Part 80: Tuesday 15th August 1961, 9.20 pm

The second day of the third week of the holiday. Concocted a review-article on Der Jüdische Witz by Salcia Landmann for The Jewish Quarterly. Must try to get something for it, and the review I did of God’s Wilderness in the previous issue over the initials PAM (with which I am rather pleased – Peloni Almoni Mechudash).

[For] about a year I wrote a full page or more for The Young Zionist (in 1934/5) under the pen-name of Peloni Almoni. And that since then I have resolved that whatever I write, however tripey it is, will be written over my full name. On the grounds that my name would have been known in Zionist/Anglo-Jewish circles and that I would have been able to exploit the publicity. But would I, even if I could have. I had always had rooted objections to being a Zionist official.

Fritz and Esther Ben Aharon here on a visit. She – her father a Witriol, her mother a Balin (my mum’s dad a Balin). They lost their daughter a year or so ago – Tirza, when Tirza was about eighteen. She had been suffering from – I don’t know the technical term –  but for years she could only walk, talk with difficulty. Esther and Fritz fine Chalutz [ Hebrew for a pioneer] types. Esther obviously shattered, but behaved very bravely here. We have entertained them, so have Mum & Sam [brother] & Lily [his wife]. Very difficult for all of us: we have the two kids, who are now more than a handful, bless ’em; Mum, ken en hora [Yiddish –without the evil eye] is 82; Lily is recovering from an operation, Sam had been looking forward to a fortnight’s respite…on Tuesday he went to M/C to see a manufacturer, on Thursday he took them to the National Gallery – and he has a cold anyway.

Am trying to sell up the old library. Have packed up books for Sulzbacher: a run of Jewish Monthlies, Danby’s Mishna, Friedlander’s Guide, etc; coming to just over £5…. Had I not been in such a hurry I would have kept a few [Jewish Monthlies] with some humorous pieces in them – they might have come in useful if I am ever invited again to lecture on Jewish Wit and Humour. Edith just finished off the ironing, 10pm. This, be it noted, is when we are on holiday. There can be no question of going away until the summer of 1963, unless, which is unlikely, I receive some exceptionally lucrative translating commissions. It’s not too bad for me. At least I got away, travelled, for ten days. And I must go away next Easter too. E. has never, I think, been away from the house for more than eight hours at a stretch. Must try to remember this when the inevitable frictions occur.

Young Michael Youngerwood taken to hospital with virus infection; understand much better now.

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Part 53: Sunday, 13th March 1960, 8.35p.m.

Mr Balin died, after much suffering and hospitalisation. The internment at Marlow Rd. cemetery. Mick and Sam comported themselves very well; Mick tall, thin, Roman-ascetic, in regulation bowler; Sam more rounded. Newman, the G/G synagogue minister said it was not permitted to deliver a hesped [eulogy] on Purim, but gave a short hesped (a zchiss [honour] which the deceased earned by virtue of Mick’s wardenship of the G/G synagogue.

Dined with E. yesterday at Gennaro’s [?] & saw Irma La Douce; our wedding anniversary celebration. E. enjoyed the lights and the general living it up; Leicester Square on a Saturday night is a fine place to be away from.

Am teaching French Monday evening’s at Church St, English for foreigners (mostly middle-aged Hungarian Jewesses) at Woodberry Down on Tuesday evenings, and E. for F. (mostly German/Austrian domestics) at Southgate on Wednesdays. Will carry on this term, but must drop at least one class for the summer term, when I am due to teach at a secondary school.

Received a letter asking me to do a light article on “Mechutanship” [mechutan =Yiddish term for your child’s parent-in-law] or something similar for a J.C. “Brides and Homes” supplement. Concocted a “Letter to a Baal Simcha” which duly appeared; “rotten she-b’rotten” said my mother. I agree, but I have a family to feed, and cannot afford any never-publish-anything-beneath-his-own-highest-level nonsense.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 28: Heads and tales

Tuesday November 11th, 10.05 p.m.

The only comment I have to make on the significance of the date is, characteristically enough, I suppose, is* that I can’t get used to the idea of the two-minute silence being observed on the Sunday before the 11th and the poppies being on sale the Saturday before or earlier.

* E. [Edith Witriol] pointed out the tautology (23/11/56) – such a clever girl!

Changes at Hargrave [primary school]. Miss Hood retired at the end of last half-term. Replaced by Miss Price, a youngish efficient-looking woman with aggressive horn-rimmed specs and an elocutionary voice. Heppell sprang a surprise on us – he had put in for and got another headship, presumably of a larger school. Miss P. is applying for the headship here. Must get used to the idea of a woman head younger than myself. Excellent fodder for the masochism. Hale, too – who has a graded post with us – has got a deputy headship right on his doorstep in Finchley, after being beaten by Miss P. for the Hargrave deputy headship (Heppell played the dirty on him by leading him to believe he stood a fair chance, or rather-better-than-fair-chance. The advert in the L.C.C. Bulletin was for man or woman, with the man’s qualifications custom-built for Hale, but it seems obvious that with no woman holding a graded post on Hargrave’s staff – after Miss Hood’s retirement – the woman candidate would be preferred to a man of equal or even slightly higher ability).

What else. At the end of the Neila service, taking a cup of tea in the hall – took me four/five years to find out about this, quite by chance – I asked Zalkind Stalbow’s grandson (Sammy’s son) where his grandfather was. He had been knocked down by a lorry Erev [the day before]Yom Kippur. He 80+. He was unconscious for several days, I gather. Frankly, I looked in the J.C. [The Jewish Chronicle] obituary columns. However, he made what must have been a remarkable recovery and I visited him at Hornsey Hospital. He said it would be safer for me to write down what I had to say, as the accident had affected his hearing. What did I think of Ben Gurion’s saying to the Jews of the Diaspora we want your money but you mustn’t tell us how to run our State?

A Bar-Mitsva at Selby’s the other Sunday. Benny Miranda’s younger boy. Slightly nauseating. Champagne, liqueurs, cigars, cabaret – vulgar Jewish comedian (though I expect I shall not be above trying to retail [sic?] some of his jokes) and shrill songsters. I saw three photographers “shooting” the boy in his tallis [prayer shawl].

The occasion was memorable for a reconciliation with our long “lost” Balin cousins. I don’t know what our relationship is, or rather what the correct name for it is – second cousins, 1st cousins once removed? I append what I believe to be the tree, so that I may have it handy for reference purposes. Perhaps I may be able to get someone to state authoritatively how the relationship is described. The “rift” started long pre-1939. I don’t know the origin. My mother became broighess with Mrs B. – so Sam [Joseph Witriol’s brother] and I had to follow suit. We met at Simchas,Shivas, but never exchanged a word.

Who's related to who: Witriol and Balin

Who’s related to who: Witriol and Balin

What is the term to express a) the relationship between my mother and “Mr Balin” (Zalman) and b) Mick Balin and myself?

Sam Balin had been a grammar school master in the provinces for many years, had recently come to Hasmonean (I think that’s it – in Edgware [sic!]) school. He came up to mum and — communications were restored. More about all this if I have time later. It’s been a “good” evening – a leisurely meal, Edith quiet as a mouse writing letters — but, it’s 11pm and one doesn’t want to slog away at this.

Read H.E. Bates’ Darling Buds of May. Excellent short picaresque comedy. Practically read Waugh’s Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Good short fantasy (I don’t blame these lads for preferring to write a 40,000 to a 80,000 book). Slight anti-Semitic touches one should note for the Jew-in-English-literature (Pinfold, echt-Englisch, has delusions in which his persecutors refer to him as a Jew, Peinfeld, who bought out an English farmer whose ancestors had worked the land for centuries).

Jospeh Witriol’s Apologia Pro Autobiographia Sua

Thus the title of the introduction to Joseph Witriol’s autobiography, Also Lived – The Autobiography of a Failure. He wrote it, on and off, for about six years, from 1984 to 1990. Rather than retype the 60,000 words (which would take me six years or more), I have scanned the typescript (‘inkscript’ on a few pages) which, unfortunately, has many corrections, deletions and so on. In a few places the quality of the reproduction is very poor. In due course, I hope to upload old photos, letters and documents that are referred to in Also Lived.

In the self-justifyingly titled Apologia, he says that he wanted his children to know something of “the rock whence they were hewn” as well as needing to “get it (i.e. writing the autobiography) out of his system”.  Given that when he wrote it he was well into his seventies, was still teaching and translating, involved in synagogue life and had various domestic commitments, it is perhaps understandable that the manuscript repeats certain passages and has much less of the flair shown in many of his newspaper articles. As he himself wrote in a Journal entry dated 24 June 1985 – “…had a bash at my autobiography. Goes on and on, seems nothing but a list of names.”

Much of the family-centred material would only perhaps be of interest to someone who grew up in the same area, served in the same Army unit and so on.  But it is a detailed “ethnic social history” of aspects of Jewish and Zionist life in London as well as a record of his experiences as a Jew in Hamburg in 1934 when Hitler had been in power for a year. The same applies to his wartime service in London, North Africa (including Palestine) and Italy. And – more scary than any military encounter he (never) had – teaching in East London “sec. mod.” schools in the 1950s.

In any case, as I read his words, I feel he wanted them to be preserved for posterity (Equally a few passages have been redacted where I think that is what he would have wanted).  And finally, should the online record of this self-styled “also ran”  be discovered by others who can add anything about the people, places and events mentioned, any such information or comment would be much appreciated, either here or at http://autobiographyofafailure.wordpress.com/

Hasmonean – the final chapter

The final part of the diary entries from my father’s journal as it relates to his time at Hasmonean is  here on the excellent melchettmike blog.

Post-retirement, the occasional reference to Hasmonean or contact with ex-colleagues came up. Here are two examples, transcribed from the hand-written entry with my additions in square brackets:

Sunday 28th January 1979, 1850

E J Frank came round on Wednesday. At 70+ he is fit, though constantly blinking. He knew nothing of my “Hasmo” article in the J.C., here , so that my fears that he might have been “broighiss” with me on a/c of it, were groundless….

…The story [E J Frank told] in the name of Mendel Block, who succeeded Rev. Rosenbaum at our  [i.e. dad’s family synagogue, when growing up]old Borough Synagogue, was of a discussion in the Hasmo staffroom, when MB was on the staff, as to whether a Jew could watch opera or ballet. “Certainly not ballet,” said MB, “Al tistakel lakankan (can-can)”. This was off the cuff, and as such first-rate, in my view. [my brother had to explain to me the wordplay – “Al tistakel bekankan” from Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers, meaning “Don’t look at the container”(continuing with”…rather, (look) at what’s inside”.)]

Monday 21st May 1979, 1218

Y’day to reception to Moishe Ellman [pictured in this photo on melchettmike] at Page Street, Hasmo Girls’ School. Very enjoyable. Had been a little surprised to receive invite in 1st place – thought was persona non grata. However Mr Baddiel [see melchettmike’s hasmo-legends-xiv]  was cordiality itself. Cd it be that he had not read my JC article in which he was obviously the target of my criticism of the ultra-O elements at Hasmo? Doubt it. Probably had forgotten it, or just thought it was shtuss and not worth bothering with. WWS [“Willy” Stanton, headmaster], too, was very amiable, though he hadn’t emerged all that well from my article. Albert Myer came over ostentatiously to Sam Balin and ostentatiously ignored me. I don’t quite know what I did to him. He saw me once on the bus with bare head. It’s hardly worth the bother of commenting on.

The whole thing was very well done. Moishe was presented with an illuminated address by a distinguished OB, a Ph D mathematician and, of course, ex yeshiva bachur. Moishe spoke quite well, said he’d been setting himself a multiple choice question as to the reasons why he had gone on so long past retirement age. Of the five possible answers (loved teaching maths so much, couldn’t tear himself away from such a fine bunch of colleagues, needed the money, was dreading his retirement speech and wanted to put it off as long as possible, had come to the conclusion that the last was the right answer. (I have forgotten the fifth choice).

March 4 2018

Going through my dad’s papers recently, I found a letter and a postcard from pupils as well as his retirement card from 1977.