Conversations with friends: Eminent violinist & Holocaust survivor Bela Dekany

October 21, 2020

Here is another discussion in my series “Conversations with friends”.


Eminent violinist & Holocaust survivor Bela Dekany (Budapest / London)

“Music is my religion”

Bela Dekany, a highly distinguished violinist, was for decades the lead musician for the BBC symphony orchestra (including at the Last Night of The Proms) and played with many other orchestras and conductors. He was born to a Jewish family in Budapest, and as teenager survived a slave labor camp in Austria, the Belsen death camp in Germany, and Theresienstadt (Terezin) north of Prague. Bela’s mother died of starvation within hours of her liberation at Terezin.

Now almost 93, Bela hasn’t left his home since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Bela says he is happy listening to “music, which is my religion, my spiritual experience and leaves me in seventh heaven”.

In this conversation with Tom Gross, Bela also discusses his childhood teacher and mentor Moshe Hershko, to whom he was very close, and Moshe’s son, a fellow child Holocaust survivor Avram Hershko, who went on to become a professor at Israel’s Technion and win the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2004. They also talk about how Bela’s grandfather, David Raab, was from the same part of northern Hungary (now Slovakia) as British Foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s Jewish family (who escaped Czechoslovakia just before the Holocaust), so they may be related.

(Discussion by zoom on October 19, 2020.)

* A reminder that for all these conversation videos on YouTube, for those hard of hearing or who are not fluent in English, you may want to press the “CC” button at the foot of the YouTube video and subtitles will be automatically generated by YouTube.

They are essentially accurate but do make some mistakes with regard to the spellings of names and dates.


New York Times columnist Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times and before that the Wall Street Journal, talks about his upbringing in Mexico, his family background in Europe, and becoming a journalist.

Bret and Tom Gross discuss America’s place in the world, the ongoing ‘culture wars’ in the US, the pitfalls of Donald Trump’s presidency (but whether it is dangerous for some to suggest he’s a ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’), what Trump has got wrong but what he may have got right regarding China, the Mideast and the Balkans, and Bret’s own role at the New York Times, and the Times’ role in the world.

(Discussion by zoom on October 20, 2020.)


Times of Israel editor David Horovitz

David Horovitz talks about his upbringing in London, about editing the Times of Israel (and before that, the Jerusalem Post), and about interviewing Paul McCartney and others. David and Tom discuss the difficulties of striving for fair and independent journalism in an era of fakery and misrepresentation, and discuss the reporting on Netanyahu, Trump and others.

(Discussion by zoom on October 8, 2020.)


Tom Gross

Paul Lewis asks Tom Gross about his own life experiences and views: growing up surrounded by cultural and literary luminaries in London and New York; Sunday brunches with Elvis Presley’s songwriter; crossing Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin with his grandmother during communism; helping the Roma when almost no one else would; Tom’s close relationship with his godmother Sonia Orwell (the model for the heroine Julia of her husband’s masterpiece ‘1984’); being in Manhattan on 9/11; the Mideast; the importance and legacy of the Holocaust; and other matters.

(Discussion by zoom on June 28, 2020.)


World acclaimed pianist Evgeny Kissin (Prague)

Described by The Economist magazine as “the world’s most acclaimed classical pianist” Moscow-born Evgeny Kissin talks about being a child prodigy; his favorite concert halls and musicians; learning new repertoires and visiting Kafka’s grave during coronavirus lockdown; about Stalin’s murder of Yiddish writers, his own love for Yiddish, his support for Israel, and his political views about Russia and the West.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Prague, on May 24, 2020.)

* You can see shorter extracts from the conversation with Evgeny Kissin here: Conversations with friends: Evgeny Kissin on music, the Yiddish language, Israel and the Soviet Union


Mostafa Elostaz (Paris / Jerusalem)

Tom Gross speaks to Palestinian academic and peace activist Mostafa Elostaz about his life and views. Mostafa grew up in Kuwait to parents who moved there from Gaza, and were originally from Majdal Asqalan (Arabic) / Ashkelon (Hebrew). Mostafa taught many years at Al Quds university in east Jerusalem, and now teaches at Tel Aviv University. Should the Palestinians welcome the UAE-Israel peace deal? Should they take up Trump and Netanyahu’s offers to negotiate?

In case you want to skip to the political parts, these start at 15 minutes into this interview, where we begin our discussion about the Israel-UAE deal, the Trump plan, and how the Palestinians should best react to Israeli peace offers, and offer to negotiate.

(Discussion by zoom on August 19, 2020.)


Zoe Johnson (Oxfordshire)

Zoe Johnson is the second woman ever to be appointed Senior Treasury Counsel by the attorney general to prosecute the UK’s most serious cases including Islamic terrorism, organized crime, abuse of public office, and honor killings. And she has done all this with the added difficulty of being confined to a wheelchair for almost her whole life.

(Discussion by zoom on August 12, 2020.)


Jonathan Freedland

Award-winning Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland in conversation with Tom Gross about the state of the world; the Trump presidency (and whether some of his policies might be good); Britain’s coronavirus failures; early Zionism; whether Britain can still learn from the American constitution and system of government; and as a teenager how Jonathan was a mentor to Sasha Baron Cohen before he became Ali G and Borat.


* There is also a separate shorter conversation: Should statues of antisemites come down?

Jonathan Freedland & Tom Gross discuss left-wing antisemitism, and English antisemitism

Jonathan Freedland: Most British people aren’t aware that “one of Britain’s gifts to the world, which originated in England, is the blood libel” -- which led to countless Jewish deaths over many centuries of European history.

Tom Gross: Should the large statue outside the British Parliament of Richard the Lionheart (who was responsible for murder of tens of thousands of Jews) and the bust of Karl Marx (who wrote about Jewish vermin) come down?

(Answer: no they should remain. But schoolchildren should be taught at least a bit about historic English antisemitism, in addition to the wrongs, as well as rights, of the British Empire.)

(Conversation by zoom while under coronavirus lockdown on June 18, 2020)


The last Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff (Jerusalem)

Efraim Zuroff speaks about why he became a Nazi hunter, his pursuit of war criminals all over the world over many decades, and his efforts to make countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Croatia admit to their own nation’s very substantial collaboration with the Nazi genocide. As the last survivors die out where does Holocaust education and memory go from here?

Why did it take Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List to make Holocaust education finally become incorporated into the British education system some years later? Why did western countries and the Vatican and Red Cross help Nazi criminals escape at the end of the war? Why were so many doctors Nazis?

We also discuss the trial of Bruno Dey (charged for his part in the murder of 5,230 people at Stutthof death camp) which is continuing now in Hamburg – it is 75 years late but the German judge insisted it continue despite the coronavirus restrictions.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Jerusalem, on June 8, 2020.)


Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hossein Amini (London)

Born in Tehran to a distinguished Iranian family (his grandfather was prime minister under the shah) Oscar-nominated screenwriter and film director Hossein Amini speaks about Iran before and after the Islamic revolution, his career as a filmmaker, his work with Martin Scorsese and Harvey Weinstein, his favorite films, and says that ‘it’s no accident that the MeToo movement started in tolerant Hollywood’. We also discuss racism in Britain.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in London, on May 30, 2020.)


David Pryce-Jones (London, Wales, Florence)

Writer David Pryce-Jones discusses his childhood escape from the Nazis, his friendships with Isaac Bashevis Singer, Arthur Koestler, Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, John Gross and others; and Israel, Italy, and the New York Times.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Wales, on May 21, 2020.)


Former Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor Eran Lerman

Eran Lerman was Israel’s Deputy National Security Advisor in the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2009-15. He previously served more than 20 years in military intelligence. We discuss present issues concerning the Gulf states, why most Arab countries prefer Israel keep control of the Jordan Valley, how the Palestinians refused the offer of a Palestinian state by Netanyahu during Barack Obama’s second presidential term, when Saudi Arabia might officially make peace with Israel, and the emerging strategic importance of the eastern Mediterranean.

(Discussion by zoom on September 2, 2020.)


John O’Sullivan (Budapest)

Born to modest parents near Liverpool (his father was a ship steward, his mother a shop girl) John O’Sullivan rose to become one of Margaret Thatcher’s most trusted aides and advisors in 10 Downing Street. In this zoom conversation, he discusses Thatcher’s personality and how she developed her views, and other leading figures he met. (On one occasion John had breakfast with Thatcher in London, then flew to Washington and had dinner with President Reagan that same evening.) He and Tom Gross also discuss Donald Trump’s presidency; the future of journalism; and his lifelong love for musical theatre.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Budapest, on May 29, 2020.)


Amanda Foreman

Historian and writer Amanda Foreman talks with Tom Gross about her life and career; her father Carl Foreman (who wrote the films Bridge on the River Kwai, High Noon, and Guns of Navarone, but who was then driven out of town by Senator McCarthy’s witchhunts); Amanda’s own encounter with John Wayne; her books; her TV series on the ascent of women; and about curating an exhibition last year on Queen Victoria for the current English queen in Buckingham Palace. Amanda also discusses why statues and icons are such popular targets in History wars.

(Discussion by zoom to New York on July 14, 2020.)


Rt Hon Lord (David) Young of Graffham

Lord David Young talks about his life, his ten years in Downing Street working closely with Margaret Thatcher, his five years in Downing Street with David Cameron, and about Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and modern multicultural Britain.

(Discussion by zoom in Graffham, Sussex, in England, while under coronavirus lockdown, on May 20, 2020.)


Bahra Saleh (Kirkuk, Iraq)

Tom Gross talks with Bahra Saleh about her life and about Kurdistan.

(Discussion by zoom in Kirkuk, Iraq, while under coronavirus lockdown, on May 20, 2020.)


Shmuel Bar (Herzliya)

Shmuel Bar, who worked for Israel’s government for 30 years in various clandestine analytical and operational capacities, and who is a world-class expert in a variety of fields, discusses the state of America, Europe, the Mideast and the world, and what dangers may lay ahead.

(Discussion by zoom, on July 2, 2020.)


Orit Yasu (Shoham, near Tel Aviv)

Born to recently arrived Ethiopian-Israeli parents, Orit Yasu talks with Tom Gross about growing up in Kiryat Malachi, the rescue of Ethiopian Jews by the Mossad, her participation in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting memorial while on a school trip to Colorado, on how NYC is too crowded, her trip to see her parents village Ethiopia, and why many Ethiopian-Israelis vote Likud.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown, on May 31, 2020.)


Charlotte Cunningham (Yorkshire / London / Luxembourg)

Charlotte, who has established a successful arts organization in England that helps people with mental and physical disabilities, has managed to forge her own path distinct from her illustrious family background -- her grandmother was the ruling monarch of Luxembourg after whom Charlotte is named; and her grandfather was US secretary of state under a Republican, Eisenhower, and then US treasury secretary under two Democrats, Kennedy and Johnson.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in London, on June 19, 2020.)


Nidra Poller (Paris)

Writer Nidra Poller discusses hanging out with James Baldwin and other African-American writers and musicians in 1970s Paris, the origins of the name Nidra, how her Japanese partner introduced her to Israel, and the position of women in the modern world.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Paris, on May 19, 2020.)


Susan Loewenthal Lourenco (Berlin)

Educator Susan Lourenco talks about being the child of refugees from Berlin, her life in four different countries and how she reconciled herself with modern Germany.

(Discussion by zoom, while under coronavirus lockdown in Berlin, on May 12, 2020.)


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.