The Maurice Rosenbaum Letters: A Leeds Connection

This week, we welcome University of Leeds students Amy Clayton and Lucy Slater as guest authors. Amy and Lucy have been investigating a new addition to the Central Library collections – the letters of Maurice Rosenbaum – over the last few months. Here, they explain who Maurice was and his connection to Leeds and Yorkshire. 

This post coincides with the start of the fifth MILIM Literary Festival. You can find more details of this year’s events on their website

The Maurice Rosenbaum Letters is a collection of letters written by Maurice Rosenbaum to his friend, Cecil Lubell. The letters are written from Maurice, in London, to Cecil, on the East Coast of America, between 1935 and 1987. They begin after the friends first met during Cecil’s visit to Leeds in 1935. The vast timespan of the collection, over fifty-two years, gives us a unique insight into the daily life of one person throughout their life. The collection was donated to Leeds Central Library in 2019 by Stephen Lubell, the son of recipient Cecil. Leeds Central Library became home to the collection due to the friends’ strong family links to Leeds. This blog post will further explore Maurice and Cecil’s Yorkshire connections.

A letter from the Maurice Rosenbaum Letters Collection, 4th October 1960, Leeds Central Library. Image taken by Amy Clayton.

Getting to know Maurice… 

Stephen Lubell has kindly provided us with a detailed background into the lives of the Rosenbaums and the Lubells, both of whom came from Leeds and a Central European Jewish heritage. Maurice’s father, Mark Rosenbaum, was born in Leeds in 1870 and was the second generation of the Rosenbaum’s to be born in England. Mark and his wife Amelia had five children, the youngest being Maurice who was born in 1907. Maurice grew up in Leeds and attended the Central High School before studying for his undergraduate degree in French at the University of Leeds. Maurice’s continued passion for France and the French language is evident in his letters as he reminisces about his days in Paris (The Maurice Rosenbaum Letters, 4th October 1960, Leeds Central Library. See above.). From the 1930s Maurice was based in London where he came to live with his wife, Eve, and their adopted daughter, Sarah. Throughout his later life, Maurice worked as a writer: as an editor of various newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and the smaller left-wing publication, Front Page Review, as well as an author of travel guides on Israel and London.

Central High School, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. School building, picture from 1994 when it was adapted as council offices. Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_Central_High_School

Getting to know Cecil… 

Cecil’s grandfather moved to Leeds in the 1870s. Both Cecil’s father and Cecil, originally named Cecil Lubelski, were born in Leeds, in 1885 and 1912 respectively. However, the Lubells – Cecil’s grandparents and Cecil’s aunts and uncles – emigrated to the East Coast of America. They were followed by Cecil’s father and, in 1923, Cecil and his mother also emigrated. Cecil was well educated in America, attending the prestigious Boston Latin School and well as a Jewish Cheder (a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language). He went on to receive a degree from Harvard University in 1933 and subsequently completed his Masters degree in 1935. As can be seen below, Cecil was also a writer. However, he preferred a more literary styles, namely poetry, whereas Maurice was primarily a journalist. In particular, Cecil wrote a heartfelt poem about his childhood in Leeds.

Three letters from the Maurice Rosenbaum Letters Collection, from front to back: 20th February 1938; 11th March 1938; 6th July 1938, Leeds Central Library. Image taken by Amy Clayton.

Cecil Lubell, A Lad from Leeds, 1995 

In 1995, Cecil wrote A Lad from Leeds, a poem about his experience growing up in Leeds as part of the Jewish community. A compilation of different childhood memories, the poem reflects both a sentimentality towards his hometown and a sense that he never really belonged:

We were not welcome, that I see.
A hatred for the alien Jew
Was nothing new, was just as true
For my father’s time as it was for mine

Looking back at the lives of his parents, he talks of his father’s work as a tailor, a part of the large Jewish community within the industry in Leeds. This provides another link between Maurice and Cecil as Maurice’s father, Mark, was also a bespoke tailor. Cecil continues and talks about his parent’s relationship after his father was conscripted to fight in the First World War. The poem clearly shows Cecil’s love and admiration for his father, Joseph Lubelski known as Joe, before and after he went away to France. However, the war caused a rift between his parents:

So when Joe returned to civilian life
He found an independent woman as wife.
Not love, but duty kept her tied.
Besides, there was me, her joy and pride.

In order to support her son, Cecil’s mother – born Jenny Rachel Samuel – had established her own ‘retail cloth business’ in Leeds, which Cecil claimed was very successful due to his mother’s beauty. The poem goes on to talk about Cecil’s experiences as a young boy on Bonfire Night and Christmas:

And once on Xmas Eve, I slipped away
To join the carollers and sing like a goy [Goy: a non-Jewish person]
The songs forbidden to a Jewish boy.

He also talks of his experience at school in Leeds, at a time when physical punishment was still acceptable. Despite the ‘cane’, Cecil appears to remember his time fondly, particularly the school outings to the ‘Otley Shevin’, presumably the Otley Chevin, a protected Local Nature Reserve since 1989.

The Maurice Rosenbaum Letters give us a unique and deep insight into the lives of two ‘lads from Leeds’. Despite moving far away, one to London and the other to the U.S.A, this collection reflects both their continued friendship and connection to their Yorkshire hometown and its Jewish community.

Discover more from the Central Library’s collection of material relating to the Jewish community of Leeds in a previous article and in our research guide

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