“Mark Twain and the Jews”
To the Editor:
Cynthia Ozick [“Mark Twain and the Jews,” May] is certainly correct that Mark Twain’s writing on the Jews, even at its most philo-Semitic, was based on the anti-Semitic canards of his day. At the same time, Twain’s essay, “Concerning the Jews,” contained a valuable lesson for the Jews of his time which is just as significant today. That essay was written in response to letters Twain received from American Jewish readers who were perplexed by the anti-Semitic violence which had broken out after clashes in the Viennese imperial parliament, and which, as Miss Ozick discusses, was chronicled in Twain’s “Stirring Times in Austria.” “The show of military force in the Austrian parliament which precipitated the [anti-Jewish] riots was not introduced by any Jew,” wrote one of Twain’s Jewish readers. And, he continued:
No Jew was a member of that body. No Jewish question was involved in the Ausgleich [treaty of confederation between Austria and Hungary] or in the language proposition [whether German or Czech would be Bohemia's official language]. No Jew was insulting anybody. In short, no Jew was doing any mischief toward anybody whatsoever. In fact, the Jews were the only ones of nineteen different races in Austria which did not have a party—they were absolutely non-participants. Yet in your article you say that in the rioting which followed, all classes of people were unanimous only on one thing—viz., being against the Jews.
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