Cle­mens N Nathan

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


AGER­MAN-JEWISH refugee who came to Eng­land as a young boy in the 1930s, Cle­mens N Nathan was a pas­sion­ate cham­pion of Jewish causes, in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights and in­ter­faith re­la­tions. He was a for­mer-pres­i­dent of the An­glo-Jewish As­so­ci­a­tion, board mem­ber of the Claims Con­fer­ence, and the first chair­man of the Woolf In­sti­tute.

A highly in­no­va­tive textile tech­nol­o­gist and en­tre­pre­neur, Cle­mens was an ac­knowl­edged leader in the Euro­pean textile in­dus­try, a strong sup­porter of the de­vel­op­ment of the Is­raeli textile sec­tor as well as a vice-chair­man of the Textile In­sti­tute, the world­wide pro­fes­sional body.

Cle­mens ar­rived in the UK as a child when his fam­ily em­i­grated in the mid-1930s to es­cape Nazi per­se­cu­tion, an ex­pe­ri­ence that later drove him to help vic­tims of per­se­cu­tion and to cham­pion uni­ver­sal hu­man rights. Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the haven of­fered to his fam­ily in Bri­tain made him a proud and loyal Bri­tish citizen.

Ed­u­cated at Berkham­sted Boys School and at the Scot­tish Woollen Tech­ni­cal Col­lege, Galashiels, Cle­mens joined his fa­ther’s Lon­don textile busi­ness, Cu­nart Com­pany Ltd. When Cle­mens was 24 his fa­ther, Kurt, died and Cle­mens be­came man­ag­ing di­rec­tor — a daunt­ing role but he de­vel­oped Cu­nart into a ma­jor player in the in­ter­na­tional textile in­dus­try. Lead­ing UK out­lets, in­clud­ing Marks and Spencer, sold prod­ucts made with fab­ric or yarn supplied or sourced through Cu­nart, dur­ing the 1960s and ’70s .

Cle­mens’s tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tions played a cru­cial part in the suc­cess of textile man­u­fac­tur­ing in sev­eral coun­tries, and his con­tri­bu­tion to eco­nomic progress was recog­nised by over­seas gov­ern­ments. But his in­tel­lect, energy and in­ter­ests led him into wide-rang­ing ac­tiv­i­ties be­yond the textile in­dus­try.

Through his in­volve­ment with the An­glo-Jewish As­so­ci­a­tion (AJA) Cle­mens de­vel­oped his pas­sion for Jewish causes and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights. First in­volved as a young mem­ber of the AJA (where he met his wife, Rachel), he be­came trea­surer, then pres­i­dent (1983-1989) and life pres­i­dent.

Cle­mens pur­sued repa­ra­tions through the AJA’s af­fil­i­a­tion with the Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil of Jewish Or­gan­i­sa­tions (CCJO) and through the New York-based Con­fer­ence on Jewish Ma­te­rial Claims Against Ger­many, of which the AJA was a found­ing mem­ber. He served as a board mem­ber for more than a decade and chaired its Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee. Here he was in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Ger­many re­gard­ing di­rect pay­ments to Nazi vic­tims and, in­creas­ingly, its fund­ing to aid el­derly vic­tims with home­care. There were also talks with Aus­tria about its obli­ga­tions, in­clud­ing to the Kindertransport chil­dren. As joint chair of the CCJO he rep­re­sented Jewish in­ter­ests at the United Na­tions in Geneva and New York as well as at the Coun­cil of Europe and Unesco.

Cle­mens was the first chair­man of the Woolf In­sti­tute (1998-2003) in Cam­bridge (pre­vi­ously The Cen­tre for the Study of Jewish-Chris­tian Re­la­tions), which is de­voted to teach­ing, re­search and di­a­logue be­tween the three Abra­hamic faiths.

Com­bin­ing his textile knowl­edge with his love of Is­rael, Cle­mens cham­pi­oned the Shenkar Col­lege of En­gi­neer­ing and De­sign in Ra­mat Gan, Is­rael where he served as gover­nor and honorary fel­low. The col­lege, now Is­rael’s lead­ing fash­ion and de­sign in­sti­tute, was es­tab­lished in 1970 as a strate­gic pri­or­ity pro­ject by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment. Cle­mens was in­stru­men­tal in ob­tain­ing as­so­ci­ate­ship of the Textile In­sti­tute for Shenkar grad­u­ates.

Cle­mens was a board mem­ber for the Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion for Jewish Cul­ture (tasked with re­con­struct­ing post-Holo­caust Jewish cul­tural life world­wide), a long-term as­so­ciate with the Paris-based Al­liance Is­raélite Uni­verselle, founded to safe­guard Jewish hu­man rights in­ter­na­tion­ally), and honorary life pres­i­dent of the Sup­port Group at the Cen­tre for Ger­man-Jewish Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex.

In 2007 Cle­mens launched the Cle­mens Nathan Re­search Cen­tre, which has been in­volved in 10 in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences and 20 publi­ca­tions. Per­haps the cul­mi­na­tion of Cle­mens’s ef­forts was the pub­li­ca­tion of his own book in 2009, The Chang­ing Face of Re­li­gion and Hu­man Rights, which linked cut­tingedge re­search with his own ex­pe­ri­ences and in­ter­ests. The last con­fer­ence he or­gan­ised in 2014 was en­ti­tled The Duty to Give and the Right to Re­ceive: Jewish Law and Poverty.

Cle­mens Nathan won plau­dits in the in­ter­na­tional arena. He re­ceived the Or­der of Merit of the Ital­ian Re­pub­lic with the rank of knight, a medal from the State of Is­rael for his in­put to its Eco­nomic Coun­cil, and in 1966 the Of­fi­cer’s Cross of Aus­tria for out­stand­ing ser­vices for world hu­man­i­tar­ian and un­der­stand­ing in Chris­tian/ Jewish work, and for bi­lat­eral trade be­tween the UK and Aus­tria. He was also awarded the Textile In­sti­tute Ser­vice Medal.

He was an ac­tive mem­ber of the Span­ish and Por­tuguese Jews’ Con­gre­ga­tion Syn­a­gogue in Lon­don’s Laud­erdale Road, a long-term chair­man of the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee and a trustee di­rec­tor of the Sephardi Cen­tre.

In the late 1990s a sar­coido­sis of his spinal cord ul­ti­mately left him se­verely dis­abled. With great courage and strength of char­ac­ter he con­tin­ued to lead a nor­mal life, trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively and pur­su­ing all his in­ter­ests. Blessed with a com­pas­sion­ate and ex­pan­sive na­ture, Cle­mens ex­uded charm, kind­ness and good hu­mour.

With friend­ships in all faiths, Cle­mens stressed the need to value each other’s re­li­gious tra­di­tions and cul­tures. In the fore­ward to a book of es­says pub­lished in hon­our of Cle­mens in 2006, Ed­mund L de Roth­schild praised his con­tri­bu­tion to progress and hu­man­ity and de­scribed him as “amongst the out­stand­ing English­men of to­day and one of the great Jews of our gen­er­a­tion”.

Cle­mens was mar­ried for nearly 50 years to Rachel White­hill, who pre­de­ceased him by two years. He is sur­vived by his chil­dren, Jen­nifer Pearl, Richard Nathan and Liz Ison, and five grand­chil­dren.

He was a cham­pion of Nazi repa­ra­tions to Jewish vic­tims

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