The End of a Never-ending Phenomenon

Simcha Epstein
A Jerusalem weekly triumphally an­nounced a few months ago that antisemitism is “almost dead.”1 This historic statement, both sensational and reassuring, was based on five very short interviews with a former journalist who is now a member of the Knesset, with two university professors, and two non-conformist journalists from the capital. The main and striking statement offered by the interviewees was that there exists no similarity between the situation of the Jews during the Shoah and their situation now.
This assertion is happily true, com­pletely true, but brings no new contribution to the discussion. It is founded, in fact, on a logical absurdity, which consists in comparing a phe­nomenon at it highest paroxysm (the murder of millions) with the same phenomenon at an innocuous stage (a few cemetery desecrations). Saying that there was more antisemitism in 1942 than in 2000 is undoubtedly accurate, but totally irrelevant. It is like proclaiming that sun is hot or the sea is wet. It is certainly not sufficient in order to establish that antisemitism is dead or disappearing.

Comparisons, to be valuable, have to be made between today and ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. Is there more an­tisemitism, as measured by different indicators, than there was in 1990, in 1980, or in 1970? People dealing seriously with this matter — they are not so numerous, but they exist — know that antisemitism is basically cyclical, and that the problem is to determine whether the cycles are, or are not, of increasing intensity. My own view is that the waves observed in Western countries since 1945 (in 1959–1960, at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, and at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s) are of growing magnitude. None of these waves was apocalyptic, thanks God!, but the most recent one has combined various factors that qualify it as the most serious recorded since the end of World War II. This wave includes three main attributes — a level of anti-Jewish violence that is the highest since the war2; a general increase in electoral gains for far Right parties that hardly existed ten years ago but received an impressive number of votes at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s3; and, finally, a frequently-observed setback in public opinion sur­veys dealing with social antisemitism, showing that the trend of long-term de­crease in anti­semitic atti­tudes that char­acterized the 1960s and 1970s, may have ended or even, in some countries, may have shifted di­rection.

It is true that the end of the 1990s seemed to be less troubled than the beginning of that decade, but taken as a whole, the 1990s were more antisemitic than the 1980s, which themselves were more troubled than the 1970s. In other words, there is no factual evidence of a decline in antisemitism over the last thirty or forty years. All indicators show the opposite, and it is a pity that the heralds announcing the end of hate appear to be quite unaware of all these developments. None of these postwar decades, of course, compares to the Shoah, but as we have already said, correlating with the Shoah is the shortest and surest way to distort data, to avoid reflection, and to jeopardize any meaningful analysis of present-day antisemitism.

But let us go back to that acclaimed “end of antisemitism.” It is a more-than-classic proposition, and has become, for the last two hundred years, a repetitive and redundant theme in all Jewish com­munities. It started at the end of the eighteenth century, when the spread of tolerance toward Jews gave rise to the idea that the “Middle Ages” were over, and for good. Combined with a low level of anti-Jewish hostility, the succeeding victories of emancipation in the Western world, especially between 1850 and 1870, gave the Jews the sense that the termination of their suffering was imminent, and that the “Jewish question” had reached its solution.

The anti-Jewish wave at the end of the nineteenth century shocked those who held such beliefs, but the decline of the wave in the first decade of the new century then gave such beliefs a new legitimacy. French Jews, considering the fortunate ending of the Dreyfus Affair, and German Jews, watching the collapse of the antisemitic parties, had reason to hail that new “end of antisemitism.” The Great War, during which the Jews fought side by side with their fellow countrymen against a common foe, consolidated that feeling. The world­wide grief that followed the Petliura pogroms in the Ukraine generated a “never again!” syndrome which also passionately forecast a definitive end of anti-Jewish evil. And what is less known, but can easily be established by reading the Jewish publications of that period, the middle of the 1920s were also illuminated by a conviction of decreasing antisemitism after the turbulence and tumult of the immediate post–World War I period.

Twenty years later, the murder of six million Jews naturally had a dramatic impact on the “end of antisemitism” rhetoric — there were, it was asserted, a lot of good reasons for this anti-Jewish irruption to be the last one. There were also a lot of reasons for Gentiles to understand definitively that it was a bad thing to insult, persecute, or kill Jews. Hundreds of books and thousands of speeches popularized the idea that this time, it would indeed be the end of antisemitism. But as we know, the reality in Western as well as in communist countries did not adapt itself to these beliefs. The phenomenon continued to manifest itself — not at the culminating degree that was the Shoah, of course — but at quite low or intermediary levels which had already been seen, at various phases of Jewish history. The 1967 Six-Day War, according to some, was supposed to mark the ultimate end of antisemitism. The massive decrease in anti-Jewish violence in 1983, 1984, and 1985 also initiated a flowering of declarations expressing the same idea. And now, in this year 2000, a new dawn is breaking through darkness... In one word, the “ends of antisemitism” have a very long legacy.


1.Emtza Hashavua (Jerusalem) 2 May 2000.
2. As monitored by the German Verfassungs­schutz, the American FBI, the French Ministry of the Interior, and others.

3. In some countries votes for these parties decreased after 1994 (Germany, Holland, etc.) but in others, like Austria, they continued to grow and reached very high levels.


The Educational Meaning of the Lipstadt-Irving Trial

Dalia Ofer


On May 29, 2000, Prof. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, spoke at Yad Vashem about her experiences as defendant (with her publisher Penguin) in the libel suit brought by David Irving. Irving charged that allegations made in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, had prevented his earning his living as a historian. Prof. Dalia Ofer, Chair of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, briefly addressed the Yad Vashem gathering on the subject of the Holocaust and the courts.

The libel suit brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin offers an opportunity to briefly review the history of the Holocaust in the courts. Since the end of World War II, the story of the Holocaust has been presented numerous times in courtrooms in many countries. In the Nuremberg Trials, the subject was raised as a war crime, crime against humanity, and genocide. The Holocaust was brought up again in trials of individual war criminals such as Hans Frank in Poland and Dieter Wisliceny in Czechoslovakia. The Jewish tragedy emerged in each of these trials as part of a larger story and in the context of the narrative of the Second World War and the German occupation of the countries in which the trials took place. It was during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961, however, that a much fuller account of the Jewish catastrophe was revealed in the courtroom. Indeed, one of the goals of the trial was to present a comprehensive recounting of the Holocaust in the context of Jewish history, Nazi antisemitism, and the war. Following the Eichmann trial, and in many respects under its impact, many trials of Nazi perpetrators took place in Germany, such as the Auschwitz trials in the 1960s, the Einsatzgruppen trials, and others.
All these trials were important factors in revealing the criminal character of the Third Reich through its own documenta­tion. They also motivated historical re­search and produced a new type of docu­mentation that included court hearings and oral testimonies. In addition, the court cases served to advance a comprehensive classification of sources and a new or­ganization of archives. Thus, in writing the history of the Holocaust, court records proved to be an important resource. Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men was based to a great extent on courtroom testimonyabout Police Reserve Bat­talion 101. Daniel Gold­hagen and other historians used these sources to sub­stantiate their theses as well. In the Eichmann trial, for example, the pre-trial investigation by the police, and the testimonies of the witnesses are important sources for the historian no less than for the teacher and student of history.

Unlike these and similar trials, the Irving libel suit was not about the criminality of the perpetrators, but about writing the history of the Third Reich and the historian’s craft. The issue was not whether the Nazis committed the mass murder of the Jews, but whether the denial of established historical facts under cover of a different interpretation is legitimate. The task of the defense was to unveil the motivation behind Irving’s claims that Hitler had no murderous intent toward the Jews, that the gas chambers did not exist, and so on, and prove that Irving’s statements exhibited a purposeful distortion in the reading of the documentation, and that his conclusions actually emerged from his own racist thinking, antisemitism, and connections with neo-Nazis. Irving’s writings were not merely incorrect history, the defendants claimed, but manipulative and demagogic, contrary to intellectual honesty and academic ethics.

Despite the fact that the historical evidence of the mass murder was not in question, detailed evidence was presented to the court. It may seem inconceivable that an expert witness had to testify to the existence of the gas chambers and their capacity to kill thousands of Jews and others each day. For example, particulars such as the question of how much coke was required to incinerate the body of a single gassed human being, and assessing whether a sufficient supply of coke could have reached Auschwitz. Irving had even proposed that the gas chambers were in fact air raid shelters — such assertions were rejected by Justice Gray.Having to listen to this reiteration of the facts caused great pain for many survivors and the audience in the court. Prof. Lipstadt’s description of the painstaking work of the defense’s historical team points to the necessity that historians and educators should not neglect the details — she cited a number of examples in which Irving’s footnotes were deliberately misleading or downright false, yet gave the appearance of careful attention to sources.

Let me read from Justice Gray’s verdict:

Having considered the various arguments advanced by Irving to assail the effect of the convergent evidence relied on by the Defendants, it is my conclusion that no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews.” (Verdict, p. 311).

Nevertheless, evidence given by the defense at the trial revealed Irving’s fallacious historiography, his true intent, and his pretense of displaying a sound historical description.

The judge concluded:

[I]t appears to me to be incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier. Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms. I cite his story of the Jew climbing into a mobile telephone box-cum-gas chamber, his claim that more people died in the back of Kennedy’s car at Chappa­quiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, his dismissal of the eye-witnesses en masse as liars or as suffering from a mental problem. (Verdict, p. 312)

This verdict and the trial record provide an extremely important message for edu­cators. It demonstrates that there is a claim for truth, that a historian has to be responsible in his craft, and cannot tamper with evidence. It also established the connection between antisemitism, racism, extreme right-wing groups, and Holocaust denial. Again, quoting from the verdict:

It appears to me to be undeniable that most, of not all, of the statements set out in paragraph 9.5 reveal clear evidence that, in the absence of any excuse or suitable explanation of what he said or wrote Irving is antisemitic. His words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are turning hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to semitic people, their characteristics and appearance. A few examples will suffice: Irving has made claims that the Jews deserve to be disliked, that they brought the Holocaust on themselves, that Jewish financiers are crooked, that Jews generate antisemitism by their greed and mendacity, that it is bad luck for Mr. Wiesel to be called Weasel, that Jews are amongst the scum of humanity, that Jews scurry and hide furtively, unable to stand the light of day, that Simon Wiesenthal has a hideous, leering evil face, and so on. (Verdict, p. 314)

And in another paragraph the judge states:

I have concluded that the allegation that Irving is a racist is also established for broadly analogous reasons. This is unsurprising for antisemitism is a form of racism.

In disclosing the connection between Irving’s antisemitism, racism, and the extreme Right, the verdict pronounced:

The evidence supports the claim that Irving has associated with several extreme right-wing organisations in the US. He has a close and long­standing relationship with the Institute of Historical Review. It is an avowedly revisionist organisation whose mem­bership undoubtedly includes may from the extreme right wing. Irving agreed that the membership of the IHR includes “cracked antisemites”. The evidence indicates that Irving is also associated with the National Alliance. […] In my view Irving cannot fail to have become aware that the National Alliance is a neo-Nazi and antisemitic organisation. The regularity of Irving’s contacts with the National Alliance and its officers confirms Irving’s sym­pathetic attitude towards an or­ganisation whose tenets would be abhorrent to most people.

The verdict goes on to implicate Irving in intentionally falsifying history. I will con­clude with one final quote:

Historians are human: they make mistakes, misread and misconstrue documents and overlook material evidence. I have found that, in nu­merous respects, Irving has misstated historical evidence; adopted positions, which run counter to the weight of the evidence and disregarded or dismissed credible evidence. It appears to me that an analysis of those instances may shed light on the question whether Irving’s misrepresentation of the historical evidence was deliberate.

As historian and teachers of history we have the obligation not to ignore the central demand of history to work with ascertainable facts and with meticulous dedication to accuracy and precision in the reconstruction of the past when presenting our narrative. This, of course, does not mean that conflicting or competing narratives are ruled out. On the contrary, they challenge us to make a wise historical analysis. We must emphasize, however, that under no circumstances can we allow distortions and deviation from an accurate account of historic events.


Stockholm Conference on the Holocaust



Prof. Yehuda Bauer (former chair of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, and Prof. Dalia Ofer, the present chair, were among the speakers at the international gathering on the Holocaust and memory organized by Swedish Prime Minister Goren Persson in Stockholm, January 27–30, 2000. Attended by government officials, scholars and Holocaust survivors of some forty-six countries, the forum closed with a call for the opening of still-closed archives, and for increased efforts in education, memory, and research in order to provide ethical, moral, and practical lessons that can be applied in the future to prevent genocide.

Jews and Antisemitism in the Public Discourse
of Post-Communist European Countries

Workshop, 24–26 October 2000

The workshop is part of a project initiated by our center, dedicated to an extensive and thorough exploration of various forms of antisemitic propaganda, stereotypes, and rhetoric manifested in recent years in previously communist European countries.
The international media frequently reports antisemitic manifestations (violence, vandalism, cemetery desecrations). However, the most significant aspect of this phenomenon remains the proliferation of an antisemitic press and political declarations of an antisemitic character — especially during the sorts of crises that arise during election campaigns. The extremists’ political discourse is responsible for the reproduction and spread of antisemitic motifs and slogans. The propagandistic or rhetorical dimension seems to be central to the current stage of Central and East European antisemitism.

The outburst of this phenomenon was a byproduct of the tremendous changes in this region, followed by an ongoing and difficultprocess of building a new civil society, along with efforts to redefine national identity and the main moral and cultural values of the community.

Freedom of speech also means freedom to broadcast hate propaganda. Social changes, some of them radical, have also provoked a return to xenophobic rhetoric, in which anti-Jewish stereotypes playa special role, due to the traditional roots of such stereotypes, its religious, social, and political implications, and the presence of anti-Jewish prejudice on the popular and intellectual levels as well.

The current nationalist ideology in the political and cultural life in Eastern and Central European countries has deep historical roots, and thus, the issue of post-communist xenophobic and antisemitic discourse cannot be analyzed without taking into account the heritage of political and ideological nationalism of the modern period.

Post-communist antisemitism, however, is only one aspect — the negative one — of the changing approaches to Jews and Judaism in this part of Europe. At the same time, we find a great interest, both academic and popular, in Jewish history and culture, in the State of Israel and contemporary Israeli and Jewish topics, and in calls for renewed Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Jews represent a distinct presence in Central and Eastern Europe, even though the Jewish communities were tragically diminished by the Holocaust. “The Jews,” as an irrational myth of the embodiment of a threatening “other,” are used, for political purposes, to account for economic or social troubles, or for avoiding the burden of examining the nations’ darker chapters of history.

The topics at the center of the workshop sessions demonstrate the joint efforts of researchers from various fields, including history, sociology, political sciences, folklore, social-psychology, and linguistics.

We hope that the workshop, involving researchers with great experience in addressing these topics, will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the present antisemitic discourse in former communist countries, as well as the roots and mechanisms of some troubling social and political manifestations in this area.

Workshop Meetings

Beit Maiersdorf Faculty Club, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus

Tuesday, October 24

GreetingsYair Zakovich, Dean, Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Opening Remarks Dalia Ofer, Chair, Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism

The Jews and “the Jews” in the Rhetoric of Political Discourse

Leon Volovici, Michael Shafir, András Kovács, Dariusz Stola

Jews and Antisemitism: Between the Public and Academic Discourse

George Voicu, Sergiusz Kowalski, Scott Ury, Michael Shafir

Trends in Post-Soviet Antisemitism: The Case Of Russia and The Ukraine

Stefani Hoffman, Wolf Moskovich, Yitzhak M. Brudny, Zvi Weinberg

Wednesday, October 25

Round Table: Nationalism, National Identity, and Intellectual Antisemitism

Michael Finkenthal, Moshe Idel, András Kovács, Raphael Vago, Leon Volovici, Steven M. Wasserstrom

The Challenge of the Holocaust and of Jewish Memory

Dariusz Stola, Yeshayahu Jelinek, Simcha Epstein, Joanna Michlic, Raphael Vago

The Present Polish Nationalist Rhetoric and the Catholic Church

Joanna Michlic, Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, Leon Volovici

Thursday, October 26

The Image of the Jew: Popular Stereotypes and Political Myths

Olga Goldberg, Andrei Oiºteanu, Yaacov Schul, Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, Wolf Moskovich, Gila Fatran, Dov Levin, Victor Eskenasy, Sergiusz Kowalski, András Kovács, Vygantas Vareikis

Fascism/Communism, Holocaust/Gulag—Antisemitic Outcomes of an Intellectual Debate

Shmuel Almog Michael Finkenthal, Simcha Epstein, Vygantas Vareikis

Panel Discussion open to the public

The Memory of the Holocaust and the “Gulag versus Holocaust” Comparison as a Source of Antisemitism

Dalia Ofer, Michael Shafir, Dariusz Stola, Leon Volovici


The Vagaries of Scientific Antisemitism

Shmuel Almog
Way back, in the mid-sixties, I got ac­quainted with the work of the nineteenth-century French luminary Ernest Renan. Among other things, he toyed with the new idea of race, regarding it as the cornerstone of civilization. A brilliant philologist, historian, and writer, Renan saw himself, in the European tradition, mainly as a man of science. His belief in science gave his theorizing an air of unshakable truth. Although the distinction between superior Aryans and inferior Semites was not always to his liking, he felt duty-bound to speak the truth, in the spirit of “value-free” science, avant la lettre. Moreover, Renan’s training for the priesthood added a strong moral note to his devotion to the gospel of science. Ironically, he was almost triumphant in his rejection of traditional Christianity in favor of an adoptive Indo-European ancestry, the imagined fore­fathers of European civilization.1
I dare not make the comparison, but Renan’s tone of moral superiority reappeared, albeit in a distorted mode, in the now famous scene as Heinrich Himmler adjured his SS to steadfastness in their unpleasant duty of exterminating the Jews.2 It is obviously wrong to attribute to Renan any affinity to the kind of racism that the Nazis were to practice a hundred years later. He was a man of letters, a moderate conservative, while racism was still in its infancy. He even had some misgivings in later years about the idea of race. In any case, it was all a fancy of the mind in an ordered world of bourgeois respectability. Yet what struck me was the sense of self-righteousness that accompanied race thinking in two so dissimilar instances.

Perhaps this is typical of all strong feelings about ideology, any ideology whatsoever. Surely, it may happen to any extremist, or for that matter, to doc­trinaires of all shades. Renan, however, was nothing of the kind. He was sophisticated and subtle, an individualist ready to reconsider things and even change his mind from time to time. He was a belated philosophe of the En­lightenment in the guise of a nine­teenth-century man of science. His mix­ture of sweeping rhetoric and meticulous re­search tended to confuse the issues at times. At any rate, Renan could never have fathomed the depths of inhumanity into which race thinking would sink one day.

Having said all this, I must now explain how this subject has recently come up again. Perusing my electronic mail I have been confronted lately with a growing number of posts dealing with innovations in science and their social and moral interpretations. The competition towards the completion of the Human Genome Project no doubt contributed to the urgency of such messages dealing with genetics and the ever-recurring science wars on Nature vs. Nurture. I must admit: there is something refreshing in the torrent of discoveries, challenges, and unforeseen ramifications presented by enthusiastic contributors. Despite the polemics and recriminations, it is full of life and youth. Unlike my own pro­fessional preoccupation with the past, here speaks the present and even the future.

But not quite: take for instance the publicity given to the results of a recent study on Jewish genes. The press added a topical headline: “Jews, Palestinians and Syrians share a genetic link.”3 Although researchers expressed a note of caution, this was hot stuff that lent itself to all sorts of implications, sanctioned, as it were, by pure science. One Israeli author drew from the popularized research results a twofold lesson — that Israelis and Palestinians share a common origin; but East-European Jews actually descend from the medieval Black Sea Khazars.4 So we are led back into history again, though embroiled in present day politics with “scientific“ underpinnings to boot.

This is what bothers me most: the scientific aura and the cocksureness that so often goes with it. Such is some of the stuff that even pervades the H-Antisemitism discussion group on the web. This group happens to be a serious undertaking, managed on a voluntary basis by very able moderators. It is run in a spirit of generosity and openness that may sometimes be overly exploited by impetuous partici­pants. Thus the list distributed a great amount of material by an evolutionary psychologist at Ca­lifornia State Uni­versity at Long Beach, by the name of Kevin Mac-Donald. He defines anti­semitism as a result of Jewish “group strategy characterized by cultural and genetic segregation from gentile societies combined with resource competition and conflicts of interest with segments of gentile societies.”5

Behind this definition, one discovers a hard core of theoretical pronouncements that form a closed circle which cannot be challenged. Furthermore, as Jews sup­posedly behave according to their genetic code, they may not even be aware of their own share in the inevitable war against the “gentiles.” This is a case of guilt by association: a Jew is committed to his in-group strategy of survival; hence unable to refute the so-called scientific theory. This is somewhat akin to Marxists who claim that any critic of “scientific socialism” is by definition a bourgeois intellectual or a class traitor. It may apply to some Freudians as well: those who analyze away the hidden motives of their opponents, instead of confronting them head on.

My first encounter with scientific antisemitism on the list came as a big surprise. One hears so much about post-modernist uncertainties these days that you hardly expect anything so rigid anymore. However, despite the novelty, there was something about this “scientific” exposé that sounded rather familiar. It seemed to evoke old memories of race thinking, social Darwinism, and eugenics that had been discarded by scholars and scientists after the Second World War. I could hardly imagine that this old stuff, having been so shamefully discredited by past events, would ever resurge anew. What was most disturbing perhaps was the trium­phant tone that revels in exposing “human nature” as base and evil.

Meanwhile, our list member Professor MacDonald supported — in the name of “scientific freedom” — David Irving, the Holocaust denier, in the libel case he recently lost in a British court. Eventually MacDonald summed up his unpleasant London experience, stoically concluding that, “even the most biased researchers may well contribute invaluable scholar­ship.”6 It appears as if free speech is the one value left to these people, after discarding human dignity, equality, and the like. Nevertheless, an inescapable paradox lurks behind their line of reasoning: Irving went to court to avert his ill fame, but by the same token tried of course to muzzle his detractors. Thus free speech can never be an absolute, but only part of a differential scale.

Be that as it may, what is at stake here is first and foremost respectability, namely: to what extent is one prepared to diffuse anti-humanist notions under the guise of science. Having reached this point, though, one is bound to ask oneself, whether there is still any danger involved here. Are we not living in a world of free information? Each crazy idea on the web has innumerable counterparts, from the oddest to the most sensible. So perhaps even scientific antisemitism is no longer what it used to be, seeing that science itself has lost much of the prestige it had once enjoyed.

Yes, it is annoying to face this blunt and aggressive return to reactionary, racist, anti-feminist, and antisemitic theories. They are even more despicable when they come embellished with “scientific” trappings, particularly so if you happen to hold science in high esteem. It is disheartening to confront the haughty manner of the self-appointed spokesmen of “human nature,” misusing the goodwill of their liberal hosts. But is there any reason for concern? Having alerted the reader to this phenomenon in the first place, I must admit that its real importance still escapes me. In any case, it warrants a closer follow-up and further scrutiny.


1. See Shmuel Almog, “The Racial Motif in Renan`s Attitude to Jews and Judaism” in Antisemitism Through the Ages, ed. Shmuel Almog (Oxford 1988), 255–78.

2. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York 1979), 648.

3. Nicholas Wade “Y Chromosome Bears Witness to Story of the Jewish Diaspora,” New York Times, 9 May 2000.

4. Boaz Evron, “Our Brothers. Palestinians. Jews.” (in Hebrew), Haaretz, 18 June 2000.

5. See kmacd/ Population and Environment; journalhome.htm/ 01990039, p. 2.

6. 0199-0039, p. 5.


The Leopold Hilsner Affair of 1899

and Its Echoes in the Czech Republic and Austria 1999–2000

Petr Va¹íèek

Dr. Petr Va¹íèek presented the research seminar at the Center on May 15, 2000. A medical doctor, he became fascinated with the history of the blood libel accusation against Leopold Hilsner, and has made a strenuous effort over several years to have Hilsner officially rehabilitated.

One of the saddest chapters in Jewish history concerns the ritual murder charge, followed by the condemnation of an innocent man, Leopold Hilsner, in two trials that took place a hundred years ago in the heart of Europe.

Easter 1899 — The Story

The tragedy of Leopold Hilsner (1876–1928) took place in Polná, a small town of 5,000 inhabitants in Eastern Bohemia, some 100 km midway between Prague and Brno. For centuries, Czechs lived here in the so-called Èeskomoravská Vysoèina (Bohemian-Moravian High­lands) with their German neighbors, both deeply rooted in Catholic faith and tradition.
The last quarter of the nineteenth century seemed particularly susceptible to accusations of the “blood libel.” Allega­tions had arisen throughout the centuries starting in Northern England with the Norwich and Lincoln cases of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Then, the pendulum swung from Western and Central to Eastern Europe before re­turning to the heart of the continent in the Xanten, Konitz, and Tisza-Eszlár cases.

At this time also, antisemitism became a new political weapon used primarily by Nationalists, Christian Social, and radical parties. The first congress of antisemitic parties was held in Dresden, Germany in 1882. Vienna and Munich became centers of antisemitic propaganda. The medieval myth of ritual murder was revived as a tool for aggressive antisemitic campaigns.

In the Czech lands, Jews were accused of ritual murder in Kojetín (1892), in Kolín, Hole¹ov, Choceò and Prague (1893), and in Moravská Tøebová (1896), to list just a few.

At the turn of the century in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy of which Bohemia was a part, the Czech-German conflict over the so-called “language decrees” came to a head. Parliamentary life was paralyzed, and the political scene was dominated by Czech and German radicals. Jews were attacked by both sides: the Germans labeled them “Liberals, Socialists, and Modernists,” while Czech radicals called them “Germanizers.” It was, however, under Kaiser Joseph II that the Jewish population in the mon­archy had to adopt German names and German as their official language. Thus, the Polná affair became a significant part of the ongoing political process.


Just before Easter 1899, 19-year-old Ane¾ka Hrùzová disappeared on the way home from work in Polná. Two day after she failed to return home, her mother began to look for her, and two days after that, her body was discovered. Almost immediately, someone uttered that she had been killed in the kosher way since her head was partially severed. What followed was mass hysteria and psychosis that pervaded all social classes in Polná — and not just there! — with particular preference for the highly-educated.

From the beginning, even though there were other suspects, public opinion accused Leopold Hilsner of Ane¾ka’s murder. He was a long-term unemployed Jew, one of Polná’s many hang-abouts.

A self-proclaimed “Legal Committee” was established by the local authorities, willing to pay for testimonies, however absurd and impossible they might be. One of the crown witnesses, whose testimony was given in each of the subsequent court cases, declared he had seen Hilsner, together with two other, unknown Jews, murder the girl. Yet he admitted as well that he had seen the crime committed from a distance of 686 meters, and this was after he had had an eye operation! Later, this man accused the Polná town council of not having paid him well enough for his contribution and he ended up in jail.

On April 4, 1899, Ane¾ka Hrùzová was given a martyr’s funeral and Hilsner was arrested as a result of public pressure, even though there was no incriminating evidence. He was to remain in prison for the next nineteen years.

The same evening, several hundred local citizens headed for the Jewish part of town to smash windows and shops, thereby marking the beginning of the end of the once-flourishing Polná kehilla.

The first court process, followed with great interest by the antisemitic press in Prague, Munich, and Vienna, took place in the historic town of Kutná Hora, some 50 km east of Prague. All the elements of a fair trial were ignored, the presumption of guilt (Medea Ku»áková) widely applied. The judge, for example, recom­mended that Hilsner confess to murdering the girl. He also cut short any intervention by Hilsner’s advocate, Dr. Auøedníèek, but did not interrupt open antisemitic declarations by the State attorney, the plaintiff for the Hrùza family, or the spectators.

The hysteria which had affected the Czech public then swept aside all differences between Austrian and German antisemites and Czech nationalists.

Hilsner was sentenced to death at the end of the five-day trial. Tomá¹ Masaryk and several (Jewish) organizations in Vienna appealed to the Supreme Court for the sentence to be rescinded, pointing to the amateurish and inadequate autopsy protocol that had been submitted as evidence by the two medical doctors of Polná. Whereas in Prussia, for example, the law required that the protocol be written within forty-eight hours of an autopsy, nothing like that existed in the Monarchy.

The doctors’ official statement was very chaotic, with details having been added or removed apparently according to the changing mood of Polná’s populace, even months after the autopsy was con­ducted. The vague language of the protocol indicates a lack of basic knowledge of anatomy, pathology, and forensic medicine. For example, the doctors did not even analyze the blood to determine if it were animal or human — a procedure already in common use in 1899.

The Supreme Court ordered a review by the Prague Medical Faculty, which confirmed substantial errors made by the Polná doctors.

In November 1899, Masaryk published — in liberal Berlin — a pamphlet in which he demanded a retrial. For this, Masaryk was attacked by the Czech press as a traitor to the cause of Czech emancipation. His university lectures were cancelled because of student demonstrations, and his daughter Alice was hurt by a fellow-student. For a short time, he even considered leaving Prague for the United States.

The decision to work on behalf of Hilsner came after a colleague of Jewish origin at Vienna University advised Masaryk — incredibly — not to get involved in the case because, so he claimed, there was a Jewish sect practicing ritual murder (!).

A second trial order by the Supreme Court took place in Písek, South Bohemia, in October–November 1900. As in Kutná Hora, the argumentation was pre-fixed, Hilsner de facto condemned a priori, and Masaryk not even allowed to address the court. The Polná Legal Committee added another accusation that Hilsner had committed a previous murder in 1898, offering, again, only indirect testimony. He was found guilty of both murders and given the death penalty. No one questioned the fact that the witnesses to both murders were identical to those who had testified at the first trial, with an ever-improving memory capacity.

After many protests, mainly from Paris, and even more from Berlin, the Kaiser commuted Hilsner’s sentence to life imprisonment on July 11, 1901. Several other requests for a review of the trial were submitted between 1906 and 1915, but in vain. It was only in March 1918 that Kaiser Karl I, in an attempt to save his sinking monarchy, granted a general amnesty to serious criminals, and thus Hilsner was released after nineteen years in prison.

After his release, Hilsner lived alternately between Vienna, Prague, and Velké Meziøíèí (where his family had moved for safety). He died of colon carcinoma at the age of nearly 52 years in Vienna´s Rothschild Hospital on January 8, 1928. Masaryk, as president had continued to send him money through the Czech Embassy, and also paid for him to stay in the Western Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary. Dr. Zdenmko Auøedníèek, Hilsner’s lawyer ex offo, lost all his clients in Kutná Hora; his father´s grave was destroyed, and he had to move to Vienna with his Jewish-born wife, Anna.

In 1922, another corpse was found near Polná, killed in a manner similar to Ane¾ka Hrùzová and Marie Klímová. Again, ritual murder was suggested by the Czech Fascist press, who protested when investigations suggesting ritual murder were halted as a result of the intervention of Masaryk’s office.

The Polná affair was revived by Czech Fascists during the Nazi occupation. In 1939, just two years after Masaryk’s death, Jan Rys-Rozsévaè published a book on the Hilsner affair and Masaryk. “National pilgrimages” were organized to the Ane¾ka memorial, and the antisemitic paper Arijský boj (Aryan Struggle) published a series on the history of the ritual murder accusation.

The Hilsner trial was also the first affair in Czech society to achieve such widespread media publicity, especially in the tabloid, antisemitic, and radical papers, as well as in various pamphlets, cartoons, picture postcards, anonymous leaflets, and popular songs. A collection of these is preserved in the Ethnographic Institute in Prague; some are sung in and around Polná even today.

1999/2000 —The Present State

In 1999, a hundred years after the scandal and seventy-one years since Hilsner’s death, a surprising number of com­memorative activities took place in the Czech Republic. In March, there were three days of commemoration in Polná with exhibits, lectures, discussions, and a Holy Mass. But there was, alas, also a visit by Czech skinheads who affixed a photo of Masaryk with a yellow Star of David star, reading “Pereat! Abcúg! Hanba!” [Perish! Depart! Shame!].Czech television’s channel 2 produced a two-part documentary by Vladimír Branislav, which has been aired several times, and is now used at the Police Academy in Prague. The Jewish Museum in Prague had a summer-long exhibit on display at the Spanish Synagogue, curated by Dr. Arno Paøík. At the end of November, a three-day conference, “The Hilsner Case and Czech Society 1899,” organised jointly by the Prague Jewish Museum and Charles University, and the Czech Republic’s former ambassador to Israel, Dr. Milo¹ Pojar. Czech radio and television gave widespread coverage, and articles about Hilsner appeared in all the newspapers.
In Austria, the other country directly involved in the Hilsner case, the situation is quite different. First of all, it appears no one is even aware of the case. Only two articles have been published about the affair — in the yearbook Jüdisches Echo, and the fortnightly Illustrierte Neue Welt, which I myself wrote, and were accepted 

for publication only after receiving strong recommendations from Israel and Ger­many. Both articles were partially re-written, if not censored.

My offer to analyze the role of the Polná doctors and of the world-famous Vienna Medical School (which remained mute on the matter at the turn of the century) was not accepted by Austrian medical journals.

However, with the help of former mayor Helmut Zilk, his friend Eduard Harant of the Czecho-Austrian Friendship Association, and Kurt Scholz, President of the Vienna School Council, Hilsner’s desolate grave at the Zentralfriedhof has been restored. His tombstone has been re-shaped and the German and Hebrew inscriptions renewed. The Chief Rabbi of Austria, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, presided at a ceremony to mark this on June 21, 2000.

On May 9, the Czech Center in Vienna dedicated an evening to Hilsner. The Branislav film was shown, followed by a discussion with Dr. Èerný of Prague, Polná publisher Jan Prchal, and myself.

After several years of efforts to obtain a full rehabilitation for Hilsner, I finally succeeded in February 1998 in obtaining a legal review of the verdicts of the lower courts in Kutná Hora and Písek by the Minister of Justice, Mrs. Vlasta Par­kanová. Her opinion was that those verdicts were not valid, and her 20-page review of the case was published in the 1999 Hilsner Conference book. Her legal opinion was confirmed by her successor, Mr Otakar Motejl, in October 1999. Both argued that judicial competence now lies on the Austrian side, since the Supreme Court in Vienna did confirm the death penalty for Leopold Hilsner in 1900. This position is shared by Dr. Mario Umberto Morini, expert on International and European Union law in Rome.

In my attempts to have the Austrian Supreme Court review the case and finally rehabilitate Hilsner, I have encountered a vicious circle: Austrian authorities assert that it’s up to the Czech side to grant rehabilitation, despite the fact that the final decision in the case was proclaimed in a Habsburg court. It is symptomatic that, whereas in Prague, responses to my requests have come personally from various ministers, in Vienna, only lower-ranking officials have replied, if at all. Vienna continues to claim that it is not heir to the monarchy. According to Dr. Morini, however, this position contradicts that of the Saint Germain treaties of 1919.

So, seventy-two years after his death, Hilsner still remains a victim of legal jurisdiction squabbles.

Interms of prejudice, little has changed in the past hundred years. Similar to what happened to the Jews then, one now sees in the Czech Republic in regard to the tensions with the Romany population. In Ústí nad Labem in autumn 1999, the first ghetto since World War II was erected in order “to protect” Czechs against Romany children. The former mayor of Prague’s Fourth District Zdenìk Klausner (currently a member of the Czech senate), suggested placing Romanies in a quarter to be built outside Prague in order to save the “Whites.” Few people in the Czech Republic see the parallel between the prejudice against and treatment of the Romany today and that of Jews a hundred years ago. To me, it’s more than a mere coincidence that almost without ex­ception, the former Jewish quarters of Czech towns are now populated by Romanies. Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon, one of the very few apart from President Václav Havel, raises his voice against racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism in the Czech republic, fighting against what Budapest psychologist Anita Mészáros calls a “selective racism.”

According to Branislav´s film, the Rosenberg racial laws were applied internally and used by the Czechoslovak secret service until 1987.

Father Zeman, a Catholic priest, wrote in 1996 that, “thanks to Masaryk,” in the Czech Republic it is impossible to speak openly about ritual murder, adding that everyone who knows a little about the Jewish religion would admit ritual murder is practiced. When I protested these state­ments, I was told that I was “overactive” in opposing antisemitic tendencies in my country. In another instance, the police remained passive when the Studio H publishing company in Prague put out a calendar for the year 2000, in which it was stated that the Polná Jews “asked for” trouble because of their anti-Czech behavior during the Hilsner trials!

During the Kosovo conflict, former Czech Foreign minister, Jiøí Dienstbier called the NATO bombing an “anti-Serbian Hilsner affair,” thus comparing a Jewish victim of Czecho-Austrian anti­semitism with Serbia’s dictator, Slobodan Milo¹eviæ.

The Hilsner conference in Prague was attended by 150 scholars, philosophers, historians, and doctors. German media were represented by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. No Austrian representatives from its embassy or cultural center, historians or journalists attended. The conference was reported in the Israeli press.

This Hilsner case raises many similar and equally painful issues relating to current racism and prejudice. Perhaps it was symbolic that my plea for Hilsner’s rehabilitation was transmitted to Austrian President Thomas Klestil on May 1, 1999. At roughly the same time in Prague, Neo-Nazis were allowed demonstrate in the city center. And Austrian police were involved in the death of Marcus Omofuma, a Nigerian who had sought asylum in Vienna, but was deported under heavy guard to Lagos by way of Sofia, where it was discovered that he had died en route. To this day, the exact cir­cum­stances of his death remain unclear, and the quality of the autopsy report seems to be about the same as that written for Hilsner’s alleged victim in Polná so long ago. African friends and colleagues speak often of everyday racism they experience in Austria, and their fears of making any protest. One cannot help but think of the ultimately futile efforts of the Polná Jewish community to protest or obtain support in 1900.

How can it be that doctors, lawyers, journalists, clergy, and the public once again remain silent in the face of such matters as the creation of the Romany ghetto in Ústi nad Labem, or the anti-African attitudes in Austria?

Participants at the Hilsner conference sent a letter on December 10, 1999 to Aus­trian President Klestil asking for his support in obtaining Hilsner’s rehabilita­tion. Thus far, there has been no response.

Conclusion, outlook

It’s the duty of the non-Jewish part of Czech and Austrian society to give posthumous justice to Leopold Hilsner. The efforts of our group of friends from California, Rome, Prague, and Jerusalem have thus far been only partially successful. Dr. Morini has taken charge of the important judicial aspect, and he is optimistic that the appeals to Vienna for Hilsner’s rehabilitation will succeed.
Yad Vashem has no inscription in the Valley of the Communities in memory of the Polná kehila. The explanation is that communities commemorated had to have had at least 100 members in 1930, whereas Polná had only 62 by then. I believe an exception to that rule should be made in this case, because of the particular suffering of the Polná Jews during and after the Hilsner trials.

On August 14, the Hilsner Committee was established in Prague by Dr. Karel Kranda, Dr. Mario U. Morini, Magnus Bennett, and myself. Polná’s synagogue will be re-opened on September 5, 2000, and a Leopold Hilsner Memorial Library has been founded. There are Hilsner e-groups, and a Hilsner home page is under construction. Let’s hope the near future will bring more positive results in the quest for Hilsner’s rehabilitation.v

The Ethnic Community and Its Enemies:
Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in the Post-Communist Era

Vadim Rossman

Dr. Vadim Rossman, whose research on Russian intellectual antisemitism was supported by the Center, describes his forthcoming book.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, many students of antisemitism focused on the traditions of civil obedience to authority in Germany and the Christian sources of antisemitism in their search for an explanation of the hatred of the Jews and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. In recent years, historians have focused more on the intellectual sources of antisemitism. Some, like Victor Farias in his con­troversial book, Heidegger and Nazism, have tried to establish a relationship between the metaphysical arguments of some intellectuals and their political positions. However, in general, intellectual antisemitism — in contrast to political and grassroots antisemitism — has not received sufficient attention from scholars, whose studies have usually focused on manifestations of Judeophobia. It seems that this emphasis on the irrational nature of antisemitism neglects the quasi-intellectual “rational” arguments of anti­semites — both “historical” and “metaphysical” that play an important role in fueling antisemitic sentiment and action. My research, to be published as The Ethnic Community and Its Enemies: Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in the Post-Communist Era, takes up the study of the intellectual history of antisemitism by examining the positions of a number of contemporary Text Box: Each type of nationalist ideology has its own vision of the past and conception of Russia’s future.Russian intellectuals in the context of the political si­tuation in post-communist Russia, and focusing on cases in which these well-known individuals helped to support and maintain anti­semitic prejudices.
It is important to recog­nize some special features of post-communist antisem­itism as opposed to the state-sponsored anti-Zionism of the com­munist era. In spite of the continuity — most post-communist antisemites devel­oped their theories long before perestroika and only published their works for the first time in the period of reform — there are some considerable differences. Whereas under the Soviet regime some aspects of anti-Jewish propaganda were discouraged or taboo (e.g., racism, or reports on the Jewish origins of central figures in the Soviet and communist leadership), in the post-communist period a whole new range of topics can be openly discussed. Post-communist antisemitism is also much more diverse in terms of the conceptual conclusions drawn from the theories.

Looking at the situation in post-communist Russia, my study addresses three main areas. I began by taking a look at the important figures, periodicals, and the social impact of different trends. I then turned to an examination of the con­ti­nu­ities and discontinuities within different intellectual traditions, and focused on issues in Russian intellectual history. Finally, I investigated the normative as­sumptions about history, morality, and the sense of belonging to a defined com­munity that underlie many antisemitic beliefs.

The Ethnic Community and Its Enemies looks in depth at five trends whose vision of history and lines of argument lend themselves to antisemitism: Eurasianism (geopolitical antisemitism), Neo-Slavo­philism (cultural antisemitism), Na­tional Orthodoxy (religious anti-Judaism), racist Aryanism (biological antisemitism), and National Bolshevism (class antisemitism), distinguished from one another by the main targets of their censure. Each type of nationalist ideology has its own vision of the past and conception of Russia’s future. Russia’s identity as the agent of a world historical process embedded in a “grand historical narrative” deter­mines the “choice of enemies.” The metaphysical enemy (Jewry) is perceived as interfering in the “natural course” of Russian history and obstructing the realization of Russia’s historic mission. These five trends consider Jews in the following contexts:

The Jew as Cultural Foe. Neo-Slavophiles believe culture, especially literature, to be the most important element of Russian identity. The Jew — “rootless and homeless cosmopolitan” — is the enemy of Russian culture and of culture in general. The Jew stands in opposition to the Russian peasant world and the Russian vernacular that have given rise to the “authentic” statements of Russian culture. The Jew is also the emblem of the negative forces of modernity.

The Jew as Religious Foe. Repre­sentatives of National Orthodoxy believe that the primary identity of Russians is religious. The Russian Orthodox consider themselves to be the most authentic Christians, and Jews are seen as projecting upon Russians an eternal hatred of Christians and Christianity. National Or-thodoxy is a philosophy of anti-Judaism.

The Jew as Social Foe. National Bol­sheviks believe that the true Russian identity is socialist, and to a great extent they follow the line of argument evolved by the Soviet anti-Zionist ideologists. They focus on the Jewish bourgeoisie, supposed economic monopolies, political lobbying, and the ties between American Jewry and Israeli Zionists. Jews are usually described as arch-capitalists and economic mani­pulators, the natural enemies of Russian socialists. National Bolshevism appears as anti-capitalist and anti-Zionist.

The Jew as Racial Foe. Racism finds little support among Russian nationalist intellectuals, who usually consider racism a prejudice of the lowbrow public. For those who do subscribe to racist beliefs, the Jews are portrayed as enemies of the Aryan race in the metaphysical setting of a racial war.

The Jew as Geopolitical Foe. Neo-Eurasianism is a geopolitical nationalism that proclaims the Jews to be the enemies of the continental civilizations and of Eurasia in particular. At the same time it represents an attempt to reconcile and synthesize the antisemitic positions of all other groups of antisemites. Culture, race, social orientation, and religion are de-scribed as functions of the geopolitical orientation of Eurasia. The Jews are alien to Eurasian ethnicities in all these different aspects. They are described as the allies of “Atlanticism” — the geopolitical force of maritime civilizations, which has stood in opposition to Eurasian civilization since ancient times.

It is important to observe that each type of nationalism is associated with the idea of a specific type of community — Eurasian ethnic groups, socialist nations, the mystical community of Russian cul­ture, members of the Aryan race, Ortho­dox Christians. In his inquiry into the origins of modern nationalism, Benedict Anderson has suggested that it emerged in response to the dissolution of traditional community and the loss of legitimating power by the European dynasties.1

The collapse of the USSR, followed by the rise of contemporary Russian national­ism, has demonstrated a similar need to compensate for the lost Soviet identity and to “imagine” a new, more authentic, and more durable community that can offset the loss and heal the trauma. Un­fortunately, the discourse of the pro­ponents of these new ideal communities relies on the construction of an identity defined in opposition to an imagined “enemy.” The image of the Jew — the quintessential “enemy” — is invested with elementsessential to the self-definition of these communities.

An important goal of my research was to identify the most powerful mythological constructions, which drive the “academic” and “historical” revelations of the intel­lectuals. These mythological con­structions and patterns govern the most persistent narratives found in these trends. Elements of the old antisemitic folklore have resurfaced and new myths have been created. One example is the narrative of regicide (tsareubiistvo), prominent in National Orthodoxy, which taints the current debate within the Russian Ortho­dox Church and beyond about the saintliness of the tsar and his family. Claims that the Romanovs were ritually murdered invoke other mythological “regicides” supposedly committed by the Jews. Another example is the linguistic mysticism found in Neo-Slavophilism, with its necromyths in which Jews are accused of murdering well-known Russian poets and writers. Other old myths with antisemitic implications involve the apoca­lyptic emperor-imposter, and the image of Russia as a manifestation of Jesus Christ. In the old Russia, the myth of the apo­calyptic Jewish tsar-antichrist was quite common. In various periods, Pseudo-Dmitrii II, Peter the Great (as described by the Old Believers), and Leon Trotsky have all been painted as eschatological em­perors and apocalyptic Jewish antichrists. Today, former Soviet leaders such as Lazar Kaganovich and Mikhail Gorba­chev, and the “imposter” George — the heir of the Romanov dynasty now living in Germany — are all described as Jewish or Judaized antichrists. In the second myth, Russian history correlates to New Tes­tament events in the same fashion in which the Gospels correlate with the Old Testament. The New Testament is thus a prefiguration of Russian history — Russia, it is held, reproduced in its history the passion and mission of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the Jews “crucified” Russia in the course of the Bolshevik Revolution and later liberal reforms.

The old antisemitic myths appear to receive new “confirmation” in the light of new historical findings and social science discoveries. The concept of the Jewish conspiracy is thus “confirmed” by Yurii Borodai in his research on the col­laboration between Jewish financiers and Jewish Bolsheviks on the eve of October Revolution. Mikhail Nazarov asserts he has new evidence for the existence of the Jewish-Masonic con­spiracy. Other intel­lectuals attempt to whitewash the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and dispute the findings and court decisions in Zurich and Basel that declared the Protocols to be a forgery. Lev Gumilev wrote about the “Jewish-Khazarian Yoke,” which he claims has influenced Russian history much more than the Tatar Yoke. To back up these nativist claims, Gumilev introduced his theory that the Jewish “behavior stereotype” is incompatible with that of the Eurasian ethnicities. Gumilev stresses the identification with the landscape as the crucial element in the development of ethnicity.

Vadim Kozhinov suggests that the xenophobic activity and pogroms of the “Black Hundreds” is a myth of liberal historians and that the Orthodox tradition was much more tolerant to Judaism and the Jews than the religious traditions of the West. Some religious “historians” claim that the whole tragedy of Russian history stems from the medieval Judaizing heresy that persisted within the Orthodox tradition. Many neo-communist critics of the economic reforms identify the driving force of these reforms with international Jewish activity; and the nouveau riche — the New Russians — as Jews.

Finally, the mathematician Igor Sha­farevich authored a widely-read essay on the phenomenon he called “Russophobia,” suggesting that this determines the attitude of Western historiographers to Russia. The “Little People” (i.e., the Jews) are said to be responsible for promoting the negative image of Russia.

The antisemitism found in con­temporary Russia perpetuates several intellectual traditions. It is widely known that many well-known Russian writers and intellectuals such as Dostoevsky, Andrei Belyi, Vladimir Dal, Alexander Blok, and others lent support to some antisemitic ideas. In addition, various antisemitic ideas from the West have also become influential. My study discusses some aspects of the range and type of influence that these ideas have provoked and the controversies associated with the debate about these issues. A renaissance of interest in the “Silver Age” finds some apostles of Russian intellectual anti­sem­itism claiming that their movements are continuations of their historical counter­parts. In fact, I found a lack of continuity, for example, between classical Eurasian­ism and the Neo-Eurasianism of Alexan­der Dugin, specifically in its treatment of the scope of the Eurasian project. The philosemitism of Soloviov’s Orthodox followers turned out to be rather limited as well. The thinking of well-known philosemites — Berdiaev, Bulgakov, and Frank — nevertheless shared certain ideas found in the works of Sergii Nilus, who was the first to publish the Protocols. Another example is Vasily Rozanov, who was shown to hold ideas similar to those of Helena Blavatsky on the sexual nature of Judaism. It also appears that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion may have been influenced by some of the concepts found in Blavatsky’s theosophical move­ment.

Certain persistent and pervasive assumptions are found in the antisemitic arguments, for example, the belief that certain occupations (commerce) are evil; or beliefs about the meaning of mem­bership in a cultural community and the nature of the community; about the meaning of history; the relationship between “universal” values and those of the cultural community; and about the origins of liberalism. Although these assumptions by themselves do not commit their authors to antisemitism, they do lend themselves to antisemitic thinking. These assumptions should be exposed and subjected to a serious critique.

Many observers find the arguments of the antisemites both intellectuallylacking and morally repulsive. Although some of their ideas sound original, most of their points appear to be trifling. However, one should not underestimate the impact of the intellectuals on the manifestations of antisemitic sentiment in post-communist Russia. True, antisemitism seldom orig­inates in the antisemitic arguments and theories; and antisemitic sentiment can well proliferate in the absence of any serious antisemitic ideology or historical falsification. However, the speculations of the intellectuals do play a crucial role in the dissemination of these ideas. Their “academic” theories often reinforce, embellish, and help to fix in mind the antisemitic stereotypes. They provide a sense of legitimacy and respect for popular grass-roots antisemitism. In fact they provide an image of a “civilized discourse” for the most barbaric ideas and xenophobic instincts.

In closing, we can note that intellectuals themselves are not immune to the old antisemitic stereotypes. It is especially disturbing that many of them sincerely believe in the reality of the Jewish conspiracy and the mysterious forces of history. However ridiculous the antisemitic ideas might sound, they still find an audience — and willing interpreters — among the intellectuals. This problem is not only to be found in Russia — though traditions of Russian intellectual antisemitism may be richer than those of other countries — but rather, common to both Western and Eastern Europe.

Second, analysis shows that these ar­guments are often based on fundamental confusion and misapprehension of modern social realities and their relationship with traditional society. I believe that some antisemitic ideas are in fact a result of misunderstanding fundamental concepts of liberalism and Enlightenment. The nor­mative assumptions, unconsciously made by the ideologists of antisemitism, are susceptible to rational criticism and could be removed once their implications are fully understood. This can help to trans­form some of the irrational fears and concerns that underlie the antisemitic myths, into the issues within the scope of rational intellectual debate.

It is important to recognize that the nationalist intellectuals raise many significant and legitimate problems and concerns that have not been sufficiently addressed by liberal politicians and intellectuals. These are the questions about identity and the relationship between the moral and political community, questions about the sense of belonging, and about the course and nature of the social transformations that are taking place in the former Soviet bloc. Not least are questions about the massive corruption of the authorities and the powerful and often destructive new Russian tycoons. All of these concerns became even more important after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Of course, many of them are neither new nor specific to Russian social life. They became especially topical in liberal democracies such as the United States and Germany in the last two decades. The two different positions on these issues have been articulated in the ongoing debate between liberals and communitarians. On many points the arguments of nationalist intellectuals are reminiscent of positions taken by communitarian critics of liberalism. It is equally important to recognize, however, that the nationalist communitarians address communitarian concerns in a very misleading fashion. They have tainted any reasonable discussion of these topics by associating them with their militant antisemitism. In this way, they do a disservice both to the very issues with which they are preoccupied and to the people who could potentially benefit from the resolution of these vexing social concerns. v


1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Com­munities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1987; rev. and extended, 1991).

The Eranos Circle: An ambivalent approach to Judaism

Shaul Bauman
Dr. Shaul Baumann, a historian of Hauer’s German Faith Movement, is currently preparing a study of the Eranos Circle, the religious and philosophical seminar organized by Carl Gustav Jung and others.

The Eranos Circle was founded in Zurich, Switzerland, in the traumatic days at the beginning of 1933 at the time of the Nazi seizure of power in Germany. The founder of this circle, Carl Gustav Jung, was assisted and advised by Y. W. Hauer, the Tübingen philosopher of the “German Faith Movement.” Hauer intended to furnish Nazism with a “scientific” and religious basis for its racist views. Hauer assisted Jung in finding a location for the group’s meetings; his expertise in Indology provided a foundation for the Circle’s program. Following his conflict with Freud, Jung was eager to feed the “German Revolution” with the psychology of his own making.
The location chosen for the Eranos Circle’s gatherings was the picturesque town of Ascona. For quite some time, this town had served as a meeting place for mystics and eccentric individuals from various backgrounds, representing all colors of the political rainbow. Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, the widow of a German pilot killed in World War I, had promoted a series of seminars in Ascona (later seminars were held on the Lake Maggiore shore). The topics were connected to world religions, preferably those of the Far East. The approach was idealistic, in­fluenced by Theosophy, and ac­companied by esoteric rituals. Jung was drawn to Mrs. Froebe-Kapteyn’s activities, and sought partners to draw up a multi-year program and to provide substantial financial support for the projects. Indeed, financial difficulties that arose prior to and during the war forced Jung and Froebe-Kapteyn to turn for assistance to their American friends. The Mellons provided funding through the Bollingen Foundation.

Hauer brought to the group Rudolph Otto and Friedrich Heiler from Marburg, Martin Buber from Frankfurt, and Heinrich Zimmer from Heidelberg. Until the Nazis began to restrict freedom of movement by Jews, those like Buber were still welcome for the most part, but a certain prejudice existed even for non-Jews, like Zimmer, whose wife was of Jewish descent. This changed when the German authorities began to put pressure on Jews to emigrate. As non-Jewish scholars were preferred, the Circle began to avoid Jewish speakers or participants.1

A number of scholars in mixed marriages, along with followers of Heinrich Zimmer and Erwin Rousselle from Heidelberg, and Carl Kerényi from Budapest, arrived in Switzerland. Jung felt obliged to help these refugees settle in Switzerland, or at least enable them to stay until they could emigrate to the West.

The anti-Christian position of the seminar organizers became more pro­nounced. Hauer wished to emphasize the Semitic nature of Christianity and its institutions. The seminar leaders were drawn to Gnosticism, which they per­ceived as antithetical to the Jewish origins of Christianity, and offered a foundation for a pervasive anti-Judaism.

During these years, Jung impressed the Germans with his articles on the German Revolution. These articles expressed his race thinking based on the concept of the Jungian archetype.

The anti-Jewish attitudes of Jung and other Eranos Circle participants should not be overlooked. Prominent scholars, such as Mircea Eliade (who had once been associated with the Romanian Fascist Iron Guard movement), concealed the dark spots in their biographies.

After the war, once-accepted terms like “race,” and the tendency to minimize the Jewish contribution to civilization, dis­appeared from the discourseand gave way to discussions on the influence of Martin Heidegger and Nietzsche’s “Superior Man.” The person who gave the ultimate push in choosing the subjects was without doubt Mircea Eliade. He participated regularly in the seminars from December 1950 as a Bollingen Fellow, but soon became a member of the inner circle of Eranos. After publishing his book, The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954), his name had become established in the United States, and he was invited in 1956 to lecture at the University of Chicago.

The professors of the Eranos Circle concentrated on Eastern religions because it seemed to them to offer more scope for a dualistic approach between good and evil, in contrast to Christianity and Judaism. Only such Christian mystics as Jacob Boehme and Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) — dedicated to the search for God through examining the balance between good and evil — and Jewish scholars specializing in hassidism and kabbalah, examined ultimate questions about the nature of God and his universe in this manner. This is the explanation for their dualistic, anti-monotheistic approach.

I should emphasize here that, especially for believers, the momentous question of God’s “presence” or “absence” during calamities, cruel wars, and the Holocaust of the past century, is still being investigated to this day.

Buber participated in only one of the sessions. Following a confrontation with Jung, he refused to come again. Gershom Scholem and Zwi Werblowsky followed suit. The establishment of the State of Israel, which “resolved the question of Jews uprooted from their homeland” led Jung and other seminar planners to invite several Jewish scholars. After Jung’s death in 1961, A. Portman and R. Ritsema were charged with choosing Jewish scholars to engage in topics like Gnostic or Eastern Theodicy.

Following each annual meeting in August (even during the war), the Circle published its proceedings. It is obvious that at no meeting did anyone discuss the Holocaust of European Jews from an ethical, religious, or philosophical perspective. In the lectures, the “disaster” that had descended on the continent and had caused general killing was mentioned, but the Holocaust was disregarded at Jung’s initiative and in Nicholas of Cusa’s term, was the coincidentia oppositorum — everything that had happened belonged to the collective subconscious evil. Jung and his students and supporters held that this was an entity over which no one had control — a kind of mass neurosis. Jung claimed that in the subconscious of the individual, evil resides alongside good. Through this proximity, evil can triumph.

Both Jung and Olga Froebe-Kapteyn died in 1961. In the 1960s Gershom Scholem, along with Zwi Werblowsky and Shmuel Samburski from the Hebrew University, became regular participants at the meetings. Eliade stepped into Jung’s shoes as mentor. He had become acclaimed worldwide as an authority on religious studies. His previous youthful association with the fascist Romanian “Iron Guard” was quite forgotten. The postwar period was filled with the fear of the Cold War and the possibility of world nuclear destruction. Eliade’s books, however, emphasized the hope that even if the world should be lost (in a nuclear holocaust), a new world — a kind of Palingenesis — had to arise, based on the fundamentals of freedom and an ethos that would be readily accepted and not forced upon human beings as dogma or binding directives from above.

To what extent did the opinions of these serious researchers of religion, philoso­phers, anthropologists, and psy­chologists — whose antisemitic outlook is clear — persist after the war under the cover of “blaming God”? The Jewish participants were embarrassed to realize that their presence served the needs of the Circle’s leadership, which was strongly attracted to Gnostic dualism and wished only to draw on the particular segments of Judaism that had addressed the opposition of good and evil. Normative Judaism, however, had always posited the ultimate goodness of God, who is One, as had its sister religion, Christianity. Jewish move­ments like hassidism and kabbalah, no matter how “popular,” had always been at the edge of the Jewish religious experience.

The Eranos Circle separated into a number of groups in the 1970s.

Jung and his approach have enjoyed an impressive revival in right-wing ecological movements, with quite a bit of anti-Jewish emphasis. At the same time, one must acknowledge that his archetype and individuation doctrine receive much acclaim and admiration worldwide and even in Israel. v


1. As it happens, an extant document exists in which it is clear that Jung and Froebe-Kapteyn, at the beginning of the Eranos Circle’s existence, had an understanding that they would limit the participation of Jewish professors.

Go to our website

·Up-to-date information on lectures, conferences, workshops, and other activities of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism

·Full-text ACTA occasional papers on contemporary issues

·A listing of current research being funded by the Center

·Information on our Studies in Antisemitism series of monographs and published volumes of Antisemitism: An Annotated Bibliography

·Online access to the Felix Posen Bibliographic Project