Where there is smoke, there is fire

I WAS EATING CHEDDAR cheese at tea time at my best friend’s house when his mother announced:

“We don’t like Jews, but you’re different, Adam”

I was less than ten years old at the time, but I can still picture the room in which this was said. I do not remember that I  told my parents about what my best friend’s mum had told me, but I remember it almost sixty years later.  Knowing how she felt about Jewish people did not spoil my friendship with, ‘R’, her son.

BLOG JUICE

When I  was thirteen, I  entered Highgate School,  which I  had chosen because ‘R’ was going to be there. At that time, I still regarded ‘R’ as one of my best friends. However, he did something that made me move away from him. One day he was with a group of other boys when in front of them he directed an anti-Semitic remark at me. Although that did not make me hate him, it marked the end of our long friendship.

I had other friends during my schooldays, who were half Jewish. One of their parents was Jewish. They preferred to forget that fifty percent of their heritage. Such amnesia would not have saved them had the rules formulated at the  Wannsee Conference been applied to them.

During the 1970s, I worked on my PhD topic in a laboratory at UCL. During the second year of this, a new PhD student, ‘J’, commenced working on her PhD project. ‘J’, like the others, in the lab seemed very pleasant until one day when she asked me to lend her a pencil.

At this point, you need to know that there was a shortage of pencils in our lab. I have no idea why this was the case. So, when I handed my pencil to ‘J’, I said:

“Please return it.”

To which ‘J’ snapped:

“Don’t be so Jewish, Adam”

I knew that J was most probably unaware that I am of that faith, but what she said upset me. My PhD supervisor’s wife heard what ‘J’ had said, and quickly told her:

“That was not a nice thing to say.”

I was pleased because I  was somewhat lost for words.

A few months later, everyone in the lab was invited by my supervisor to attend the large formal Annual Dinner of the Physiological Society. I sat next to my supervisor’s wife and across the table from ‘J’.

When the main course arrived, there were green peas on the plates. I detest this vegetable. ‘J’ noticed me separating the peas from the rest of my food and said:

“When we invite you round for dinner, I must remember not to serve you pork or peas.”

Remembering the pencil incident, I told her immediately:

“If you ever invite me to dinner, I shall refuse without hesitation.”

My supervisor’s wife turned to me and murmured:

“Well said.”

J’s face turned deep red, tears began running down her cheeks, she stood up, and left the room.

‘J’ abandoned her PhD a few weeks later.

Although I am regarded as being religiously unobservant by most Jewish people who know me, casual prejudice against Jews, or anyone else for that matter, does make me anxious. Prejudice, even if expressed casually, is potentially dangerous. Always remember: where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

To Maurice from Bob

THERE WERE AT LEAST 3 JEWISH girls in my wife’s school class in Calcutta during the mid 1960s. Then, the city had a sizeable Jewish community, many of its members and their ancestors having migrated from Iraq, especially Baghdad.

Recently, a friend gave me an old book about the Tollygunge Club in Calcutta. Inside it, there is an undated handwritten inscription: “To Maurice, with love from Bob”.
My friend did not know who Bob is or was, but told me that the book was part of a collection once owned by Dr Maurice Shellim.

Maurice Shellim, a was born in a Baghdadi Jewish family in Shanghai (China) in 1915 and died in London (UK) in 2009 (see: http://www.jewishcalcutta.in/exhibits/show/notable_members/maurice-shellim).

By profession, Maurice was a medical doctor. According to Dalia Ray, writing in her book “The Jews of India”, he was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians (London), having studied medicine at London’s Guys Hospital. Ray also records that he took part in the functioning of a free medical clinic set up by his coreligionist Dr E Musleah.

After buying a painting by Thomas Daniell (19th century painter of Indian scenes), Maurice Shellim became very interested in Daniell and other British painters in India. Eventually, he published a book about Daniell and his nephew William Daniell: “India and the Daniells: Oil Paintings of India and the East”.

Maurice also published a book about the historic Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta. He had devoted much time and energy to conserving this picturesque resting place for the remains of British families.

In his later years, Maurice and his immediate family moved to London, but he often visited Calcutta.

Most of Calcutta’s Jewish people have left the city to settle abroad. Although anti-Semitism has never been a problem in India, many of Calcutta’s Jewish folk chose to leave in the decades following 1947. Probably, many of them left to improve their economic prospects, but Dalia Ray suggests that because most Indian Jews had been pro British they began to feel that they might begin to feel uneasy in independent India. She also wrote that after the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state, many Jews wanted to fulfil their centuries old desire to reach the Promised Land.

Today, there are very few Jewish people left living in Calcutta.

I would not have been likely to have discovered the story of the remarkable, highly cultured Dr Shellim had I not seen that scribbled inscription in an old book.

PS: ‘Bob’ was most probably Bob Wright, a Britisher who lived in Calcutta for over 30 years. He worked for a large company and was involved in the management of the Tolleygunge Club.

A German bride

 

As World War II (‘WWII’) drew to its conclusion in Europe Jim arrived near Aachen in Germany with the British forces. He was stationed near the home of Minny, a young German woman. They met, fell in love, and, after considerable delay, married in Liverpool (UK).

“The Bride’s Trunk” by Ingrid Dixon is about her parents Minny and Jim. It concentrates more on her mother’s history, her life in Germany before, during and after Hitler’s regime. Minny’s is the story of an ordinary German girl growing up in times of ever increasing difficulty and hardship. That alone would make the book interesting, but her encounter with a soldier belonging to the ‘enemy’s’ forces and the difficulties put in the way of intermarriage between Germans and British military personel add to this concisely told story.

Nazi figures who have written about their lives, such as Albert Speer and  Brunhilde Pomsel (one of Josef Goebbel’s secretaries), claim little or even no knowledge of the attrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people and many others during the Nazi regime. It was refreshing to read in Dixon’s book:

The excuse offered by so many after the war -‘Davon haben wir nichts gewusst’ – ‘we didn’t know about any of that’ – is no longer credible … evidence for the fate of Jewish citizens mounted daily as rumours circulated and eye-witness reports increased …”

Amidst a good summary of the history of the Germany in which Minny grew up, there are many intriguing details about the daily life of ordinary German folk living in the rural outskirts of a big city (Aachen).

On the whole, this is a good book, but I would love to have greater detail about Minny’s reception in post-war England. This is dealt with to some extent, but after reading what Dixon wrote, I would have liked to have discovered even more. The book is copiusly illustrated and includes some maps. Many of the illustrations are specific to the story of Minny and then later Minny and Jim, but there are a few of general historical interest, which I have seen in many other publications.

Would I reccomend the book. The answer is ‘Yes’. It is a quick and fascinating read, a useful contribution to the history of Germany.

 

“The Bride’s Trunk”

by Ingrid Dixon

ISBN: 9780993508028

Fryers delight

FISH

 

Sometime during the summer in the early to mid-1980s, when I was living in Kent, two young people came to stay with me from land-locked Hungary. Because travelling opportunities were limited and money was short in the Communist country, people did not travel abroad as much as people in Western Europe. My two guests had never seen the sea, except in photos and on the TV or cinema screen.

One evening, I drove my guests to the Kent coast to see the sea. We parked by a beach. As soon as we had stopped, the two lads leapt out of my car and ran into the sea fully clothed. That is how excited they were to see real waves and the sea.

After experiencing the sea, they asked me about ‘fish and chips’, which their English teacher in Budapest had mentioned. We walked to a nearby fish and chips shop and placed an order. When the fillets of fish arrived wrapped in crisp golden batter, my friends looked at them, wondering whether or not they had been served pieces of fish. They had never seen fish prepared like this before.

Fish prepared, fried and covered with batter, as it is served in British fish and chip shops is actually not a dish of British origin. According to that mine of knowledge Wikipedia, it was the Sephardic Jews, who settled in the UK from the 16th century onwards, who introduced fish prepared this way. Alexis Soyer (1810-58), the famous 19th century chef wrote in his A shilling cookery for the people, published in 1854:

There is another excellent way of frying fish, which is constantly in use by the children of  Israel … In some families … they dip the fish, first in flour, then in egg, and fry in oil“, which is more or less what happens in a fish and chips shop. 

This leads me to the real subject of the article: a reccommendation. There are many highly-rated fish and chips shops (‘chippies’) in the British Isles. The ‘Fryers Delight’ is one of them. This unpretensious shop, whose decor seems unaltered since the day it opened back in in 1958, serves excellent fish with superb chips cut in the shop’s kitchen, all fried in beef dripping. I have eaten there twice, and look forward to my next visit. The staff are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable and the food is good value for money. 

The FRYERS DELIGHT, which is open from noon to 10pm every day except Sunday is located at:

 19 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8SL