Ch13 Epilogue and poetry.

This is not the end of the history of the Foxon Family. Hopefully it is only the beginning of our story in Australia. The rest lies in the future, and is unknowable to me. All I can do is to wish those future generations good luck.

I am pleased about one important thing. Although our ancestors, through no fault of their own, knew hard times, we have escaped. We have escaped from the back-breaking toil, the telltale blue scars, the lifelong slavery of Yorkshire company coal mines. We have escaped from the squalor of the East End of London and from the contemptible isolation of the European ghetto. We have escaped from the physical poverty engendered by lack of money. And we have escaped from the spiritual poverty of ignorance. In Australia, the slate has been wiped clean. What we now write on that slate is up to us. If we go back to poverty or regress to ignorance, the fault is our own.          

The next generation, provided we can be blessed with peace, has the opportunity of a better life than any before it. What they make of that opportunity lies within their hands.

Progress depends partly on ability, partly on work, and partly on luck. But luck, after all, is when opportunity meets preparation and preparation involves perseverance. So above all, one’s success depends on perseverance and preparation.

The world becomes ever more crowded and complex. How can one make sense of the pullulating human ant-heap?

Once I had a goldfish pond in the front garden. The algae, nourished by sunlight, provided ample food, and the happy fishy residents bred up from half a dozen to over a hundred. It was interesting to see how the awkward, exotic fantails decreased in number and reverted to more basic forms – survival of the fittest! There must be a lesson in that!                             

One day, fifty yards down the road, a Council workman sprayed some weeds with poison. A zephyr of wind deposited a few droplets of hormone spray in the pond. Over a period of a week the fish slowly succumbed and floated white and lifeless to the surface. 

So it is with humankind. A nuclear holocaust, a melting of the ice caps, a tilting of the earth’s axis, a collision with a lump of matter from outer space, the explosion, or the collapse of the sun ………..One day our planet Earth will become the communal “Vernichtungslager” of us all, and it won’t matter a rap whether we are Christian, Jew or Muslim, white, black or brindle, fish, fowl or reptile. As more of us realise this, the Theatre of the Absurd gains added significance. But it does not supply any of the answers.

Actually, nothing has changed. All men are cousins. That is biologically demonstrable. We all live, and we all die. We must survive as long as we can because that is our inborn nature. And we must live together and seek happiness, for happiness is the ultimate goal.

But first we must have sufficient food and shelter ………For who can be happy in the cold with an empty belly? These things we must obtain for ourselves and our families. And that means continuous effort and the acceptance of responsibility.

My Yorkshire father and my Cockney mother believed that all should work and do the right thing by each other as far as possible, remembering that in the last analysis one has a sacred and primal duty to look after one’s own family. 

In this connection my father said to me many times, “If a man has children with a woman, he should never leave her, or them.” I believed him, and I still believe him. I might add that in my view the same strictures apply to a woman, and the only possible excuse to break the union in her case might be extreme and unbearable cruelty. Many of the modern generation would disagree, I know. It is easy for articulate moderns to juggle with words and show that licence and self-indulgence are permissible and even intelligent, while duty and responsibility are unnecessary. It only worries me that in sowing the wind, they may in later years reap a whirlwind in a delinquent and unstable society.

Did I say that we should seek happiness? Of course we should. But true happiness and an integrated society can only come from the acceptance of duty and responsibility by all of us.

One could now enter into a lengthy and extremely boring dissertation on religious morals and political philosophies and hypocrisies, but enough is enough. My descendants will decide of their own accord whether they wish to be socialists, Marxists, capitalists or opportunists, Catholics, Shmatholics, Protestants, Jews or Callathumpians. All that has no importance, provided they are good people.

I have one regret in my life. I wish I had spent more time with my children when they were young. But, too often, I was working overtime, or was too upset or worried to be able to give more generously of my time. Children are our greatest treasure, and we have them for such a short while. I hope that my own children learn from my mistakes. 

Oscar Wilde said somewhere: “As they grow older, children judge their parents. Sometimes they forgive them.”

I wish this for my grandchildren and great grandchildren all down the years – that each one of them may become what Irene’s mother, in Yiddish, would have called a “Mensch”!  A Mensch is a courageous, well-balanced person, able to control every situation with intelligence and strength of character.

If I were ever elevated to the English House of Lords (a very remote possibility!) and had to look for a family motto, I would have emblazoned on a scroll the words of Edith Piaf, the French nightclub singer. She had known great poverty, being literally born on a Parisian sidewalk. 

With typical Gallic economy of phrase, she said: “C’est pas une honte d’etre pauvre, mais c’en est une de vouloir rester dans la crasse!” – It is not a disgrace to be poor…But it certainly becomes one if you are prepared to remain in the shit!”. 

…Now there was a Mensch!!!

When Irene and I came to Australia in 1949, I looked from Caringbah towards Sydney one night, and was inspired to make one of my rare, mostly disastrous, and always incautious incursions into verse.

I might finish off this memoir with those lines.

Before doing so, I should explain that in those days “Displaced Persons” was a euphemism for a refugee from a camp in war-torn Europe. “New Australian” was a term coined by the Department of Immigration to distinguish those Pommies and Reffos who had only recently arrived from the other Pommies and Reffos, (now dinky-di Aussies), who had been in this country for at least one generation. The term “New Australian” had an honoured currency for many years, and in some fashion might even have helped to weld together those of different ethnic origins into one Australian amalgam.

Well ……………here comes the poetry.

                          Silent suburban Sydney, softly folded in the star-shot fog of night…

                          What other being of some far-off time gazed upon a similar sight?

                          Perhaps some dark-skinned hunter on his nocturnal way,

                          Perhaps some exiled convict stared as I across the black of Botany Bay.

                          I too am exiled from the land where I was born,

                          And my heart too is by a sweet nostalgia torn.

                          Yet this is pure illusion, I suspect…

                          Because all things – the good and bad – are good…in retrospect.

                          The squalor, slums and class distinction one forgets.

                          Time heals the festering wounds…then one regrets.

                          Yet this Australia – just another land for me – 

                          Shall for my children and their children “Homeland” be.

                          Here Displaced Persons, once denied the right to live,

                          Their strength, their talents and their sons, shall to Australia give.

                          The dreaming, red-tipped bushland gums shall start

                          Then to the muted thunder of a nation’s heart.

                          And we will build within this southern space —

                          We Britons, Greeks, Italians, Poles – a new Australian race.

To survive, my children, that is the object, to survive without hurting the other fellow any more than you have to. Perhaps, with luck, in this new country, we may do a little better than survive.

So good luck to you all – family, friends and readers of my tale – and very much love.

Ch8 Pt3 Escape from Berlin to Haifa

As far as the Rüdigers were concerned, they looked with concern at the future of the little girl in their charge in an increasingly military, racist and anti-Semitic Germany. Irena was also aware of the changes going on about her. Jews were forbidden by notice to sit on public benches, so-called “Aryan” Germans were forbidden to patronise Jewish businesses under threat of severe penalties, and there were always secret police on the lookout for offenders. Julius Streicher’s Der Stűrmer churned out the vilest and crudest of newspaper libels against the Jews. Thanks to unceasing insults and propaganda Hitler’s mania seemed to have communicated itself to the entire nation.

One day Irena came across two boys who were tormenting an old orthodox Jew by pulling his beard. She picked up some stones, threw them at the boys and bluffed them into moving on. It may have been at this time that she finally decided to quit Germany for good and go to Palestine. She always said that she smelt something dangerous and unhealthy in the air. She might have been fourteen or fifteen years old when she made this decision.

During the years following the end of the First World War, the interest in Palestine of European Jewry had been greatly stimulated. This revival of interest was due mainly to three factors. In the first place, the vast upheaval of peoples occasioned by the war had brought Western European Jews face to face with their eastern co-religionists who were in closer contact with the Holy Land. Secondly, European Jews began to have forebodings of new pogroms, especially in Germany as Hitler rose to power. The walls of the ghetto were down, but the new freedom did not necessarily spell security for the Jew. Finally, there was the Balfour Declaration, by which Great Britain gave her support to the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews. There had been small Jewish settlements in Palestine since biblical days, but it was at the end of the nineteenth century, during the lifetime of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, that serious if sometimes unsuccessful attempts were made by communities of Jews to return to Palestine and settle there. At the conclusion of the First World War, the Balfour Declaration coupled with the lifting of the Turkish yoke now gave a basis for the realisation of Herzl’s ideas.

In the Germany of the nineteen twenties, as anti-Jewish feeling increased, a movement known as the Jugend Aliyah came into existence through which Jewish children were to be trained for settlement in Palestine. “Jugend” was the German word for “Youth” and “Aliyah” was the Hebrew word for “migration”. Members of the “Youth Migration” movements were sent for varying periods to farm schools in their native countries. They lived in “kibbutzim” or settlements in conditions that tried to simulate those they would find in Palestine. Here they were taught the elements of Hebrew, a dead language which was being revived and which is today the living, universal language of the people of the State of Israel. These Jewish children were carefully watched during their stay at farm schools, for immigration certificates to Palestine granted by the British authorities were limited. Therefore only the best could qualify for them and the Hebrew title of “Halutzim”, or “Pioneers”. The emphasis was on manual work and all-Hebrew speech. By manual work the Jews would redeem themselves and the soil of Palestine. By the use of Hebrew and the renunciation of bastard Yiddish and Ladino they would be truly recreating the spirit of the biblical ancients.

It was to one of these schools that Irena now went, taking tearful leave of Uncle Heinrich and Auntie Netti, and of Oma and Opa Rüdiger, who had been almost like real parents to her. Her mother put no obstacle in her way and appears at times to have been almost indifferent as to where this new step might be leading her daughter. Despite this, her final acquiescence, which still seems to be shrouded in a certain mystery, was to save her daughter’s life. 

In the autumn of 1938 Irena, 15 years old, obsessed by the idea of going to Palestine, and studying Hebrew earnestly, learnt that she was to board a train carrying Jewish children out of Germany. She had made her own arrangements to obtain a passport stamped “Palästinawanderer” after wrangling her mother’s consent. Although differences of opinion were opening between them, the mother did not want her young daughter to leave Germany. Irena had been in hospital with a lung infection and told her mother that she was signing a release form. The mother, her mind occupied as usual by business matters, signed without thinking. Irena also tried to persuade her brother Heini to emigrate with her, but he declined and thereby tragically and unwittingly signed his death warrant. The great Berlin railway station was crowded with parents saying tearful goodbyes to children carrying lunch baskets and spare clothes. But Irena’s mother was not there to see her off. It was a disappointment etched into Irena’s mind. Thus she quit the land of her birth. 

She was only just in time.       

Suddenly the embers of racial and religious prejudice and violence, fanned so assiduously by the Nazis, burst into flame. Anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out everywhere, and the exodus of Jewish children to Palestine was stopped. By lying propaganda, by offering the traditional Jewish scapegoat as the cause of all Germany’s misfortunes, and by appealing to the basest of human instincts Hitler was propelled to the pinnacle of his power. The long-suffering Jews took the first steps on a seemingly unending path of tears to European concentration camps. And the civilised nations who did not want to know about the butchery beginning in the Third Reich found themselves hurtling towards the most destructive war in the history of mankind.

At a later date gentle Uncle Heinrich and Auntie Netti were to find death in one of those concentration camps so aptly called by the Nazis “Vernichtungslager” – “Vernichtung” meaning quite literally “reduction to nothingness. 

After Irena had left Germany the Nazis one night smashed their way into the house where her brother lived and sent him to a concentration camp. Heini, a sixteen years old boy, must have wondered why he was so ill treated, for he had broken no law and harmed nobody. His mother, awake at last to the danger, fled to England, where she frantically canvassed a number of her relatives who had settled there to raise enough money to ransom her son. But she was unsuccessful. And then, with a finality which put paid to all her efforts, Germany invaded Poland. Within twenty four hours England had declared war on Germany and all avenues of communication were cut.

Heini Schreiber disappeared from the face of the earth. He became one of the six million victims of the Holocaust and one of the forty million dead from all sides in World War Two.

Irena had escaped to Palestine on one of the last refugee trains to leave Germany. She travelled by way of Italy, where she took ship across the Mediterranean. The crew was Italian and there were many adult passengers aboard. But the youthful refugees formed a large proportion of the travellers.

Although they were little more than children the young emigrants were unnaturally subdued. Only a few weeks before, they had been looked after by parents and relatives. Now, very suddenly, they had to look after themselves and, perhaps, after each other. Without being able to put their feelings into words they knew that they would be without family for a very long time. They knew also that their parents and loved ones in Germany were in great peril. As if this was not enough they were going to a strange country of which they knew nothing. And all the time they were trying to cope with a new and difficult language. This was Hebrew, whose Semitic words, grammar and writing had nothing in common with their native German. 

After ploughing through the blue and mostly calm Mediterranean the ship berthed at Haifa. Irena felt little joy and some trepidation when she first set eyes on the continental-style cafés along busy Kingsway, the picturesque but run-down Arab quarter, and the white, flat-roofed houses climbing up Mount Carmel. In any event, her stay in Haifa was brief. Almost immediately she was whisked away to the long-established kibbutz of Ashtoth Yakov, some miles out of the city. Here the only language spoken was Hebrew. Even though it was understood German was met with a stony stare, so the newcomers had no option but to learn the language. Older kibbutzniks were intermixed with them to teach them agriculture and accustom their ears to the new tongue. 

The trickle of mail from Germany stopped with the advent of the war. The new arrivals felt like total orphans. This was what most of them were shortly to become.