3 January 2012

Agnes’ Letter about German Jewish Soldiers in 1914-18 War published in ‘History Today’

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Further to the earlier blog below, 2012 has got off to a fine start with the publication of another of my letters by ‘History Today’. Its about Jewish soldiers who served in the German Army duringWorld War I. It was written in response to Tim Grady’s article in the November 2011 edition ‘Germany’s Jewish Soldiers’. My letter is about Jewish soldiers who won the Iron Cross and erroneously thought this would protect them from persecution by the Nazis. I also mention the high proportion of Jews in the German Army in the 1914-18 war.

Much of this appears on pages 109-10 in the hardback copy of ‘The Other Schindlers’ and additionally in the ‘Postscript’ on pages 237-8 of the paperback edition.

22 August 2011 Blog:

I’m delighted that my letter about Varian Fry and his connection with Hannah Arendt and Hiram  Bingham III has been published in the September 2011 edition of ‘History Today’. Click the link on ‘my letter’ and scroll down.

The magazine which is celebrating its 60th birthday was available at my school in the 1950s and I have read it ever since. It is endlessly interesting.

Two other letters of mine were published in the journal in 2008. In January they published a letter about Ramsay MacDonald’s youth when his mother struggled to get him a suit for his first job and in September 2008 I wrote about the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweiss (1818-1865) who discovered how to conquer puerperal fever which killed so many women after childbirth in earlier times.

‘I was fascinated by Rebecca Abrams’s article about Alexander Gordon (‘A Prophet in his Own Country’, August 2008), the Aberdonian doctor who studied puerperal fever which killed so many mothers at childbirth. His treatise on the disease published in 1795 was ignored. As she wrote, ‘… he was personally vilified and professionally ostracized…. Four years later he was dead …’

He was not alone. I recall the doctor my Hungarian mother told me about–Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). He, too, was disturbed by the deaths he came across in the Vienna Hospital where he worked as an obstetrician. When he developed his theory that doctors who went straight from autopsies to maternity wards without any washing of hands were passing on the disease, he introduced the dipping of hands in chlorinated water before entering maternity wards. In 1847 this simple procedure had a remarkable effect and deaths fell from 18 per 100 one month to 1 per 100 the next. However he was not an easy man and he antagonized colleagues. He could not cope with the failure of others to recognize his proven principle. By 1862 he was committed to an asylum and died there in 1865.

How ironic it is that the simple discipline of hand-washing is again the source of debate as hospitals again become a source of disease rather than cure 150 years after Semmelweis.’

There is also one letter from 6 July 2000 about Varian Fry and Walter Benjamin in the London Review of Books.

Perhaps my greatest success in my letter writing career was when my letter of July 2000 complaining about John Birt’s appointment as crime Czar by Tony Blair was published in ‘The Times’ and subsequently quoted in Trevor Grove’s book called ‘The Magistrate’s Tale’.  The jist of the letter as quoted in the book was that Birt knew nothing about the subject but:

I have been a magistrate since 1984 ….I have been continually trained….I have read hundreds of pre-sentence reports….I have three sons….and chair a safe house for women in Sheffield. I think I, and many others like me, have a better idea of what causes crime and what to do about it. Why does No. 10 never ring us?

Eleven years later I am still waiting for the call!!!