Part 51: Tuesday, 26th January 1960, 10p.m.


26 JAN 1960 TO 31 DEC 1963


Journal Vol 2 coverA sad opening to the new volume of this diary. My uncle by marriage, Menachem Kessler (husband of my mother’s sister Doar/Devorah) died in Petah-Tikva. He had been ill for some time, but the death came as a surprise. He was a fine man; simple, sincere, one of the early Chalutsim [pioneers] embarrassingly proud of me when I visited him during the war. I am afraid his widow will not long survive him, she is unable to write. Sarah, the deceased’s only child, says she hopes her mother will shortly be able to write to mine. Halvai [would that it were so].

Mrs Sugarman, a lantzfro of my mother’s (or perhaps the wife of a lantzman of my mother’s) also died. Again, a sad loss. On reflection, I think she was English —, or almost-English — born. She was forthright, and according to my mother, wanted to die. She had been a diabetic for some time, and her eyesight was poor. In the end, in spite of her four children (I make no moral pronouncements) she was living on her own in furnished rooms. Ceste unique fable et tragique comedie de la vie as I remember Rabelais having said.

In Germany there has been swastika daubing which has proved contagious, but I can’t get worked up. Incidentally, another tragic death not so long ago: Lionel Rose, whose leadership of the immediate post-war Ajex [The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women] defamation campaign I vividly remember.

Joseph Witriol: one of the speaker's in AJEX's campaign against antisemitism and Fascism AFTER WW2

At Speakers’ Corner

He gave every ounce of himself to the campaign. I remember his saying once at an open-air meeting that he had a vested interest in the fight against Fascism, his two children. I too now have a vested interest, in the shape of Philipil, in the fight against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, but there’s not much I can do about it. (In fairness to myself, L.R. was a paid official – not that the intensity or quality of his speeches should be measured in financial terms – while I: yesterday home at 10.30 p.m. after evening institute session, this morning on P.G. duty, craft, P.E., no free periods, etc.) Anyway, I just can’t visualise myself on a platform in Hyde Park, as I used to be in 1947/48. Or can’t I? I think not. Then I was with Sam. Now, I think I might not want the notoriety that would attach to me at school.

In Algeria, the colons are behind barricades, against De Gaulle’s proposal for (eventual) Algerian independence. Have started on La Peste (Camus) – Camus another recent death.

Es ist ein Schnitter, heisst der Tod – and he seems to have been putting in overtime lately.


Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 50: Death of a Pioneer

It’s taken two years and eight months for me to transcribe Volume One of Joseph Witriol’s Journal. There are 19 more, so I may have to start cutting out passages if I am to finish this project.

Wednesday, 30th December 1959 3p.m.

Nothing good with which to bring the year and this volume to a close. A letter from Sarah to inform me that Uncle Mendel had died (the husband of my mother’s sister). He was one of the early chalutzim [pioneers], had worked with Ben Gurion. Of well-to-do parents, I believe, he emigrated to Israel “to build and to be built” on its soil. He worked like a goy, as a plumber (?installateur? [i.e. dad is wondering what the Hebrew word is]). His daughter was a true Sabra, Hebrew her only language (apart from Yiddish which she used with her parents), a natural patriot. Uncle Mendel lived Zionism, I preached it in my youth.

From the solemnity and nobility of Menachem Kessler’s death – Milton’s lines – “a death so noble” – occur to me (shut up, H.L.[Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur] ) – to life with a small l. I picked up by chance at Alf’s [my mother’s brother, Alf Katz]  a most entertaining book, Rally Round the Flag, Boys by Max Shulman. It describes with brilliant humour the impact of a Nike battalion on a small town with its three vertical social divisions: the Yankees, the New York commuters and the Italians. The various liaisons, frictions, contretemps are brilliantly rendered.

E. [Edith Witriol] out 3-piece-suite hunting, leaving me to hold the baby. I held him on Monday for most of the day, miraculously succeeding in changing my first nappy. Philip is now beginning to grizzle slightly – he gave me a good hour’s quiet to write to Sarah and Aunt Dora and make this entry.

Since, as I believe I have repeatedly stated, I have no illusions about this journal being acclaimed as one of the showpieces of world literature, and my meagre income renders it desirable for me to keep some record of certain items of expenditure, I record

  1. the purchase of a raincoat, £11-0-6 ex local Moishe Burton; adjudged satisfactory by E. & Mum
  2. the purchase of a blazer, £5-19-9, from the same source. Adjudged unsatisfactory by both ladies (my mother was right; it is a tight fit); am going to try and exchange.