Between Gaza and Berlin


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Those two names signify so many different views, concepts and even worlds, seeming to encapsulate the distinct worldviews that are so much a part of our life, here in Israel.

In a local and very provincial sense these are the names of two roads in Rechavia, the Jerusalem neighbourhood which was built in the 1920s. Today those roads are clogged with traffic for much of the day, and at the point where they meet there used to be a trendy café whose name was the same as the title of this piece. Gaza Street presumably once led south to the physical Gaza Strip, but of course this is no longer the case. Berlin Street was probably so named because many of the area’s initial residents hailed originally from Germany and still yearned for what had once been its culture.

But Gaza and Berlin are both geographical places that have been much in the forefront of Israeli consciousness in recent months, the former because of the fighting that took place there in the summer and the second due to the publicity given to the fact that the cost of living there is much lower than it is in Israel and that many young Israelis have moved there.

Physical Gaza embodies the culture of the Levant, a mindset that seems to oppose everything that Israel stands for, a dense population living in poverty (although some of the leaders there are millionaires) while cultivating a festering antipathy towards Israel, the West and the values they hold dear.


Berlin, by contrast, personifies the heart of Europe, with all that is good and bad in it, embodying both the pinnacle and the nadir of its civilization. Today, reunited Berlin is a thriving, vibrant city that fosters creativity and promotes coexistence between different ethnic, religious and cultural groups. And the living there is easy, so they say.

These are some of the thoughts that occurred to me at the concert the other night as I listened to the world premiere of Aviya Kopelman’s composition, ‘Between Gaza and Berlin.’ This young composer’s specially commissioned work for the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra was full of rhythmic sections, some of them accompanied by lyrical passages, others consisting merely of drumming at varying speeds and tempi. Much of the work was characterized by almost jazz-like syncopation, and the programme notes mention the composer’s cooperation with rock as well as Arab musicians. These and other elements certainly showed through in the music, but the overall concept was interesting and invigorating.

And as the above paragraphs show, it certainly set me thinking.

German Templers, Zionism and Nazism

The German Templers were part of the ‘Christian Zionism’ movement whereby the European powers sought to establish their presence in the Holy Land after 1840. Following their charismatic leader, Christian Hoffman, these adherents of the German Lutheran church, primarily in Wurtemberg, established settlements in Jerusalem, Haifa, Galilee and what is now Tel Aviv, in an attempt to bring salvation to the Jewish and Muslim denizens of the region.

They combined their calling as emissaries of the true faith with the practical need to support themselves in their new home. As they had been farmers in their country of origin they engaged primarily in agriculture, building houses according to the German rural pattern, cultivating the land and creating a pleasant and aesthetic environment. They served as a model for the Jewish pioneers who came to the country, and in many cases provided instruction and guidance for the newcomers.

The first group of 72 people settled in Haifa at the foot of Mount Carmel in 1868, preceding the first wave of modern Jewish immigration by fourteen years. But that influx, largely sponsored and funded by Lord Rothschild, consisted of thousands of people and soon became the predominant element in the population. The Templers built seven small settlements in various parts of the country and one of them, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, is known to this day as the German Colony. As well as engaging in agricultural activity, the Templers also participated in the modernisation of Palestine, introducing mechanised farming machinery, paved roads and the use of electricity in their homes.

In 1987 the late Professor Alex Carmel established a Chair for Research into the Christian Contribution to the Development of Palestine at the University of Haifa, as well as the Gottlieb Schumacher Institute, paying tribute to one of the Templers who engaged in exploring the Holy Land. It was Professor Carmel who insisted on spelling the name of these Templers with two ‘e’s’ to distinguish them from the mediaeval Templars, on whom they modelled themselves. This I learned when I translated his fascinating doctoral thesis on the Templers well before he became a professor.

In the 1930s, a number of the Templers in Palestine joined the Nazi Party, and one of them, a certaini Cornelius Schwartz, was appointed head of the Templer community. They made no secret of their allegiance, and even ventured to marched through the streets of Jerusalem, occasionally in Nazi uniform, bearing aloft the flag of the Third Reich.

It was at this point that the Templers switched from religious Messianism to political Messianism, according to Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, Rector of the University of Haifa, although less than 20 percent of the Templers were members of the Nazi Party in 1938. Some of them returned to Europe to fight in the German Army, and in 1942, a young Jew, Noah Klieger, was summoned to Gestapo headquarters in Brussels, and was stunned when he was addressed in Hebrew by the German officer there, Joachim Erdman. He was told later that Erdman had grown up in a Templer village in Samaria.

After the outbreak of the Second World War the British authorities in Palestine interned the Templers in camps, deported approximately 600 Templers to Australia, and returned about one thousand of them to Germany in exchange for some five hundred and fifty Jews who had been in concentration camps. This unprecedented move brought those thus saved to British-controlled Palestine.

Among those rescued were relatives of mine, who regarded their release from the concentration camp as little short of miraculous, as indeed it was. The family’s subsequent ordeal in enduring the seige of Jerusalem led them to eventually leave Israel and settle in London, though subsequently some of their children did return to this country.



Rescue in France


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I have just read the book entitled ‘In This Hospitable Land’ by Lynmar Brock Jr. which is based on the personal experiences of the author’s wife and her family. It describes in great detail the trials and tribulations of the two Sauverin brothers, Alex and André, their parents, wives and children as the darkness of the Second World War descends on Europe.

André is a respected professor of chemistry at the Brussels Free University and Alex is an expert in philatelics, earning his living in that field. The brothers are married to two sisters, Denise and Genevieve, and each family has two children. The two families are understandably close, and even live in the same building, with other family members nearby in a comfortable Brussels neighbourhood. They are secular Jews, and do not adhere to any religious belief.

As the Germans conquer first Czechoslovakia and then Poland, triggering declarations of war by France and England, the two families, together with one set of parents, start driving south from their holiday home on the Belgian coast. The book describes every stage of their journey in the black Buick automobile bestowed upon them by a generous relative. Their route takes them first through Belgium, then across the border into northern France, continuing south through Rouen and Orleans, endeavouring to avoid the long lines of French people escaping from the German invaders as they advance south. The family drives along side roads that follow river beds, crossing the Massif Central, eventually reaching Millau, where the Tarn River cuts through the limestone plateau.

The two families were able to continue going south thanks to the special arrangement made by the pre-war French government for according refuge to fleeing Belgians. The two families eventually make their way to the Lozère department in the mountainous Cevennes region, in south-central France. It was in that area that the Protestant Huguenots found refuge after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, during the French War of Religion.

Initially finding rented accommodation in a large house in the village of Bédouès in June 1940 the families are not made to feel welcome and the two brothers are required to work for the landowner for no pay. Harassed by the local mayor and fearing the worst as news of the German advance into France reaches them, mainly through listening to the radio broadcasts of the BBC, the families feel impelled to move elsewhere once more.

Helped by local inhabitants, the families are able to move to a remote farm-house in a sparsely-inhabited part of the Cevennes. The author provides vivid accounts of the scenery, the roads, the paths, the vegetation, and the land which the brothers, both men in their thirties, are now obliged to farm. Initially unaccustomed to that type of work, by dint of their hard work and determination the brothers manage to sow and reap crops. André’s technical ability enables them to produce chemical fertilizers that cause the soil to be more productive than is the case with the local farmers.

The villagers of the region conspire to spirit the families away when the Vichy authorities show an interest in the whereabouts of the newcomers, concealing them in their homes in even more remote villages and hamlets, obliging the two families to be separated for some of the time. As the war wears on the two brothers become involved in the activities of the Resistance, and are able to make their own contribution to it despite Alex’s pacifist leanings. At times the children are able to go to the local school, while at others they are obliged to remain hidden. For everyone, long-established residents and newcomers alike, these were years of hardship, food shortages, and the need to constantly contend with the elements and the unyielding soil.

The account of the ups and downs and ins and outs of the four or five years the families spent in France is extraordinarily detailed, and this can become somewhat tedious at times. The writing, too, is less than polished, but the intensity of the emotional involvement seems to compensate for the occasional jarring syntax or grammar. By and large, the general picture that emerges is that of the determination of the two brothers to survive and protect their families, and the kindness, nobility, and generosity of the local population.

As the war ends the families return to Brussels to find that, like most of the Jews of Belgium, the majority of their relatives have been deported to Auschwitz and murdered. The two families eventually emigrated to the USA, and the man who married one of the children has written this account on the basis of the recorded recollections of the personages involved and interviews with some of their rescuers in France.








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“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of doing something?” “I couldn’t write the number down because the phone call woke me up.” “I’ll call you later, I have to finish this now.”

These and similar responses are what almost every wife hears when she asks her husband to help her in some routine task or undertake a domestic mission that requires attending to.

Many women, this writer included, sense that behind these answers lies an unplumbed depth of self-deception, incapacity or, worse still, evasiveness. What woman hasn’t had to interrupt an action of one kind or another to attend to some ‘urgent’ crisis involving an injured child, a diaper that needs changing or a telephone call? What woman hasn’t continued cooking, filling the dishwasher or washing machine, packing a suitcase or unpacking shopping bags while continuing to conduct a conversation on the phone, answer a child’s question or attend to some other domestic duty?

It’s called ‘multi-tasking,’ and is as natural for most women as it is impossible for many men. I personally find it essential to have music on in the background as I work at the computer, and often have a cup of coffee and find myself thinking about undertaking a completely different activity, such as painting a picture, as I do so. Sometimes I even get up and do something about it and then return to my desk.

What is the reason for the inability of many males of the species to focus on more than one task at a time —  something that most women achieve with relative ease? When do our brains develop in such a way that teenage girls can talk on the phone while painting their toenails and doing their homework but teenage boys can either play a computer game or do homework, but never both at the same time?

I leave it to the experts on the human brain to explain just how and why these traits have developed, and to tell us whether they are inborn or acquired, but I venture to suggest that these characteristics are the result of the way humans have developed since time immemorial. In the caves where homo sapiens once lived the men were generally not around, having gone to hunt or fight, and so it was up to the women to gather such edible grains and seeds as could be found while at the same time bearing and caring for the children and attending to the other needs of the tribe.

Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Adam was nowhere to be seen, when the serpent tempted Eve, who was obviously one of those restless beings who needs to be occupied. With time on her hands she got talking to the serpent and the rest of the story is too well known to bear repeating. It’s obvious, though, that Adam was taking a nap, or contemplating his navel (which he may or may not have had) and had forgotten all about Eve and the ban on eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. Never mind, in true male fashion, he was quick to blame her for everything.

The Bible mentions women who took action in various ways (Pharoah’s daughter, Moses’ sister and guardian angel, Miriam, Ruth the Moabitess, Deborah the judge), but focuses mainly on the men, who were the agents of change and undertook tasks of national importance. However, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the women who bore the children and looked after them, attended to domestic duties, tended the flocks and herds, and kept the servants in order. Without the women there would have been no Hebrews to take out of Egypt or to fight to conquer Canaan. But all that is taken for granted and doesn’t warrant a mention in the holy book.

Perhaps the ability to focus on just one task has its benefits, and teenage boys grow up into adult males who are totally dedicated to a specific task, achieving fame, glory and riches in the process. That’s not to say that there aren’t any women who are focused on attaining a specific goal, though this often comes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. To the best of my knowledge, few men (other than one Israeli politician in the last few weeks, and he may have had a hidden agenda of his own) have sacrificed their career for the sake of home and family, though there are innumerable cases in which this has been the fate of the woman.

Having money helps. Money can pay for employing someone to undertake child-care duties and see that the household chores are done. As Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929, having a room of one’s own is well-nigh essential for anyone who wants to dedicate herself to pursuing intellectual interests (or the career of a writer in her case). And I’ll bet that there aren’t many women who have such a room.

And that reminds me of how I started my career (if you can call it that) as a translator/editor over forty years ago. I had a typewriter on the kitchen table, with a stand for the book or pages I was translating, two stacks of typed pages (original plus copy) and a dictionary beside me. When the children came home from school or kindergarten I would clear the things off the table, serve lunch (which I cooked as I worked), and restore the typewriter to its place when they had finished eating, to continue typing until 11 p.m., when the neighbours downstairs demanded that I stop. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that today.

But today the children have grown up and left home, which means that I finally do have a room of my own. And that’s where I manage to produce this blog, sundry articles and the books that I have published to date (and those that are waiting to be published). Now I no longer know which came first, the writing or the room, but at least the need to multi-task has abated.

The Castel


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The windows of the upper floor of my house look out towards the hill in the Judaean Mountains known as the Castel, which is today the site of a national park. It is green in winter and grey-brown in summer. I love to paint the view, which is never the same throughout the year. The ruins of the castle which gives the summit its name once constituted the fortified stronghold that enabled the Crusaders to control the road from the coast to Jerusalem.

Originally the site of a Roman settlement known as Castellum, the building has long since been dismantled, leaving the blocks of stone strewn here and there on the hilltop. At one point it formed the site of an Arab village, also called Kastel, but most importantly, the Castel was the site of a crucial battle between Arab and Jewish forces in the War of Independence in 1948. A series of inscribed copper plaques affixed to the stones describes the course of the fighting. There is also a memorial for the Israeli soldiers who died there.

Because of its prominent position, when the site was in Arab hands the road to Jerusalem was virtually impassable. The burnt-out hulks of armored cars and troop-carriers that may still be seen as one travels to and from Jerusalem fell victim to the bombs and bullets of the Arab forces, leading to the deaths of many of the young fighters who were endeavouring to relieve the siege of Jerusalem at that time.

Because of its strategic significance, the hill was the object and site of a series of battles, and control of it changed hands several times in the course of the fighting in 1948. Ultimately, however, because the revered Arab commander Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was killed in one such battle, most of the Arab fighters left their posts and went to Jerusalem to attend his funeral. This enabled the Israeli forces to take the Castel virtually unopposed that same day, in what has since become known as Operation Nachshon.

The suburb of Jerusalem that was built at the site in the 1950s to house new immigrants from North Africa, though officially called Ma’oz Zion, retained the name of Castel used by many of its inhabitants. In recent years it was officially merged with Mevasseret Yerushalayim to become Mevasseret Zion. All the same, perhaps as an act of defiance, some of the locals still call it the Castel.

But as I watch from my window I see a great swathe of concrete marring the line of the hill, fulfilling the need to add yet another, wider road connecting Israel’s inhabitants with one another, thus marking the inexorable march of ‘progress’ across the landscape


A Lesson in Holistic Psychotherapy





Minda Garr, a psychotherapist specializing in holistic psychotherapy, recently gave a talk about her work to the group of English-speaking women to which I belong. By being aware of our breathing, ‘breathing into your heart,’ as our speaker put it, the individual can attain a sense of inner peace, gain a higher level of consciousness, and even achieve mental and physical healing.  The basic concept underlying holistic psychotherapy is that mind, body and spirit must be regarded as parts of the whole, and that by relating to them concurrently the individual can attain serenity and greater self-understanding. Ms. Garr has taught at the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work for many years, and her approach to her work has gradually evolved from the pragmatic to the holistic. In her clinical work she places great emphasis on connecting with the client as well as with something greater than the self, something outside our everyday life, whether one calls it God, the soul, the spirit, or anything else. This view is in stark contrast with the detached, non-empathetic method used in Freudian and other psychoanalytical approaches.

Without disclosing personal details of the individuals concerned, Ms. Garr told us about her experiences with clients, and how her approach succeeded in enabling them to overcome childhood traumas and present-day phobias after other methods had failed to help. Individuals who were in denial over certain experiences or unable to correct unwanted character-traits were enabled to better understand what lay behind them, and to cope with them. In some cases clients were even able to overcome the results of ‘birth trauma,’ i.e., the distress caused to the baby by the process of being born. Ms. Garr is a firm believer in the view that the pre-birth, and even pre-conception experience affects the individual in adult life.

The sense of focus that we achieve by closing our eyes and concentrating on our breathing enables us to screen out the ‘chatter’ and ‘clutter’ that tend to occupy our minds, and thus to attain a ‘trance-like’ state. Ms. Garr ended her talk by getting all those present to engage in a ‘gratitude exercise,’ which enabled each one of us to imagine her heart filled with light, which then spread to our whole body, and then further and further outward. That was a truly remarkable experience.

I tried this at the concert I attended on the same evening and found that it enhanced my ability to enjoy the music. My mind was clear, as if it were some kind of reflecting pool, enabling the music to fill it and provide my soul with the sustenance it craved. It was certainly better than being distracted by the irrelevant stimuli created by other members of the audience, or the thoughts that tend to crowd in on me when my mind is not engaged in creative activity.

It appears to be beneficial to be able to clear one’s mind of extraneous matter from time to time and enter a state that is something like a trance, but one that does not remove the individual from his or her surroundings. The various forms of meditation achieve this for some people, as does prayer for others. But this particular mental exercise requires no religious belief or affiliation to a group of any kind. It’s something that anyone can do anywhere, at any time, and so seems to offer a universal panacea to the psychological pressure that everyone feels at one point or another.


O, Brave New World!


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Since time immemorial (well, since the invention of printing) the production and distribution of books has been in the hands of specialists, the people who see to the editing, printing, publishing, and distribution of books. Each of those activities requires specialized knowledge and expertise, and so for hundreds of years the world of publishing remained in the hands of an elite band of cognoscenti, the professional publishing industry.

Then, in the wake of the internet revolution, Amazon burst on the world, bringing with it a radically new approach to the production and selling of books. Thus, it is no longer only a privileged few authors who manage to get accepted by an established publisher. Today anyone can publish his or her own book and put it up on the internet for sale, both as a physical book and as an ebook.

However, while it is relatively easy (for some people) to write a book, and not all that difficult to self-publish it, getting it into the public eye and accessible to the vast potential market that Amazon represents is quite another matter.

That is where a new sphere of specialization, book-promotion, comes into the picture. I was fortunate enough to be in touch with the company run by Benny and Tali Carmi, ebook-pro, which specializes in just that area.

I have heard of many cases of writers whose books have been accepted by recognized publishers but have not been given public exposure, and hence have not managed to sell. In fact, this happened to me with my first book, ‘The Balancing Game,’ which I published with the help of an American publisher. Both the physical book and the ebook were good products (in my opinion), but because there was no publicity campaign, sales were weak.

These days, the way a book is promoted focuses on getting a good ranking for a book on one or more of the various categories in which Amazon lists its books. This involves obtaining reviews, making the book available for free on various sites, and undertaking a series of actions which expose the book to the vast Amazon reading public. Thus, to my delight and surprise, after Benny’s campaign to promote my book ‘Time Out of Joint, the Fate of a Family,’ it was Amazon’s no.1 best-seller in three categories for a while.

After the initial campaign, which creates an internet buzz and gives the book an initial boost, sales are ‘in the hands of the public,’ to quote Benny. A month after my book was first launched on the internet sales seem to have settled at a fairly steady rate, and if this continues for some time I for one will be very happy.


Fifty Years of Living in Israel




 It is now almost exactly fifty years since I came to Israel to live. So I suppose you could say that I came on aliyah in September 1964, though I did not get my official status as a new immigrant until June 1967, but that’s another story.

When people ask me why I left England’s green and pleasant land to come and live in what they imagine to be an arid desert in one of the most dangerous parts of the world my answer consists of two words: ‘climate’ and ‘men.’

But of course I must have had weightier reasons than those. The fact that I grew up in a home where Zionism was a fact of life, attended a Zionist youth movement and had relatives in Israel played an undeniable role in my decision. My first visit to Israel, in 1959, within the framework of a youth tour organized by the Jewish Agency was an eye-opener for me, an impressionable teenager. I had never experienced anything like it before. Six weeks of touring sunny Israel, visiting sites, cities and kibbutzim, finding smiling bronzed faces wherever we turned and being welcomed into people’s homes made a deep and lasting impression on me. In addition, the climate really did serve to lift my spirits, which seemed to have been perpetually dormant in the grey and rainy London streets in which I had grown up.

I visited Israel twice in my vacations from university, and managed to make contact with people in the Sociology Department of the Hebrew University, so that when I came for my second visit I was given a holiday job and even earned some money (which I found to my chagrin that I was unable to take home). As a result of those visits I was offered a position as a research assistant in that department when I decided to continue for an M.A. after graduating in London. So I suppose I could be said to have had one of the easiest transitions imaginable in moving to a different country. I had employment, albeit with minimal income, I could stay with relatives until I found a place to rent, and I was meeting intelligent and pleasant people. I didn’t know much Hebrew, and was too busy working and studying to go to an ulpan, but I managed to get by with the little I knew. There were organizations catering to English-speaking people and there were student parties, so my social life was not totally uninteresting.

Israel was a very different place fifty years ago, and this was especially the case with Jerusalem. Before the Six-Day War it was a small, intimate place where everyone knew everyone else and the central ‘triangle’ formed by the three main streets was where one went to eat falafel, meet friends or just enjoy the cool evening air. ‘The third time we meet on the same day we’ll go and get ice-cream,’ was the slogan of the day. Religion played a part in some people’s lives, but nothing was extreme and everyone appeared tolerant of everyone else.

The political atmosphere was one of socialism, idealism and mutual support. Today it is capitalist, entrepreneurial and right-wing. Those early days of naiveté and perhaps even innocence are long gone, due to both internal and external processes. Personally, I find that regrettable, but it is foolish to try to stem the tide of change.

What about men? I hear you cry. I found the love of my life at a student party in Jerusalem, got married and produced three children. We lived through times of peace and war, sickness and health, poverty and relative prosperity and now also have seven grandchildren, all living in Israel.

All in all, Israel has been good to me, and I hope I’ve been good to it.


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“The time is out of joint. O cursed spite

That ever I was born to set it right.”

(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5)

Hamlet expresses so succinctly and poetically what many of us feel as members of the Second Generation when we think about the rise of Nazism, the Second World War and the conflagration that encompassed most of the world in the middle of the twentieth century.

The signs were there for those who were prepared to read them. These included Winston Churchill amongst others, and my father’s cousin, who refused to return to her home in Germany from a skiing holiday in Switzerland when she heard that Hitler had been elected to the Reichstag. She sent her husband home to pack up their house, and they eventually made their home in the USA.

Unfortunately, my father and his parents were not so prescient, and by the time they realised that it would be advisable to get out of Germany the doors of most countries were closed to them. I know that they tried to get out. I have the letters that prove it. It’s a banal story, and one experienced by so many others, but in this particular case there is a happier ending, although not an entirely happy one. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this, would I?

After Kristallnacht, the Pogrom Night of 9th November 1938, when the well-planned and coordinated destruction of synagogues and the widespread arrest of Jewish men all over Germany was carried out by the S.S. and its supporters, my grandmother sent a cable from Hamburg to her relatives in London with just three words: ‘Save my son.’

It had the desired effect, and the relatives set about arranging for my father, then a young man of twenty-two, to gain entry into England, in the hope that he would be able to find work and eventually bring his mother over. He got out but was unable to bring his mother out, and she perished eventually in Theresienstadt.

There were stringent restrictions on what Jews leaving Germany were allowed to take with them, and these included valuables and money of any kind other than the sum of ten marks. Into the one suitcase permitted to my father my grandmother put the things that she probably thought would serve as a reminder of his home: files of family documents and correspondence, photograph albums and the piano music her husband used to play. I sometimes wonder whether she knew that she was creating a treasure trove for her future granddaughter, i.e., me.

Those objects remained in my father’s possession, tucked away in a filing cabinet in my parents’ house, first in London and later in Jerusalem. When my father retired from his job in England he and my mother came to live in Israel, to join me and my two sisters, all of us married and with children.

While helping my parents settle into their new home I came across the files of letters and the other material. My father told me what they were and my curiosity was aroused. I was unable to read German at the time, so enlisted the help of a friend to translate the letters my father’s brother had written from Kentucky in 1928 to his family in Hamburg describing his experiences as an apprentice in a tobacco firm. My uncle died tragically in Shanghai in 1929, and the book of his letters in English that we published in 2003 was entitled ‘The Tobacco Road; Hamburg, Kentucky, Shanghai.’ It serves as a memorial to a talented young man who came to an untimely end (I will gladly send anyone interested a copy).

The letters my grandmother wrote to my father and his sister also serve as a monument, this time to the fortitude and faith of an elderly woman left to cope on her own with the venality of the Nazi regime. A book containing her letters and describing developments as they affected the Jewish community of Hamburg in those years was published in German by the Hamburg state authorities in 2005.

But the fate of my father’s family continued to haunt me. The letters in the files contained many fascinating accounts of what it was like to be living in Germany and other parts of Europe in those fateful years. I decided to study German, found a private teacher and eventually was able to read and understand the correspondence and documents. It seemed to me that each of the individuals I had never met had a distinctive voice and character, and should not be permitted to sink unacknowledged into the depths of forgetfulness.

Gradually those people came to life in my mind. Anecdotes and memories my father had told me connected up with the voices in the letters, and after several years in which I heard these people talking to me I decided to put metaphorical pen to paper and tell their story in the only way I knew how – in the form of a novel.

The historical currents sweeping through Europe in that period also played a part in the lives of the individuals I describe, and these have also been incorporated into the novel. I have chosen to begin the story with an account of the funeral rite performed by the members of the Hamburg Hevra Kadisha, the Burial Society, of which my grandparents were both members. I have researched this ritual, and hope I have not done too great an injustice to a Jewish tradition that has endured for thousands of years.

The beautiful and rebellious daughter of the family leaves Germany long before Hitler’s rise to power, and goes to live and work abroad, first in Amsterdam and Paris and eventually in the south of France. She and her bohemian friends become involved in the political movements of the time, and her lover is killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She eventually finds happiness in the arms of a white Russian émigré in a village in the south of France. Their son, who is my cousin, lives there to this day, and his birth and early childhood at a time when France was under German occupation is also described in the book.

Apart from the conversations and thoughts, which are the product of my imagination, the novel is based almost entirely on factual events, and I have endeavoured to describe how they affected each individual. Thus, we accompany the young man who crosses the Atlantic by liner to spend a year in Kentucky in order to learn about the tobacco trade. A year later, flushed with success, he returns to his family in Hamburg, on his way to his next assignment. After travelling by train and boat across Europe and Russia, he reaches Shanghai, where he comes to a tragic end.

Some years later the father of the family is struck by a neighbour who complains of the noise made by his musical evenings. The father sues him in the Hamburg civil court, demanding an apology; although his claim is upheld, he dies soon afterwards. The youngest child, by now a young man, is saved by his widowed mother’s intervention on his behalf after Kristallnacht.  But the mother herself is unable to leave Germany and is sent to her death in a concentration camp. This, too, is described, based on her letters as well as on considerable research.

The conclusion of the book takes place in London, in a hostel for Jewish children who were able to leave Germany under the Kindertransport scheme, The life of one such child and one such hostel is depicted in considerable detail. This, too, is based on the personal experiences of my parents.

A brief epilogue set in 1992 describes what became of the two babies born in 1940 and 1942, one in France (my cousin) and the other in England (me), to two of the principal characters, as well as the fate of the troubled young boy who is one of the residents of the hostel.

For more information, visit the author’s website:

or the book’s website:

Digital Detox


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 I saw the article in one of the glossy weekend supplements that comes with the French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ which I try to read while I’m on vacation in France. The photography is beautiful, the articles intelligent, and it’s good for my French (I read it with the aid of a dictionary). As the house we are staying in has no TV this is our principal way of keeping up with what’s happening in the world outside (don’t tell me to listen to the news on the radio. French radio newsreaders and reporters gabble away unintelligibly, scarcely pausing for breath even between paragraphs, let alone sentences and words).

The picture at the top of the article (shown above) portrays a demure young lady sitting on a hotel bed. The balloon over her head shows that she is thinking: ‘Vichy by night, without a TV or a smartphone. I’m going to write about this on Facebook!’ The article describes in detail the agonies the poor dear went through in order to write an article about her experiences during a weekend of ‘digital detox’ prescribed for her to overcome her addiction to the various electronic means of communication. Some books were provided, but the rest of the time she was thrown back on her own resources for passing the time (spa, swimming pool, dining room, etc.), poor thing.

I felt a passing pang of pity for the unfortunate journalist, never fearing that I would soon be sharing her fate, although without the luxury hotel.

Being away from home and family at a time when there is a full-scale war on is an unsettling experience. One doesn’t want to belabour the point, but maintaining contact with one’s loved ones and learning about what’s going on assumes paramount importance, and so one finds oneself checking emails, news sites, Facebook, etc. with almost insane intensity and frequency.

And then, for a variety of technical reasons, we suddenly found ourselves without internet or phone connection. We have learned to live with the occasional electricity cuts occasioned by thunderstorms, which are quite frequent in this part of France. But those cuts usually last a few seconds, minutes, or even hours. They never go on for several days.

Suddenly, without warning, we were cut off from the outside world. No internet. No Mako. No Facebook. Not even Amazon. And no phone line either, because the phone goes via the internet provider. We, too, were thrown back on our own resources, and found ourselves paying closer attention to the French-language news broadcasts and in the interim consoling ourselves with books, or venturing to the next village in order to pick up the internet connection in the local café. The only small corner of redemption was provided by our iphones, which allowed us minimal contact with the world outside.

When we phoned to find out what was happening we were told that the problem would be solved within a week at the most. ‘A whole week!’ I screamed at the nice (English-speaking) lady at the other end of the phone line. ‘That is very hard for us.’ I didn’t go into all the details as to why this was so, but I begged her to do whatever she could to expedite matters. She said there was very little she could do, but she would add a note to our file.

In my desperation I had resorted to watching half an hour or so of a DVD I had brought along with me (a beautiful old film, ‘Stavisky,’ directed by Alain Resnais) every evening. And so, after supper on the fourth evening, which also happened to be the evening of the day on which I had spoken to the nice lady at the information section of the internet provider, when I had just settled down to watch my evening ration of ‘Stavisky’ (based on a true story, incidentally) the cry went up from the other room, ‘We have internet!’

Was it a coincidence or had my pleas helped? Worse still, what is one to do in such cases? Drop everything and fly back into the (metaphorical) arms of email, Facebook, Mako and co. or continue watching ‘Stavisky’? I made a half-hearted attempt to watch Stav. while simultaneously looking at my emails. As anyone could have guessed, that didn’t work.

But after a briefer than usual episode of Stav. I allowed myself to indulge in a cup of (decaffeinated) coffee and then devote myself to catching up with all my old friends until well past midnight.

So much for digital detox. I hope it worked better for the poor lady journalist than it did for me. But at least she got her byline on her two-page article in ‘Figaro.’












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