Extracts from the Oct 2010 Journal

Wilfrid Israel and the AJR

In June 1943, a circular from the AJR, then barely two years old, informed members of the death of one of the Association’s closest friends, who had since 1933 worked devotedly for the Jews of Germany: ‘We have suffered a great loss when the clipper [airliner] on which our friend Wilfrid Israel was returning from Lisbon was shot down over the Atlantic.’ Even amidst the daily toll of lives taken by the war, Israel’s courage and selflessness gave his death a special resonance for the Jewish refugees: ‘Wilfrid Israel died on a mission connected with the rescue of Jews from the Continent of Europe, a mission which he had undertaken unhesitatingly and fearless of personal danger and sacrifice. His memory will be kept alive amongst us.’ [more...]

Lost cities of the Mediterranean

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast as its Saturday Play The White Chameleon, Christopher Hampton’s semi-fictional dramatisation of his childhood years in Alexandria, which came to an abrupt end with the Suez crisis of 1956. The play is a moving account of a ten-year-old child’s affection for a wonderfully colourful city and its engaging inhabitants, set against the background of the final ebbing away of the British Empire. [more...]

Germany and the Germans: some reflections

Although I had the misfortune to be born in Germany, I consider myself lucky nevertheless to have been born in the city of Hamburg. Rightly or wrongly, I have always had the feeling that in Hamburg Nazism had less of a hold and that anti-Semitism was less rife there than in any other major city in Germany. I am unaware of Jewish people having been physically assaulted in Hamburg as they were elsewhere in the country. On Kristallnacht, in the part of the city where I lived we were completely unaware that anything untoward was happening. I was not woken up to the fact until I arrived at the Talmud-Thora-Schule, next to the main orthodox synagogue, the following morning. The building of the Tempel, the liberal synagogue, incidentally, survives to this day, complete with Hebrew inscription - doubtless, one has to say, for no other reason than that it was considered potentially too useful a building to be destroyed! [more...]

Art Notes (review)

It is just a single exhibit within a one-room installation in the British Museum but it sounds a powerful historical message. Akan Drum: The Drummer is Calling Me is curated by playwright and broadcaster Bonnie Greer, whose empathetic installation is the story of the music of the transatlantic slave trade. The drum itself, clad in deerskin, is now a silent witness to its own development of African-American music and its effect on the contemporary musical scene. The Akan Drum is considered one of the British Museum’s most fascinating pieces as well as its oldest African-American object.
The drum was first introduced to the slave ships from west Africa to Virginia in about 1735. Slaves were kept below deck in disgusting conditions from which up to 20 per cent died before reaching shore. In the belief that fresh air would be good for them, the slaves were brought up to deck and made to dance to its rhythm in a process known as ‘dancing the slaves’, although they were not allowed to own a drum, or anything else, themselves. The Akan comprise 45 smaller ethnic groups in present-day Ghana.
The right-hand wall of the installation is devoted to the trafficking of west African slaves to the Colony of Virginia and all their ensuing suffering and displacement. On the left wall you read the story of their music. It is accompanied by large video footage of titans like Martin Luther King, jazz giants like Miles Davis, and pop and rock stars like Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Shakira, all of whom can trace their influences back to the slave experience. In fact, from the provenance of the Akan Drum we discover the massive influence of African and African-American music on most popular music from the twentieth century onwards, including jazz, blues, R&B, pop, ballad, reggae, hip hop and rock ’n’ roll. Slaves would call to each on the plantations in what became known as call and response; this developed into gospel, protest music, blues, tap, etc. Even klezmer, whose repressive roots were planted in the shtetls and ghettoes of middle Europe, is said to have felt its influence. The drum sometimes incited rebellion on the plantations, particularly one in 1739 in Georgia, from which it was subsequently banned.
London’s Ben Uri Gallery has bought a watercolour of the Second World War, Interrogation, by German artist George Grosz, who challenged Germany’s decadence in the 1920s by graffiti art, which was later deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. Grosz, not himself Jewish, is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists, who used graphic satire as a political challenge.
Daphne Todd has won this year’s £25,000 BP Portrait Award for a painting of her dead mother, having pipped to the post a record 2,177 international applicants. She describes her work, Last Portrait of Mother, as ‘a striking image - paintings of dead people are always affecting’. Others who painted death include Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Lucian Freud.

The pioneering spirit

Joining the Pioneer Corps was easy. In the old days they emptied the prisons for recruits; in l941 they raided internment camps. This is how I came to be digging ditches in Scotland in 1942 while living under canvas, admittedly on the estate of the Earl of Home, which afforded me some excellent fly fishing. When I got to know him much later, after he had resigned as prime minister, I confessed to poaching in his rivers. He was very good about it and even inscribed one of his books for me. No Sassoon wrote poetry about us. Instead, when I shot a rabbit for the pot while on guard duty, I narrowly escaped being court-martialled. [more...]

Claims update

Ghetto pensions update
According to the latest statistics transmitted to the Claims Conference by the German National Pension Board, the total number of cases (claims for a pension for people who worked in a ghetto under German occupation during the Second World War) that have been reviewed stands at 56,432 Ghetto Pension applications. Of these applications, 32,773 have been processed (up from the 30,366 as of April 2010). [more...]

Letter from Israel

Bird-watching in Jerusalem [more...]

Letters to the Editor

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