I regret never having met my maternal grandparents. They were secular Austrian Jews who fled Vienna shortly after the Anschluss (Nazi invasion) in 1938. They went from Austria through Czechoslovakia to what was then Palestine and then by boat to Australia via France. My mother, who was just six years old, remembers asking why the family was going to Australia and being given the reason “it is as far away from here as we can get”.
My maternal grandfather, Paul Sheer (surname Anglicised from the German) died in Australia at just 51 years of age when my mother Margret was 11 years old.
My maternal grandmother, Ilse, married again and then after her third husband died she took her own life when my mother was 18 years old.
Shortly before his own death, which he knew was coming due to a heart condition, Paul wrote the spiritual testament set out below. It is of obvious interest to my family. But I think it is also of some historical interest.
It shows the perspective of a secular, in fact atheistic and left leaning, Jewish refugee from Austria. Some of the views in the testament are perhaps “dated”. He was, for example, more of an integrationist and internationalist than a supporter of multiculturalism, which did not really exist as a theory at the time. He was certainly no Zionist. He might be accused of some “Euro-centrism”. He refers to some parts of the human race being at a “lower stage of development” -does he mean economic development or something else?. But other views expressed in the testament still have currency and insight.
Paul was obviously acutely aware of the danger of fanaticism in religion and nationalism qualities that meant he was politically astute enough to ensure his family left Austria relatively early when others had not necessarily recognised the extent of the danger.
The testament takes a dim view of human history and the human capacity for violence and cruelty. But this is tempered by some optimistic idealism “Do you see the gleam of human dignity? Don’t lose sight of it and march towards it firm and steady” and “as sinister as my criticism of the conduct of the human race has been- man can be good”.
The testament was written by Paul in English which was not his first language.
My brother Danny has “Paul” as his middle name and my sister Jenni’s first son is named “Paul”.
This is my spiritual testament.
To you, my beloved Ilse, I say: I love you more than my life, and your love made my life worth living. I thank you for the lucky years of my life.
But to you, my children, growing up in a rapidly changing world, I would like to clear a path through the thicket of prejudices, so that you may acquire a free and conscious mind.
Without a firm outlook you will find it difficult to make your stand in the world. Living in an English country you do not enjoy the harbour of the British born and the security of tradition. Although fled from the terror of Nazi Europe you are no Jews. The teachings and customs of the Jews are as strange to you as those of the Eskimos or Gypsies. But you are no Germans or Britons or Australians neither. And that is your difficulty. But with the proper outlook it can be a great help to make you free and conscious citizens of the world.
Humanity is going through a dark age of extreme nationalism.
Surely a white man is different from a yellow one or a Negro. But does this mean that there is a difference between them that can never be overcome? Surely there are some species of the human race that are on a lower stage of development. Surely the climate too is of influence in the mental structure of men. But all this we must not take into consideration here. It has nothing to do with political nationalism. Apart from constitutional deficiencies all men are the product of their surroundings and of their education. Without any disturbing interference from outside there is no reason why a marriage between a Chinese person brought up by English people and educated in English schools and an English girl should not be more successful than a marriage between a pastor and a chorus girl.
If the mental distinction between the human races can be overcome by goodwill and the same education, how much more is the nationalism of the states of Europe the purest nonsense? But the Germans think themselves higher beings than the Russians and vice versa and there are many Englishmen who think that they are a member of a nation which is the crown of creation.
Now you should know that nationalism has been dug out in recent years in its most ferocious form to bolster up the enthusiasm of the people for war. To be the true nationalist the feelings for his human fellow ends with the boundaries of his country. A Nazi may be helpful to another one but he murders in cold blood a Pole or a Jew.
You, my children, happily are preserved from this narrow minded idea of nationalism because your nationality is not decided at all. You know that you belong to the white race but you do not know who your ancestors were and where they lived in Europe.
Since man was able to think he found himself haunted by fear and surrounded by inexplicable happenings. The child hid behind the mother but the grown up had nobody to help him and explain to him. So he invented Gods who had done the inexplicable. Before them he was humiliating himself that they might be helpful to him.
Everybody who reads a little history can see what a pageant of folly and crankiness the religions of the past were and what foolish and criminal things were done in the name of them. Thousands of people were tortured and murdered over questions of the Trinity or the Holy supper and since a thousand years the Sunnis and Shiites slaughter one another about domestic quarrels in the Prophet’s family.
Now we should think that the progress of science, the progressive mastery of nature by man and the explanation of most of the formerly inexplicable should make mankind free from the necessity of the construction of superhuman beings. I hope that- if you be able to read the right books- you will make yourselves free from the humiliating projection of your own responsibility to an invisible superior might.
There has been a lot if idle talk about immorality without religion. But that be a very poor character for whom only fear from the punishment of a dues ex machine prevents to do wrong. Never has religion prevented people from being cruel and criminal. They cheated God as they cheated their human fellows. Who is good minded by conscience is good with or without religion.
Why then do people still go to church, sing hymns and bend their knees before sheer superfluousness? Because people lack the right education. Because in spite of newspapers, radio and libraries they are still dumb and lazy and because their governments think they will be more tame and easier to handle if they remain dumb and lazy.
Studying history is not only a fascinating but also a depressing adventure. History tells you of very few great thoughts and plenty of foolish, cruel and criminal deeds. As soon as a great thought sprang off the human brain, it was seized by the mightiest of the earth, distorted and used for their advantage.
Sometimes in the ocean of blood and destruction which is called “History of Mankind” there formed themselves small islands of order and respectability. But soon they were washed away by the barbarism and conquerors from outside or within.
Military ability and the advantage of new weapons enable from time to time martial hordes to conquer parts of the world, murdering heaps of unprepared and defenceless peoples. So swept the green banner of the prophet through Northern Africa and Span. So swept four hundred years later the hordes of Genghis Khan though Asia and Eastern Europe, spreading unheard terror. But do not forget that two hundred years later again the Conquistadores of the most Christian King of Spain committed the same atrocities to peaceful people of ancient culture in Mexico and South America.
Consideration for human life and respect for the thought of other men was quite unknown.
Two thousand years ago a man fed hungry fellow citizens and healed the wretched out of sheer pity. But eighteen hundred years later a bloody upheaval took place to liberate people from the church of this man who was worshipped as a god and who had taught “What you do against the meanest of my brethren you are doing against me”. And the slogan of this revolution was “Liberty Equality Fraternity”. But in the name of this slogan hundreds of thousands have been beheaded by a new murdering machine, and out of this revolution grew a little monster of military ability who set out to conquer the world.
Millions of deeds of horror against one thought of Archimedes, Confucius, Christ or Galileo and yet- nature is lavish in abundance. All the warlords and harbingers of misery will look like small regrettable incidents to a mankind that has learnt to master not only nature but also themselves.
The leaders of Britain and of the United States promised the world the new old freedoms: Freedom from fear- individual security, freedom from want- economic security, freedom of speech- individual liberty and freedom of religion-tolerance.” Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. But Britain is the Britain of the Bank of England, of the wealthy lords, of the slums and of the dole and the U.S is the United States of the Trusts, the corruptible senators, the gangs.
What an enormous task to secure under these conditions the promised freedoms! I fear that many bloody revolutions will be necessary and a lot of people will have to be shot until the promises will be honoured.
On the other hand there are the Bolsheviks of Russia. In the Soviet Union many thousands of people have already been shot for some freedoms sake and perhaps they have acquired some freedoms for the loss of others.
Sure we are going though a dark chapter of history and more dark chapters of errors and struggles to come. But do you see the gleam of human dignity? Don’t lose sight of it and march towards it firm and steady.
You may stuff into yourselves all kinds of teaching for years and years, you may go to high schools, and you may leave the university and be as narrow minded as before.
Some eight hundred years ago the Arabian states rejoiced in a golden age of poetry, of science and medicine, of mathematics and astronomy, the ancient Persia, the ancient Egypt were highlights of human culture. And now? The whole of the near East seems to live in a state of petrification. Their contribution to the progress of humanity nil.
When I visited the most famous place of learning in the world of Islam, the El Azr University in Cairo, I thought to understand the decline of their world. Sitting on the floor with his back to a column, the bearded teacher read from a book aloud, and some eight of his fellows around him repeated the reading out of their books bending their body in the same rhythm. When we passed the hostile glances met us. For seventeen years, the pupils stay at the university to learn the Koran and the books explaining it. Their thoughts trot in an idle circle like the ox who drives the screaming water wheel at the shores of the Nile- the same water wheel as was used in ancient Egypt.
Knowledge alone is not enough to be instructed and well educated. Research is the life of the spirit. Always try to know more and to find it out better. Always try to get to the source of the things and to understand their real meaning.
But if you think you have found something out and you know it better than your fellows, don’t become haughty but remember: All human knowledge remains imperfect, nothing is definite, and all is developing.
Man is a social being and has to live in the midst of others. Stay away from people who are mentally imbalanced and from those who have made hate their God. Setting apart these cases, you will find there are some fellows to whom everybody is friendly and others who seem to live in a hostile world. Now you should know that the behaviour of others towards you is the reflection of your behaviour to them. And even if it would be adverse, think of it as I said. Never try to look for somebody else to blame him if something goes wrong with you. It is always in you. Because- as sinister as my criticism of the conduct of the human race has been- man can be good. If he is not he is embittered, misconducted, the product of awkward circumstances. And perhaps you too have contributed to his misfortune.
It is very seldom that young people when they select their companion and marry him have the right judgment if the other be the right companion for a lifetime. But even if they been wrong they stay together on account of the church, the children, the neighbours. When they are sure of their mistake, nothing should induce them to stay together. Children suffer more in an unhappy marriage as they would with one parent away. The atmosphere of hate and hypocrisy may spoil their mentality deeply. In this concern as in all others the first exigency should be cleanness and truth.
The voice of the blood between parents and their children is a fairy tale. It is true that mothers love their little children and that they give their life for them. But is it because they are their offspring? If they would have changed in hospital without their knowledge would they not act in the same way for a substitute?
What is true is that by bringing up a child, by watching its first steps and its first words, by protecting it and by seeing its worship for you, you love it, love it more than any other human being and there you have “the voice of the blood”.
If this may be doubtful perhaps out of biological reasons between mother and child, it is surely out of question between father and child. Only by educating the child the father acquires the fatherly love. It was a very wise habit of Roman Emperors to adopt a clever and well built youth for their successor instead of being haunted by the insufficiency of their own degenerate offspring.
This is all that I have to say to you. If you will succeed to get a job which gives you satisfaction, if you will understand the pleasantness of life and if you will live as free citizens in a free world, then your life is well lived. That’s what I wish to you. And if you like to honour my memory then read my testament once a year at the anniversary of my death.