Jan 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
PUTTING MORALITY FIRST
Sir - Jane Merkin’s ‘Suitcase: A story sadly relevant today’ in your November issue is indeed sad and relevant today.
In truth, its relevance has no time limit. She is not the first to have complained in the AJR Journal about the attitude of members of the Anglo-Jewish population before the war. Surely we are not trying to assume that when it comes to morality, the Jews are different from the rest of human society? Our tribe is represented in all strata of behaviour.
It is quite likely that large numbers of human beings are willing, even keen, to pursue the moral alternative but when, at the lowest level, survival is at stake, morality becomes irrelevant. Moving up the scale, the not unreasonable desire for more than is necessary begins to compete with moral behaviour. It’s my guess that greed becomes dominant quite early on the upward scale of economic and social behaviour.
There is, luckily, a core of human beings at all levels who are strong enough to put morality first, whatever the cost. They keep our hopes open. Looking around, the world shows that today this core is well in the minority, even though, I believe, its proportional influence is greater than its size. Unfortunately, even so, it is not large enough to make any radical changes. The greedy and the violent seem to be sufficiently in charge to prevent morality from making a real difference. Even religion has not succeeded – if it was ever meant to – in achieving a moral society.
We must applaud Jane Merkin for not just protesting but for doing something positive about it. There are many charities and many charitable people who take remedial action but, when you add it all up, the sum total of their actions only touches the fringe.
Personally, I cannot see much point in just complaining, especially about what is long past. I have been an optimist all my life but it does not allow me to disregard reality.
‘WE MUST SAVE THE CHILDREN!’
Sir – I was seriously upset by Mike Levy’s letter ‘We must save the children!’ in your November issue, in which he asked for information about non-Jews who helped children like me after Kristallnacht.
I should so much have liked to give the Brown family my official thanks. Instead, they received only my love and affection. He was R. R. Brown, retired Commissioner of Burma, part of the Indian Civil Service, and had a truly Christian spirit, shared by his wife and daughter. The latter was exactly my age. Without them I could not have borne what happened to my parents and much loved elder brother.
Of course, I am still in touch with my English family. R. R. Brown’s son-in-law recently became a great-grandfather.
BY BOAT TO PALESTINE
Sir - With regard to the letter from Carmel Page and Sue Pearson (December), my uncle, a single young man, went from Ersekujvar (Nove Zamky) to Budapest, where he boarded the boat Erzsebet to make his life in Palestine.
The Erzsebet made several detours to Bratislava and Bulgaria, where more emigrants boarded, before making for Haifa.
It was hard for the Erzsebet to stop for refuelling as war had just broken out and no countries wanted to refuel it. Finally it stopped at an island called Erekli near Turkey, where many boats were queuing. One of the managers helping on the dockside was Jewish and found out that one of the boats was carrying Jewish refugees; he arranged for this boat - the Erzsebet - to be refuelled ahead of the others. He also made sure that extra food was loaded on and promised to send updated telegrams to relatives of the refugees that all was well. It had been rumoured that bad things had happened to some of the refugees!
The Erzsebet finally docked in Haifa on Shabbat 23 September 1939, which also happened to be Yom Kippur, but the religious passengers, of whom my uncle was one, were allowed to stay on board until after the fast.
FOR THE RECORD
Sir – Writing during the 75th anniversary year of the Kindertransport, I’d like to put on record that, after serving as a volunteer at Dovercourt, I’m corresponding with Alice Jaspars of Aberdeen – a fourth-generation descendant of a Dovercourt Kind! All praise to you for keeping everyone in this worldwide family in touch for so long.
TEACHING THE KINDERTRANSPORT
Sir - I would like to contact Kindertransport survivors and their families in Scotland and the North East who would be interested in visiting schools to tell students about their lives.
I am developing a children’s war museum to explore historical events through children’s voices and memories.
The Wiener Library has a Kindertransport display which can be hired and I would like to take it to our area. There is certainly an interest in Kindertransport history. I hope it will help students to gain a personal understanding of what the war meant to Jewish families in Europe and of the experience of the Jewish child refugees.
Sir - I have just attended at Piccadilly Station in Manchester a performance of the wonderful play Suitcase (see review, page 9), which portrays the hard facts of the Kindertransport. I went with my mother, Ann Cohen, who is a Kind, and my husband. We didn’t know what to expect but - to use the vernacular - we were ‘blown away’.
The concept was marvellous and the acting and direction excellent. There were about a dozen actors and actresses who initially played the parts of the Kinder leaving on their journey. On arrival at the station, we were all given a numbered ticket to wear and ushered in different groups to watch vignettes being performed at various locations in the station.
The scenes which involved waving goodbye and letters to and from the children and their parents caused many of the audience to shed a tear or two.
My mother having been a Kind, I am used to hearing the story, but nothing prepared me for the raw emotion evoked by this performance. We are privileged to have seen it and congratulate Ros and Jane Merkin on this amazing piece of social history.
KEEPING THE MEMORY ALIVE
Sir - I recently attended a very moving AJR service at Belsize Park Synagogue about Kristallnacht 75 years on. Some of the people in the congregation had lived through it. My grandfather was arrested on Kristallnacht and spent three months in Dachau concentration camp. He was only allowed out as my grandmother obtained a work permit to come to the UK. My mother came with her parents aged 13 in February 1939. She was unable to attend the service as she lives in south London.
It is good to keep the memory alive for people who did not live through it and for people who are not Jewish.
Sir - Several members of my family in Vienna were murdered in the Holocaust. Through the Vienna Stones of Remembrance project, I am arranging to have stones laid next spring outside the home they shared as a family: see www.steinedererinnerung.net/ <http://www.steinedererinnerung.net/
There are several projects throughout the occupied area. The stones are often called Stolpersteine - ‘stumble stones’ - and can be found on the internet for individual towns.
As I had never heard of Stolpersteine before a few months ago, probably few others in the UK know about this project. The thought that my family will not be forgotten gives me great pleasure. They will hopefully remind a nation of the tragedy born of prejudice that must never be repeated; furthermore, my living family will have somewhere they can go to pay their respects.
I would be happy to help (via the Journal) anyone who would like to have a stone laid for their family but does not know where to start.
A WONDERFUL EVENT
Sir - Congratulations to the AJR for organising the wonderful event in the House of Lords re-dedicating the plaque which thanks Britain for rescuing the Kinder. Not only was it an experience to be invited into the hallowed halls of government and provided with an elegant seated tea, but it was also a pleasure to hear John Bercow, Betty Boothroyd, Alf Dubs and our own Erich Reich speak.
Sir – I would like to thank the AJR for co-hosting the memorable ceremony at Liverpool Street Station on 1 December.
For me, it was very poignant as I was on the first Kindertransport, arriving in Harwich on 2 December 1938. And I was especially glad that the Chief Rabbi, whose speech was apt throughout, mentioned not only those who organised and permitted the transports but also the parents who let the children go, knowing - as they must have done by then - that the writing was on the wall. I was also very touched at having been asked to place one of the candles, which I managed to do for Berlin.
HORTHY STATUE IN CENTRAL BUDAPEST: WHAT WILL BE NEXT?
Sir - I read recently that a statue to Horthy, Hungary’s controversial wartime leader and an ally of Hitler, has been erected in the centre of Budapest. As a survivor of the Horthy era, I feel outraged. In Prague, when rightists marched carrying anti-Semitic slogans, the head of the Catholic Church protested. Nothing like this is happening in Hungary. Why? Because anti-Semitism has been prevalent in Hungarian society for many years. Today, as a result of political intrigue, all common sense and humanity have been sacrificed. What will be next?
Sir – I don’t really have a lot to go on: my memory of it all is extremely patchy. So what am I doing writing this? It must be the memory of that lively, little fair-haired girl, whose Christian name I can’t recall, playing on the swings in St James’s Park one sunny Sunday afternoon. It turned out that she was the daughter of the playwright John Osborne, mentioned in Anthony Grenville’s recent article. Our young daughter Sarah found in her a little playmate. I also remember the two pleasant foreign nannies (French or Italian?) who were in charge of the little girl and whom my husband and I found interesting to talk to. They even all came to visit us one afternoon in our modest flat after our meeting in the park.
I couldn’t help feeling sorry for that little girl although she couldn’t have been treated better, but she did come across as the archtypal child of actors or professionals living their separate lives - father in England, mother in the States.
Now, 50-odd years later, I wonder what has become of the girl, what her name is, and if she remembers us.
AUDIO RECORDINGS OF AUSTRIAN-JEWISH REFUGEES AVAILABLE
Sir - In 1993, when collecting language data for my PhD on German/English bilingualism, I made audio recordings of informal conversations with Austrian, predominantly Viennese, Jewish refugees living in London. The recordings were made available to the participants at the time but unfortunately many of the participants are no longer with us. When I came across the Refugee Voices project on the AJR website it occurred to me that relatives and/or friends of these people might want to have access to the recordings as a form of audio-memory.
The list of names I have is: Anschel, Gerti and Klaus; Arie, Edith; Bronstein, Dorit; Bukowitz, Stefan; Caraco, Mrs; Charap, Ellie; Collins, Lizzy; Dutch, Josi and Albert; Eichler, Udi; Fensterheim, Tom; Fischer, Wolfgang; Goldie, Mrs; Gottlieb, F. H.; Grunberger, Richard; Hogan, Sophie and Fritz; Holland, Evelyn; Hull, Lore; Lane, Alfred; Motesiczky, Marie-Luise; Rosenow, Lilly; Singer, Mrs; Sloane, Mrs; Stern, Renee.
Sir - My husband, whose family came from Berlin and Tilsit, had two uncles both of whom were known as Uncle Box. Their given names were Max and Julius. I asked my late father-in-law about it and he said it was an old joke he had forgotten. But where did the name Box come from? I have wondered for 50 years now. I wonder if any of your readers know the answer.
HURTFUL AND UNJUSTIFIED COMMENTS
Sir - We write in response to two correspondents, Walter Wolff (October) and Peter Wayne (November), who took exception to an article by Ruth David which appeared in your September issue. This article was a personal view of the 75th-anniversary Kindertransport event in June. Ruth quoted, but is blamed for, a remark that was ‘let fall casually’ by someone else - ‘that we Kindertransportees … were the group of immigrants that had done more for Britain than any other immigrant group ever in the UK.' A bold and perhaps arguable claim, but to accuse her, as your correspondents did, of arrogance, having ‘grand illusions’, ego-tripping, boastfulness and denigrating non-Kinder sections of the community, is grossly unfair.
Neither of your correspondents knows Ruth as we have for close on 30 years. She is guilty of none of the above. She is the most modest, self-effacing, even self-denigrating, person one is likely to meet, who has for many years given an enormous amount of time talking to thousands of school students in Britain and Germany, as well as to countless adult audiences, about the Holocaust, how it affected her family and her own experience as a Kind. She is, of course, one of many who, for the sake of younger generations, have relived the painful past in this way and she would be the first to acknowledge the work of others, some of whom, like her, have deservedly been recognised and honoured by the German government for their tireless efforts. Your correspondents’ comments were hurtful and quite unjustified.
A CYNICAL MOVE
Sir – A propos the article ‘Austrian dentistry in the UK’ (December), there was another category. From 1941 onwards Austrian dentists were allowed to work in the relatively poorly paid school dental service – a cynical move! My father, a qualified Zahnarzt, applied for, and soon got, a job with Derbyshire County Council; his brother, in a similar position, found employment in Leicester. My father was appalled at the low standard of dentistry and worked hard to maintain his high standard. His work was appreciated by patients and colleagues alike.
Sir - At the time of writing, a tragedy involving millions of people has happened - the greatest tornado ever to strike the Philippines. Britain, which originally sent an aeroplane to ascertain the magnitude of the catastrophe, is now sending an aircraft carrier, which will take a week to get to the opposite side of the globe. Whatever food and water it carries will take days to get to the people affected by the disaster. By that time, none of them will be alive any more if they depended on Britain. Even aeroplanes, taking 15 hours non-stop, would have been of greater help. Were they sent to the unaffected nearby islands and countries to pick up food and water, that would have shown enterprise.
We could have sent builders and engineers, emergency power plants and many other items. But, in common with other countries, the bureaucracy, inertia, hesitation, indecision and unpreparedness, considering the meteorological warnings of many days beforehand, highlight the inability of international aid provision in a disaster situation on such an immense scale. As always, the immediate request for money from the population comes as no surprise. All the money in the world could not buy a glass of water to still a thirsty throat! But food provided immediately by stores in the unaffected islands and, moreover, from nearby countries, could have saved millions of the stricken population.
It should be obvious that all the monies collected will never save one life by the time it takes to provide even one bite of bread. Money collected, if it were ever to provide help, would take a long time to get to the providers, who would be the only ones to gain from the disaster.
Practical help is needed on the spot by the unfortunate people, who stand without a roof over their heads, knee deep in water, having to bear the tremendous floods, getting hungrier and thirstier by the hour, seeing no hope on the horizon, hidden by the destruction of their mangled homes. Their future is in the hands of the Almighty.