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Memorial Address: Albert Montefiore Hyamson

<plain_text><page sequence="1">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES ALBERT MONTEFIORE HYAMSON I {President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1945-7; Honorary Editor of Publications, 1944-54) By Cecil Roth1 "tt tE meet this evening under a sense of very heavy loss. Albert Hyamson was not only a valued member, officer and collaborator of the Jewish Historical Society, " * but it might be said that for many years he was the Society. He was one of our oldest surviving members, having joined fifty-five years ago or more, within a few years of our foundation, before I myself was born. His first paper was contributed in 1903. And from that time onwards, his contributions to Anglo-Jewish historiography were continuous. In 1907 there came his History of the Jews in England, which in its way marked an epoch. It was the earliest summing-up of Jewish history in a palatable form, embodying the results of the researches whereby Lucien Wolf and Joseph Jacobs had put an entirely new aspect on the study of the subject. There are many of us?and I count myself among them?who received the first stimulus of their enthusiasm from this engaging volume, which for over thirty years was almost the sole authority available. Even today, when works written with a more rigorously scientific standard are in the field, Albert Hyamson's with its warmth, its personalia, its engaging wealth of communal detail, still constitutes perhaps the best introduction to the subject. This proved to be the first of a long series of historical publications, many of them dealing later with Palestine and its history, as well as general handbooks such as the invaluable Dictionary of Universal Biography which on almost every page displays Albert Hyamson's irrepressible Jewish enthusiasms. In our own sphere, mention must be made of the life of David Salomons, published in 1939?an invaluable contribution to Anglo-Jewish family history as well as to that of Emancipation ; the Records of the British Consulate in Jerusalem, 1838-1914, which he edited for the Society in 1939-41 ; and the recent History of the Sephardim in England (1952), with a vast mass of information on personalities and institutions which is going to prove invaluable to students for genera? tions to come. His Histories, sesquicentennial and centennial, of the London Board for Shechita, 1804-1954 and, of Jews' College, 1855-1955 (which he left ready for the Press) fill other gaps in the institutional history of Anglo-Jewry. Characteristic of the man was the long series of Indices?like his Plan of a Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish Biography, his cumulative Index to our Transactions which we hope to see in print before long, his Index to the Obituaries in the Gentleman's Magazine, his unpublished guides to the entries of Jewish interest in Notes andQueries and to the articles of historical interest in the Anglo-Jewish press?which put at the disposal of students a wealth of material such as it would be difficult for them to assemble for themselves. It would give a misleading picture if one did not touch upon Albert Hyamson's personal contact with the main tide of contemporary Jewish history, as Director of Immigration in Palestine for many years. There are many of us who profoundly disapproved of his policy there. But there is no one who has ever impugned his utter 1 Delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 10th November, 1954. 295</page><page sequence="2">296 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES sincerity, honesty of purpose and good faith. And it was memorable that on his return to England these characteristics disarmed and reconciled to him personally many even of those who had been among his most vehement critics. Hyamson remained a member of our Society and of the Council throughout his absence in Palestine, and on his return resumed his work for us as though it had never been interrupted. As time went on, his services proved invaluable. He was always there, modest and self-effacing, to do any work in emergency : and emergencies increased. If it is true that I kept the Society alive during the War, it was only because I was always able to count on his help for anything?from addressing envelopes to temporarily filling the functions of Honorary Secretary, from answering enquiries to giving a paper at short notice, from whipping up an audience to reading the minutes. I recall how in 1941, when I was laid out as the result of an accident, he came to my house, took over all the J.H.S. work without waiting to be asked, and incidentally relieved the household of all other preoccupations about my correspondence. After conditions returned to normal, at the close of the War, he took over from me, and presided over the Society with great dignity and success for a two-year term of office. But one may say that it was only after this that he performed his greatest labours for us. He was followed by a succession of Presidents who as it happens, for reasons geographical, denominational, or occupational, were unable to give the Society that perpetual intimate attention for which he had set the example. He now continued in his usual self-effacing way to carry on the work. Editor of Publications as well, after Michael Adler's death in 1944, he saw through the press everything that we produced, gave the benefit of his vast knowledge and experience to the production of successive volumes of our Transactions, arranged our programme, encouraged new blood, presided at meetings of the Society or of the Council if the Presi? dent could not be present and was at his side to prime him if he could, and during the regretted illness of the Rev. Arthur Barnett took over the Secretarial functions as well. In the end, the Jewish Historical Society became one may say his life, and down to his last day, literally, he was making arrangements, writing letters, or jotting down memoranda on our behalf. But it was not only a question of what he did, but of how he did it : always modestly and self-effacingly, shunning the public eye, eliminating himself as soon as he was able to, and never expecting?or even suppressing?the expressions of thanks which so many others regard as an essential condition of trivial service. If I say that he is irreplaceable, it is no mere phrase. That the Society has carried on successfully during these past years has been largely due to his self-sacrificing labour. Frankly I fear that his passing, leaving so many gaps in our organisation and supervision, endangers our future. I appeal to members to honour his memory by increasing their practical support.</page></plain_text>