Sep 2014 Journal
Letters to the Editor
FOR AND AGAINST
Sir – With regard to your August issue, I congratulate Gavriel Cohn on a brilliant letter, with which I totally agree. Of course, all young people should be given the opportunity to visit the homes of their grandparents and other relatives who had to flee Europe because of Nazi persecution. Even though I dislike the concept of faith schools, I commend the Hasmonean for arranging this.
I also agree with Robert Acker-Holt on feeling disappointed that the so-called privileges promised by the Austrian government on acceptance of their Honorary Membership Certificate have not been forthcoming. Perhaps the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde needs a firm reminder?
But enough of being agreeable! Harvey Gross believes that there would be ‘dreadful repercussions for future generations’ if there was a separation of religion and state in Israel. My reply to him is ‘If only!’
Then there is the correspondence between Janos Fisher and Eric Sanders in which Janos Fisher is right and Eric Sanders is wrong. Of course by supporting Israel we mean its government, as Mr Fisher maintains! What else? Furthermore, how can the settlements have been built ‘on Arab land’ as Mr Sanders says? There is no such thing. I also don’t understand what Mr Sanders means when he writes that Israel’s ‘level of democracy is not very high.’ What point is he making? There is no doubt that the extreme-right religious parties have too much say but this is the fault of the proportional representation system of election, which is held so dear by many left-leaning liberals. Also, Mr Sanders, please leave Conrad Black alone! He has been a very good friend to Israel.
However, to revert to being agreeable, Mr Sanders is absolutely right to think that Yesh Atid is the future and I join him in wishing good luck to Yair Lapid.
Peter Phillips, Loudwater, Herts
Sir - Eric Sanders complains that ‘our government does not represent the majority of the electorate.’ The current coalition did in fact get the votes of 52 per cent of the actual voters. To get a majority of the full electorate is effectively impossible when only 65.1 per cent of the electorate bother to vote.
He also says that ‘our election system is undemocratic’. He doesn’t say why but the usual argument is our lack of a proportional representation system. Israel actually has such a system, which gives it very fair parliamentary representation, but Mr Sanders finds that Israel’s ‘level of democracy is not very high.’ He is clearly hard to please. Could he inform us which countries do better?
Sir - I gratefully accept the half-olive branch offered by Eric Sanders.
I understand his concern about the multitude of opinions and views in the Israeli parliament. Difficult to change as Jews always have more opinions than you would expect from their numbers!
However, it is a far superior system than that of any of the Arab countries. Take, for example, Qatar, a friendly country, with growing influence in England. They are the largest shareholders in Barclays and they own the Olympic Village, Harrods, the Shard, the Savoy, etc. Simultaneously, they support Hamas, both materially and morally, and host Meshal, the head of Hamas. Presumably they consider this will allow the ruling al-Thani family to stay in power longer.
The media is making a very good job of running down Israel - no matter that Christians are hunted down and ethnically cleansed in several parts of the world. Israel - read Jews - are singled out for criticism - read hate.
So, Mr Sanders, there is plenty to criticise here or elsewhere, but I respectfully ask you: please refrain from criticising the imperfect state of Israel.
Janos Fisher, Bushey Heath, Herts
Sir - How the other side must rejoice in our quota of useful idiots!
One of their many misjudgements about the conflict around Gaza is the call for proportionality. The purpose of war, declared or otherwise, is to achieve superiority, not proportionality. The RAF did not stop shooting down German planes when they had reached parity. If the Germans sent 500 bombers to Coventry, we sent 1,250 to Dresden.
The Palestinians have their own idea of proportionality - an Israeli prisoner is worth 1,000 of their men. Peace (not necessarily contentment) follows victory. It is not achieved by a notional balance of misery, weighed out corpse by corpse.
Sir – US President Obama wants Israel to stop bombing. So does our PM, the EU and the UN Security Council - with possibly just a cursory mention of Hamas rockets, thousands of which have been raining down on Israel indiscriminately for years.
Israel’s intelligence has established that Hamas uses mosques, schools and, particularly, homes deliberately as rocket-launching sites. Obviously these are targets and our opponents are fully aware of this. Jews don’t kill deliberately - unlike them, we do not celebrate the deaths of innocents.
Israel’s superior technologists have invented an anti-rocket missile, deployed only if deemed necessary after automatic calculation. It named the system ‘Iron Dome’. Although it has proved itself admirably, every single drop of blood shed is felt deeply by every right-minded Jew in the world. The moral outrage is firmly placed at the feet of Israel’s adversaries.
It is imperative that Israel seek to destroy all means employed by Hamas to annihilate it. Irrespective of the vile and deliberate misrepresentation by the rest of the world, Israel must complete this task until Hamas sues Israel directly for peace.
Israel, that tiny island amidst a sea of ill-minded antagonists, stands proudly, preserving its unassailable, rightful survival. Without Israel, there would not be a Diaspora and our own existence would be doomed. The survival of Israel must be assured by every means, by every Jew! Thanks to Israel - our only insurance - we shall survive.
Fred Stern, Wembley
JEWS IN THE AUSTRIAN ARMY
Sir – The reference to Jews in the Austrian army in your August leading article ’Jews in the First World War’ contains the misleading phrase that ‘some Jews were admitted to the officer corps’. This implies only small numbers and appears to suggest a certain reluctance to admit Jews, and that this was the case only after 1914.
In fact, there were thousands of commissioned Jews, mainly as Reserveoffiziere, but, unlike in Prussia, there had for years been regular soldiers among them. (One major on the general staff was well known for attending the Friday evening services at the Stadttempel in full-dress uniform.) Due to the low levels of health and education among large parts of the peasantry in the eastern provinces there was a great need to recruit officers from other sources. Thus any man who had completed the full eight-year course in any form of secondary education (including even the Handelsakademie), was entitled to do his compulsory national service as a cadet (Einjährig Freiwilliger) and to become a reserve officer at the end of the year.
Given the high proportion of Jewish boys among secondary-school students, the number of Jewish officers recalled to the colours in 1914 was disproportionately high. All my male relatives of the right age group and virtually all the men among my parents` Jewish friends, with one exception, served as officers. That exception was one of my uncles, who was not a Maturant and was therefore ineligible for a commission. He did just as well without it, becoming a sergeant major in the Vienna Hausregiment, the 4th Infantry celebrated then and ever since in the Deutschmeister-Marsch.
Readers of George Clare`s Last Waltz in Vienna may recall that his great-grandfather was commissioned in the 1840s and retired as a major. That was probably exceptional but, by about the time of the army reforms of 1866, it was normal for a Jewish middle-class boy to do his national service as an officer cadet.
F. M. M. Steiner, Deddington, Oxon
IN MEMORY OF GHETTO MUSICIANS
Sir - May I add my enthusiastic support to the sentiments expressed by Frank Bright in the August issue.
My uncle Erich Schulhof (born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, in 1909) was an excellent amateur pianist. He occasionally broadcast on Czech Radio. As a child of seven I remember him coming to our house in Olomouc and entertaining us with the latest Schlager and excerpts from well-known operettas.
He lived in Prague after 1939 and was deported to Terezin on 24 November 1941. I must assume he would have been involved in the numerous musical activities of the ghetto until the time he was deported to Auschwitz on 18 December 1943. I believe he died of typhus on 13 April 1944.
Would any of your readers have known him by any chance or know of any records in which he might have featured? If so, I would be most interested to hear from them.
Peter Briess, London NW3
A PERSUASIVE WOMAN
Sir - I recently came across an article in your journal (April 2011) about Trevor Chadwick and Sir Nicholas Winton. I would like to correct one small error in this interesting article.
The author, Anthony Grenville, states that, on his first trip to Prague to collect two boys to take back to his prep school (Forres, in Swanage), Trevor Chadwick was persuaded also to rescue a young girl and that this girl was Gerda Mayer, the poet. In fact, Mayer by all other accounts came on a later transport, probably in March 1939. The girl who was taken by Chadwick and his fellow teacher Geoffrey Phelps, either late in 1938 or in January 1939, was 14-year-old Martha Marietta Wolf-Ferrari, who was then sponsored and looked after by the Phelps family.
When she left school it seemed appropriate that she should marry Geoffrey despite his being 44 and she 18. The result was me and my sister and an unhappy marriage!
Marietta’s mother, Mimi, who persuaded Chadwick and Phelps to take her daughter, must have been a persuasive woman. She moved in the circles of Franz Kafka, Max Brod and Franz Werfel in Prague and apparently fell for the latter, although eventually marrying the son of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (born Herman Wolf), the then eminent opera composer.
My family possesses a number of touching letters from Mimi to her daughter but she eventually died in Theresienstadt in 1942.
A HUG AND A KISS
Sir – What a wonderful act for a lot of elderly people who have no family to express some personal feeling! It requires a very special feeling. It requires a very special human being. It cannot be learned. It is a very special gift. It doesn’t cost anything and gives a lot.
At almost 90 I found such a wonderful soul. Where? In the Harrow Friendship Club in Bessborough Road. His name is Harry and there is always a smile on his face, even if he doesn’t always feel like it and might have problems of his own. But we get a hug and a kiss as soon as we come in.
Another thing is that he has a very understanding wife. After all, you can’t be jealous of some 50 women, all of a certain age! Yes, I should spare a few words about most of the other volunteers in the Friendship Club. They are very efficient, hard-working and very friendly. There are certainly such people in other clubs and groups. I just want to say a big thank you to those I know.
Hana Nermut, Harrow
AUSTRIAN COMPENSATION: EXPLANATION REQUIRED
Sir – I read in your July issue a letter from Professor Paul Weindling (‘The Worst Traditions of Austrian Bureaucracy’) that ‘The Austrian National Fund has paid [his family] less than half of the amount awarded.’
How come that my sister and I have received only a fraction over 10 per cent of the compensation awarded? I would be most grateful to receive an explanation.
Robert Ehrenstein, London NW9
A FANTASTIC TRIP
Sir - On Sunday 29 June I went to see the amazing Jewish refugee Judith Kerr read her book The Tiger Who Came to Tea at a special event the AJR organised with the London Jewish Cultural Centre. I was totally inspired by her reading and her writing. Although the book only took a small amount of time to read, I enjoyed it immensely and she kept all the children and adults truly transfixed throughout the famous tale of Sophie and the tiger.
After the reading, the adults stayed behind in the hall for a question-and-answer session with Judith and all the children went off with the cartoonist Marf (Martha Richler). This was where they had an amazing experience, learning how to draw portraits of people doing what they love. In the end, Marf came round and drew everyone as a little memento of their time with her. This was a fantastic trip and I hope to do something just like this again very soon!
Amy Shaw (11 years old), London N20
AJR’S MARVELLOUS TRIPS
Sir – I would like to put on record my appreciation for the many wonderful outings the AJR has laid on for its members over the last two months (at the time of writing).
Although most of us are in our eighth decade, our enthusiasm for getting out and about remains undimmed, but of course the travelling to and from venues becomes a problem. It is therefore a very generous gesture on the part of the AJR to help us out by laying on the necessary coach or taxi transport.
We all say, by common consent, that the AJR has given us a lot of pleasure in taking us on these marvellous trips and we are all very grateful.
(Mrs) Meta Roseneil, Buckhurst Hill, Essex
ALFONS GOLDMAN, A VERY MODEST PERSON
Sir - I write in response to the fascinating letter in your July issue from Harold Ball in Sydney regarding the above gentleman - for indeed a gentleman he was.
Alfons Goldman met my father, Hans Kohl/John Collins, in 1940 when they were both in the now-famous Pioneer Corps in North Devon. The friendship continued throughout, and long after, the war, when our two families often got together. The Goldman family, Trude and Alfons, had by this time increased with the birth of two sons (Peter and Tommy, if my memory serves me correctly).
In all this time there was never, to the best of my knowledge, any mention of the incredible story related in Mr Ball’s letter. Neither to my father, nor to anyone in the family or circle of friends.
This is hardly surprising as Alfons was a very modest person, but also very resolute and, as I say above, a true gentleman and true friend. Sadly, the friendship was not to continue as Alfons was able to further his career in the travel business by emigrating to Australia. The Goldman family, together with in-laws, moved to Sydney in the early 1950s. Communication was relegated to an exchange of letters and the rare telephone call. It was from such a rare phone call that we received tragic news: Trude Goldman had suddenly become ill and passed away very quickly, years before time, leaving Alfons to bring up two little boys and continue with life as best he could.
Fast-forward some 20 years, when I travelled on business several times to Sydney and was able to make contact with, and visit, the Goldman family, when we were able to catch up on all the news. Alfons, I believe, also travelled to London occasionally in connection with his business. After that, regrettably we lost contact. My father passed away in 1982 and now I learn that Alfons in turn passed away in 1986, when his remarkable story came to light. What an incredible subject for a film!
I hope this letter will prompt more acquaintances of the Goldman family to come forward.
Peter Collins, Hatch End, Middx