Below, we give a preview of the upcoming Lit season, for which we are planning eleven meetings.
All meetings start at 8.00pm, unless otherwise indicated. Joining details for ZOOM meetings will be sent shortly before the meeting via the Lit.’s email list. In-person events are clearly indicated as such, and subject to change in response to government guidance. Meetings that are recorded are clearly identified in the programme.
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As the meetings are a mixture of online and in-person this season, we are not charging our usual membership fees. We are asking for a contribution of £10 for a single membership this season, and £2 if a single meeting is attended without purchasing full membership. Either fee can be paid directly to our bank account (details below) or via PayPal using the button below. If, in addition to the £10 membership fee or £2 fee per meeting, you would like to make a donation to support the work of the Lit. in this and future seasons, please use the same payment methods as for the fees.
Opening of the season: Sunday 10th October 2021: Stefan Reif (University of Cambridge), ‘Bouncing Back and Forward: Stefan Reif reflects on his autobiography and on Edinburgh in the post-war years’ (ZOOM)
Stefan Reif (OBE; BA, PhD London; MA LittD Cambridge; Hon. PhD Haifa) is Emeritus Professor of Medieval Hebrew Studies and Fellow of St John’s College in the University of Cambridge. He also holds senior research posts at the Universities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. He was the Founding Director of the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library (1973-2006) and oversaw the conservation, research, digitization and publication of most of the 200,000 Genizah fragments held there. He is the author of over 400 articles and numerous books, and has lectured widely in Europe, Israel, Canada and the USA. His latest book is his autobiography entitled Bouncing Back –and Forward published in 2021 by Vallentine Mitchell in London; available to the Lit. audience at the reduced price of £13.30 when ordering from www.vmbooksuk.com using the discount code ReifZoom.
Stefan writes: I expect that all those who share with me memories of Edinburgh in the early 1950s, both Jewish and more general, will have their own individual recollections of who and what impacted on them. The first seven chapters of Bouncing Back have much to say about those years. There is, of course, the highly personal aspect of a little boy’s relationships with his parents and his Zeide and how a father’s return from active service affected that boy’s development. The school and the cheder of those days made a deep impression as did the kind of disciplined education that was still, in the post-war years, little changed from the pre-war ones. My admiration for Rabbi Cohen and my family’s doubts about Rabbi Daiches were not shared by all and there is still much here for the historian to discuss. A theme of my story is the feeling of being an outsider at many stages of my life, no less in the Edinburgh of my youth than later in London, Glasgow, Philadelphia and Cambridge. Also prominent is the notion that success can rarely be achieved without having to overcome obstruction, opposition as well as downright jealousy and resentment. I hope that these and similar topics will provide the basis for our Zoom discussions on 10 October. I look forward to meeting up again with those who remember me and to sharing ideas with them and with others who came later to a changed Edinburgh scene.
24 October: Richard Evans, ‘The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination’ (ZOOM)
The idea that nothing happens by chance in history, that nothing is quite what it seems to be at first sight, that everything that occurs is the result of the secret machinations of malign groups of people manipulating everything from behind the scenes is as old as history itself. But conspiracy theories are becoming more popular and more widespread in the twenty-first century. Nowhere have they become more obvious than in revisionist accounts of the history of the Third Reich. Long-discredited conspiracy theories have taken on a new lease of life, given credence by claims of freshly discovered evidence and novel angles of investigation. Evans takes five widely discussed claims involving Hitler and the Nazis and subjects them to forensic scrutiny: that the Jews were conspiring to undermine civilization, as outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; that the German army was ‘stabbed in the back’ by socialists and Jews in 1918; that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag in order to seize power; that Rudolf Hess’ flight to the UK in 1941 was sanctioned by Hitler and conveyed peace terms suppressed by Churchill; and that Hitler escaped the bunker in 1945 and fled to South America. In doing so, he teases out some surprising features these, and other conspiracy theories, have in common.
Richard J. Evans is the author of numerous books on modern German history, including The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War, all available as Penguin paperbacks. He is Regius Professor Emeritus of History at Cambridge University, and until recently was Provost of Gresham College, London. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and was knighted in 2012 for services to scholarship. His most recent book is The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, a Penguin paperback published in June 2021.
7 November, 3pm: Avraham Burg, ‘Can Israel Be Both ‘Jewish And Democratic’? The Israeli Nation State Law, Jewish Identity & The Ongoing Struggle For Palestinian Rights’ (ZOOM, please note the earlier start time of 3pm)
Israel’s ‘Nation State Law’ of 2018 states that the right to exercise national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people, downgrades Arabic from its co-official status with Hebrew, and establishes Jewish settlement as a national value. Its opponents argued that the Law formalised the supremacy of Jews over non-Jews, but a challenge in the Supreme Court failed last month on the grounds that the Law ‘does not negate Israel’s character as a democratic state’. In this talk, Avraham Burg will explain why Netanyahu was right to call the Law ‘a defining moment in the history of Zionism’, and what this means for the future of Israel.
Avraham Burg is is one of Israel’s leading public intellectuals and political thinkers. He has published numerous books, including The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes (2008), Very Near To You: Human Readings of the Torah (2012), and In Days To Come: A New Hope for Israel (2018). He is a former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and former head of the Jewish Agency.
23 January: Gabriel Finder, ‘Jewish Honour Courts: Jews Look Inward after the Holocaust’ (ZOOM, or in person, this meeting will be recorded)
Jewish honour courts were post-war Jewish tribunals in which Jews suspected of co-operation with the Nazis were tried in quasi-legal proceedings before a panel of their judicial peers. Jewish honour court systems were established in several European countries in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, including Poland and the Netherlands. Displaced Persons camps in the American zone of occupied Germany also saw the creation of an elaborate honour court system. In addition, individual Jewish communal trials of putative Jewish collaborators were held both in and outside Europe, including the US. By 1950, honour courts were dismantled. Although the existence of Jewish honour courts after the Holocaust had been relegated to historical obscurity until recently, they played an important role in the reconstruction of Jewish life in Europe in the immediate post-war years. In this talk, Gabriel Finder will examine the reasons for the establishment of post-war Jewish honour courts, discuss exemplary trials, and draw conclusions from their short-lived existence and eventual demise.
Gabriel Finder (PhD, JD) taught in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia (USA) and was an affiliate faculty member in the university’s Jewish Studies Programme. His research addresses the Holocaust, Jewish rebuilding in its aftermath, Jewish cultural production after the Holocaust, and post-war justice. His most recent publications include Justice Behind the Iron Curtain: Nazis on Trial in Communist Poland, which he co-authored with the late Alexander V. Prusin (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018); and Laughter After: Humor and the Holocaust, which he co-edited with David Slucki and Avinoam Patt (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2020). He co-edited Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel after the Holocaust (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, published in association with the United Stated Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2015) with Laura Jockusch; Jewish Honor Courts was a National Jewish book award finalist in the Holocaust category. He is in the process of writing Honor Court: Jews in Poland Turn Inward after the Holocaust.
6 February, Hella Pick, ‘The vital Jewish element in a patchwork quilt’ (by Zoom; this meeting will be recorded)
In her memoir, Invisible Walls, Hella Pick has described a multifaceted life that began in Vienna and brought her as a Kindertransport child to Britain at the age of 10. As a refugee uprooted from the country of her birth, she was educated in Britain, became a journalist who travelled the world, has written three books, including a biography of the Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, and worked with Lord Weidenfeld during the last 15 years of his life. She has a CBE and several honours from Germany and Austria. She has an honorary degree from Sussex University. But her book is not intended as a catalogue of achievement. It is also a vehicle for examining the impact of being uprooted as a child and a lifelong battle to overcome insecurity and make sense of multiple identities. Brought up without contact with Jewish communities, it took a long time for Hella to acknowledge her Jewish identity, and involve herself in the fight against Antisemitism. With her refugee’s origin the question of what it is to be a Jew in Brexit Britain occupies her deeply. Her aim at this meeting of the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society will be to stimulate discussion on the issues she has raised in her book.
Hella Pick was born in Vienna in 1929. In March 1939 Hella arrived in the UK as a refugee on the Kindertransport; her mother was able to join her three months later. Hella went to school in London and in theLake District, and became a British citizen in 1948. Following a degree at the London School of Economics she became the UN correspondent of The Guardian newspaper in 1960, guided by its then chief US correspondent Alistair Cooke. She spent three decades at The Guardian, ending up as Diplomatic Editor.During her very distinguished career as a journalist, Hella Pick covered many of the leading events of the post-war period and met its leading participants. Pick was awarded a CBE in 2000 for her work as a journalist and writer. She is currently the Arts and Culture Programme Director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an independent think-tank based in London. She has dual British and Austrian citizenship, and regularly visits Austria, which she describes as her ‘home away from home’.
20 February: Paul Broda, ‘Scientist Spies: My parents Engelbert Broda and Alan Nunn May’ (by Zoom; this meeting will be recorded)
The distinct voices of those who passed atom secrets to the Russians in the War have rarely been heard. My father and my stepfather were two of these. I shall introduce them and my mother, and how their lives were shaped by Communism, Fascism, the War and the creation of The Bomb. As I described in my book Scientist Spies: a memoir of my three parents and the Atom Bomb (2011) they gave secrets out of conviction and for no reward. It places in their historical context the dilemmas of political belief versus obedience and of action versus passivity. I shall also describe their later lives and how from early childhood my own life has been shaped by my family life and influences.
Paul Broda was born in 1939 in London, the only child of Hilde and Engelbert Broda, and Alan Nunn May became his stepfather in 1953. He was at King’s College Cambridge (Biochemistry, 1961), Medical Research Council, London (PhD in bacterial genetics), Berkeley and Edinburgh University (1968). In 1980 he went to UMIST in Manchester to set up Applied Molecular Biology. His initial research was on bacterial genetics and evolution (Plasmids, 1979). At UMIST he studied lignocellulose breakdown by fungi. In 1995 he retired to Scotland. He has been a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Honorary Secretary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.
6 March: Valery Rees, ‘Angels in our own traditions’ (in person, if possible; this meeting will be recorded)
Having studied the importance of angels in the pre-biblical past, through the bible, and on into medieval and modern literature, Valery Rees will take this opportunity to look at some of the angels that appear in our own liturgies against a wider background of their origins and their later representations across the Religions of the Book. How did people know what the cheruvim on the cover of the mercy seat were supposed to look like? Was Satan the equivalent of the fallen angel Lucifer of the Christian tradition? Who were the angels who ‘fell’? and who are the angels we invoke in the song Shalom Aleichem? Why were the angels so important to the community who wrote the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice? These and any other questions you may like to bring will be addressed in this talk which will be illustrated throughout.
Following her appearance on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time programme on Radio 4 on Angels, Valery Rees was commissioned to write a history of Angels that would cover every aspect of their presence in various religious traditions, over as long an historical period as was necessary. The resulting book From Gabriel to Lucifer was published in 2013, with a second edition in paperback in 2015 (https://tinyurl.com/ws9sm937), and a German translation in 2017. All this was something of a surprise as she more usually works on topics connected to the Renaissance. She has published extensively on the philosopher Marsilio Ficino (15th century, Florence) and his influence on poets, artists and statesmen across Europe. She heads the Renaissance Studies faculty at the School of Philosophy and Economic Science in London, and is proud to serve as an Associate of her alma mater, Newnham College, Cambridge. She is also a Trustee of Westminster Synagogue and Chair of Adult Education.
20 March: Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz, ‘Galleries, Guilds, and Graves: British Orthodox Women’ (ZOOM; this meeting will be recorded)
Drawing on interviews as well as on her own experience, Dr Taylor-Guthartz shares her findings of how new norms of lived religion have emerged, influenced by both the rise of feminism and the backlash against it, and also by an evolving understanding of women’s religious roles.
Rabba Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz is a popular lecturer at academic and Jewish communal institutions. She received her doctorate from University College London in 2016, and Orthodox rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Maharat, New York, in June 2021. She currently is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Manchester, where she is researching the history of Limmud. Lindsey has been an affiliated or associated lecturer at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, SOAS, King’s College London, and Vassar College in New York State. She is a Research Fellow at the London School of Jewish Studies, and has presented at Limmud in the Netherlands, the UK, and South Africa. Her first book is Challenge and Conformity: The Religious Lives of Orthodox Jewish Women, which was published this spring by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.
24 April: Rachel Pistol, ‘Remembering Second World War Internment in Great Britain’ & Alan Morgenroth, ‘The economics of internment: as seen through the banknotes created by the “Dunera Boys” deported to Australia and interned in Hay NSW, September 1940 to May 1941’ (in person, if possible; this meeting will be recorded)
‘Remembering Second World War Internment in Great Britain’
Some 80,000+ refugees from Europe sought refuge in Great Britain during the 1930s. Upon the declaration of war in 1939, Germans and Austrians automatically became ‘enemy aliens’. The British government was aware that the majority of immigrants were refugees from Nazi oppression and set up tribunals to ascertain whether or not an ‘enemy alien’ was dangerous. Although a flawed process, the tribunals did stall calls for mass internment until the rapid fall of France and the Low Countries led to mass hysteria and increased anti-German feeling. From May 1940, all men over the age of 16, regardless of classification, were interned, as were many women and children. Until the last few decades, little was known about the internment of enemy aliens by the British during the war. However, in recent years, novels such as David Baddiel’s The Secret Purposes, published in 2004, and exhibitions such as ‘Schwitters in Britain’ at the Tate Britain in 2013, have introduced a wider audience to this lesser known part of the British wartime narrative. Some of those interned in Britain were deported to Canada and Australia, which led to the greatest tragedy of the entire internment debacle: the sinking of the Arandora Star. 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of this tragedy, and the memory is mostly perpetuated in the British–Italian community. A mini-series in the 1980s, starring Bob Hoskins, fictionalised the experiences of those sent to Australia, but in Canada there has been no such move to bring this aspect of Second World War internment into public consciousness. Just as the experiences of the internees varied depending on whether they remained on the Isle of Man or ended up in Australia or Canada, the ways internment has been depicted in popular culture differs per country. This talk will compare and contrast attempts to bring Second World War internment to greater public awareness across the UK, Canada and Australia.
Dr Rachel Pistol is a Researcher at King’s College London and is the King’s co-ordinator of the third phase of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. Rachel has published widely on Second World War internment in the UK and the USA including Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA (Bloomsbury, 2017) and her co-edited collection The Jews, the Holocaust, and the Public: The Legacies of David Cesarani (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). She has discussed Second World War internment on BBC TV and radio, Sky News and has written articles comparing internment with modern day issues that have appeared internationally including in Newsweek, The Independent and Huffington Post.
‘The economics of internment: as seen through the banknotes created by the “Dunera Boys” deported to Australia and interned in Hay NSW, September 1940 to May 1941’
This talk explores the experiences of 2,000 predominately Jewish refugees who were deported to Australia aboard HMT Dunera and interned in two equal groups in Hay Camps 7 and 8 which, despite being just two hundred yards apart were kept isolated from each other. Most observers describe their experiences at Hay as if it was a single group; however, once you delve individually into the two camps astounding differences emerge. This story of social and economic behaviour is a colourful and often amusing tale, containing political intrigue, a communist plot, hidden messages and an auspicious use of toilet paper. It tells the story of how these unfortunate internees, who were deported from the UK to Australia and dumped behind barbed wire on the edge of the Australian desert, made the best of their situation and with amazing ingenuity thrived against the prevailing odds.
Alan Morgenroth is a Chartered Accountant and entrepreneur. He started to research his late Father’s experiences as a Dunera Boy in 2007 five years after his father had died. His research has gone far beyond the discovery that his Father was a member of the Camp 8 MID – Money Issuing Department – and is now an expert on the Dunera saga. He met historian, Dr Rachel Pistol, a leading expert on internment, in 2017 through his research and they were married the following year!.
1 May: Ruth Padel, ‘Book talk: Daughters of the Labyrinth’ (in person, if possible)
Ri is a Cretan-born painter, internationally successful, who has worked and lived in London all her life. When her English Jewish husband dies, she paints her family and home landscape in Crete, where her elderly parents run a B&B, but a colleague sees something with-held or unsaid about these paintings. When Ri’s mother Sophia is hospitalised, possibly dying, she discovers why – she learns of a lost world, a past that has been hidden from her – Jewish Crete, the Holocaust on Crete – and her mother’s real name. She discovers that she herself, and now her own daughter, have an identity she knew nothing about.
Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet and author, Professor of Poetry at King’s College and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She began as a classicist teaching ancient Greek, and has spent much of her life in Crete where she has helped on archaeological excavations, sung in Heraklion Town Choir, and taught poetry in Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Chania. Her non-fiction includes books on Greek tragedy and the influence of Greek myth on rock music, and her most recent poetry collection is Beethoven Variations . Her acclaimed second novel Daughters of the Labyrinth is ‘a moving, superbly written exploration of a family with dark secrets. Crete itself becomes one of the main characters in the story’ (Irish Times, Best Books of 2021). See www.ruthpadel.com.