By Jeffrey Newman
For me, this was the session when the Fellowship first began to ‘gel’. Partially this is the result of the number of meetings and the time in the Pub, but more it was the open human approach of Marta whose warmth and personal story allowed us to connect with her and therefore with one another more deeply than we were able in the earlier, more academic sessions. We lived through with Marta her early childhood (including the death of her father), the anguish she felt at the betrayal by her ‘schoolhood best friend’ who spat at her, the time of hunger in the ghetto (painfully recalled when her daughter later said she was hungry). We grieved with her at the death of that daughter whose life was so promising, once Marta had established herself in the UK (as a Jew, much as she loves and values Britain).
We heard and thought so much – of the months of hiding, of the pillage and rape by the Russians as they defeated the Nazis, life under communism and finally of the escape to England in 1956, the welcome and benefits (how different now!) and of work in John Barnes.
This personal account led very well to the presentation by Prof Greenfields whose extensive knowledge and experience provided us all with a valuable preparation for the trip to Budapest by outlining current trends against the background of the Visegrád countries – Visegrád was chosen as the location for the 1991 meeting as an intentional allusion to the medieval Congress of Visegrád in 1335 between John I of Bohemia, Charles I of Hungary and Casimir III of Poland.
I found it frightening, not because I think history repeats itself exactly (as Hannah Arendt says, fascism cannot be recognised by jackboots) but because the rise of authoritarianism not only in Hungary always seems so impossible to counter.
Finally, there is a good and relevant YouTube lecture outlining the argument of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, which you can find below.
Jeffrey Newman is Rabbi Emeritus of Finchley Reform Synagogue. He was co-founder with Ahmad Khalidi of the UK branch of the Israeli-Palestinian Centre for Research and Information and worked (2005-2010) to bring to the UK the Earth Charter. Now he works, mainly via Shema, to engage and activate the Jewish community in the issues of Climate Change, in the context of the SDGs of which it is Goal 13.