as it would cover several evenings. Its apocalyptic finale, depicting the end of the world as mankind destroys itself in ever-intensifying conflict, strains the resources of the theatre to its limits. Its last words are spoken by the voice of God, who declares, in utter impotence in face of the destructive madness of his creatures: ‘Ich habe es nicht gewollt’ (‘That was not what I intended’), words attributed to the Emperor Francis Joseph when contemplating the disaster of the Great War that his underlings had so frivolously helped to provoke.
A full English version of The Last Days of Mankind has now appeared, translated by Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms and published by Yale University Press (January 2016, price £25). The translators make a formidable team. Professor Timms is the leading expert on Karl Kraus and author of an outstanding two-volume study of the writer, Apocalyptic Satirist (1986/2006); he is also well known to AJR members as the founder of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex. Fred Bridgham, formerly of the University of Leeds, is a distinguished translator and author of the delightful Friendly German-English Dictionary (London: Libris, 1996). Their translation is a splendid achievement, and warmly recommended.
Anthony Grenville [link]

Irma Turnschek, Righteous Among the Nations

Helmut Turnsek was a patient at the North London Hospice who had a story to tell. He felt he couldn’t rest until his story had been heard and the heroes of it recognised. Luckily, he had a dedicated social worker at the hospice, Anne Mossack, who not only listened but acted to ensure the deserved recognition and to reunite Helmut with the other surviving hero of his story.
During his childhood Helmut knew and played with a boy his age, Franz. Franz was the son of his mother’s employers in Vienna, the Leichter family, for whom his mother Irma worked as a cook and maid. The hard-working woman had to give Helmut, born 1930, to a foster family but would still bring her son to visit and play. When the boys were eight years old, however, their lives were changed forever.
Following the Anschluss of March 1938, the Leichter family’s situation changed dramatically. Since men were especially targeted Otto Leichter escaped. He first attempted to cross the border into Yugoslavia but, when this failed, he managed to illegally get into Switzerland. His wife, Käthe, who was active in the Socialist Party, was in danger both as a Jew and a socialist and began to make arrangements to leave with her two sons, Heinz (Henry), born 1924, and Franz, born 1930. She applied for passports for them all. At the same time, probably not trusting the authorities, she planned to leave illegally and to take her older son, Heinz, with her. She asked their former cook, Irma, who had a passport where her son Helmut was registered, to take Franz on Helmut’s travel document.
Before they could leave, on 30 April 1938, Käthe Leichter was arrested. She had told of her plans to an acquaintance who was an informer and he denounced her to the Gestapo. Her two sons were taken by two families of friends. In her interrogation, Käthe denied that she wanted to leave illegally but it was clear that she and the boys were in danger. The boys’ father sent a messenger who was to take Heinz to his father but the family who took care of him, innocently believing that a solution could still be found without breaking the law, refused to hand him over. Irma Turnschek, however, decided to go ahead with the plan she had made with Käthe before her arrest and to take Franz out of the country and then return for her son. On 5 August 1938 they left Vienna and travelled through Germany to Belgium, where family friends were waiting for them to take Franz to his father.
Following Irma’s departure, notice was received that the passports for the two boys had been issued and that they were permitted to visit their mother in prison before their departure. The family friends who were taking care of Heinz feared that it would be highly suspicious if only one boy came to visit and therefore informed the authorities that Irma Turnschek had kidnapped the other boy. On 11 August 1938 Heinz visited his mother accompanied by the lady who took care of him. In 1971 he recalled that he told his mother of Franz having been kidnapped by Irma so that she would know that her youngest son was safely out of the country. A day later Heinz left Austria legally with his new passport and joined his father in Switzerland.
Käthe Leichter was deported to Ravensbrück camp, where she perished in 1942. Her husband and sons eventually emigrated to the United States. Since she had been accused of having kidnapped Franz Leichter and smuggled him across the border, Irma Turnschek could not return to Vienna and fetch her son. She remained in England for the duration of the war, separated from her son, who had to stay with foster parents, until they were reunited in 1947. They settled in the United Kingdom and changed their last name to Turnsek. The two families lost touch.
Anne Mossack heard Helmut’s story and was very moved by it. She contacted her cousin, AJR Chief Executive Michael Newman, who suggested that she contact Yad Vashem, introducing her to Irena Steinfeld of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations.
In September 2013 Anne Mossack contacted Yad Vashem and told the story she had heard from Helmut Turnsek, who by then was critically ill. When the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations traced Franz Leichter in New York, he immediately flew to London to meet Helmut. Shortly afterwards Helmut passed away, having finally been reunited with his childhood friend and hoping that his mother’s heroism would be recognised.
On 20 January 2015 Yad Vashem recognised Irma Turnsek as Righteous Among the Nations and on 19 November last year Franz took part in a moving ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in London when Heinz Turnsek’s family received a special certificate from Yad Vashem presented by Chargé d'Affaires Eitan Na’eh. [more...]

STAFF CHANGES AT MANX NATIONAL HERITAGE

Sir - May I take this opportunity to inform your readers of my retirement as Librarian of Manx National Heritage Library on 21 March 2016. In the 23 years I have worked in the Library I have had the pleasure of meeting numerous former internees and members of their families and have helped curate a large amount of material relating to the Isle of Man’s involvement with internment in the Second World War from May 1940 to September 1945.
I contributed two articles about our records to the AJR Journal in 2008 and 2010 - ‘Second World War internee records for the Isle of Man’ and ‘1940-2010: the individual and family legacy of WW2 internment as it relates to the Isle of Man: a guide to aid personal research’ - which readers may still find useful.
I am also currently revising a draft for a potential book about internment drawing heavily on original material, including items received largely as a result of the response to the above-mentioned articles.
With our line manager Paul Weatherall also having retired at Christmas, all future enquiries should be sent to my archivist colleague at Wendy.Thjirkettle@gov.im. Wendy has also been on the staff since 1992 and has an extensive knowledge of our manuscript material.
Finally, I would advise any potential visitors to the Isle of Man from April this year to check beforehand regarding opening hours as, with the retirement of three of our library staff in quick succession and no replacements as yet agreed, it is probable that opening hours will be reduced and the response to post or email enquiries will be delayed.
 [link]

Art Notes

From Monet to Matisse to van Gogh and back to Monet again, the garden is a place of solace - or just a blaze of pure energy. Certainly the latter is true of Wassily Kandinsky or Vincent van Gogh or Emil Nolde. But in the Royal Academy’s exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (until 20 April 2016), the romantic theme is probably the most vivid. There are 19th-Century salon gardens where people read newspapers, walk and chat about art, literature and music, evoking times past. Gardens in the era of the Impressionists helped to reconnect with nature as the urban industrial world intruded on the romantic imagination.
Avant-garde artists like Vincent van Gogh felt differently. With his intense and febrile imagination, he studied flowers to discover the emotions suggested by their strength of colour. Some garden paintings here are lavish, some just show a formal path, and others take the image into Modernism and Abstraction.
And yet it is Monet with whom we start and Monet with whom we end. The exhibition spans the early 1860s to the 1920s, a period which saw considerable social change and creative innovation. Despite the coming of war, romance flowered in the horticultural imagination of artists, often with darker imagery, as we begin to see in Monet, whose pacific and structural format, as in his 1867 Lady in a Garden - almost ethereal in her white sunhat and pale blue dress, contemplating a bed of red flowers beneath a small flowering tree - develops into something more abstract later. In earlier years, Monet would write copious letters to his gardener specifying what should be planted, a practical and formal side to his nature, indicating how the artist did not just paint what he saw and felt but had a hand in the gardens’ original design. By contrast, Pierre Bonnard preferred his jardin sauvage, in which plants ran riot, evoking some nostalgic idyll.
Monet had cultivated gardens from his early days at Argenteuil in the 1870s until his death in Giverny, north-west of Paris, in 1926. After the death of his second wife, Alice, in 1911, he was too distressed to paint for three years. Failing eyesight did not help but it improved in 1914 and his water garden and Japanese bridge at his beloved Giverny continued to preoccupy him as he wandered there white-haired holding a gigantic palette.
At the beginning of the First World War, Monet refused to join the masses fleeing Giverny, believing that continuing to paint was his patriotic duty. As his blue tones deepened, irises and willows began to appear at the water’s edge in his 1918 canvases. The exhibition ends with a roomful of his large canvases in which his famous water lilies now seem as delicate and obscure as the souls lost in battle. To paint them so large he had constructed a studio big enough to contain them. The Impressionist was turning abstract. Although his floral themes persisted, they now meant something different to him: ‘The subject is secondary’, he said, ‘What I want to reproduce is that which is between the subject and me.’
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Individual stories masterfully woven together

THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE: A STORY OF GERMANY
by Thomas Harding
William Heinemann, 2015, 464 pp. hardcover, ISBN 978-043-4023226, £20.00
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. This is a good book, very readably written and yet encompassing an enormous amount of well researched information, both on individuals who were involved in some way in the history of a small timber summer house built for weekends and holidays on the shores of the Glienicke See south-west of Berlin, and on the whole history of what was going on around it. I refer to the snobbism of the Kaiser period, whereby one had to be a ‘von’ in order to get ‘to’ anything; the economic problems of the 1920s; the rising nationalism and thuggery of the 1930s; the flight of those who could get out in time and the fates of those who could not; the course of the war in Germany leading eventually to defeat and occupation; the fate of local civilians – rape and murder by Soviet soldiers described briefly and dispassionately but factually; and the machinations of Communist East Germany (the border between the DDR and West Berlin essentially passing through the garden of this summer house); and so forth to the present, when it is a rotting, abandoned ruin. Along the way are snapshots of family life, both for the landlords and the tenants or lessees of the house. The ownership details were complex: at times, for instance, a family leased the house but not the land; at times they acquired the land but then lost the house. In other words, by focusing on his grandparents’ little bit of ‘Jwd’ – the Berlin dialect term for ‘janz-weit-draussen’ (out in the country) - Thomas Harding is able to paint in the entire scope of German history and politics over a century or more.
Driven initially by that urge that so many of us of a particular generation have – an existential curiosity to find out more about what we were not told by those who experienced and knew much more than they were ever prepared to tell – and so occasionally pushing into open doors in the family history and occasionally pushing against closed ones which reveal, almost literally, skeletons or at least descriptions of death once opened – Harding in 2013 visits the ruins of the house of which he has heard fond accounts from his grandmother. Stimulated by what he finds, he engages researchers, visits archives and official offices, learns of the complex personal and family histories of the various people who designed it or owned it or leased it or borrowed it or ‘acquired’ it, talking to individuals or their descendants, including villagers of Groß Glienicke whose ancestors worked on the estate before it was parcelled off, some forcibly sold to become military bases or the Gatow airfield, many being called up to fight either for the Kaiser or for the Adolf, many of them later victims of the casual brutality that characterised the post-war period. There are ironies along the way. One owner of the estate, being a high-up in the SA, gets beaten up and arrested and eventually driven away by the very Hitlerian movement he adores … A later owner, an ambitious music publisher, benefits from his party membership until in due course it becomes a hindrance when he needs a de-Nazification certificate ... (His business is badly affected when an RAF bombing raid destroys its storage facility in Passauer Strasse on 11 November 1943 – interesting to this reviewer, who now lives in the same street!)
Here and there the author slips into fictionalisation, being forced into making assumptions about what a character thought or did or said so as to fill in the gaps in the historical narrative. Here and there one finds a reference that doesn’t make 100 per cent sense - Russian jets in 1945? - but this does not really affect the flow. In retrospect, the childhood holidays and the weekends were always idyllic. The book starts with a series of maps slowly increasing in scale and focusing on the area and there are various diagrams of the house’s layout at different periods as well as a family tree of the Alexander family to which the author belongs (Hirschowitzes becoming Hardings while in England).
In fact, the book is about people and the house forms a convenient focal point and the history forms the background. Each generation in turn strives to build up a business and to survive any conflicts that blight their lives. For some it is an escape from the stress of city life; for others it is an escape from the stress of the bombing; for yet others it is an escape from the attentions of the Gestapo – or later from the Volkspolizei. The changing nature of the village itself through the decades, especially the DDR period and during and after the Wende, is described and then towards the end the remarkable interest in retaining and preserving and restoring what is left. The house is now being turned into a memorial and centre (details at www.alexanderhaus.org).
Fascinating are the Notes on pp. 361-410, the four-page Bibliography, the lengthy personal Acknowledgements on pp. 415-21 and an extensive Index on pp. 423-42! Clearly this is not a book that one person could write just by himself in one year, especially as the author frequently explains his limited German, but the individual stories have been skilfully and masterfully woven together.
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Individual stories masterfully woven together

‘Exile is all around us’
EXILE AND EVERYDAY LIFE: THE YEARBOOK OF THE RESEARCH CENTRE FOR GERMAN AND AUSTRIAN EXILE STUDIES, VOLUME 16
edited by Andrea Hammel and Anthony Grenville
Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2015, 217 pp. paperback
Since its foundation in 1995 the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies has been central to exile studies in the UK. The topics of its yearbooks have over the years covered a broad range of key aspects of exile from Nazi Germany – quite a number of them relating to the work on oral history documents and material collected by the Centre.
Volume 16, following in the footsteps of Wolfgang Benz’s ground-breaking study Das Exil der kleinen Leute (1991),which concentrated on the experience of the broad mass of the refugees from Nazi persecution, aims to take further this important work on contemporary witnesses, while at the same time ‘not losing sight of the larger picture’ (p. xiii).
The volume contains ten articles, highly distinctive in their approaches and all showing in different ways how life in the new countries of refuge was determined by the background of the individual refugees as well as by conditions in the host countries. Focusing on the everyday life of the ‘ordinary’ people in exile, in contrast to the life of artists, academics or prominent public figures, means not dealing with literature and other forms of high art but with letters and, in some cases, fragments of life accounts. This gives the quotations in the articles in this volume from this kind of source material an astonishing freshness and presence, in particular in the light of the current refugee crisis. Exile is all around us.
One of the great achievements of this volume is that it makes clear beyond doubt that every case of exile, every refugee’s fate, is individual. The generalising statements frequently made about exile are shown to be trivial in the light of these case studies and the snippets of information about individual behaviour they provide to throw light on the overall experience of exile: ‘Having lost everything, my mother kept everything’ (p. 65), says Elizabeth Schächter in her moving description of the struggle that everyday life was for her parents, two young dentists from Vienna. Janine Barker gives an interesting account of the life of Henry Rothschild, who emigrated as early as 1933 and became a leading patron of the crafts in his new home country.
Bastian Heinsohn’s life stories of two emigrants who settled in the USA demonstrate vividly their very individual reactions to life in their new country and the different ways in which they dealt with it. Both were helped to gain admission to the country by Carl Laemmle, the founder and first president of Universal Films. After his early death in 1939, this support for many émigrés stopped; this had more serious consequences for those who arrived later than for those who had been in the USA for a longer period. The collection of individual life stories is enriched by Jennifer Michaels’s portrait of everyday life in Shanghai, a destination for refugees that has come into the public eye fairly late in the history of exile studies and is thus particularly interesting as a research topic. Likewise, Ireland as a refugee country has attracted attention only relatively recently, having received only a small numbers of émigrés, as Horst Dickel and Gisela Holfter indicate.
Andrea Hammel’s article ‘Liebe Eltern – Liebes Kind’ looks into the very specific relationship between children on the Kindertransport and their parents and the communications between them. And considering the general lack of source material when it comes to research into everyday life in exile, it comes close to a miracle that Anna Nyburg has been able to write such an illuminating article on one activity central to human life: the provision of food, cooking and the role of food in the situation of exile.
Three contributions to this volume focus on writers. One is by Jan Schröder on Jean Améry and his writing on exile in the 1960s. Two further contributions are devoted to women writers. The first, by Regina Christiane Range, investigates the life and work of the multi-talented Austrian writer and screenwriter Gina Kaus on the basis of Kaus’s own autobiography and Hollywood film scripts, while Rose Sillars looks into Vicki Baum’s novel Die Karriere der Doris Hart (1936), examining the survival strategies of the exiled Doris, who, despite a damaged lung, becomes a highly acclaimed opera singer in her new country. Doris Hart’s singing career, based on regaining her voice under the most difficult conditions in exile, serves as a symbol for all those whose voices were not heard and gives convincing proof that exile can strengthen the ‘power of human will’ (p. 21).
This volume convincingly portrays the impact of emigration and the various cultural environments in which the refugees found themselves and, by not generalising, it gives a voice to those refugees who were not heard at the time and later were nearly forgotten. A short biographical list of the volume’s contributors is missing in a volume that is in all other respects a great asset in its field of research. [more...]

Letter from Israel

Even more so …
It’s one of the best-kept secrets of British journalism that the Life and Arts section of the Financial Times’s weekend edition contains some of the best written and most stimulating articles and reviews. So, as we were leaving the airport of our almost next-door neighbour of Cyprus for the brief flight home on a Saturday night, I picked up a copy of the ‘pink’un’, as it’s known among the cognoscenti, to try to retain my connection with the best of Blighty.
Imagine my surprise then when I opened the aforesaid section to find an enormous front-page article entitled ‘More British than the British’ by Ian Buruma, a writer/journalist previously unknown to me, describing the German-Jewish roots of his family (he notes that his Schlesinger grandparents took in ten Kindertransport children). His ancestors came to Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, far from being penniless refugees, were moneyed professionals. Their deep-seated attachment to German culture (especially the music of Wagner) did not prevent them from becoming equally attached to all things British - literature, cricket and even Christmas (not solely British, I know) - or from identifying with Britain in the tradition of immigrants who become ‘British through-and-through’.
They abandoned their ancestors’ attachment to Orthodox Judaism but couldn’t shake off their Jewish cachet and developed a family code-term, ‘forty-five’, for referring to matters redolent of the insidious and typically British form of anti-Semitism. Although some professional avenues were closed to them others were not and their obvious intelligence, abilities and persistence enabled them to climb to social, professional and intellectual heights.
The article, lavishly adorned with nostalgic family photographs, could well have come from the pages of the AJR Journal and, as I read it, I felt the strings of the land of my birth tugging fiercely at my heart. The piece ends with some well considered thoughts about Britain, assimilationism and the lessons to be learned with regard to Islam and the current immigration issue. As Buruma points out, Judaism has nothing similar to violent jihadism but, leaving that aside, it is possible to hope that the second and third generations of immigrants will find their place in what has become an increasingly multicultural Britain.
In what I think is the most telling phrase, Buruma concludes his article by remarking that his grandparents were fortunate in being able to find their place ‘in a relatively decent society during frequently indecent times. One can only hope that, eventually, other children of immigrants will feel as lucky as they did.’
I’m sure I’m not alone in heartily endorsing that view.
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Letters to the Editor

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