Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 21: Supercalorieflagellisticexhibitiondocious

Wednesday, 4th June 1958 – 9.15am

3rd day of diet – at least one has had sufficient will-power to persevere thus far. I shall probably be able to get down to 13 stone, the problem would be to avoid slipping back. I think the answer might be to get a bathroom weighing machine – if and when funds permit – get down to x lb; and immediately my weight rises beyond x+7lb. ( x+5lb.?) go on a 2-day banana-and-milk diet. “Moderation” all the time I find myself unable to observe.

John Calder wrote asking me for specimens of my translating as they had a book on Janáček for translation. The book, I gather, is not much longer than Brod’s, but more technical. I suppose I ought to try to do it if they give me the job, but I face the prospect with no great enthusiasm. It would mean practically no time for myself and Edith – in that order, because I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t devote enough time to myself, not that Edith really “complains” either, but, well darling – if you read this, please let me explain – and there is the galling feeling that all the work I have done on Brod’s book would be completely wasted. Perhaps not completely though. I sent Calder the MS of the Brod study; perhaps that might be the decisive factor in their decision to entrust the work to me (awful English, I know, but not pleonastic; how should it be re-written?).

All these irons in the fire, nothing seems to come from them. Janson-Smith wrote, in answer to my request for news of my translation of Brod’s Cicero, that Elek had “reluctantly returned” the TS after 6 months because they were unable to find an American publisher to “share the cost of translation.” I’d asked for 2 gns. a thou, Lionel Kochan had previously written to me that they seldom paid more than 1½ gns a thou – I’m prepared to “let down my trousers”, as they say in Yiddish and let ’em have the 100M TS for 75 gns. (I don’t know whether die Hosen nachlassen exists in this sense in German – anyway I suppose it would be die Hosen herablassen. The idiom is coarse, but is the one that instinctively comes to mind. I suppose the idea is: you try to avoid taking down your trousers – I was going to write until you get to the toilet, but if you have to (have to accept the best bargain you can make), then you have no alternative but to “let down your trousers” – but it strikes me the idea is simply: you try to preserve your dignity and keep your trousers up by asking the price you want (2 gn), but if you’re forced to reveal the essential weakness of your position, then you must do so (stand revealed in all the shame of let-down trousers) in order to get the cash. I wonder if I could take this up with Bithell, from whom I have a letter to answer.

This rather unscholarly (flagellate yourself, boy, you can take it) philological excursus leaves me with time for only the bare record: lunched with Paul Hulton & Edith, visited Hazor exhibition at B.M. – Madeleine Blumstein was doing the conducted tour. With characteristic gaucherie I beat a hasty retreat when I saw her as for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. Edith, strangely (?) enough remembered it – she thought I had had a sudden urge to perform a natural function – and told it to me when she came out to see what had become of me. I must say I thought it was quite a feat to talk for fifty minutes without notes, even allowing for the fact that the exhibits formed points d’appui. Edith surprised at the “deference” I showed Madeleine – silly girl.

Later heard Rabbi Maybaum talking on Franz Rosenzweig. I went chiefly, almost wholly, with the idea of putting another iron in the fire. I had gathered that a group of people were trying to float a translation of R’s works. Maybaum good: a yekke who knows his philosophy, and only a slight accent. Moreover, he remembered my “splendid” humorous articles. His thesis: agnosticism or humanism > Hitlerism could have plenty of holes picked in it (then why didn’t I pick them; politely, elegantly, devastatingly, instead of babbling inconsequentially in the discussion?) but he produced some good phrases from Kant: “the starry heavens above me and the (? ? moral law, I think,) within me” – I’d heard that one before – and ” God is a thought within me.”


Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 3: A diet of young chicks and Janáček

My father, Joseph Witriol (1912-2002,), began his hand-written Journal in 1957.

Thursday 9th May 1957 – 5.20 p.m.

Hungry – on 4th day of self-imposed diet (started at 8.30 a.m. on Monday 6th). Rambled with a small group of Senior Ramblers [Jewish Senior Ramblers Club]: Woking – Chobham – Sunningdale. Very capably led by one Minnie R. Company homely, alas. Usual disclaimer: I am not a snob, but one likes a touch of unsnobbish class in one’s company. However, I ought, I think, to refrain entirely from adversely commenting on people’s innate qualities, for which they are not responsible.

I believe I have not mentioned the fact so far that I am by occupation (notice the carefully chosen term) a primary schoolteacher. There may be something significant in this. I can’t pretend that I am unhappy in my work (I meant to write “happy”); I haven’t the aptitudes nor have I had the specialised training a p.s.t. needs. I have managed to fit my square peg into its round hole, but it is impossible for me to avoid seeing how much better at the job young women in their early twenties are than I am. Strangely enough, some of these y.w. say they hate the job – this is not merely a pose, I don’t think* – because of the “old teachers who are inefficient” (who are they to judge of other teachers’ efficiency, anyway) and/or because of the low status of primary schoolteachers. I suspect that this last is something of a pose. I still maintain that as far as women are concerned, primary schoolteachers rank reasonably high.For men, of course, no. Even so, I for my part in my own eyes have a higher status as a P.S.T. than I would have had as a successful grocer, say, or draper.

*I meant “I think” – JW 2/1/59 Cicero, 7th & 8th May 57 – 7 hrs. [Red text at the end of entries indicates time spent on writing/translating].

Monday 13th May 1957 – 5.30 p.m.

The weather – at the moment – is fine; I’m not so fine, though I have long since reached the stage when a condition of non-fineness no worse than this can be easily tolerated – s’long’s-it’s-no-worse. One can enumerate the causes of one’s far from divine discontent:-

1) effect of diet; for me the consolation of eating is real.

2) linked with 1) – to-day’s weighing revealed I have lost only 2-3lb. A disappointing result after a week’s strenuous dieting. (wt. 14st. 3lb. – dress as for 3/5/57 except beige sports-shirt instead of Rael Brook shirt and Terylene vest instead of Aertex-type vest).

3) Sense of inadequacy at job. Humiliation at having to ask R.H.H. (R.H. Heppell, my headmaster) how to play stoolball, further humiliation at his suggesting I ask Miss O., just out of college, how it was played. Further humiliation when, having proceeded from stoolball to rounders, of which too I had become ignorant (not having played it for over 30 years) R.H.H. asked Miss J. to bring her booklets on the game, which she had, and one of which she lent me.

4) Notice in toilet re co-operation on use of toilet etc; no tea-leaves in pan (not guilty), no saturation of floor (possibly guilty through peeing in dark at night – I suffer from nervous frequency), immediate flushing (I do, except again, at night, in order to avoid noise).

5) Idea occurred to me to write article “Votes For Women” for J.C. to cash in on Roger Fulford’s book of that title, but too lazy to carry out idea. To do it successfully I would need to have the book to hand and the article completed within a fortnight. Even by then I doubt whether the article would be topical any longer. – if the J.C. get anything  in within three weeks of submission I have found – it’s quite exceptional.

I am useless. I clutter up the earth. Along with some two-and-a-half-thousand million others I intend to continue cluttering to the last possible moment. Or, as the Psalmist puts it, lo amut ki echyah. [ I shall not die but live Psalms 118:17] And bollocks to you hypocrite lecteur.

Friday 17th May 1957 – 7.15 p.m.

My memory is really appalling. Recently a representative of the Red Cross called to see me regarding an offer of voluntary service I had goaded myself into making. He talked solidly in this room for an hour. It is not so often I have anyone in here, apart from Merton [Sandler] and Richard [Stern], that I ought not to be able to remember when this particular chap called. He was so tremendously keen that I found myself unable to avoid the unworthy suspicion that he might be a full-time or part-time paid official. I had offered, following on receipt in the hall of a batch of printed leaflets detailing the work of the Red Cross and asking for voluntary workers, to give 2 hrs. (or did I write 1-2 hrs.?) weekly. I learnt from my caller, with a sinking of the heart, that he envisaged me, on qualifying in first aid, doing a duty periodically at the local swimming baths in uniform. Non possumus. A mass of screaming kids, of flapping bosoms – no. I also committed myself to an evening’s door-knocking and leaflet distribution. How many days since I had this call. Perhaps my caller has forgotten me. Halvai. [Hebrew – if only]. I have a pathological desire to be of use, but there are certain prices I can’t pay. Was it last Monday night he called? I can’t remember. If not, what did I do on Monday night? I can’t remember – ah yes, I wrote to Jethro Bithell, my old Birkbeck tutor, now getting on for eighty. He had written to me that it ought to go down as a “scrumptious detail” that Frau Isi (the Jewish wife of Richard Dehmel) preferred non-Jews because they were uncircumcised. Tuesday night I went round to Mum’s and wrote two letters in Hebrew to Uncle Mendel and Esther ben-Aharon (a distant relative – I have never been able to work out the exact relationship) respectively. A task I dislike – I do not write Hebrew easily – I seem to remember Aubrey Eban writing the same thing to me when he was at Cambridge, or thereabouts (in time thereabouts, I mean) although he was a Hebrew child-prodigy. On Wednesday night I went to see a very competent Home Office Dramatic society production of a play, Small Hotel, by one Rex Thomas, I think [Rex Frost] – an honest workmanlike comedy which impressed me far more than the vastly overrated Look Back in Anger. Thursday night to Mum’s to find she had had bronchial cough. Fortunately Lily [sister-in-law] was round, has been round to-day, is a tower of strength. Mum, bless her, resilient. As regards work (by which I always mean translating or other scribbling) a blank week.

Sunday 19th May, 1957 – 10.45 p.m.

To Mum yesterday, instead of usual visit to Sam [brother]. Left Mum later than usual to-day. Her cough on the mend, I hope. Started on Brod’s Janáček [his translation was completed but not published] yesterday – tough going at first but I think I shall be able to manage to get through it all right. Janáček, 18 & 19th May, 4.5hrs

Joseph Witriol’s handwritten draft of his translation of Max Brod’s Janáček book

Janáček draft translation

Monday 20th May 1957 – 9.10 p.m.

Weighed myself; just, but quite definitely beat 14 stone. Same attire as 3/5/57, except that to-day I was wearing a shirt and collar slightly heavier, if anything, than the collar-attached shirt I was wearing then. My self-imposed diet started on 6/5/57 and has been very slightly relaxed in the last few days. It is clear I have lost 6lb in the last fortnight. (A weighty entry, forsooth!) Janáček, 20 -22 May, 4hrs

Wednesday 29th May 1957 – 5.20 p.m.

Weak – the diet is in renewed force, after its suspension on Sunday 26th, when I went with Mum to Frances Kopkin’s house-warming (I agree with Mum, chuncas habayis [literally “dedication of the house”; my father’s Hebrew and Yiddish transliterations are often different to conventional usage] is shenner [ more beautiful] than house-warming). The house cost 5, I understand. It’s in a rather brash locale, but undoubtedly classy inside. Last night lectured in similar house to some 40-50 youngsters on Jewish Wit and Humour (“The Arcadians” [I do not know what this is]). Performance passable, but not what it ought to be – the one-hour’s flat unhesitating exposition. As usual, I took a lot of trouble – in getting Koestler’s Insight and Outlook from library, from [sic?] example, and starting to study it – some of the ideas in it are illuminating – from which I failed to derive any benefit in the event. I was picked up, by admirable staff-work, by a youngster at 8.15, as arranged, who drove with superb (but quite unostentatious) nonchalance to the meeting-house, and driven back with equal efficiency almost to the doorstep. Discussion was not forthcoming, but on my saying I was looking for stories to add to my repertoire, someone told this one, very well:

Greenberg was crossing the road when he was knocked down by a Rolls Royce. He was not seriously hurt, but was momentarily stunned. Through a haze of semi-consciousness he heard the passenger in the car say he was a director of ICI (thus the raconteur – probably best to avoid pin-pointing any actual Jewish millionaire – but are there any Jewish directors, now, of ICI? Anyway, there is no need for the director to be Jewish). This gave Greenberg an idea – he would exploit the accident for all he could get. He shammed unconsciousness and sued for £30,000. The judge said this was not enough; Greenberg was crippled from the waist down, would be in constant pain and never be able to lead a normal life again – the judge awarded £50,000. After the case, the ICI director walked over to Greenberg and said to him: “Don’t think you’re going to get away with this, Greenberg. I’m going to have you watched night and day, and the minute you slip up, God help you.” “Don’t you worry,” said Greenberg, “First I’m going with my wife and daughter for a holiday at the Green Park, then we’re having a week in Paris, then we’re going to spend a fortnight in Nice, a week in Monte-Carlo and then we’re going to Lourdes. And when we get to Lourdes, oi, will I work a miracle!”

Friday 31st May 1957 – 9 p.m.

Too tired this evening to do any translating. Too tired for any entry other than –  29th May – 3hrs Janáček

CUMULATIVE TRANSLATION TIME: April-May 1957 45.25 hrs, of which Janáček 11.5hrs 

Saturday 8th June 1957.

Brevissimo entry before leaving for Janet Linton’s party (she a Scottish lass who did supply teaching at Hargrave [Islington primary school] and has secured her coveted “Auntie Jan” job with P & O Castle Line). Have laid on party myself for Whit Monday – have feeling it will flop. About £6 expended on drinks, concomitants and cigarettes. 2.5hrs Janáček 6/6/57 3.5 hrs Jan. 10/6/57

Jethro Bithell vs Joseph Witriol

After my father, Joseph Witriol, took his ‘Intermediate Arts’ in French, German and Logic in 1932, Jethro Bithell (Reader in German at Birkbeck College) sent a note, in German, saying “you will be heartily welcome to us as a first class honours man”. Dad got a third.

After this several notes from Mr Bithell followed in one of which, written in 1936, the possibility of working as a teaching assistant in “Austria or German-speaking parts of Switzerland” was mentioned. Obviously he knew that a Jew should not now go to Germany.

These notes also refer to the possibility of his taking an MA to “cancel the Third” as well as testimonials for job applications and the BM Library (“smile at the ghosts”)

Twenty years later the correspondence is renewed following the publication of dad’s translation of Max Brod’s Heinrich Heine: The Artist in Revolt. Bithell could now proudly place dad in the category of his pupils “who have distinguished themselves”, notably Lord Haw Haw (“the only one who had the distinction of being hanged”) and – lehavdil – Israel Sieff (“he belonged to the Jew slums of Manchester”).

These letters cover both the intellectual and technical side of reviews, publishing, translation and the like. They are suffused with literary allusions, foreign tags and urbane writing, interspersed with more homely comments (“I must rush off to vatric the guests’ bedroom”). Although stylish writing came easily to dad, I detect an attempt on occasions to try just a bit too hard, along with showing respect and gratitude that his tutor took the trouble to write at length to him.

According to the DNB entry, “…a charge against Bithell himself of antisemitism is hard to substantiate.” And no doubt some usages that seem inappropriate were acceptable in his day. Still, from some of his comments such as  “my best returns are always from firms directed by ‘dynamic’ Jews”, I wonder if he comes into that category of harmless antisemite who stereotypes too readily.

Jethro Bithell: correspondence with Joseph Witriol (large pdf file containing the letters my dad kept)

Translations from German and Hebrew

The penultimate part of Journal entries relating to Hasmonean are here.

As well as his personal Journal,  unpublished autobiography and Yiddish book,  he also had two significant translations published.  These are two sites which a quick and unacademic Google search brings up:’s_wilderness

God’s Wilderness Discoveries in Sinai
Beno Rothenberg ; in collaboration with Yohanan Aharoni and Avia Hashimshoni ; [translated from the Hebrew by Joseph Witriol].


Heinrich Heine : the artist in revolt / by M.Brod. Trans. from the German by J.Witriol

Serendipitously I spotted the latter book in a Magg’s catalogue of books for sale from Yehudi Menuhin’s library – see also here. It’s worth a look at their site – they are one of the most renowned antiquarian booksellers in the world.