Clemens N Nathan
BORN HAMBURG, AUGUST 24, 1933. DIED LONDON, JUNE 2, 2015, AGED 81
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