Extracts from the Apr 2014 Journal
Rather to my surprise, I calculate that I have now written the front two pages of this Journal for 100 consecutive issues, since becoming Consultant Editor in January 2006. That is some 150,000 words. My workload has been greatly lightened by the support and co-operation that I have received from our Executive Editor, Dr Howard Spier, who month after month has shouldered the demanding task of putting the entire 16 pages of the Journal together. I wish to take this opportunity of thanking Dr Spier and all the others who have contributed to the Journal over the past years, not least those readers whose letters and comments have spurred me on and kept me aware of what the AJR Journal means to our members.
In writing my articles, I have taken much of my inspiration from my predecessors, Richard Grunberger, who acted as Editor from 1988 to 2005, and Werner Rosenstock, Editor from January 1946 to December 1982. Many readers will remember Grunberger’s articles, lucid and concise in their presentation of material, trenchantly argued, informed by a remarkable breadth of historical and cultural knowledge, and frequently laced with a strong dose of polemic. Rosenstock, on the other hand, an editor who largely kept his own views and personality out of the Journal, is no longer as well remembered as he deserves; his articles were almost all unsigned or at most had the bare initials ‘WR’ at the end. So, despite my great debt to Grunberger, this article is written in tribute to Rosenstock, the founding father of what started out as AJR Information.
Werner Rosenstock was born in Berlin in 1908 and studied law but his career as a lawyer was cut short in 1933. He held positions in the organisations set up under the Nazis to represent the Jews of Germany; in the anguished months between the anti-Jewish pogroms of November 1938 and the outbreak of war, he worked in departments responsible for the transport of unaccompanied Jewish children to Britain and for organising the emigration of Jewish men released from concentration camps who were to be accommodated at Kitchener Camp in Kent. He arrived in London with his wife Susanne and young son Michael in August 1939, was briefly interned in 1940, and in 1941 joined the newly founded AJR.
Rosenstock acted as General Secretary (from 1976 Director) of the AJR almost uninterruptedly from its foundation in summer 1941 until his retirement at the end of 1982. From January 1946, he combined this with the position of Editor of the Journal, initially sharing it with two men with journalistic experience, Ernst G. Lowenthal, who left for Germany in 1946, and Herbert Freeden (Friedenthal), who left for Israel in 1950. During his 41 years of service, Rosenstock probably contributed more than any other single person to making the AJR what it is. On his 80th birthday, C. T. Marx, AJR Chairman from 1976 to 1994, stated simply: ‘He was prominent in AJR affairs from its inception and for so many years that, in many people’s mind, AJR and WR became synonymous.’
More than anyone else, it is to Werner Rosenstock that the Journal owes its house style, its appearance, its choice of contents and indeed much of its essential spirit and character. The Journal’s principal concern was to inform its readers about matters that were of the greatest immediate significance to them, in Britain, Germany and Austria, and Palestine/Israel. However, it was the Journal’s policy, as the publication of a group of refugees, to remain strictly neutral in matters of British politics not directly relevant to them; as far as party politics or elections were concerned, it limited its coverage to specifically Jewish concerns (for example, it largely restricted its reports on the early post-war general elections to detailing the numbers of Jewish MPs elected to each parliament). In the early years, the process of naturalisation probably occupied more column inches than any other British-based topic.
The Journal’s front page was divided into two sections: the left-hand column was taken up by brief, unsigned editorial articles on news items or topics of immediate current interest, while the other two columns were devoted to a longer, more reflective piece, often by a named contributor. Inside, the Journal soon developed regular columns, mostly unsigned. ‘Home News’ reported on events and developments in Britain generally alongside columns covering more specific areas such as ‘In Parliament, ‘What the Press Says’ or ‘Law and Life’. ‘News from Germany’, and later ‘News from Austria’, kept readers informed about their countries of origin and the pressing matter of restitution soon gave rise to numerous lengthy and complex articles. After 1948, reports from the newly established Jewish state appeared prominently, often under the heading ‘News from Israel’. The column ‘Anglo-Judaica’ reported on events in Anglo-Jewry. The Journal soon developed an impressive cultural dimension, including book reviews, arts features and a column on the cultural life of the refugees from German-speaking Mitteleuropa by PEM (Paul Marcus).
Over the years of Rosenstock’s editorship, AJR Information developed its own particular line on certain key topic areas. Probably the most important was that of the German-Jewish past, which inevitably led on to the highly sensitive question of relations between the Jews from Germany and the Germans in the post-Holocaust era. Already at an early stage, the Journal began to mark the anniversaries of milestone dates in the persecution of the Jews of Germany by the Nazis, like the boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933 and the anti-Jewish pogrom of 9/10 November 1938. The boycott, the first official measure to be taken by the Nazis against the Jews, was seen as the first act of what became a war against the Jews, as the November pogrom marked the first escalation of that war into open, government-sponsored violence, anticipating the Holocaust. The German Jews were thus allocated a special position in the history of the Nazi years. Though they suffered less in numbers than the Jews of Eastern Europe, they experienced Nazi persecution first and over a longer period of time, and at the hands of their own countrymen.
The Nazi years called into question the entire orientation of the German-Jewish community in the period of its acculturation and secularisation, from the late 18th century until 1933, and the legacy of its achievement in the cultural, intellectual and spiritual spheres. For his part, Rosenstock rejected the view that the Jews of Germany, in opting for the path of emancipation and acculturation, had embarked on a dangerously deluded course whose folly was revealed with tragic starkness after 1933; and he denied that the German Jews’ adoption of German culture and their aspiration to assimilate into German society was a flawed and misguided enterprise doomed in advance to failure.
Rosenstock confronted these sensitive issues throughout his editorship; he could never forget the crimes committed by the Nazis against the Jews. But he insisted on the importance of commemorating and preserving the heritage of the German-Jewish past. The lasting value of that heritage was a constant theme in the Journal. While admitting that the relationship between the German Jews and their homeland was uniquely problematical, its Editor nevertheless maintained that the cultural achievements of German Jewry constituted one of the highpoints in Jewish history.
AJR Information condemned the crimes committed under the Nazis without reservation and pilloried any manifestation of renewed anti-Semitism or neo-Nazism, but it also acknowledged the healthier developments taking place under the new conditions of democracy in West Germany. Rosenstock himself experienced that spirit when he travelled to Cologne with AJR Chairman Alfred Dresel in March 1964 to attend a mass rally held at the closure of the exhibition ‘Monumenta Judaica’. Though, as Rosenstock put it, ‘a visit to Germany must by necessity arouse mixed feelings’, he was evidently impressed by the goodwill shown by the over 130,000 Germans who visited the exhibition and by the willingness of thousands more to participate in a rally held in support of a Jewish event.
Rosenstock also took a broadly positive view of the experience of the Jewish refugees from Nazism in Britain. His articles did not ignore the mass internment of refugees (including himself) in 1940 or the persistence of anti-Semitic prejudice in British society after 1945. Nevertheless, he regarded the British with affection, even admiration, believing that in the decades since their arrival the refugees had been able to attain a largely satisfactory position in British society. Rosenstock took a notably favourable view of British policy in the period 1938/39, citing the large number of Jewish refugees from the Third Reich admitted to Britain at the time when Nazi persecution was intensifying and most other countries were limiting their intake of Jews: ‘It cannot be stressed often enough that between the pogroms of November 1938 and the outbreak of war, Britain admitted more Nazi victims from Central Europe than any other single country.’ This was not a view shared by all AJR members but, coming from Rosenstock, it earned their respect.
Artists rarely paint the same scene twice but Vincent van Gogh painted seven Sunflowers in 1888-89 during his time in Provence. For the first time in 65 years, two of these paintings hang side by side at the National Gallery in Room 46 (to 27 April 2014, admission free) in a reciprocal arrangement with Amsterdam’s newly renovated Van Gogh Museum, which held its own show last May, featuring both London and Amsterdam paintings.
It is one thing to paint the same thing from different perspectives but what is unusual about these two van Gogh paintings is that they are near-identical – almost to the number of blooms in the vase and their size. In a letter to artist Emile Bernard in August 1888, van Gogh described his theme: ‘the raw and broken chrome yellow will blaze forth on various backgrounds, blues … emerald green and royal blue, framed with thin strips painted in mine orange [red lead pigment].’ He was experimenting at this time with subsidiary colours like emerald and viridian.
It was all inspired by the famous Yellow House in Arles which Van Gogh rented in 1888. He invited his friend Paul Gauguin to join him that summer so they could paint together in the sunny southern French idyll. As he waited for Gauguin to join him, van Gogh painted this series of sunflower pictures to decorate his friend’s bedroom: they signalled friendship but also a kind of homage to Gauguin, whom he saw as his mentor. Influenced by the deceptive simplicity of Japanese art, van Gogh tried to capture the flat yellow of the flowers, working from sunrise onwards that August as the flowers faded so quickly.
So it seems the artist took his sunflowers very seriously. The other paintings are in Tokyo, Munich and Philadelphia. Apart from minor differences in tone and depth in these two works, the welcoming yellow and the presence of dying flowers, as well as those in full bloom, suggest vibrancy and sheer presence. Sadly, the relationship between the two artists failed to flourish as significantly as the flowers. They worked together through the autumn of 1888 but at the end of the year they quarrelled - Gauguin stormed off and van Gogh had a nervous breakdown, mutilated his ear, and entered an asylum.
Yet despite the breakdown of their friendship and the opposing direction of their art, Gauguin recognised that van Gogh had reached the peak of his gifts with the Sunflowers and asked him to send him one as a gift. The National Gallery bought its painting directly from the family in 1924.
The most significant of Richard Deacon’s sculptures in his new exhibition at Tate Britain (to 27 April 2014) is the massive, serpentine piece After, which appears to resemble basket-weave but is actually a construct from multiple smaller components involving wooden tubes which section each curve and a woven, stainless steel strap drawing the ends together. The whole writhing form is serpentine and reflects the quality of form and empty space which is the main feature of Deacon’s work.
Yet there is no sameness in his sculptures, which use many different materials, from steel, foam, rubber, chrome, leather and marble. Tall Tree in the Ear, on loan from London’s Lisson Gallery, is a tall, tubular structure which does suggest the outer ear, if not a stunted tree form, and others are convoluted shapes inviting you to look from all angles. Deacon moves from the major to the minor key: the attractive Tropic, in blue and green glazed ceramic, suggests the movement of waves and Out of Order is a complex jumbled mass of steel. But the overall effect, expressed particularly in Untitled, made of laminated wood, is movement, change and even musical notation.
THE FORGOTTEN KINDERTRANSPORTEES: THE SCOTTISH EXPERIENCE
by Frances Williams
London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014 (www.bloomsbury.com), hardback 312 pp., illustrations, £65.00 (online £58.50), ISBN 9781 780 938 035
Any book dealing with the Scottish experience of Kindertransportees should be welcomed, especially by Scottish AJR members, who may sometimes feel they are far from the centre of events in London. In her preface to this book, a former PhD thesis from the University of Edinburgh, Frances Williams, who was provided by the AJR with a grant to undertake her studies, emphasises her desire to highlight the story of Scotland’s ‘forgotten’ Kindertransportees. She stresses the impossibility of providing simplistic generalisations regarding characteristics of the Kinder and their treatment in wartime Scotland. Indeed, this is Williams’s central argument, as she makes clear in the introduction to the book, where she refutes the arguments of Judith Tydor Baumel and Claudio Curio, both of whom, she emphasises, exemplify the ‘tendency to treat the minors across Britain as one collective group’. In the words of the author, ‘The Kindertransportees represented a kaleidoscope of different types of people’ and ‘their experience lacked uniformity or predictability as a group’.
Of particular interest is her research into the lives of Kinder who were placed in residential care. Williams was able to draw on private collections ‘located around the world’. These include the recently discovered Challis family’s private collection of over 400 negatives and the private papers of the late William Fanton Drew, a teacher at Whittingehame Farm School in East Lothian.
Williams gives an enlightening picture of the reception of the young people she calls ‘trans-migrants’ – described thus as they were not expected to remain in Britain. Relying on both her own research and that of eminent historians such as Tony Kushner and David Cesarani, she has been able to expose the limitations of the rose-coloured picture of British philanthropy, ‘publicly celebrated as an example of the nation’s humanitarian spirit’. Her own response is a well-balanced one, pointing out that ‘Neither the celebratory nor the critical narrative offers a representative evaluation of the event and experience.’
Williams shows diagrammatically the complex philanthropic welfare network existing in the late 1930s on national, regional and local levels. This, as she makes clear, meant a confusion of messages and the lack of an obvious chain of command. The dominance of the London-based Central Council for German Jewry and the Refugee Children’s Movement created particular problems for Scotland. Williams notes that the Glasgow Jewish community could have ‘provided handsomely for the reception of the Kindertransportees in Glasgow had it [their pledge of £25,000 for the children] not been siphoned off to London.’ She does her best to provide a nuanced picture of the problems facing the host community especially when wartime made resources scarce and the need to care for British citizens was more pressing than sympathy with the ‘trans-migrants’.
Williams frequently cites the survey undertaken by the AJR/ Kindertransport Association (KT), ‘Making New Lives in Britain’, which is based on replies to a questionnaire sent out to former Kindertransportees. The database includes 87 surviving Kindertransportees who spent some time in Scotland. Referring to this, she illustrates a number of aspects of the Scottish experience, ranging from the age when Kinder were first employed to their current religious affiliation.
She also makes interesting use of oral testimony, though making clear in her preface that the ‘fluidity of memory is particularly relevant as Kindertransportees become older’. Many of her examples are drawn from the interviews in her private collection. In Appendix 3 of the book she provides a selection of biographies of these interviewees, whom, as she points out in a footnote in her preface, she chose to provide with pseudonyms. Having interviewed a number of Scottish survivors for the educational project ‘Gatheringthevoices’ (www.gatheringthevoices.com), I was able to identify some of these people from the biographies and found that Williams’s practice was not entirely consistent, as she sometimes referred to them by their real names.
My one significant concern with Williams’s work, however, is its factual inaccuracies. Williams includes an impressive array of footnotes but these are occasionally unreliable. One example is her reference on page 7 to Aspects of Scottish Jewry, edited by Kenneth Collins, where she misleadingly refers to Collins’s research when in fact the author of the comment on ‘an ongoing level of tension between the Ostjuden and Westjuden communities’ was Rynor Kölmel. She later states that the Talmud Torah in Glasgow used Yiddish for instruction in the 1930s – though in fact Collins does mention that this ceased before the First World War. Spelling errors abound: Mary Hills instead of Maryhill, Dr Crossgrove rather than Cosgrove, Jew’s College rather than Jews’ College. Williams also seems unsure of key Hebrew words, using Bnei Keive instead of Bnei Akiva, Evrit for Ivrit, Yishvo for Yishuv.
Ms Williams, nevertheless, deserves to be commended for an ambitious book, which provides challenging responses to a number of thought-provoking issues regarding Scottish Kindertransportees, ranging from ‘Scottish Care for the Jewish Minor’ to the ‘Limitations of a Zionist Endeavour’. [link]