Extracts from the May 2016 Journal
In autumn 1944, Zeitspiegel, the publication of the Austrian Centre in London, gave its refugee readers a piece of rousing advice: if you ever meet someone who fought at Arnhem in September 1944, raise your hat to him. Such advice was unusual, coming from Zeitspiegel, a Communist-influenced paper which was not naturally inclined to celebrate the heroism of the British forces, though it loyally supported the Allies (especially the Soviets) in their war against Hitler. But the aura surrounding Arnhem, though it was a defeat for the British, overcame even Zeitspiegel’s reservations about the exploits of the capitalist nations of the West.
The feats of arms performed by the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, most notably the defence of the bridge over the Lower Rhine by a small force of paratroopers under Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost, passed almost immediately into legend. In the characteristically British mythology of heroism in defeat, Arnhem came to rank next to Dunkirk and is probably the best-known battle involving British forces in the entire Second World War after the Battle of Britain and the Normandy landings and alongside the Battle of El Alamein. It may come as a surprise that a number of Jewish refugees fought in the British forces at Arnhem; that was certainly a cause for pride among the refugee community, then still labouring under their classification as ‘enemy aliens’.
Operation Market Garden, of which the Battle of Arnhem formed part, was an ambitious plan to use airborne troops to seize the bridges over the Rivers Maas (Meuse) and Rhine, the last major obstacles between the advancing British and American armies and the German heartland, and to encircle the Ruhrgebiet, the key industrial area on which Germany’s military production depended. The war, it was hoped, would be over by the end of the year. The taking of the two sets of bridges nearest to the Allied advance, in the area of the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Nijmegen, was entrusted to the American 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne Divisions respectively, while the taking of the bridge at Arnhem, many miles further behind the German lines, was entrusted to the paratroopers of the British 1st Airborne Division, supported by the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. The latter proved to be, in a famous phrase attributed to Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, commanding 1st Airborne Corps, ‘a bridge too far’.
The weeks before Arnhem had seen the Allied armies break out from their beachheads in Normandy and race across France and Belgium. American and French forces took Paris on 25 August 1944, while the British 21st Army Group pushed into Belgium, taking Brussels on 3 September and Antwerp on 4 September. But the advance then stalled, as the lines of supply to the ports in distant Normandy became over-extended. To regain the initiative, Field Marshal Montgomery decided on a bold stroke, the seizure by airborne troops of the bridges over the Rhine, which were to be held until the arrival of the relieving land forces, whose armoured spearheads would then roll on into Germany. The first two sets of bridges were taken but at Arnhem only a small force of paratroopers reached the northern end of the bridge; the rest of the force was trapped in a pocket at Oosterbeek, west of Arnhem, from which it was compelled to retreat across the Rhine. Of the 10,000 men of 1st Airborne Division who were sent into Arnhem, only some 2,500 returned to Britain.
Probably the first book about the battle, Louis Hagen’s Arnhem Lift was written by a Jewish refugee from Nazism serving with the British forces. Hagen was born in Potsdam in 1916 and fled to Britain in 1936 after enduring a spell in a concentration camp while still a teenager. After service in the Pioneer Corps he was accepted into the 1st Airborne, changed his name to Lewis Haig, and was trained as a glider pilot. It was in that capacity that he flew to Arnhem, where he took part in the desperate defence of Oosterbeek by lightly armed and heavily outnumbered British troops. His account of the action is divided into eight sections, each in diary form, covering one of the eight days from the glider lift on Monday 17 September to Monday 24 September 1944, when the British paratroopers attempted to break out and make their escape from the Arnhem area, in Hagen’s case by swimming across the Rhine.
Arnhem Lift gains much of its impact from its simplicity and directness; it has the immediacy and authenticity of a day-by-day report on a military action, an authenticity underlined by the book’s original subtitle, Diary of a Glider Pilot. Although Hagen had never written anything before, he completed Arnhem Lift with remarkable speed; it appeared in January 1945. His publisher described the process of its composition: ‘When the author of this book arrived home on leave after fighting right through the Arnhem action, everybody wanted to hear his story. After telling it several times, he began to find the repetition irksome. So he spent the rest of his leave writing it all down, while the events were still vivid in his mind.’ Arnhem Lift is written from below, from the perspective of the fighting man at the front, and records the apparently spontaneous reactions of an ordinary soldier to the battle with gritty, but ultimately uplifting realism: ‘This is the story of one man’s battle. It doesn’t purport to describe the action as a whole. It gives instead a series of ultra-vivid images and experiences. Like real life, it is inconsequent and surprising.’
Hagen never mentions himself by name. His anonymous first-person narrator refers to himself simply as ‘I’, or often ‘we’, to emphasise that he is speaking for all the men who went to fight at Arnhem. ‘Anyone who went to Arnhem could have told this kind of story,’ he states. But Hagen, a Jew from Germany, was anything but a typical British soldier. Yet by writing from the perspective of a British soldier, he was rejecting the perspective of the refugee from Nazism, preferring to depict the British around him as if he were one of them. We learn almost nothing about him and his German-Jewish past, while his perfect command of English adds to the impression that he is British. Only a few small details betray his background: he can understand what enemy troops within earshot are saying and proves useful in the interrogation of German prisoners; with difficulty he convinces his hungry comrades to eat Dutch preserves, ‘Continental concoctions’ in their view, which he, as a ‘Continental’ himself, knows to be eminently edible. Otherwise, Hagen appears to be accepted without reservation by his fellow soldiers as one of them. There is no national, cultural or linguistic distance between him and his comrades; his narrative perspective could be theirs.
The superiority of that British fighting collective over their German counterparts forms one of the principal themes of the book. Hagen’s opinion of the German troops whom he encountered in the wood between the landing zone and Oosterbeek was that they were ‘a badly disciplined and poor crowd’. The Germans’ low morale and reluctance to fight are evident in the failure of an SS Panzer Division to wipe out the vastly inferior British force confronting it in Oosterbeek; instead, Hagen and his comrades repeatedly repel attacks by German armour with only a hand-held anti-tank weapon at their disposal. By contrast with the Germans, the British troops, largely civilians in uniform, maintain their discipline and order under extreme pressure, fighting with selfless solidarity as part of a unit that believes in its collective cause. Their quiet, understated heroism, reflecting their inner confidence in their superiority, infuses the book with the spirit of optimism that turns defeat into a stage on the path to ultimate victory.
Among the other Jewish refugees who fought at Arnhem was Rudolf Julius Falck. Falck, whose father had been an architect in Cologne, came to Britain in 1937 to study law at Balliol College, Oxford. Walter Eberstadt (see July 2015 issue of this journal) knew Falck at Oxford; he acted as an usher at the ceremony in April 1943 when Falck married Pauline, whom Eberstadt describes as ‘an absolutely gorgeous English girl’. Falck, like Eberstadt, was interned in 1940, then joined the Pioneer Corps and was commissioned in July 1942. He was killed on the retreat from Arnhem, joining the sadly long list of Eberstadt’s Oxford friends who died in the war. Falck’s details appear in Julie Summers’s absorbing study Stranger in the House: Women’s Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War (London: Simon & Schuster, 2008), which analyses the dislocation caused by the wartime absences of men from their families as well as the trauma endured by the families of those who never returned. Summers interviewed Falck’s daughter, Christa Laird, who was born three months after her father’s death and lived with that loss into adult life. Thus did the aftermath of Arnhem reach down into the second generation.
During the ‘Woche der Brüderlichkeit’ in Hannover in March 2016, both the German Rabbinic Conferences (Orthodox and General) met with both the Protestant and the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences for our annual get-together. The theme this year was, of course, refugees – in the wider sense and also in terms of what we, as religious leaders, should be saying.
It is, truly, an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, we all of us represent in one way or another religious traditions that stress the unity of humanity - the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) that stand behind the theme of the week. We all proclaim Justice and we preach about the need to help and protect the Weak and the Stranger.
But - and here there is a big but - the elephant in the room, so to speak - is the cultural tradition from which many of the current wave of refugees in Europe come. We rabbis expressed our amazement at how little the churches had done over the past few years for their fellow Christians from Syria and Iraq (and Palestine), but at the same time both groups shared a concern: Are many of the Muslim refugees anti-Christian as well as anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli? And, if so, what should our relationship be - not only to them but also to the communities we serve here in Europe - communities which are becoming increasingly alarmed, even afraid, due to the arrival of people, a large number of whom seem to have a very different view of the world?
The political consequences of this alarm have been well demonstrated in the rise of populist, nationalist and even racist political parties in many European countries, by the erection of fences and barriers, by heated political debates. Who is running the asylum for the asylum seekers? Should we, as rabbis and bishops, not have something useful to contribute to the discussion on the immoral issues as well as the moral ones? For example, there are many who profit from the refugee crisis, there are many who take specific positions, there are many who write or speak in racist terms. There are those who insist people be returned to areas ruled by fundamentalist rapists and murderers - would you return in such circumstances?
Quite remarkably, the only thing we could really agree on at the meeting was a rather vague and weak plea for more humanity and understanding. The fact is that the Jewish communities, who already feel themselves under threat from left-wing and right-wing extremists, don't relish the thought of towns filling with Muslims, some of whom – perhaps a tiny minority - may possibly have been raised on a diet of ‘Israel should not exist and all Jews are animals’. And the Christian leaders too are finding themselves confronted with refugees who display very little education (the standard of education in Syria has clearly been catastrophic for decades) but cling to the hierarchic structures that they understand – whereby women priests and bishops feel themselves especially confronted by the misogynistic attitudes displayed.
The individual stories are, of course, heart-wrenching and many of the refugees also fled to get away from Islamic fundamentalism as such. A few days ago I met a young family. He had worked for seven years in Cyprus to earn the money to build a house in Syria, then they had had to sell it for only $7,000 and to pay all this to a Schlepper for their illegal transport to Germany. The father then locked the mother in a room while he went out to seek work and, not surprisingly, she required some weeks of treatment for depression. Now at last both are trying to learn German and their kid will soon start kindergarten. The vicar and his wife who have been trying to help this family are also worried and depressed by the sheer scale of the work required to integrate such people – and the churches are overwhelmed.
There are no easy answers but a lot will depend on the desire of those who come – or succeed in coming – not only to arrive but to integrate, to adapt to living in secular, libertarian, pluralist, post-Christian countries. The Muslim leaders were not represented at our meeting but, bearing in mind that many mosques are financially supported and controlled by the Turkish government through the DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs), founded in 1984 as a branch of the Religious Affairs Ministry in Ankara, it is unclear what they or their communities could say or do in any case.
It will take at least 20 years and another generation to see what the results of the current crisis will be. Many of the arrivals are traumatised: they have been bankrupted, uprooted, often abused and raped and tortured, bereaved ... they bring with them feelings of loss and fear and insecurity, just as all refugees have done throughout history. One can perhaps - as Christians and Jews, as citizens - start working with these problems. But if some, even a tiny minority, bring hate and intolerance with them too, then things will become more difficult. For now, many of us find ourselves in a state of ambivalence. And feel thoroughly guilty about it ...
By 1510 he was dead from the Plague at the age of 33. Nonetheless, despite his tragic short life, Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco - otherwise known as Giorgione - had a mysterious power over his contemporaries and those who followed. However, as the Royal Academy’s exhibition In the Age of Giorgione (until 5 June 2016) indicates, few of his works survive and many belie attribution.
So who was this enigmatic Giorgione? He hailed from Venice, which produced some of the finest artists of the Italian Renaissance and was a magnet for art-hoppers everywhere. At a time when the all-powerful Catholic Church rejected landscape painting as the work of the devil - or at least representing man’s animal nature - Giorgione painted what is believed to be the first landscape in Western art history. He had to introduce human figures into the almost ethereal Il Tramonto (The Sunset), which existed unnamed for over 400 years, and yet the playful and miniscule two men and a man riding a white horse to the right are barely noticeable; instead, we look at the menacing bush in the left-hand corner, the tender sapling just above the figures, and the mountains, the sea and a few sketchy houses in the middle distance.
The RA exhibition presents other works, by Titian, Bellini, Campagnola and Cariani. Titian is considered the heir to Giorgione’s talents, later superseding him. The intensity of colour, the play of light and shade, came first from Giorgione’s artistic arsenal, possibly influenced by Leonardo. The strangely assymetrical composition of Titian’s Christ and the Adulteress and the lush attention to fabric detail of his Jacopo Pesaro Being Presented by Pope Alexander V1 to Saint Peter defy the awkward pose of the Pope and both may have lost intensity by over-restoration. Despite the florid painterly devices of the Italian Renaissance, some works look strangely flat and lacking in warmth, exemplified by Bellini’s rather static Virgin and Child.
Which brings us back to the masterful young Giorgione. His Portrait of a Young Man and His Servant shows the man clutching an orange. The times were full of symbolism and the orange resting in the aristocrat’s left hand, while his right hand clutches his face, is as vivid as the sigh of the lovelorn - the likely metaphor of this painting. It is an effete, romantic face but the coarser and worried features of the servant describe the narrative. Another painting attributed to Giorgione, Portrait of a Young Man, which some have taken to be his self-portrait, shows how this artist moved the art of portraiture into another dimension, in the subtlety of skin colour and texture, depth of expression, and the way in which the subject engages with the viewer, unlike similar contemporary portraits where the subject stares into the middle distance.
But the pièce de résistance shows the depth with which Giorgione handles old age. La Vecchia (The Old Woman) is full of metaphor and a contrast to the Venetian ideal of feminine beauty. Here a woman tentatively leans over a parapet; the hand pointing to her breast contains a curling letter with the words col tempo (with time); and her wispy hair peeps out of a cap. The woman is in plain peasant dress but her face shows her riches - all the wisdom and fears gathered into a long life.
Gloria Tessler [link]
by Peter Sichrovsky
Los Angeles: DoppelHouse Press, 2016, 176 pp. hardback, $19.95
The rather unusual title of this book is a Yiddish word, which is also used in German, is defined as ‘choked with emotion’, and refers here to at least one of the characters in each of the short stories in the book.
The author, Peter Sichrovsky, is also an unusual as well as a complex character. With a Jewish background and active in promoting the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust, he yet joined the extreme right-wing Austrian Freedom Party and even temporarily represented it as an MEP in the European Parliament. When, after a short time of relative moderation, the party again swung to extremism, he left it and for the last two years of his term as an MEP sat as an Independent. As well as being a journalist he is the author of a wide range of books, with topics ranging from the pharmaceutical trade, economics, espionage and travel to the crimes of Nazi Germany. One of his most relevant books in this context covers the lives of young Jews in present-day Germany and Austria (Strangers in Their Own Land: Young Jews in Germany and Austria Today) and he has also written about some of the German post-war generation (Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families).
Verklempt consists of 11 separate short stories, which the author describes as fiction but based on fact and are often related to experiences of people he has interviewed. It was originally published in 1998, in German, with the subtitle Jewish Love Stories.
None of the action takes place during the Holocaust but each story is concerned with the Holocaust’s direct or indirect effect on survivors or subsequent generations. The locations of the stories range from Austria to Tel Aviv and Berlin as well as undefined countries and vary from dark humour to drama and episodes of near pornography.
One of the most interesting tales is that of a survivor who is celebrating his 70th birthday and is desperately hoping that as a present, his daughter will announce her engagement so he can be assured that despite all that has happened the family line will continue. He even employs a lady schadchan to find a suitable match for her. His hopes are dashed when nothing happens during his birthday party. Afterwards he goes to see his daughter and the schadchan and, after an initial shock, there is a happy ending but in an entirely unexpected and bizarre way!
A very different story is that of a taxi driver who tells his passenger (possibly the author himself) that during the war he was an ardent Nazi but became disillusioned and allowed himself to be captured by the Russians. While a POW he meets a Jewish woman for the first time. She has lost all her family and expresses her hatred to the first German she has seen other than as a conqueror. As a result of her violence towards him he loses an eye. Nonetheless, as they discover each other’s history, a strong but platonic relationship develops between them. Several years after the war the taxi driver even travels to Kiev to try to find her.
It is difficult to summarise this book as, although it consists of short stories, it is not light reading. The stories have a depth which is not always apparent at first reading and it is likely that this volume, like some of Peter Sichrovsky’s previous ones, will be widely acclaimed. It is not certain, however, that all readers will necessarily enjoy it.
Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter
Now that we are well and truly entrenched in the digital age it comes as no surprise to find that this has been adopted and adapted to its own ends by the community of Jews originally from German-speaking lands, otherwise known as Yekkes.
Ever since I joined Facebook some time ago I have been bombarded by homilies about how best to conduct my life, by pictures of kittens, puppies and babies, and occasionally also by edifying information about world developments, ideas, and, of course, jokes. I do my best to keep up with this flood of data but am starting to feel that I am increasingly being inundated with indigestible material.
There are, however, one or two points of light in the barrage, among them two groups intended for Jews originally from German-speaking countries. The first such group, entitled ‘Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter’, is based in Israel and tends to display family photos and accounts of the lives and times of the members of the group from before the war. And, of course, their descendants. One by-product of this virtual group has been the establishment of physical groups that meet in various places in Israel. I belong to the one here in Jerusalem, which meets every two weeks to talk about a variety of subjects, but always only in German. The group meets in the offices of the Association of Jews from Central Europe and is led by the ever-energetic Ilana Alroy-Brosh, who is considerably younger than most of the members. These are people (mainly women) who were born in Israel or abroad to German-speaking parents, heard and spoke German at home as children, but now no longer have anyone with whom to converse in German.
I personally do not fit into that category because in wartime England it was not considered appropriate to speak in German and so I grew up hearing English spoken at home. Luckily, both of my parents spoke English well and, although in my childhood I was aware of their foreign accents, I had no desire to speak any other language and did not even take up the option of learning German at school. It was only much later in my life, in the last 15 years or so, that I have been studying German in order to be able to read the documents and correspondence my parents brought out of Germany with them in 1938 as well as other material. My German isn’t as native as that of the other members of the group but I manage to understand what’s going on and even add my little bit to the conversation from time to time.
In the group of German speakers we generally decide on a topic for discussion at the next meeting and are sometimes asked to prepare suitable material to illustrate our contribution. When the topic was children’s books we were treated to original editions of Struwwelpeter and I even found myself joining in when everyone sang Hänschen klein, though I have no idea where or when I learned it. And no, we did not play Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter with one another! At another meeting we were asked to talk about our childhood hobbies and were treated to impressive, themed collections of stamps, paper serviettes, transfers, and even a couple of professional-looking puppets made entirely by one of the participants. One participant is an expert chocolatière so you can imagine how we delighted in what she had brought along.
The other Facebook group is run by another energetic lady, this time in America. The group, known as JEWS - Jews Engaging Worldwide in Social Networking - is run by Vera Meyer, who hails from Boston, I believe. The group posts items of interest to the Yekke community as well as potted biographies of individuals and families. As is the case with the Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter group, the posts are in a variety of languages - mainly English and German but also Hebrew and even occasionally Spanish, French or Italian. New members are welcomed and asked to send a small autobiography and account of their family. In this way people who are scattered all over the world are given a sense of community and are able to get in touch with their roots. [link]