CC. Aronsfeld at The Wiener Library, 1952.
CC. Aronsfeld at The Wiener Library, 1952.
Wiener Holocaust Library Collections, WL6572.

Dr Anthony Grenville is Consultant Editor of the Association of Jewish Refugees Journal and Chair of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, and author of Encounters with Albion: Britain and the British in Texts by Jewish Refugees after 1933

I read the item in the April E-Newsletter about David Makofski, ‘Yorkshire’s Schindler’, with interest, as I had previously come across an article in AJR Information, the monthly journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees, which throws a different light on the pre-war chairman of the Leeds Refugee Committee. I do not wish to take sides in this matter, but in the interests of historical balance I feel that I should draw the earlier article to the attention of readers.

The article, by C.C. (Cäsar) Aronsfeld, appeared in AJR Information (now AJR Journal) in February 1952 (page 5), under the title ‘A Refugee in Leeds’. It draws on Aronsfeld’s experiences in Leeds in the summer of 1934. Readers can access the article via the AJR’s website and reach their own conclusions. Although Aronsfeld does not name Makofski directly, inventing an unflattering nickname for him, it is plain who the ‘Viceroy’ in Leeds is. Aronsfeld’s article prompted an immediate riposte from a refugee who had settled in Leeds and who protested vigorously against Aronsfeld’s depiction of the experience of the refugees from Nazism in Leeds in the 1930s. Published as a letter to the Editor of the journal in March 1952 (page 6), it mounted a spirited defence of the treatment of the refugees by their British co-religionists in Leeds. Aronsfeld repeated his account of his experiences in Leeds and his confrontation with the local chairman in very similar terms in Chapter 4 of his memoirs, Wanderer from My Birth (1997), minus only the unflattering nickname.

Aronsfeld is not to be dismissed lightly. Amongst other achievements, he worked for many years at The Wiener Library; after being recruited by Dr Alfred Wiener in 1938, he rose to the position of Deputy Director. Along with Eva G. Reichmann and Ilse Wolff, he was one of those refugees from Nazi Germany who played leading roles in making the Wiener Library what it now is. When he left the Wiener Library in 1966, he joined the Institute of Jewish Affairs, where he edited the important quarterly Patterns of Prejudice, ‘a journal devoted to the study of causes and manifestations of racial, religious and ethnic discrimination and prejudice with particular reference to antisemitism’. He acted as Editor of AJR Information from 1985 till 1988, during the interim period after the retirement of the founding editor, Werner Rosenstock, in 1982 and the appointment of Richard Grunberger in 1988. Aronsfeld was a distinguished intellectual among the refugees; he researched and wrote with great erudition about the history of the Jews, in particular the Jews of Germany, the German Jews who settled in Britain before 1914 and the Jewish refugees from Hitler in Britain.

The most significant aspect of the conflict described by Aronsfeld was arguably its cause. Then still a young refugee working as a factory hand, he had written a piece of serious political comment for a newspaper. That infuriated the chairman of the local refugee committee, who felt that Aronsfeld was acting above his station. Aronsfeld had brought his intellectual aspirations with him from Germany and was determined to put them into practice in Britain, despite his reduced circumstances. Such aspirations sometimes clashed with the expectations of a section of Anglo-Jewry, which tended to regard them as pretentions incompatible with the status of mere refugees. Behind this conflict of values lay the longstanding reservations held by many Jews from eastern Europe – the communities from which much of Anglo-Jewry was descended – about the veneration for German culture and intellectual prowess (‘Bildung’) that was widespread among the assimilated, educated Jews of the western, German-speaking cities. That was an issue that continued to divide the two communities in Britain, once the refugees from Germany and Austria began to settle here after 1933.

Works Cited:

‘Yorkshire’s Schindler’. Jewish News. 2019. 

Aronsfeld, C. C. ‘A Refugee in Leeds‘. AJR Information. 1952.

Aronsfeld, C.C. Wanderer from My Birth. 1997.

Suggested Further Reading:

The Wiener Holocaust Library holds a number of materials relating to David Makofski and C.C. (Cäsar) Aronsfeld, some of which are listed below:

For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Refugees