Mar 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
The Wrong Climate?
Sir – ‘Zum Kotzen!’ Sickening! My dear mother, an ardent AJR member, would have used that Viennese expression to describe Victor Ross’s ‘The Right Climate’ in your February issue.
You were brave to publish this provocative article. Having long ago escaped from Victor Ross’s ‘almost exclusively German-Jewish refugee milieu, cosy and shrinking’, am I alone in finding his self-proclaimed snobbery offensive? What chutzpah to suggest, for example, that the communities in Britain that produced Simon Sebag Montefiore or Simon Schama are less educated, less refined than Victor’s ‘Germanophone’ cohort! I refute his proposition. I share his elation about New York - the unique ‘buzz’ and energy are heightened by both Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants of all periods, races and cultures. And yes, Jews enhanced and dominated Broadway and Hollywood: a potent, flourishing mixture of Russian, Polish, Austrian, German, Czech and Hungarian refugees who arrived in America before and after the rise of the Nazis - not just those from Germany and Austria.
But a long list of Jews have also made a huge impact on British culture. From Jacob Epstein and Lucian Freud to Alexander Korda, from Lionel Bart to Amy Winehouse, Jews born here and those who came here at different periods have distinguished themselves in music, films, television, theatre, publishing and art - to say nothing of their contribution to science, medicine, commerce and industry. To claim they did little to change Britain is beyond comprehension!
My life experience and attitude are very different. Openly proud to have been born a Jew in Vienna and grateful to have come to England indirectly through the Kindertransport, I now rarely call myself a ‘refugee’. I am proud to be a British citizen and a citizen of the European Union. I participate actively in my local non-Jewish community far from the self-imposed ghetto of north-west London – or ‘Breetish Vest Hampstead’ as it was known when I lived there 60 years ago.
Sir - Victor Ross states ‘I have never felt that I belonged here, that I was other than a guest, respectful of my hosts and generously tolerated by most of them.’
I would like to challenge this. If my experience is anything to go by, it is entirely due to the mode of living he chose and the friends he made. I never lived in Hampstead or other mainly Jewish districts of London and never restricted my choice of friends to fellow-Jews. I have many non-Jewish British-born friends, none of whom has ever made me feel ‘just a guest’, and I have never experienced openly expressed anti-Semitism or xenophobia. Both my sons have been successful in their chosen professions in spite of a German surname, which they have never it found necessary to ‘anglicise’, and they certainly feel completely ‘integrated’.
Sir - I too, like Victor Ross after watching the TV programme on the American musical theatre, received a message loud and clear. In America the immigrant Jews felt they could at last portray themselves as they are and feel. And what better medium than the creative and sentimental one of entertainment - whether in movies, music, comedy and entrepreneurism - which is part of the American cultural output loved and admired globally!
This could not be emulated in England: the immigrant Jew when touching these shores aspired to mingle and be like the upper class. Those who could afford it bought country estates and sent their children to private schools - but couldn’t really be themselves.
As for the new Jewish immigrants to Germany who escaped the pogroms, they were fiercely impressed by the academic culture of the new land and soon not only blended in but surpassed all fields of learning and greatly contributed to their new country. Needless to add - look where it led to!!!
But in America, the Jew is his own man: he is true to himself - and that’s what Victor Ross found out. Whenever he arrived at JFK he got his adrenaline rush. Indeed, others have reported similar experiences.
PLUS ÇA CHANGE …
Sir - Anthony Grenville’s response to my February letter vindicates the point I made entirely. He says hardly anyone could have predicted that the Second World War would break out as early as September 1939. Exactly, because too many people allowed themselves to become intoxicated with what they wanted to hear - 'peace in our time'!
The same can be said today with Europe intoxicated at the thought of trade with Iran just as a result of signing a grubby, worthless piece of paper which is called an interim agreement supposedly to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons!
In a few years’ time, Grenville will no doubt say that hardly anyone in Europe could have predicted Iran would become nuclear whilst these pathetic negotiations, fronted by the gullible Ashton, go on. In the case of Hitler, and now in the case of Iran, this is because the opponent has lulled - or is lulling - the other side into entirely false hopes, which the latter, driven by self-delusion at the thought of instant peace, allows himself to grab without any thought of the possible consequences. Plus ça change ….
Sir - Anthony Grenville's reply to Peter Simpson’s letter seems to imply that if war had not broken out in September 1939, much more would have been done to rescue the families of the Kindertransport children.
What then is his interpretation of the decision of the War Cabinet (September 1942) not to grant visas to the thousands of children to whom the Vichy government offered free passage but to grant visas only to the handful of children who already had part of their nuclear family here in the UK?
What of the offer of free passage made by the Hungarian government in 1944 for women and children to countries which would take them in which the War Cabinet kicked into the long grass because of its concerns about where to relocate them? At the same time, the UK had allowed thousands of (non-Jewish) nationals such as Poles and Greeks - whose lives were in danger because of their opposition to the Nazi invaders - residence in Palestine.
Understanding the causes of the Holocaust requires a broader prism than focusing on what happened in Germany.
MEMORY, MONUMENT OR MEMORIAL?
On 27 January this year the Prime Minister appointed a commission ‘which will work to ensure Britain has a permanent memorial to the Holocaust and educational resources for future generations’.
Members of the commission and its expert groups include the Chief Rabbi, Holocaust survivors Ben Helfgott and Jack Kagan, and representatives from the Arts Council, the War Museum, etc.
As James Young (The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (1993)) so eloquently states, ‘monuments suggest themselves as everlasting remnant-witnesses by which subsequent generations would remember past events and peoples.’ But he also says that ‘Once we assign monumental form to memory, we have to some degree divested ourselves of the obligation to remember.’
Members of the public who wish to make a representation can do so until 25 May via the website https://engage.number10.gov.uk/contact-the-holocaust-commission/ I believe it is vital that members of the AJR use this opportunity to express their opinions. There are too many unloved and anonymous statues of generals (and their horses) in practically every square and park in London and the recent erection of the inaccessible and crass Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park is another example of a memorial designed for oblivion. It would be a disgrace if Holocaust memory, memorial or monument suffered the same fate.
NOMINAL TICKET PRICE FOR HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS AT LJCC
Sir - LJCC is delighted to have received funding enabling us to host here at Ivy House Holocaust survivors at a nominal ticket price of only £2. We are also able to fund transport costs if genuinely required.
We circulated details of some of our programmes with the AJR Journal in January. The uptake has been marvelous.
However, we do need to remind people who may interested in attending the Centre that they need to book - and be in possession of a valid ticket in the usual way. If they don’t book, on any occasion they run the risk of being unable to get into very popular events – which sell out quickly. It is like going to the theatre or cinema: do not turn up without a ticket!
To book, please telephone Ben on 020 8457 5021. If he is away, telephone 020 8457 5002.
THE MILIBAND CONTROVERSY
Sir – I appreciate the interesting article ‘The Miliband Controversy in Historical Perspective’ by Anthony Grenville, which appeared in your December issue. It is, indeed, an insightful perspective. I must thank you for the thoughtful words regarding my father.
Sir – Re letters on this subject in your February edition, a personal experience. Aged 18, a post-Auschwitz refugee, I arrived in the UK in January 1946. I became friends with a girl of Jewish working-class background. Her parents told her, in no uncertain terms, that she had to stop seeing me because I was a foreigner. A one-off?
DES KINDES CHRONIK
Sir - My mother, Dorle Potten née Essinger, wrote a history of her family which included memoirs of Bunce Court and my remarkable great-aunt Anna Essinger. The book was reviewed in the Journal in February 2010 but sadly she died around the same time.
We have quite a few copies of the book which we would like to give away to anyone interested in reading it. Please contact me with your address if you would like a copy (p&p is about £5 and would be welcome but is not essential).
KINDERTRANSPORT PLAQUE REDEDICATION
Sir – Having regrettably missed the recent Kindertransport rededication ceremony at the House of Commons, I would like to add a few words about the circumstances behind the plaque’s original creation and unveiling.
A small Kindertransport committee decided that it would be a good idea to have some sort of permanent record of this historic event … something in the House of Commons? They asked me if I could deal with it. I found the House of Commons switchboard telephone number and asked the operator ‘Excuse me, do you do plaques?’ She calmly put me through to
the chairman of the Works Committee. He was charming and helpful. We had a number of meetings and I was told that I could have a brass plaque, maximum size of so many inches height and width. Words to be incised in the plaque (and filled with pink paste?) were suggested.
I changed the text quite a bit to what it reads now. And, yes, it was Betty Boothroyd, the then Speaker, who spoke at its unveiling.
The occasion was filmed by Sue Read and Jim Goulding, who also made the
documentary about the Kindertransport The Children Who Cheated the Nazis. Lord Attenborough, who is in it, got it on to Channel 4. But that's another story ….
Sir – On page 2 of your January issue mention is made of single escapes from Nazi Germany. I was such a one, taken to the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin in May 1938 and ‘given’ to a couple of Jewish strangers who were asked to take me to London. I was nine at the time. Parts of the journey were a nightmare as the couple, and therefore I, were taken off the train at the frontier with the Netherlands for a Stichprobe and the train went on without us!
My story forms part of an autobiography I’m writing and a film has also been made – Tom’s Story, which can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/72385340 with the password ‘tomtom’.
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Sir - Just to say all six of us from Hampstead Quakers very much appreciated being at the AJR’s Holocaust Memorial Day event at Belsize Square Synagogue. Thank you for inviting us. Over the years we have had quite a few refugees who have been part of our community and while, sadly, many have died or are now very frail, their influence is still felt.
From everyone I spoke to I found an interest in Quakers, in what we believe and in how we worship. What came across to me was a commitment to respecting the humanity in everyone and making the world a better place that made me feel quite at home.
RELUCTANT TO RECOGNISE THE PAST
Sir – I read the moving article by Dr Scarlett Epstein in your last issue with great interest and admire her successful achievement in persuading her old school to recognise the injustices of the past. I myself have not had the same success. Although I have spoken at several schools in Vienna, I have been unable to arrange a visit to the Schottenschule, which I attended before and just after the Anschluss. The primary school itself no longer exists but the Schottengymnasium on the same site seems reluctant to recognise the past.
One of the items which usually raises considerable interest among pupils is my original exercise book from the school, which effectively charts the change from being a proudly independent Austria (with flags, Kruppenkreuz and a blessing on the first page!) to a paragraph dictated in March 1938 which marks its end. This is headed ‘Deutschösterreich’ and reads ‘German-Austria is a part of the Deutsches Reich and our Chancellor, our Fûhrer, is Adolf Hitler.’ This was later angrily crossed out!
After the Anschluss I was told to sit at the back of the class and not play with the Aryan children. Later, like Scarlett, I was ‘expelled’ and sent to a Jewish school. Perhaps the Schottengymnasium does not wish to be reminded of this period?
BIOGRAPHYOF ANTON DIFFRING
Sir - I am writing a biography of the actor Anton Diffring with the assistance of his family. I have found that his name and productions he appeared in made regular write-ups in the ‘Old Acquaintances’ section of the AJR Newsletter in the 1950-60s.
Anton Diffring was Jewish; his real name was Alfred Pollack. When he escaped from Germany before the Second World War and arrived in England, he was held as an ‘enemy alien’ and shipped to Canada, where he was placed in an internment camp for a couple of years. Do any readers remember if the information about him was provided by his agent (Rita Cave) or were they following his career and posting it themselves?
ETHOS OF REUTH
Sir - Both as a member of the Reuth UK committee and a niece of one of the founders of Reuth, Gerda Ochs, I felt that I must add a postscript to the excellent article by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in your last issue, which captured the ethos of Reuth. If readers would like to know more about Reuth or the work of the UK committee supporting Reuth’s work, please visit our website www.reuth.org.uk. Readers are also most welcome to contact me on 020 7692 0137.
HAVING MORAL SCRUPLES IS NOT TREASON
Sir - I must own up to the crime of regarding a newspaper’s stance on Israel, while important, as not the primary criterion of its worth. If Peter Phillips believes Mr Gove’s sending a Bible to every school in the land and creating schools where kids are taught by people who are not teachers will raise our educational achievements, that is his right.
But calling Edward Snowden a traitor when he has had nothing but a hard life out of whistle-blowing British and American surveillance culture is pretty fundamental. The background Peter and I have in common should have taught him that the power the Nazis exerted in enforcing the compliance of the population in excesses against Jews and other ‘undesirables’ was based entirely on the Party keeping people under strict surveillance. Today’s technology makes surveillance potentially much more far-reaching. Even Obama and Cameron have come round to seeing this danger. Having moral scruples is not treason. The Guardian sees this; Peter Phillips does not.