Israel Prize Awarded to Prof. Yehuda Bauer

Dalia Ofer

We are happy to open this year’s Annual Report with congratulations to Prof. Yehuda Bauer who was among the laureates of the Israel Prize awarded on the country’s fiftieth anniversary of statehood. Israel Prize recipients have included distinguished academics, artists, scientists, and many others who have contributed to the well-being of Israeli society.

Yehuda Bauer, founder of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, is Jonah M. Machover Professor (Emeritus) of the Holocaust at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently director of the International Center for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.

Born in Prague, he immigrated to Palestine in 1939 with his parents at the age of thirteen. He is thus a member of that generation who passed their adolescence in Palestine during the crucial years of World War II, while tension between the British authorities and Jews was growing. He shared with others of this generation both the inspiration of the Zionist vision for creating a new and just Jewish society in Palestine, and the frustration felt when the tragedy of European Jewry became known.

Naturally, one’s own history affects the choice of research areas. Prof. Bauer’s Ph.D. dissertation was on Zionist policy in Palestine and the establishment of the Palmach defense unit. The Palmach was the symbol of the “new generation” which had grown up in Palestine and was educated according to Zionist ideas — in reality, many Palmach members were born in the Diaspora, but they shared the ideals of the native-born.

After receiving his Ph.D., Bauer then began to research the European Jewish community. His major work on the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, or “Joint”) brought him a close acquaintance with the life of the European communities from the beginning of the twentieth century through the 1950s, with the period of the Holocaust a central factor.

In confronting the fate of the Jews in almost all European countries where the JDC extended its assistance, Bauer examined the variety of Jewish responses to the Nazi onslaught, and delved into the differing interpreta- tions of Nazi Jewish policy and the Final Solution. He did not accept the com- monly-held notion of Jewish passivity in comparison to the reaction of non-Jewish populations to Nazi occupation and persecution.

He examined the reaction of Jews in the democracies to the fate of European Jewry, and pointed to the political helplessness that characterized all Jewish communities at that time. In particular he addressed the problem of obtaining correct information about the Final Solution as it was happening, and the internalization of this knowledge in a way that would result in an accurate response. He thought that the gap between having information and understanding and in- ternalizing it was typical of both Jews and non-Jews under Nazi occupation and Jews in the free world, including those of Palestine. He concluded that it was not the shortcoming of the people involved in organizing aid to European Jews, nor the blindness of the Jewish leaders under Nazi rule that caused an inability to grasp the real nature of the Nazi policy and how it evolved to its murderous end. It was the basic nature of the Holocaust — the very idea of massive dehumanization of the Jews and the effort to exterminate them, together with the great force of Nazism and its successes in the war, which led to the inability to comprehend.

Bauer disagreed, however, with any mystification of the Holocaust and refused to accept the view of some philosophers and historians that the Holocaust is beyond human understanding. As a teacher and historian, he always stressed that the Holocaust happened as part of human history and it is the responsibility of the historian to use the methodology to try to explain why and how it happened, and what the meaning of the past is to contemporary culture. A comprehensive interpretation of the Holocaust will only be possible with more research, more reflection and deliberation, and an increasing scholarly and popular discourse. Contributing to this process, of course, are those engaged in filmmaking, literature, and the arts.

A lengthy description of Bauer’s important contributions to the field of Holocaust research is impossible here. Looking back to the connection between his life story and research interests, however, it seems only natural that he would have been instrumental in the founding of a center for the research of antisemitism. He stated that history’s “longest hatred” demanded investigation with a major intellectual effort and massive research. No doubt his own life story would have taken a completely different course had not the “longest hatred” reached Prague.

All of us at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and our friends worldwide appreciate Prof. Bauer’s drive to study and understand. We thank him, and wish him many long years of productive research and intellectual stimulation. 


The Holocaust: The Specific and the Universal

Yehuda Bauer

This address was given before the German Bundestag on the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, January 27, 1998.

On January 27, 1945 the Soviet Army conquered the Auschwitz complex of camps. Still, less than 7,000 people were liberated, of which the majority were ailing people whose lives had been spared by the S.S. The other 58,000 had left a few days earlier on the Death March.

Those on the Death March were followed, during the four months leading to the end of the war, by many hundreds of thousands from almost all of the concentration camps, marking the last spastic and endlessly brutal impact of the cruelest regime that the world has ever seen. On January 27, the horror was still not over by far, though of course Auschwitz was no longer in the hands of the murderers.

Have we learnt anything? People seldom learn from history, and the history of the Nazi regime constitutes no exception. We have failed, as well, to understand the general context. In our schools we still teach, for example, about Napoleon and about how he won the battle of Austerlitz. Did he win it all on his own? Maybe somebody assisted him in this? A few thousand soldiers, perhaps? And, what happened to the families of the fallen soldiers, to the wounded on all sides, to the villagers whose villages had been destroyed, to the women who had been raped, to the goods and possessions that had been looted? We are still teaching about the generals, about the politicians, and about the philosophers. We are avoiding the recognition of the dark side of history — the mass murders, the agony, the suffering that is shouting into our faces from the whole of history. We do not hear the wailing of Clio. We still fail to grasp that we will never be able to fight against our tendency toward reciprocal annihilation if we do not study it and teach it and if we do not face the fact that humans are the only mammals that are capable of annihilating their own kind.

The Bloody Twentieth Century

The American sociologist Rudolph Rummel arrived at the conclusion that between the years 1900 and 1987, 169 million civilians were murdered by governments and by government- like organizations, apart from the 34 million fallen soldiers. Who committed those crimes? Mainly non-democratic regimes. Even though demo- cracies committed crimes as well, those were responsible for only a fraction of one percent of the number of civilian victims.

These statistics are only partially useful. Actually, they do not reveal the tragedy but cover it up. We do know that it is people who were tortured and murdered, not statistics — but it happened to an impossibly vast number of people who were just the likes of you and me.

The war which was instigated by National-Socialist Germany, mainly for ideolog- ical reasons, cost the lives of about 49 million people, most of whom were civilians. If we adopt the United Nations’ definition of genocide, then what happened to the Polish nation and to the “Roma,” called by others “Gypsies,” was indeed genocide. The Polish naas such was to have disappeared; this was accompanied by mass murders. Polish intellectuals had become the target for annihilation. Universities and schools were shut down; the ranks of the clergy were decimated; all the important businesses were confiscated, and children of Polish families were deported to Germany in order to undergo “germanization.” The Sinti and the Roma of Germany were to have disappeared by means of mass murder and by means of sterilization. Nomadic Roma were supposed to be murdered wherever they were in Europe (those of whom were “settled,” as it was termed, would be tolerated). Millions of Russians and other Soviet peoples — as well as Western Europeans, Italians, Balkan peoples and even Germans — became victims of the regime.

Why, then? I think that one has to be clear that a radical revolution had been planned — a mutiny against everything that had been before. It was not a new order of social classes, of religions, or even of nations that was envisioned, but a completely new hierarchy — one constructed of “races” — in which the one invented “master race” not only had the right, but the duty, to master the others and to enslave or to murder all those it considered different from itself. This was a universal ideology: “Today Germany belongs to us and tomorrow the entire world,” as the Nazi song had it.

How was it possible for a people of culture that lived in the midst of Europe, and which had developed one of the greatest civilizations ever, to subscribe to such an ideology, to go to a war of annihilation because of it, and to stick to it until the very bitter end? That was not only terror; it was a consensus based on a promise of a wonderful utopia — an idyllic world — governing a single people’s community, devoid of friction, without political parties, without democracy, one to be served by slaves. In order to achieve such a goal, it was necessary to revolt against everything that had been before: middle-class and Judeo-Christian morality, individual freedom, humanitarianism — the whole package of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment in general. National-Socialism was, in fact, the most radical revolution that had ever taken place — a mutiny against that which was, up until then, thought of as humane.

The nucleus of the strategy of annihilation of anybody thought of as different was the Holocaust, the plan for total annihilation of the Jewish people and the murder of all the Jews the murderers could lay their hands on. And the most horrible thing about the Shoah is, actually, not that the Nazis were inhuman — the most horrible thing about it is that they were indeed human, just as you and I. When we claim that they were different from us and that we can sleep in peace since the Nazis were devils and we ourselves are not devils because we are not Nazis, that is sheer cheap escapism. Escapism of the same cheap kind is when we say that the Germans were somehow genetically programmed to execute such mass murders. Since most people are not Germans, many tend to think that whatever happened then can never be repeated by anyone else and that it can happen only in Germany. This is reverse racism.

The Holocaust’s Singularity

All this happened almost sixty years ago. One would have thought that the famous bottom line should have been drawn long ago, that the interest in this specific genocide would have slowly petered away. Yet the opposite is the case: hardly a week goes by without a new book being published somewhere in the world, or memoirs, or a novel, or a scientific debate, without plays being staged, without poetry appearing, without television films, or other movies being released, and the like. Quite a lot of it might be kitsch, but a lot of it is of value. Again, it is necessary to ask why — why is the Holocaust the central issue, and not Cambodia or the Tutsi or Bosnia or the Armenians or the natives of North America?

I am not at all sure whether my answer to this central question is better than any other but I would, nonetheless, like to present it. I do not think the sadism and the brutality with which the victims were maltreated offers an explanation, because suffering, agony, and torment cannot be graded. I have published, in English, the testimony of a Sinti woman who lost her husband and who saw her own three children die in front of her very eyes. How is it possible to compare this with the tragedy of a Jew, or of a Russian peasant, or of a Tutsi, or of a Cambodian Khmer? It is, surely, impossible to say one mass murder is better or worse than another, that the suffering of one person is greater or less than that of another. Such a statement would be repulsive. If so, is it the brutality and the sadism that makes the Holocaust so singular? Indeed, National-Socialist Germany enriched this tragic repertory in an extraordinary manner, but brutality was no novelty in history. Is the distinguishing factor possibly the fact of it having been a state-initiated mass murder carried out with the aid of modern technologies and bureaucratic thoroughness? I do not think so. The genocide of the Armenians was carried out with the aid of the then-available technological and bureaucratic tools, and the Nazis themselves carried out their crimes against the Poles and against the Roma with the aid of the same means that they used against the Jews.

No, I think the answer lies elsewhere. You see, for the first time in the whole of history, people descended from three or four of a particular kind of grandparent — in this case Jewish — were con- demned to death just for being born. This, the mere fact of their having been born, was by itself their deadly crime that had to be avenged by execution. This has never happened before, anywhere. Secondly, anybody of Jewish descent was to be caught wherever in the world Nazi Germany exercised influence, be it directly or through allies, which means all over the world, a world that tomorrow would belong to “us.” The murder of Jews was not directed against the Jews of Germany or the Jews of Poland or even the Jews of Europe, but against all the 17 million Jews scattered throughout the entire world in 1939. All other cases of genocide had been perpetrated on definite territories — though they sometimes may have been very wide — whereas the murder of the Jews was construed to be universal. Third, we must examine the National-Socialist ideology. Numerous colleagues of mine have analyzed the structure of Nazism, its bureaucracy, the day-to-day character of the murder apparatus. All this is surely correct, but why did the bureaucrats, who were shipping German school children by train to summer camps, and Jews by train to death camps with the same administrative means, do the latter? Why murder all the Jews that could be found and not, let us say, all the green-eyed people that could be found? To try and explain this away by looking at the social structures — though they may have been very important — is something I can not accept.

An Ideology Based on Fantasy

The motivation was ideological. The racist/ antisemitic ideology was the rational out- come of an irrational approach, an approach that was a cancer-like mutation of the Christian anti- semitic ideology that had sullied Christian-Jewish relations throughout their two millennia of existence. Nazi antisemitism was pure ideology which had minimal relation to reality: the Jews were accused of a worldwide conspiracy — an idea stemming from the Jew-hatred of the Middle Ages, whereas in reality Jews were not capable of achieving unity, not even on a partial basis. Between you and me, they are still not capable of it now. There existed indeed a conspiracy, but it was not by the Jews but by the National Socialists.

The Jews were accused of being revolutionary agitators as well as capitalists, which means that all the various phobias were reduced to one single denominator. Naturally, most of the Jews belonged to neither of these categories, but were lower- or middle-class people. They did not possess territories nor did they command military might, nor did they control any national economy, if only because they did not constituan entity, but observed their tradition, as individuals, in mutually contradictory interpretations, within the framework of small religious/ethnic communities. When secular or atheistic, they did not even belong to communities.

In all the other cases of genocide known to us, the motivation was, somehow, realistic, like in the case of the murder of the Armenians, where there was a nationalistic motivation, or in the case of Rwanda, where there is a deadly conflict over power and territory. In the case of the Shoah, the ideology at the base of the genocide was, for the first time in history, pure fantasy.

One can add a fourth element to the unprecedented characteristics of the Holocaust: The Nazis may not have invented the con- centration camp, but they surely brought it to a totally new stage of development. Not only the murder and the suffering in those camps should occupy our minds, but also the elevated level to which they brought the art of humiliation through the control they exercised over people through their physiological needs. This is without precedent in human history. True, this was not perpetrated against the Jews alone, but Jews were the ones positioned on the lowest rung of that Hell. What the Nazis achieved by that was not the dehumanization of the Jews, but the dehumanization of themselves — as, by doing so, they positioned themselves on the lowermost possible rung of humanity.

What did the Nazis leave behind? Where are their literary, their artistic, their architectural, their philosophical achievements? The Nazi Reich dissolved into nothingness. It left only one memorial: the ruins of the concentration camps and, crowning it, the only great achievement of Nazism — Auschwitz and the mass murder.

It is this lack of precedent, so characteristic of the Holocaust, I think, that is beginning to be understood all over the world. A very special case of genocide took place here — total, global, purely ideological. It might be repeated. Certainly not in the exact same form, but possibly in a similar, maybe even very similar manner, and there is no way of determining who will be the Jews and who the Germans might be the next time.

This menace is universal and at the same time — as it is founded on the experience of the Holocaust — very specifically connected with the Jews. The specific and the universal cannot be separated. It is indeed the extreme character of the Holocaust that allows it to be compared with other cases of genocide and to be presented as a warning. It has, indeed, been already copied — not in the same form, but in similar forms. Should the warning be ignored? Should the Holocaust serve as precedent for others who would like to inflict the same onto yet others?

How then, could it have happened? I think that one must look at that ancient tradition included in the book that stems from my ancestors. In that book it is written that mankind has the choice between Good and Evil, between life and death. This means, at the same time, that mankind is capable of both, that both exist within the self — both God and the devil. Expressed in a more modern fashion: that the urge for life and the wish for death — our own or that of others, is inside of us. Under certain conditions we might become Eichmann, or rescuers.

Germany then: we are not discussing guilt here; we are talking about the responsibility towards the future of a culture within which this monster could have developed. Because “death was a master from Germany” — although the Jews were never enemies of the Germans or of Germany. Quite the opposite. German Jews were always proud of how much good they had achieved for German civilization.

So how can the Nazi regime be explained? I think that there was a pseudo-intellectual elite who took over power in Germany, and it did so not because the masses supported their potentially genocidal ideology, but because there was a situation of grave crisis, within which the potentially genocidal layer of leaders offered a way out, in the form of a wonderful utopia. The determining factor was that the layer of intellectuals — the academicians, the teachers, the students, the bureaucrats, the doctors, the lawyers, the churchmen, the engineers — joined the Nazi party because it promised them a future and status. Through the fast-growing identification of the intellectual layers with the regime, it became possible to have the genocide easily presented as an unavoidable step towards the achievement of a utopian future. When Herr Doctor, Herr Professor, Herr Director, Herr Priest or Pastor, Herr Engineer became collaborators with genocide, when a consensus evolved, led by the semi-mythological figure of the dictator, it became easy to convince the masses and to recruit them to carry out the murders.

Something similar could happen elsewhere as well, but in Germany, where at least part of the elite had absorbed a radical antisemitism and on top of it a general racist ideology during the nineteenth century, it proved easier for the genocidal Nazi layer of leaders to turn the majority of German society into accomplices. The major role in this was played by the universities, the academics. I keep returning to the question of whether we have indeed learnt anything, whether we do not still keep producing technically competent barbarians in our universities.

And what about the churches? The Holocaust has brought to light a profound crisis in Christianity. 1900 years after the Christian messiah spread the gospel of love, his own people were murdered by baptized heathens. The churches, insofar as they did not collaborate, kept their silence.

On the other hand, one definitely cannot say that within German society a radical antisemitic norm had prevailed. There was, though, a general queasiness regarding the Jews, even among the non-antisemitic or even anti-antisemitic mass movements of the social-democrats, the communists, and the Catholic Center that constituted the majority of the German voting population up to the end of 1932. This queasiness made it practically impossible for a general protest against the murder of Jews to develop. It was not as if the dictatorship was so fully totalitarian as to make protest movements impossible at all. This was proven not only by the opposition to the murder of German handicapped that brought about the stoppage, in August 1941, of the so-called euthanasia, at least partially, but also the demonstration of the German women in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin, in February 1943, which led to the freeing of their Jewish husbands. The fragility of the famous German-Jewish symbiosis came to light through the fact that a mass movement for the protection of the Jewish minority, which was at the least unpopular, was totally outside the sphere of possibilities.

It seems to me that yet another factor is involved. European culture is composed of two pillars: Athens and Rome on the one side and Jerusalem on the other side. An ordinary citizen of two hundred years ago, if he owned any book at all, it would probably be the Christian Bible, which, as we all know is composed of two parts — the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both were written mainly by Jews.

Greek and Roman literature, law, art, and philosophy are and surely have been as important as the prophets and the moral commandments of the Jewish Bible. Still, modern Italians and modern Greeks do not use the same languages anymore, do not worship the same gods, do not create the same kinds of art, do not write the same kinds of literature as in ages past. Different peoples live there now. But my granddaughter reads what was written 3000 years ago, in the original, needing no dictionary. Try this out with “Walter von der Vogelweide” — and this was written only a few hundred years ago.

When the Nazis wanted to carry out their rebellion against Western culture, was it not the Jews, those still living reminders of the source of that culture, whom they had to annihilate? The Jews, whether they want it or not, are a central component of Western self-perception. This is spread all over the world by means of so-called Western civilization, as well as by means popular kitsch culture — which also originates in the West.

There is an Auschwitz museum in a suburb of Hiroshima. Holocaust literature is read in South America. The Holocaust has assumed the role of universal symbol for all evil because it presents the most extreme form of genocide, because it contains elements that are without precedent, because that tragedy was a Jewish one, and because the Jews — although they are neither better nor worse than others and their sufferings were neither greater nor less than those of others — represent one of the nuclei of modern civilization.

The Historian as Storyteller

The way I see it, a historian is one who not only analyzes history but also tells true stories. So let me tell you some. In Radom in Poland there lived a woman with two sons. Her husband had gone to Palestine in 1939 for the purpose of preparing the immigration there of his entire family. The war broke the family apart. The husband became a Palestinian citizen and tried to save his family by exchanging them for German settlers in Palestine.

In October 1942, when the woman was already familiar with what awaited her and her children, a Gestapo man summoned her to his headquarters and told her she was going to be exchanged. Within one hour she was supposed to turn up with her two sons at his office. Yes, said the woman, but my elder son is working outside of the ghetto, asking the man how she was supposed to summon her son. This was none of his business, said the Gestapo man, they had to show up in one hour. And if not? The woman was desperate. Should she and her younger son share the fate of her first-born? Or should she at least save herself and her younger son? At that moment her neighbor approached her and said: Look, you cannot save your son. Why, then, don’t you take my son in his stead? My son is of the same age as your elder. Shocked and in tears, the woman showed up at the Gestapo headquarters with two boys. On November 11, 1942 she arrived in Haifa. The two boys became, in time, prominent Israeli citizens, with children and grandchildren.

The woman spoke little after that. She was a proud person and would not live supported by the pity of others. Until the end of her life she ran a small stall opposite the great synagogue on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. It was said she was a survivor of the Holocaust. Had she really survived? I am not sure.

The Holocaust, and also all other horrible things that the National Socialists perpetrated, shows not only the evil that Humankind is capable of, but also — at the margin, so to speak — the opposite, the good. Oscar Schindler has become a controversial figure, through the well-known movie. But look, when you strip off the myth, something does remain. Schindler was not only a member of the Party, he had been a spy as well, a womanizer, an alcoholic, and a ruthless exploiter and liar. There are few people to be found on whom you could pin more negative characterizations. And yet he saved the lives of more than a thousand people, while risking his own safety. He personally carried severely sick and dying Jewish slave laborers from a freezing train in order to try to save their lives. He did not have to do that, but he did. He went to Budapest to warn the Jews there about the Holocaust. He did not have to do it, but he did. Why, then? Because he was a human being — as bad as he was, so good was he.

His story shows that one could, even as a German, even as a member of the Party, behave in a different way. Schindler and the likes of him, like Otto Busse in Bialystok, who supplied the Jewish resistance with weapons, show us that it was possible to save. The deeds of these people prove, on the one hand, the guilt of the others, but also show, on the other hand, that hope is not lost.

You see, there is the story of Maczek. Actually his name is Mordechai. His name is the only thing that he knows about himself. Before the war, at the age of three, he had been handed over by his mother to a Jewish orphanage in Lodz. This is what he was later told. Then came the war and he was raised in Krakow by a Polish woman by the name of Anna Pawlowa. Naturally he thought she was his mother.

At the age of six, while playing on the street, he was hit by accident by a car full of German soldiers. The soldiers wanted to take him to the hospital but Anna opposed it with all her might. She knew he would be murdered instantly if it was found out that he had been circumcised.

Then the war was over and a woman presented herself at Anna’s. Anna told Maczek that this woman was his mother. Both women took the boy and put him in a Jewish orphanage in Lodz. The mother disappeared, never to be seen again. Maczek was brought to Israel. Anna, who had saved him, passed away shortly thereafter. Maczek does not know till this very day who he is. All he knows is that a Polish woman saved his life because she loved him — a Jewish boy orphan.

There were the Annas and the Schindlers, but they were few, very few. Most were like in the next story. I do not know if the story is true or not, but here is how it goes: An S.S. man told a Jewish woman that he would spare her life if she guessed which of his two eyes was of glass and which one was live. Without hesitating, the woman pointed at one of the eyes and said: “this is the glass eye.” “Correct” said the S.S. man, “but how did you find out?” Answered the woman: “Because it looked more human than the other.”

What Have We Learnt?

I then return to the question of whether we have learnt anything. Pretty little, so it seems to me. But hope still persists, even with the traumatized people to which I belong. You, Ladies and Gentlemen, just like members of other democratic parliaments, carry a very special responsibility — especially as Europeans, especially as Germans.

I do not have to tell you that what happened in Rwanda or in Bosnia, happened right next door. To be reminded, as a consequence, of the Holocaust, constitutes only a first step. To teach and to study about the Holocaust and everything that transpired during the Second World War and after concerning racism, antisemitism, and xeno- phobia — that constitutes the next responsibility. We Germans and Jews depend on each other in this. You can not perform, without us, the task of remembering, and we must be sure that here, from where the disaster came, an old-new, humane and better civilization is being constructed, on the ruins of the past. We both, together, carry a very special responsibility towards the whole of humanity.

There might be one further step. In the book of which I spoke before, are the Ten Commandments. Maybe we should add three additional ones: “you, your children and your childrens’ children, shall never become perpetrators”; “you, your children and your childrens’ children, shall never ever allow yourselves to become victims”; and “you, your children and your childrens’ children, shall never, but never, ever, be passive onlookers to mass murder, genocide, or (let us hope it may never be repeated) to a Holocaust-like tragedy.



 
 
“The Non-Jewish Jew”: The History of a Radical Typology

Shmuel Almog

The  paradoxical “non-Jewish Jew” is a specific type of modern, emancipated Jew. However, while most Jews accept their Jewishness and even evaluate it positively, the non-Jewish Jews were alienated from Judaism. They had either been baptized or had otherwise lost contact with Judaism.

The originator of the term was the radical writer Isaac Deutscher, who was born in Galicia and later lived in England. He was known as a biographer, most notably of Leon Trotsky. Deutscher had a traditional Jewish education, but also studied at a Polish gymnasium — a compromise between the young Isaac and his father, who was against his son's receiving a secular education.

Deutscher is quoted in the biography written by his daughter Tamara:

I was to give my mornings and afternoons to the study of the Torah and the Talmud, but I was to be allowed to follow in my own free time the curriculum of the gymnasium. I was to be allowed to keep in touch with the boys and the teachers and preparmyself to sit for the examination as an extra-mural student. My father had such an exaggerated idea of my abilities and such a contempt for lay Polish education that, shrugging his shoulders, he said: “You do not need more than two weeks of work to learn all that over which the other boys sweat the whole year round.” She then continued: Isaac more and more often deserted the synagogue and the Jewish school for the light and the airy building of the gymnasium. He did not attend classes regularly. From time to time he sneaked into the classroom of Professor Urbanczyk, the teacher of Polish literature, who welcomed the curious little boy in black kapota, with his sidelocks clumsily hidden behind his ears. He was full of ideas, bursting with questions, arguments, and disagree- ments. When called upon, he would stand up, “collect his thoughts,” and deliver an original analysis of the subject, or his own appreciation of the work of some Polish poet. He also organized a literary circle that met outside of school hours to discuss not only literary, but also philosophical problems.

Here, however, a small scandal soon blew up. At one of the meetings Isaac opened a debate on a theme of his own choice: “Christ was a Jew and a communist.” He started his speech, but was unable to continue; some boys were shocked, some terrified at the audacity of the Jew.

All of a sudden I became an intruder, a stranger, I became a “Yid.” Were they not taught at their lessons of religion, perhaps the same morning, that Jews murdered Christ? The two or three Jewish boys quietly left our gathering. Some, non-Jews, defended me, others were so incensed by my blasphemy that it all nearly ended in a fight.

The next day the whole school was in an uproar. The headmaster and teachers, who up to that time had tolerated Isaac's irregular and only semi-authorized incursions into the classroom, threatened to bar him altogether. It was the gentle Professor Urbanczyk who came to his rescue. He soothed tempers and finally hushed up the affair.1

No wonder therefore that young Isaac grew up to be a revolutionary. He was a communist in Poland at a time when this was illegal, but he was later excluded from the Party because of his heretical Trotskyite leanings. His identity problem no doubt reflected his life course: from the Hapsburg monarchy to independent Poland, and from there to Great Britain; from Chassidism to Zionism, and then to radical Jewish literature, Communism, and the world revolution.

Deutscher concerned himself with the identity problem as a part of his own life. In his time being a Jew was not a trivial fact — not in Pilsudski's Poland, nor in the USSR of Stalin, and certainly nowhere in Hitler's time. Long gone was the wave of inner criticism and inhibited Judaism as practiced by Heine and Börne. Gone also was the liberal epoch of indifference and neutrality with regard to one's Jewish origin. A triviality such as one’s Jewish origin could no longer be thoughtlessly overlooked.

Isaac Deutscher was not preoccupied with Jewish identity solely because of external pressure. He had never stopped being a Jew. His life might look like that of a cosmopolitan revolutionary, but not even Trotsky, the international leader, ever denied his Jewish origin. In addition, Stalin often used antisemitism to overcome his Jewish opponents in his struggle against the opposition. Trotsky complained about this deviation from Marxism-Leninism during the infamous Moscow trials in the 1930s. Thus the so-called “Jewish question” came into the open among Communists as well.

According to his daughter, Deutscher “saw himself belonging to that breed of non-Jewish Jews who transcended Judaism and went beyond Jewry to the highest ideals of mankind.”2 In this context she mentions those who were of great importance to her father: Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Freud. In addition, Deutscher added Spinoza to this spiritual family tree.

This awe-inspiring list has a number of interesting features: it encompasses a substantial period of time — Spinoza lived in the seventeenth century, Heine and Marx in the nineteenth, whereas the rest of the names are connected with twentieth-century history. They form a historical chain of personalities representing, on the other hand, a modern, emancipated form of Judaism. They were known all over the world and some of them still are. As opposed to Deutscher himself, they were all quite alienated from Judaism. Spinoza was an apostate, Heine and Marx were converts, the latter often accused of being an antisemite. Luxemburg was indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Freud was ambivalent, but on the whole less negative than the others (and Trotsky was already mentioned).

One might say that Deutscher chose an awe-inspiring group who overshadowed him by far. Was he so brazen as to count himself among those personalities, as might be inferred from his daughter's words? Not quite. Deutscher was aware of the difference between himself and his models. But these names gave his typology a certain dignity and a sort of legitimacy.

Deutscher proposed an alternative concept of Judaism, in which Judaism is not a religion, nor an ethnic group; in which there is no Jewish solidarity, nor any common undertaking of the Jews. That leaves us only with the individual feeling of some Jews that their Jewish origin had imposed on them a certain mission. Whether this was inveterate atavism or consciousness, remains an open question. For Deutscher, they all belonged to a distinct Jewish tradition.

This tradition began in Judea at the beginning of the second century at the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It goes back to the apostate Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya, called "the Other." He was at that time one of the most respected Sages of Israel, famous for his Torah knowledge and moral way of life. Yet he became enamoured of Greek philosophy or gnosticism and died a heretic. He was often admired by modern Jews, even though — or rather because — so little is known about him. In any case, Isaac Deutscher chose him as the originator of his alternative Jewish tradition. This was based on a universal morality, originally anchored in Judaism, but then alienated from it.

Why choose such a strange personality as this fairly unknown rabbi, when another, much more prominent Jew would have been more appropriate? I am referring, of course, to Jesus, the founder of an already existing alternative tradition, which also originated in Judaism. In Deutscher's time Jesus was respected and even revered by many modern Jews.

Jewish enlightenment brought about a new tolerant attitude toward Christianity, especially with regard to Jesus. The famous Jewish historian of the nineteenth century, Heinrich Graetz, describes Jesus as a true Jew who led the simple people back to an authentic and unostentatious Judaism. Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, such as Constantin Brunner and Martin Buber have taken a particularly positive attitude towards Jesus. Jewish artists and writers also began to depict Jesus as the symbol of genuine Judaism. Therefore no trailblazing step on Deutscher's part was needed to use Jesus as the father of an alternative Jewish tradition.

Although the young Deutscher — dressed in the traditional Eastern European Jewish garb — had already used Jesus as a model, he later ignored him entirely. I assume that Deutscher wanted to choose an ancestry for his alternative Jewish tradition that had nothing to do with religion, so therefore the founder of Christianity was no candidate. Thus the unknown Ben Abuya, who had fallen for gnosticism, was more appropriate than Jesus.

There is another side that Deutscher seems to have overlooked: that is, the relations of his models with the Jewish group. Although most of these personalities were considered Jewish, they had no official ties to Jewry as such. Spinoza was banned by the Jewish community of Amsterdam. Heine and Marx left Judaism and were baptized. Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky never concerned themselves with matters Jewish and remained strangers to their fellow Jews. Freud was somewhat ambiguous: he felt very safe in the Jewish circle Vienna's "Bnai Brith" and his colleagues were, for the most part Jewish. He did, however, make a conscious effort to draw near him some non-Jews, in particular Carl Gustav Jung, so that his “science” would not be decried as totally Jewish.

The apostate Ben Abuya, on the other hand, remained in his homeland; he stayed in Judea throughout his life. Moreover, one of his former disciples, the famous Rabbi Meir, who was always faithful to Judaism, never gave him up and kept a lifelong contact with him. “The Other” did not found a new school of thought and had no interest in spreading his teachings. He was a loner, whose name remained unique in ancient Jewish history.

What is the essence of this non-Jewish Judaism? Although Deutscher spoke only of a “non-Jewish Jew” and not of a different Judaism, what he had in mind was apparently a certain idea of Judaism. What connected these people, who were separated by time, living in quite different worlds? What would be the common denominator of Spinoza in the seventeenth century and Freud in the twentieth? Have they more in common than a mere negation of conventional Judaism?

In Deutscher's mind they were in the first place all rebels, whom he depicted eo ipso as particularly sensitive: Jews without roots in their community, yet who had roots in another intellectual tradition, and believed in the highest ideals of their own time. Deutscher describes them as the first victims of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism. They had to pay dearly for their original ideas. They were hated and persecuted, misunderstood and ignored.

This is a very romantic depiction of a phenomenon that is not uniquely Jewish. History saw many such victims: Socrates, Jan Hus, Jeanne d'Arc, or Galileo Galilei. However, Deutscher adds another characteristic to his models — that is, their tendency towards universalism.

Jewish religion has a complex attitude towards universalism. On the one hand, Judaism is the manifestation of an all-embracing monotheism, which is the highest degree of universalism possible. On the other hand, Jews are seen as the “chosen people.” This claim is the origin of a longstanding discord between Judaism, Paganism, and Christianity, and which in modernity was often attacked and even disapproved of by enlighteners and modernists, among them many Jews, who depicted Judaism as a primitive remnant of a narrow tribalism.

It might be an irony of fate that emancipated Jews hastened to free themselves of the “chosen people” stigma, to reach an untainted universalism, whereas Romanticism and nationalism rejected it. This, by now notoriously lifeless, rootless, and abstract universalism stuck with Jews and kindred souls. The long-sought goal of the Age of Reason was now branded as degenerate.

Isaac Deutscher, however, like many Jews who had fought hard for their universalism, remained true to this ideal. In the communist camp this was evident when Trotsky and his colleagues opposed Stalin's “Socialism in one land,” on behalf of a world revolution. It was not just slander when Stalin branded Trotsky's followers as Jews. Many of them actually were of Jewish origin, although they did not consider themselves Jews. This is perhaps the tragedy of the “non-Jewish Jew.” He is unsuspectingly accused of something that is meaningless to him and of which he is unconscious. Yet he is charged with thinking or acting not as a cosmopolitan or humanist, but as a Jew.

Deutscher attempts to consciously emphasize their Jewishness. He tries to eliminate the tragedy of the Jewish revolutionary by making it possible for him to have a positive attitude towards himself and his origins. The role of the Jewish humanist should now be a positive one, something to be proud of. The “non-Jewish Jew” therefore might fulfill a historic role, as a human being and a Jew. It is the recognition of the double-sided phenomenon — on the one hand the rejection of conventional Jewish history, and on the other a reintegration of the Jews in the course of human history at large.

Deutscher touched here upon something to which much earlier Jewish modernists had already aspired — an approval of Judaism, but a different type of Judaism. The Jewish Reform movement dealt with the problem in its own way. Other movements within modern Judaism, such as the Jewish National Movement, the Jewish Workers' Movements, and especially Socialist Zionists also chose this aim. Their goal, however, was to turn Jewishness into a reality, not only to provide a theoretical interpretation of Judaism. What was important for them, was not the essence of Judaism, but — as Martin Buber put it — a Jewish Renaissance.

Deutscher, on the other hand, did not try to influence Jewish reality as such, but looked only at individual phenomena of the past. Therefore he was led to use a theoretical interpretation of his Judaism. He talked about determinism, characteristic in his mind of the “non-Jewish Jew,” and about a dialectic philosophy which should unite all his models. He saw them as ethic relativists whose morality was dependent on practice. They were, according to Deutscher, convinced of the solidarity of humankind. Only in one aspect were they not of one opinion: although they were mostly optimists, he also included Heine with his vision of Germanic brutality.

Twelve years after the end of World War II, Deutscher asked himself, whether this optimism was justified. He reached a double conclusion: from a Jewish standpoint, the murder of the Jews (which, he believed, had left the people of Europe unmoved) was reason enough for pessimism. But he, Isaac Deutscher, was unable to be exclusively Jewish, and thus he found his way back to the hope that the world would eventually become a better place. This “principle of hope” remained Deutscher's credo, just as it did for the Marxist utopian Ernst Bloch.

Here I would like to add something about Isaac Deutscher’s relationship to Germany.
A month before his death Isaac Deutscher wrote about his father:

My father was an Orthodox Jew, in love with German culture, philosophy and poetry... He was always wanting to read German literature and German periodicals with me. He had himself, in his youth, published essays in the Neue Freie Presse, the best-known Viennese newspaper;... I did not share my father's partiality for German poetry. I was a Polish patriot…. “German,” he would say, “is the world language. Why should you bury all your talent in a provincial language? You have only to go beyond Auschwitz....” — Auschwitz was just near us, on the frontier — “you have only to go beyond Auschwitz, and practically nobody will understand you anymore, you and your fine Polish language. You really must learn German.” That was his ever-recurring refrain: “You must only go beyond Auschwitz and you will be totally lost, my son!” Impatient as I was, I often interrupted him: “I already know what you are going to say, father — You have only to go beyond Auschwitz, and you will be lost.” The tragic truth is that my father never went beyond Auschwitz. During the Second World War he disappeared into Auschwitz.3 Isaac Deutscher's life led him in the main towards cosmopolitanism. Yet he always felt as a Jew and looked for a compromise between his differing identities. Thus he found the “non-Jewish Jew.” But there he touched upon a topic, that goes far beyond his personal experience. It is essentially the question of modern Judaism and its relationship to the history and culture of Europe, in particular the issue of assimilated Jews and their identity. Was Heine only a German, or also a Jewish poet? Was Spinoza a Spaniard, a Dutchman, or perhaps in the first place a Jew? And Rosa Luxemburg — was she Polish, German, or Jewish? Can one not be all at the same time? The issue today has changed very much, but has not totally disappeared.

_______________

1. Tamara Deutscher, “Introduction. The Education of a Jewish Child,” in The Non-Jewish Jew. Isaac Deutscher, ed. by Tamara Deutscher (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 14–15.
2. Ibid., 22.
3. Ibid., 18–20.



 
 
The Importance of Knowing the Past

Simcha Epstein

As a researcher on antisemitism, from time to time I am doomed to receive strange letters. Such a document now lies in front of me. My honorable correspondent describes himself as “engaged in the independent study and activism in the field of antisemitism.” He takes a particular interest in one aspect of the subject, and hopes I can assist him. Then comes his question — quite genuine and serious — “As far as you know, has the Jewish community, anywhere or at any time, appealed to the Gentiles to fight antisemitism on the grounds that it is in own interest to do so? What can you tell me of such attempt(s)?”

This question leaves me speechless. Explaining to non-Jews that anti-Jewish hatred poses a threat not only to Jews but also to them, was actually one of the main arguments, if not the leading one, used by all bodies dedicated to the fight against antisemitism. At the end of the nineteenth century, French Jews claimed that antisemitism was in fact targeting the Republic, and that all true friends of democracy must take a stand against it. The Central Verein, which acted in Germany from the 1920s until the beginning of the 1930s, held many public assemblies and distributed a vast number of pamphlets and publications claiming that antisemitism could weaken and even ravage the Weimar regime, and that the German people must reject National-Socialism in its own best interests. During the 1930s, Jewish activist organizations in the United States were proud of what they deemed the “Americanization” of the fight against antisemitism, that is, their method of fighting hostility toward Jews by describing this hostility as being “anti-American.”

These three examples illustrate a strategy that was adopted in every country — from Poland to South-America, from Algeria to Hungary — before the Holocaust. It was used again when a revival of the first signs of anti-Jewish agitation appeared after 1945. Till this very day it has remained the key principle of any Jewish defense in the Diaspora. The explanation for the uni- versality and timelessness of this phenom- enon is obvious: when you're looking for allies, you know that to beg for compassion on humanitarian grounds is not enough, not to mention humiliating as well. You have to turn to your fellow man in terms of his self-interest. Everyone, including the Jews, recognizes this. It was true in the past, and it is true now.

And here I have my correspondent asking me candidly whether the Jews have already thought about what he probably considers to be a brilliant and innovative idea….

***

Forgetting the past is indeed a structural feature in the field of fighting antisemitism. Two more examples can display this.

Confronting antisemitism through recourse to the law is classic in contemporary Jewish history. In 1944, the British section of the World Jewish Congress published a long recapitulation of the anti-racist legislation which existed before the war in various countries such as Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, and so on. The judicial fight in fact started much earlier, at the end of the previous century. Jewish organizations, especially in Germany, collected individual complaints or excerpts from the press which might provide material for lawsuits. Jewish lawyers elaborated strategies that made optimal use of then-current legislation or demanded that new laws be adopted. They did not win all their suits, but they did succeed in many cases. Tons of material were published, in all languages, on that issue. But who cares? Decades later, in the beginning of the 1990s, an international association of Jewish lawyers stated publicly that it is determined to break the tradition of silence and passivity towards antisemitism. From now on, as a revolutionary step, it will go to the courts in order to fight any renewal of antisemitism. This group has done nothing apart from claiming that it will be active, but this approach is quite significant.

In a second example, large street demonstrations against antisemitism and racism have been recorded since the end of the nineteenth century. Such events took place in France in 1892, and even more so in 1899 during the Dreyfus affair. The streets of Germany were shaken by millions of republican, liberal, and socialist demon- strators after Walter Rathenau's murder in 1922. Huge anti-Nazi gatherings were held in Berlin in 1932. In other words, a mass gathering is an anti-racist weapon that was used extensively in these two countries as well as in others, before the Holocaust. And more than fifty years later, we were confronted by a new series of protest parades: in Paris, after the cemetery desecration of Carpentras (May 1990); in Berlin, after a new wave of neo-Nazi violent riots (November 1992). Both were impressive, but both were marked by a strong feeling, shared by the participants themselves and also by many journalists and observers, that they were the first to occur in history. This false perception of reality contributed greatly to the optimistic atmosphere that characterized these two events. For the first time, they said, France was protesting in her boulevards. For the first time, they added, Germany has risen against hatred.

This belief of being the first to do something that has already been done thousands of times in hundreds of places is not unique to those who fight — or more accurately, to those who think they fight —antisemitism. It can be found in every field of human activity. But in our discipline, erasing the past plays a far more critical role than in any other, for a very simple but also very meaningful reason.

Deleting from out collective memory the former battles against antisemitism allows us to avoid the debate on the effectiveness of the fight. It allows new generations of such so-called fighters to go into combat without needing to check the arsenal they are about to use. Isn't it new, brand new? For the first time, they are going to explain that antisemitism is a threat for all and not only for the Jews; they are going to prosecute the Jew-baiters; they are going to organize mass rallies.... No doubt, victory will be theirs. Ignoring the past leads them to overestimate their capacity to deal with the enemy.

***

Léon Poliakov (1910–1997)

In relation to these remarks, I would like, on behalf of our Center, to pay tribute to the memory of Léon Poliakov. Born in St. Petersburg, he emigrated to France with his family in 1920. As one of the greatest historians of antisemitism in our day, Léon Poliakov developed research on antisemitism as a discipline per se, not as a secondary by-product of other intellectual or academic categories. He considered — and very rightly so — that the subject was important enough to be addressed independently, on the documentary, analytic, and interpretative levels. Among his numerous and valuable books and articles, his imposing four-volume History of Antisemitism has inspired and encouraged many students and scholars. They do not necessarily share all of his views, but they are all grateful for his contribution to research and learning. 



SICSA on the World Wide Web

The Center inaugurated its website in 1994. At that time, we were pioneers on the WWW. Since then, we have been joined by many prestigious academic and activist organizations, many of which have created links to our site.

The website, maintained by Roz Arzt, is constantly being improved and updated. Anyone searching for material on antisemitism on the “information superhighway” will find us.

Our home page consists of a menu guiding the visitor to information on our various activities and projects. Via our home page, the Felix Posen Bibliographic Project online databases can be accessed and searched. In addition, the full text of the ACTA occasional papers are now online, along with information about ordering our publications.

We invite you to take a look:

http://sicsa.huji.ac.il

Among the comments received:

This is a brilliant website and an excellent research tool for researchers worldwide. I am at the moment setting up a researchers’ website on a related field (national stereotypes and prejudice in Europe) and will give a hyperlink to this site. Congratulations – best of luck in maintaining thehigh standards and excellent usefulness.”
 
Joep Leerssen, Europese Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam


Discussion:

A Broken Balance

Leon Volovici

A comprehensive selection of Moses Gaster’s memoirs and correspondence, edited by Victor Eskenasy, was recently published by Hasefer Publishing House in Bucharest. It forms an impressive testimony to one of the most outstanding East European Jewish scholars, who, after his expulsion from Romania in 1885, was named Rabbi of the London Sefardi community.

Moses Gaster (1856–1939), famous as a folklorist and Bible exegete, is a wonderful example of a modern Central and East European Jewish intellectual of the type that appeared after the Enlightenment. Such intellectuals were familiar with, and sometimes specialists on Hebraic studies and Jewish tradition; they were strongly involved in Jewish and Zionist activities. At the same time they were open to the majority culture of their country, even, as in Gaster’s case, becoming an outstanding figure in this culture.

His case reminds me, by contrast, of one of the most unfair images of this category of Jewish intellectuals in a recent, very controversial book, Albert S. Lindemann’s Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 1997). Here, the example of the Romanian Jewish elite of the nineteenth century is insistently used in the attempt to demonstrate the book’s basic premise: that the rise of the Jew was “the most fundamental cause of modern racial and political anti-Semitism.”

The author’s starting point is a legitimate questioning of the Jewish traditional historiography that presents the history of the Diaspora as a chain of persecution, and the Jews only as passive and innocent victims. Very quickly, however, the proposed balance is broken, and the presence of “Jews” is presented as the main cause of traditional, religious, and modern antisemitism.

The treatment of the Romanian case is most eloquent in this regard. There is os- tensibly some justification for the anti-Jewish hostility of the nineteenth-century Romanian nationalists. Some of the author’s general assessments seem to be excerpted from their discourses:

As in the Pale of Settlement, Jews in Romania served as agents for the large landholders, and were described as alien, parasitic, and contemptuous of the non-Jewish people among whom they lived. And even more than in the Pale, such judgments were both plausible and widely accepted as accurate, even by Jewish observers … even Romanian moderates, almost without exception, described Jews as alien and exploitative (p. 307). During the debate on civil rights for Romanian Jews that took place during the Berlin Peace Conference (1878), the Romanian people “had been demonized” and “Jews had taken a leading role in that demonization” (p. 308). What about the Romanian antisemitic discourse concerning the Jewish population? Here, the author attempts to be “balanced” that is, the antisemitic discourse is justified, less proven, and presumptive: “The activities and nature of the Jews in Romania had something quite palpably to do with the hatred directed at them” (p. 309). The Romanian Jews “insisted on retaining a different language and culture and who denigrated Romanian culture”
(p. 312).

Finally, a similar assumption is based on a reference to William Oldson’s Providential Anti-Semitism: Nationalism and Polity in Nineteenth-Century Romania (1991), which supposedly offers proof of “Jewish belittlement of Romanian culture” and refusal to speak the Romanian language. Lindemann writes:

Certainly the overwhelming majority of those who had been in Romania for as much as three generations had not made the effort, in sharp contrast to the way in which Hungarian Jews had in the course of the same years embraced Magyar language and culture” (p. 312). Looking at Oldson's text, pp. 122–29, we find a summary of the main anti-Jewish arguments in the writing of outstanding Romanian intellectuals of the period. On
p. 129, Oldson refers to the antisemitic stance of a great Romanian historian: “Xenopol in addition attacked the country's Jewish community for an alleged patronizing attitude towards Romanian culture that singled them out among the world’s Jewish populations.... But Jews in Romania, even when they were third generation residents, still misused the mother tongue.” And Oldson's conclusion: “The foundation of Xenopol’s antisemitism rested on the view that the Jews in Romania composed a foreign nation” (p. 129). Re- establishing the truth, the source for Lindemann's assumption is not the American scholar but the nineteenth-century representative of the nationalist trend. The same method is used for other claims; the antisemitic stands are always taken as credible. The moral decay and alienness of Romania’s Jews became obvious: “Western observers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were almost unanimous in recognizing the ‘characteristic Jewish vices,’ the low moral tone of Jews in Romania” (p. 314).

The sins of the Romanian Jews and their relevance for the main thesis of the book are resumed in the final conclusions of the book, with the same astonishing argument:In Romania, Jews resisted becoming Romanian and mostly ignored or even denigrated Romanian culture and history” (pp. 537–38).

Anyone with even a decent knowledge of the history of Romanian Jews will wonder about this appalling, really denigrating, conclusion.

In spite of their social isolation and lack of civil rights, the rapid acculturation of a significant segment of the Jews from Wallachia and Moldavia was evident in the second half of the nineteenth century. Nearly simultaneous with the process of molding modern Romanian cultural institutions was the appearance of a Romanian Jewish elite integrated into that culture. Taking into consideration their unresolved civil status, their performance is impressive. Jewish journals in the Romanian language discussing Jewish community problems began to appear in 1859, and flourished in the following decades. Among the prominent Romanian scholars of this period are well-known Jewish intellectuals: Julius Barash (an outstanding scholar and Hebraist, born in Galicia) was the first editor of a Romanian-language scientific journal and the author of first Romanian scientific encyclopedia (1852); Heimann Tiktin, the son of a rabbi from Breslau, was the author of a monumental dictionary of the Romanian language; and Moses Gaster, whom we mentioned previously, began his scientific career in 1877 at the age of 21 with a dissertation at the Leipzig University on the historical phonetics of the Romanian language and later became one of Romania's greatest folklorists.

Of course, if we follow Lindemann's hypothesis, their “rise” and “penetration” into Romanian culture (among many others) is also a “fundamental factor” of antisemitism. Nevertheless, it is far from being an expression of the “rejection” or “denigration” of Romanian language and culture by a group that lacked civil rights and was exposed to discrimination. Moreover, some of the great Romanian-Jewish scholars, such as Tiktin, Gaster, and Saineanu — all of them eminent Romanian philologists — were expelled from Romania in the 1880s. Sometimes there was even an exaggerated effort at integration: some of the leading nationalist intellectuals who shared antisemitic stands (Hasdeu, Alecsandri, or Xenopol himself) had some Jewish ancestry!

I would say, in the end, that Esau's Tears is a paradigmatic case in which an experienced historian has fallen victim to a premise transformed in a kind of a priori “truth.” When the historical complexity of facts does not confirm the theories, the premise replaces the reality, provoking a total distortion and prejudiced image, instead of the promised “calm and balanced analysis.” ¯


Internet Inroads

Alifa Saadya

It’s well-known that the internet, like all other media, hosts many unsavoury elements: hate groups, various religious and political fanatics, conspiracy theory adherents, all sorts of nuts, cranks, and even criminals. At the same time, there is educational material on every conceivable subject, a truly astonishing amount of information on religion and spirituality.

I recently accessed a site dedicated to the Russian Orthodox nun, Mother Maria Skobtsova; anticipating that I would find merely another pious biography.

Surprisingly, Mother Maria turned out to be of importance in twentieth-century Jewish history. Born Elizaveta Pilenko in Riga in 1891, she became a recognized poet in St. Petersburg literary circles. She was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, but when the Bolsheviks gained power, she left St. Petersburg for Anapa on the Black Sea coast. Eventually she and her family migrated to France. After the death of her four-year-old daughter, Elizaveta turned to religion, and was encouraged by her bishop to become of nun. On making her vows in 1932, she took the name Maria. Rather than entering a monastic community, however, she chose to continue living in the world. She spent her life giving assistance to other Russian émigrés in Paris, some desperately poor, ill, in mental hospitals, or in prison.

During the German occupation, Mother Maria worked with her parish priest, Father Dmitri Klepinin, to aid Jews by providing food and shelter. Father Klepinin issued false baptismal certificates, and Mother Maria is perhaps best known for her efforts to smuggle children out of the Vel d’Hiver — the Paris sports stadium where thousands of arrested Jews were held during the roundups of July 1942.

On February 8, 1943, she and Father Klepinin were arrested by the Germans. Father Klepinin died in the Dora concentration camp in 1944. Mother Maria was sent to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück, where she died on the eve of Easter 1945.

The rescue efforts of Mother Maria and Father Klepinin have been recognized by Yad Vashem; a chapter devoted to her appears in Mordechai Paldiel’s book, The Path of the Righteous; and a photograph of her appears on the website of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.1

The web site dedicated to her was designed by Ray Mastroberte, an American icon- ographer in the Orthodox tradition.2 When I first accessed the site on July 5, 1998, I discovered a beautiful icon of Mother Maria and a number of Orthodox prayers in her honor. Links to several brief biographies appear there, along with a surprising number of links to other websites about the Holocaust. These included, among others, the Ravensbrück Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” website, a lengthy oral testimony by a Jewish survivor of Ravensbrück, and a Map of Concentration Camps and Killing Centers.

Another link referred to information about “concentration camp deaths.” Curious, I went to this site, and was shocked to find an article by Arthur R. Butz — an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, better known as the author of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (1976). His book was published by the Institute for Historical Review, which specializes in books that deny that any genocide of Jews took place during World War II. Butz asserts that concentration camp deaths were merely the result of the general deprivations of wartime, and a lack of sanitary facilities that led to the spread of typhus and other communicable diseases. The article is buttressed with numerous statistics and academic-looking footnotes. His web site, incidentally, is available on the Northwestern University server, which refuses to remove it in the name of “academic freedom.”

Clearly, Mr. Mastroberte had no idea that he had linked his own web page to that of a Holocaust denier. I contacted him to tell him how impressed I was with his site about Mother Maria and the Holocaust, and to express concern that he had evidently unwittingly added a link to one of the more notorious Holocaust deniers. The following morning I had a reply:

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It was not my intention to link any hate-organizations to my page honoring Mother Maria. When I looked for information and statistics on the holocaust, I only saw numbers and never looked at the source. I removed it immediately…. Thus, the deniers insidiously spread their message among even those whose intentions are opposite to their own.

It is not sufficient merely to take note of such things. Virtually all web sites have an email contact address for feedback to the site designers, or a “Guestbook” where one can leave comments. In cases like this, the designer will appreciate knowing about their error. Efforts to prevent the spread of these lies now requires a new level of vigilance.

__________________________

1. The Museum of Tolerance:

http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/gallery/pg47/pg0/pg47086.html

2. The Mother Maria Skobtsova site: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/4541/
 
 

Rev. Edward H. Flanary, a Catholic priest involved for many years in Jewish-Christian dialogue, died on October 19, 1998 in Providence, Rhode Island, aged 86. His book, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-three Centuries of Antisemitism (1964; rev. ed. 1985), received the National Catholic Book Award. In The Cross in Jewish-Christian Relations (1991), he addressed the opposing meanings attached by Jews and Christians to this essential Christian symbol. Father Flannary served as director of Catholic-Jewish relations at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1967 to 1976, and was professor at the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. In addition he served as consultor to the Vatican Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, and president of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.

His lifelong efforts in encouraging a profound change in the attitude toward Jews and Judaism among both clergy and laity are much appreciated.