Post-dated memories

A long-forgotten letter recasts the past

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is something particularly evocative about letters, especially ones that have lain forgotten for many years. They reveal a moment locked on the edge of the future. Our longer term perspective, our knowledge of the continuing narrative can give a letter a stinging poignancy. I was recently told of a copy of a letter filed earlier this year with the archive at Yad Vashem. Both its subject matter and its journey are intriguing. Last week, Sam Sylvester laid the letter on my table. It is slightly ragged at an edge now, with heavy black letters - characteristic of a fresh ink ribbon in an old-style typewriter, the typed numbers a lighter shade of black where the typist's touch wasn't so firm. His excitement was palpable. "There are two things that fascinate me about this letter," Sam said. "The first is the content of the letter, and the second is that it came into my hands 70 years after it was written to my father". Sam, now retired, moved to Jerusalem from London ten years ago with his wife Carole. Well-known in UK legal circles - Founder and senior partner of the largest show business law practice in the country, Sam is well-known in UK legal circles and boasts a glittering list of clients included Paul McCartney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bing Crosby, Neil Diamond, Frederick Forsythe and Harold Pinter. And I can't but help feel that Sam could just have easily made a success on the other side of the footlights, too. He is a large-framed, expansive personality from a family with a long tradition of acting - his mother and sister were at the RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and his father's aunt, Fanny Waxman, was a doyenne of the pre-War Yiddish theater. Sam is a raconteur par excellence; an art connoisseur; a cricket aficionado and, most charmingly, a vestige of the almost lost world of English aplomb, charm, courtesy and gentle eccentricity. In the summer, he can be seen on Shabbat attending the small Sephardi minyan in Ein Kerem sporting his red and yellow MCC hat. (For the uninitiated the MCC, the Marylebone Cricket Club, founded in 1787 and based at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, was the original governing body of international cricket.) A passionate Zionist all his life, since arriving in Jerusalem he has thrown himself into the city's cultural life, with commitments to both the International Chamber Music Festival and the Israel Museum. With letter in hand, he told me how an old friend from England (now in his 80s) joined him for lunch one day in his Jerusalem home and greeted him with the words, "Sam, I've got something that will interest you." With that, the friend handed him a letter dated March 31st, 1933, written in German and addressed to his late father. And so the story unfolds. Sam's father had a business in Hatton Garden, London's famous diamond and jewellery center. "Within two months of Hitler coming to power my father had written to his German supplier protesting about the treatment of the Jews in Germany. He circulated this reply - wanting to organize a boycott in Hatton Garden by the Jewish merchants of all German goods… never happened…but by pure chance the letter was kept by one of the businessmen. "His nephew found it and gave it to me over 70 years after it was written. I had not even known of its existence." The letter is not the direct propaganda of the Nazi party, Sam points out, but "an authentic unofficial voice of Germany in 1933". The date, March 31st 1933, grabbed my attention and further research revealed that this was the day before the first large-scale anti-Jewish demonstration in Germany. On April 1st there was a boycott, overseen by the Nazi Stormtroopers, of all Jewish-owned shops and the offices of Jewish professionals. The yellow badge was put on many Jewish homes and businesses, and doors were daubed with anti-Semitic propaganda. After two days the boycott was abandoned due to reaction from abroad and fear of damage to the German economy. A week later on April 7 the term Nichtarier (non-Aryan) became a legally designated category and this was the beginning of implementing the policy of removing Jews from various professions. The words of this letter leave us with a hollow emptiness as we stand hovering on the edge of history's darkest evil: The letter reads: We are in receipt of your letter of the 29th inst. and are amazed by the thoughtless way in which you write of the enmity towards the Jewish people in Germany. It is very regrettable that these lies, which were also spread in the English press during the First World War, are now again surfacing and finding their supporters. Nothing happens to a decent Jew in Germany; the defensive measures of our Government are directed mainly at the indecent ones, who over the decades, as leaders of social-democratic and communist parties, incited our people and brought our Fatherland into the abyss. These deceivers of our people have in part fled the country and have thereby escaped justice, and there they now spread these atrocity stories about Germany. It is unavoidable that innocent people are also affected by these measures of our Government, but no one can prevent us Germans from protecting our Fatherland and cleansing it from such unclean individuals. It should also be said that "justice and order" are not being destroyed in Germany, but on the contrary, are better maintained than in the previous 14 years. We greet you…