There can have been few more skilful cover-ups in British history than the story of the British Government’s efforts to force the Poles to give up territory to Germany on the very eve of the Second World War. When Neville Chamberlain, who had been at centre of these efforts, left the premiership in May 1940, there was strong political pressure for an inquiry into what had really happened. But Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill dreaded the split in Britain’s national unity that such an inquiry would cause. Supporters of appeasement were still prominent in government.
Churchill’s political allies urged him to expose what Chamberlain had tried to do across the whole spectrum of appeasement. Churchill refused. ‘I put all this on the shelf’, he told the House of Commons, ‘from which the historians, if they have time, will select their documents and tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past.’ Churchill warned: ‘Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.’
In January 2001, Martin and I spent several chilly days trudging through a snowy Budapest. We visited the sites of the 1943-44 period of German occupation and the hiding places and diplomatically-protected safe houses for Jews that provided refuge, first from the Germans, and then from their Hungarian Arrow Cross collaborators. We visited the villa where Adolf Eichmann had stayed, the house where the Vrba-Wetzler Auschwitz Report was translated, the prison where Hannah Senesh was tortured and murdered, and the area of the “International Ghetto”, the series of safe houses protected by a combined force of Swiss, Portuguese, Spanish and Vatican diplomats working with Raoul Wallenberg and the Swedish Legation.
I remember many shops along the main street of what had been the International Ghetto that sold antiques, old post cards and sepia photographs of a pre-war period. I wondered whether there were similar shops in Kiev that had post cards and old photographs, even photographs of my family, my mother's uncle Mendel Fleish, his wife, their five grown children, and grandchildren. I never met them. Ten days after the Germans occupied Kiev in September 1941, they were taken, among 33,771 Jews of Kiev, to the nearby ravine of Babi Yar, andshot into the ravine.
Babi Yar, September 1991, from Sir Martin's visit to Kiev
Leo Geyer composes "The Orchestras of Auschwitz" in memory of Sir Martin
The Blackbird’s Song Inspires Music From Loss
By Claire Cantor, August 4, 2016, The Jewish Chronicle
Auschwitz is a disturbing, silent place, even now. When British composer Leo Geyer arrived there to research his latest piece, he was struck by the way that the archivists hummed to themselves. “I imagine they are trying to escape from the silence”.
Sir Martin's book The Story of Israel, presented to pupils
at the Etgar Challenge
Broughton Jewish Primary School take home the Etgar prize for best poster: Sir Martin Gilbert's book The Story of Israel, presented to participating pupils by the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, 5 July 2016
(left to right) Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Deputy President of the London School of Jewish Studies, Esther Colman, Jewish educator, and Esther Gilbert, three of the judges for the Etgar competition.
Meet Sir Martin's August 2016
Book Club Winner,
Metin Delevi from IstanbulI’ve always been amateurishly interested in Jewish History, especially in the Holocaust and Anti Semitism; but began reading more extensively and deeply during the 90s.