Jul 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
UNSUNG HERO: THE STORY OF ALFRED BENJAMIN GOLDMAN, 1911-1986
Sir – The son of German-Jewish Holocaust survivors, I was born in Sydney in 1944. In 1973-76 I worked as an accountant for a predominantly Jewish Sydney travel agent by the name of Astronaut Travel.
Astronaut Travel’s general manager was Alf Goldman, with whom I shared an office. In those three years Alf never mentioned the war.
It wasn’t until Alf’s funeral in 1986 that I discovered his amazing story. The Chevra Kadisha was overflowing with loudspeakers in the street. Who were these mourners? They were Italian Jews - the children and grandchildren of Italian Jews who owed their lives to Alf Goldman.
The story that came out in the eulogy was as follows. Alf was a Viennese Jew who had worked for the Italian tourist company CIT (Compagnia Italiano Turismo) in Vienna. Because he was proficient in Italian they posted him to their Venice office. Alf was blond with blue eyes.
Then Hitler made a state visit to Italy in May 1938. His train was to stop in Venice and CIT was to provide an interpreter for two days. Venice’s top fascist official came into the office looking for a suitable applicant fluent in German and Italian. He looked all around then, pointing to Alf, said ‘None of you dark-haired Semitic types will do but you, my friend Alf, with your blond hair and blue eyes, are the perfect choice!’
Alf said: ‘How can I? I am Jewish! My name is Goldman!’ The official replied ‘In Italian your name is Alfonso L’Uomo d’Oro and you will join the state train when it crosses the border, remaining by Hitler’s side interpreting for two days.’
So Alf was in the same room as Mussolini and Hitler and learned of their plans for the anti-Jewish laws that were published in July 1938 and enacted later that year. In 1938 there were in Italy some 46,500 Jews, of whom 20 per cent did not survive.
The story that came out at the funeral was that Alf went back to the office and placed advertisements in all the Italian-Jewish papers stating that CIT was organising hiking tours into Switzerland. When people enquired he told them to send their valuables ahead, ‘pack small’ and join the tours and they would be safely guided into Switzerland by CIT guides. We don’t how many were saved this way or where they eventually finished up but those who made it to Sydney became his clients.
In September 1938, in another CIT posting, Alf himself went to Switzerland and became involved in Jewish Agency efforts to buy Jews out of Germany. Funds were raised by the Swiss-Jewish community and a Swiss consular official provided papers. Sufficient money was raised to transport 400 German Jews to Palestine. With CIT’s help, Alf chartered a train across Italy to Trieste, where he organised a boat for the perilous journey to Palestine. The British fired on the boat near Haifa but the bulk of the passengers made it.
Alf never met any of these German Jews in Australia, but did so in Israel many years later.
Harold Ball, Sydney, Australia
Sir - Something different!! I was born in Vienna and grew up on football - instead of my mother’s milk – thanks to my seven-years-older brother, who took me to a match at a very early age. Followed Hakoah regularly.
Came to London in June 1939, started to watch Arsenal and ‘advanced’ from Stehplatz (standing room) to season-ticket holders after the war. Followed Arsenal everywhere (fortunately my husband also enjoys football) as we were founder members of their supporters’ club – until we emigrated to Toronto to be with our wonderful daughter and her family.
Here, we sit glued to the TV every Saturday and Sunday to watch the English League games. Now, of course, we are very much looking forward to the World Cup from Brazil and hope to see as many matches as possible – which will also be good for me as I am supposed to have my one leg elevated as often and as long as possible!
I have now reached the great age of 93 years and my husband will be 99 years later this month. We love life and enjoy it to the full and hope it will last a little while longer.
Thought it would be nice to write a positive letter for a change ….
Kitty Schafer, Toronto, Canada
THE WORST TRADITIONS OF AUSTRIAN BUREAUCRACY
Sir – The recent Austrian compensation scheme directed by Hannah Lessing has been much praised in your journal. I am glad if the experience has been wholly positive for AJR members. But has this scheme not been slow to deliver on highly scaled-down amounts which have been obscurely calculated and yet it demands a full waiver, so legitimating loss and expropriation?
I wonder whether the Fund has now made due efforts to actually pay out the compensation it has calculated is due? In the case of my family, despite my best efforts, the Austrian National Fund has paid less than half of the amount awarded. The Fund cites obscure rules that make no sense. It was not pro-active in contacting claimants. It placed the burden of extracting a waiver from relatives on the claimants. This is unfair. I am afraid that, as a historian, the spectre of Eichmann forcing Jewish communal representatives in 1938 to administer persecutory systems made me reluctant to extract waivers and do further administrative work for the Fund. It was hardly a joy filling out multiple copies of documents outlining the persecution and expropriation of my grandparents and parents in the first place.
I have never fully understood the Fund’s reasoning, which is couched in obscure administrative legalese. Its letters put the burden of not knowing about its rules on me. At one stage, an official told me that for reasons of data protection I could not ask about the processing of a form filled out in my handwriting about my mother! In the end, I have to conclude that here is an organisation that represents the worst traditions of Austrian bureaucracy in its sheer slowness and absurdity. It now pretends it has fairly paid out but, in the case of my family, its paying out to one brother but not to another proves that it has far from done so.
The National Fund of the Austrian Republic has certainly communicated to two successive generations of my family a sense of having been expropriated on what should have been paid out in a constructive spirit to heal the wounds of injustice. The amounts are relatively small - but that makes being just and fair all the more significant. I wonder if my family is unique in having received only a small proportion of its incredibly scaled-down award and whether other AJR members have had similarly negative experiences?
Professor Paul Weindling, Oxford
‘WE MUST SAVE THE CHILDREN’
Sir - The ‘We Must Save the Children’ project in Cambridge described in your June issue brought back a very emotional moment in my life. My father was deported to Poland in October 1938. In 1939 my mother managed to get visas for Cuba for the whole family as my father would have been allowed back into Germany in transit. However, the Polish government sent the wrong brother back! My father phoned us in Berlin begging my mother not to go without him, not to leave him. My mother, a very brave woman, told him ‘I must save the children.’ How hard that must have been after listening to a sobbing husband and father!
My father did manage to get on the next boat but, when the captain heard we on the SS St Louis had been refused entry into Cuba, he returned to Germany and we never saw him again.
Gisela Feldman, Manchester
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE
Sir - Much of what is published on Kindertransport history continues to mention Sir Nicholas Winton - with full justification. On the other hand, I have not come across any references to the wonderful people who, in parallel, organised the Kindertransports from, for example, Berlin, for individuals like myself.
I have written to and e-mailed the AJR Journal and Kindertransport Newsletter several times in the past hoping for such information - there must surely be references somewhere - but there has never been any response from anybody … until now I see Werner Rosenstock given this credit in Anthony Grenville’s front-page article ‘A centenary’ in the April Journal.
Hurrah at last!! The first-ever such accolade I have come across – there must be more!
I have to assume that the search cannot be so very difficult. Is it that nobody is particularly interested? The full credit deserves to be given!!
Werner Conn, Lytham St Annes
Sir - In the debate between Bill Williams and Dr Grenville about the alleged inadequacy of the UK government`s actions in 1938, Grenville is right. The Kindertransport appears to be the only action to admit refugees in any numbers by any government at the time, and the Conservative government of the day has not had the credit for it that it deserves. I wonder whether this was in any way influenced by the fact that the then home secretary was a Quaker?
F. M. M. Steiner, Deddington, Oxfordshire
Sir - Further to the announcement in your May issue, ‘Monument to bear names of all Dutch Holocaust victims’, your readers might like to know that they can contribute to the erection of this unique monument by going to https://www.holocaustnamenmonument.nl/en/ which is the English version of the website. You can then search for a (familiar) name and ‘adopt’ that name.
Henri Obstfeld, Stanmore, Middx
A MARVELLOUS DAY OUT
Sir – Yesterday (at the time of writing) an AJR group of 30 were given the opportunity to visit the Hindu Temple in Neasden. It was a wonderful morning for all of us. Here is a masterpiece of exquisite Indian design with intricate marble and wooden carvings. We were privileged to hear an eight-minute Hindu service, which was impressive, and then we viewed a film on the building of this outstanding edifice, which took only two-and-a-half years to complete. The craftsmanship was carried out in India and transported to London for erection. We were warmly welcomed and a superb vegetarian meal completed a marvellous day out for us.
(Mrs) Meta Roseneil, Buckhurst Hill, Essex
AN IMPORTANT MEETING PLACE
Sir – In your May issue, Dr Arno Graef asked for information about the activities of the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend - FDJ) in Scotland and the effect it had on us. I can only give my opinion and hope it is of some help.
I arrived in Edinburgh in December 1938 when I was 13 years old. At that time, there was no FDJ group. However, there was a Refugee Club in Nicholson Street. It was primarily for adult refugees and I attended only once.
In 1939 there was an air raid aimed at shipping and possibly at the Forth Bridge. Edinburgh became a protected area and most refugee adults over the age of 16 had to leave the area. I left Edinburgh in March 1941 and went to Glasgow.
There was already an established Refugee Centre in Pitt Street. This also housed the FDJ, which moved to Sauchiehall Street.
The FDJ was very active and many young refugees attended its functions and activities. It also attracted quite a number of Scottish people, most of whom were very left-wing.For us young ones, it became an important meeting place, where we had lectures and some social activities. They also provided sports activities and short outings. We took part in the May parades and they also had a very successful performance called the ‘Fetes of Nations’, when refugees entertained a large audience with musical recitals. Both old and young took part. Once I began nursing in 1943 I didn’t have the opportunity to attend or be part of the group. I often wondered where the funding came from.
I hope this helps. There are also photographs and articles available from that period.
Rosa M. Sacharin, Glasgow
DOOMED BOAT ESCAPE
Sir – Rabbi Walter Rothschild refers to the Kladovo Transport (April, Letters). This failed boat escape along the Danube was arranged by Ehud Avriel (born Vienna 1917 as Georg Überall, later politician and diplomat), who describes the difficulties in his Open the Gates (New York, 1975). The Danube was an international waterway and the war had not reached the countries it flowed through. Without visas it was only from the unpoliced and spreading Danube delta that rescue was possible.
The boats set off from Bratislava in late December 1939, transferring to three Yugoslav boats, which, it seems, were not allowed to go beyond the Iron Gates as no ship had been arranged to take the party from the last Romanian port to Haifa. They stayed in the winter harbour at Kladovo, the last harbour in Serbia until August 1940, arranging classes and entertainment while trying to get visas for Palestine from relatives who had gone earlier. They weren’t to know that at the outbreak of war the British government had put a stop to visas for enemy nationals, which these would-be refugees counted as. With the assistance of the Yugoslav-Jewish organisations, the party went back to Šabac on the Sava river some 70 km west of Belgrade.
Visas were promised for about 200 young people, who went to Palestine in March 1941, taking with them photo albums and memories that we can experience. The remaining 1,000 or so were still in Yugoslavia when the German army invaded in April 1941 and all were murdered.
In 2001 a major exhibition took place at the Jewish Museum in Vienna; an excellent catalogue, Kladovo – Escape to Palestine, contains photographs and lists of names. Dead-end Journey: The Tragic Story of the Kladovo-Šabac Group by Dalia Ofer and Hannah Weiner (Studies in the Shoah, vol. XIV, 1996) gives a full account.
As most of the party were Austrians it would seem fitting for more than a mention around the Judenplatz Rachel Whiteread memorial on which Šabac is listed among the many places where the 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered.
A small party of refugees from Danzig joined the doomed group in Bratislava – including my mother’s parents, who shared the fate of the others.
Robert Avery, London SE21
A BATON OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Sir - I read on your website Anthony Grenville’s recent article on Lotte Kramer after having been much moved by her collection The Desecration of Trees (Hippopotamus Press, Frome, Somerset, 1994). I admire her work very much.
I am not a Jewish refugee and my family is English, although my mother still remembers the horrors of the war years. We cannot share in Lotte Kramer’s grief or terrible experiences - let alone those of her family - but her words serve as a baton of enlightenment in a difficult world and speak harrowingly of the time of her youth. I cannot but feel transported by her words.
Rebecca Finch, Frome, Somerset
IN SUPPORT OF ISRAEL
Sir - Judging by his letter in your last issue, Eric Sanders has not noticed that Israel is a democracy and that the Israeli people have voted in Netanyahu.
Calling the Daily Telegraph a far-right paper is laughable! If that were correct, England would be virtually a fascist country - the Telegraph has the largest readership of the broadsheets.
Mr Sanders states that Max Hastings writes articles for the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and other publications, but this does not change the fact that he was supportive of Israel and there is a good chance he still is. That he voted Labour (I wonder how Mr Sanders got this information!) is fine as there are many supporters of Israel in the Labour Party, its leader among them. The same applies to Conrad Black. He supported Israel when he owned the Telegraph and, as he is still married to Barbara Amiel, I presume he hasn’t changed his views. That Mr Sanders wouldn’t have him as a friend is no loss to Conrad Black, I’m sure.
Janos Fisher, Bushey Heath
Art Notes (review)
A Spanish journalist photographing Henry Moore’s Recumbent Figure at Tate Britain’s Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation exhibition (to 10 August 2014) seemed disappointed: ‘He was so privileged,’ she sighed. And she disappeared before I could ask her why that mattered so much!
I sort of understood. This show wasn’t an artist’s show: the protagonist wasn’t a painter or a sculptor but a man who could indulge his tastes and who, as a former director of the National Gallery, could make or break other artists - and did so.
Clark’s 1969 TV series Civilisation marked his reputation as an art historian, impresario and patron in the old-fashioned style of aristocrats and the Church. None of that exists today, unless you count Charles Saatchi, whose patronage leans towards the sensational.
In an exhibition of over 270 objects from either Clark’s own collection or from his favoured artists, the Tate wants to prove how he helped change the course of British art. But it was as a broadcaster that Clark clearly made his greatest impact.
An only child born to parents who had inherited a fortune in the Scottish textile industry, Clark was given an album of Japanese prints for his twelfth birthday and a love of art was born. While some of these prints, for instance Kitagawa Utamaro’s Hour of the Cock, are presented, they do not recur, suggesting that this early flirtation developed into a greater love for European art.
The show at the Tate is surprisingly low-key. Clark’s choice is deceptively bland, but also eclectic. From Joshua Reynolds to Man Ray, from Sutherland to Seurat, Clark was seen as a great populariser. As the National Gallery’s youngest director in 1934 at the age of 30, he wanted to modernise and democratise the Gallery and to make it available to everyone. He criticised both abstract and surrealist art for claiming the future because he felt that any art movement which failed to embrace nature was alienated from its destiny. It indicated his view that art was essentially poetic and sensual, rather than cerebral and external.
So – among his favourites – the Bloomsbury set, including Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and leading contemporary artists such as John Piper and Victor Pasmore. In the late 1930s Clark turned to Henry Moore for his blend of solidity and delicacy; Graham Sutherland’s majestic landscapes and John Piper’s luminous collages and painting of Coventry Cathedral reflect this.
Constable’s Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’, where rough seas, clouds and ruins come together as though they are all made of the same stuff, has almost as biblical an impact as Moses Brings Forth Water out of the Rock (School of Filippino Lippi).
During the Second World War Clark commissioned Moore’s drawings of sleepers in the London Underground, with their sculptural muscularity, and an almost surreal Battle of Britain by Paul Nash.
Mary Kessell was one of three women officially assigned to cover the war: her fine drawings of displaced inmates, Notes from Belsen Camp, are included alongside her work The Exodus.