Shobha Nehru, Who Escaped Holocaust and Married Into Indian Politics, Dies at 108

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Shobha Nehru, Who Escaped Holocaust and Married Into Indian Politics, Dies at 108

Postby Sannhet » 5 months 2 weeks ago (Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:08 am)

Shobha Nehru (nee Friedman) has died, and her obituary, with its provocative title (see below), was a recommended, 'trending' story at the New York Times today. She was a Hungarian Jew who married into the Indian Nehru political family.

Personally, I think it is insulting to her memory, whatever it may be (and I'm sure there was plenty to be celebrated in her life), that the word 'Holocaust' appears in her obituary title, given that she lived in India from 1935 to 1949, and had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

In London for university by 1928 [at age 20] already, she apparently wasn't even in Central Europe at all during the 'Fascist' period. Yet, we are told, she "escaped the Holocaust."


Many more people, I think, just skim article titles than read them, so the job is done. In other words, this is a classic example of Holocaust-obsession and quasi-religious attitudes towards the Holocaust.

If you read the full obituary, it makes claims she was somewhere nearby when anti-Semitic persecution was occurring in Hungary (the statements are vague) but a close reading reveals the author is talking only about post-WWI and 1920s Hungary. The writing is vague enough that the casual reader likely makes associations with "the Nazis," yet the events the writer alludes to (the year 1919 is given) are almost a quarter century before the gassings are said to have begun in the orthodox story (1942). There is a conflation of narratives here that a careful critic would demolish. Many or most would not question it, though, because, after all, as we all should know by now, all history leads to, or departs from, that central event of history, that sacred place, the "holiest of holies," Calvary Auschwitz.

Shobha Nehru, Who Escaped Holocaust and Married Into Indian Politics, Dies at 108

NEW DELHI — Shobha Magdolna Friedmann Nehru, a Hungarian Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, married into India’s leading political family and witnessed religious and ethnic violence convulsing both her native and adopted countries, died on Tuesday at her home in the Himalayan foothills. She was 108.

[...] Mrs. Nehru was known by her Hungarian nickname, Fori, but did not often speak about her background. After marrying the Indian diplomat Braj Kumar Nehru in 1935, she took the name Shobha, which was selected by her in-laws, dressed in saris and was so thoroughly assimilated that acquaintances often took her for a pale-skinned Kashmiri Pandit, like the Nehrus themselves. [....]

“Auntie Fori wanted to learn the history of the people to whom she belonged, but from whom, 67 years earlier, she had moved away, to the heat and dust and challenges of India,” Mr. Gilbert wrote in “Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith,” published in 2002.

She was born on Dec. 5, 1908, into a prosperous, assimilated Jewish family that had changed its surname from Friedmann to the less Jewish-sounding Forbath. Her mother’s family, Mr. Gilbert wrote, was one of the few Jewish families licensed, under the Austro-Hungarian empire, to use the aristocratic prefix “von.” She rarely visited a synagogue except to collect her father after services.

“She used to say, ‘Both my sister and I didn’t believe in all this stuff,’ ” Ashok Nehru recalled. “She said they would stand outside the synagogue, stamping their feet in the cold.”

An anti-Semitic tide was rising in Hungary, and the family was forced by law to revert to the name Friedmann. In 1919, hoping to stave off a Communist revolution, right-wing mobs roamed the streets, killing Jews.

“Once a week my father would travel to the villages to get food,” she told Mr. Gilbert. “He had a house on Lake Balaton. One summer we went there — by train — and I saw people hanging from trees. It was terrible for us children to look at.”

By the time she was 20, strict quotas had been introduced for Jewish students in Hungarian universities, and her parents sent her to the London School of Economics. There she met B. K. Nehru, a member of a distinguished Kashmiri family, whose cousin Jawaharlal was already a leader of the Indian independence movement (and would later become India’s first prime minister). [....]

Meanwhile, her relatives and friends in Hungary were scattering. Her father was saved by his German housekeeper; her brother, an officer in the Hungarian Army, swam across the Danube to Czechoslovakia; her best friend drove across the border with her son hidden in the trunk of her car.

She would not return to Hungary until 1949, along with three sons who had never seen her in anything but a sari.

“She used to go out every day, to meet her friends,” her son Ashok, who accompanied her on that trip, recalled. “Many of them had disappeared. Many had been raped by the Russians or killed by the Germans. They were harrowing tales. I remember her coming back crying.”

B. K. Nehru died in 2001. In addition to her son Ashok, Mrs. Nehru is survived by two other sons, Aditya and Anil; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

As the wife of a high-level dignitary, Mrs. Nehru moved from Washington, to the northeastern state of Assam, to London, but thoughts of Hungary’s Jews never entirely left her. She told Mr. Gilbert that at official receptions, she could not bring herself to shake hands with the German ambassador.

“I have a feeling of guilt,” she said. “I wasn’t there. I was safe. The guilt feeling is still with me. Why should I not have suffered?”

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