No Hitler, No Holocaust
For some years after the Bolshevik Revolution, young people in the Soviet Union could leave school thinking that Peter the Great was the name given to economic modernization and political centralization in late feudal Russia. Their teachers’ insistence on impersonal historical forces had turned a person into a personification, an abstraction, a metaphor.
Hitler has been disappearing behind abstractions. If he is mentioned at all, it is likely to be as a metaphor.
In 1982 two articles with “Holocaust” in their titles appeared here, Henryk Grynberg’s “Appropriating the Holocaust” (November) and Hyam Maccoby’s “Theologian of the Holocaust” (December). Each mentions Hitler only once, and only in a quotation: Grynberg quotes the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, “. . . the Jews were Hitler’s primary victims. . . ,” and Maccoby quotes Emil Fackenheim, “Jews are forbidden to grant posthumous victories to Hitler.”
In Jacob Katz’s “Was the Holocaust Predictable?” (May 1975), on the other hand, Hitler is real. Katz says “Hitler” 28 times, “Führer” twice, “one man” once, and “this man” once. I wish he had not stopped just short of saying, explicitly, “No Hitler, no Holocaust.”
No Hitler, no Holocaust. And if there had been no Churchill?
Thoughts like these trouble us both intellectually and emotionally. Intellectually, believing that Hitler nearly destroyed our world, or that Churchill saved it, can seem close to believing with Carlyle—of whom Jews, especially, are bound to be leery—that history is but the biography of great men. It can seem close to taking literally Pascal’s meditation on Cleopatra’s nose. Many of the best historians in the past generation or two have held biography, the concern with the particulars of the life of this personage or that, to be rather quaint, a form of gossip. Nor have they a much more exalted opinion of narrative (“what happened”) history. For them what counts is geography, demography, technology, mentalités. They see great men and events affecting the human race little more decisively than Cleopatra’s unsnubby nose did.
Understanding Bishop Berkeley’s philosophy to deny that physical objects are real, Samuel Johnson said, “I refute it thus,” and kicked a stone. Did some of the new historians refute their own philosophy by taking care to vote when Mitterrand and Giscard contested the Presidency of France?
If it is wrong to hold any one man responsible for the fateful dementia of World War I, it is not wrong to hold the one man Lenin responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. He was no more of his time and place than any other Russian, yet only he, in his particularity of heredity and environment, of constraint and freedom, did what he did. By himself he could not have made the revolution, but without him it would not have been made and we would be living in a different world entirely. Lenin was not the sufficient cause, but he was the necessary cause.
And so with Hitler. Hitler willed and ordered the Holocaust, and was obeyed. Traditions, tendencies, ideas, myths—none of these made Hitler murder the Jews. All that history, all those forces and influences, could have been the same and Hitler could as easily, more easily, not have murdered the Jews. He could more advantageously have tightened the screw of oppression. That the Jews were not being murdered, that they were only being humiliated and exploited, would not have caused his followers to grumble, let alone to rebel.
Anti-Semitism was a necessary condition for the Holocaust, it was not a sufficient condition. Hitler was needed. Hitler murdered the Jews because he wanted to murder them.
Nor does anti-Semitism explain the men who pulled the triggers or released the gas. Let us suppose that Hitler’s Viennese years had made him as anti-Slavic as anti-Semitic, or maybe even more. Or let us suppose that on account of German memory, anxiety, and ambition Hitler had decided that rather than murder the Jews, or before murdering them, he should subjugate the Slavs, starting with gas chambers and execution squads to rid himself of the educated. Would there have been any lack of men to carry out such an order? The thing would have been done, as in large part it was done.
Maccoby recalls “Himmler’s notorious speech to SS officers in which he lectured them on the moral imperative of stifling their feelings of nausea about the mass killings” of Jews. If Himmler had lectured the SS officers on the moral imperative of steeling themselves to their heroically hard duty of extirpating the Slavic peril, they would have been as dutiful about Slavs as they were about Jews. The obedience of Himmler and the SS was to Hitler, not to anti-Semitism. Himmler was anti-Russian as well as anti-Semitic, but when Hitler made his pact with Stalin the SS cooperated cheerfully with the NKVD.
That one man made so much difference may be even harder to accept emotionally than intellectually. The disproportionate frightens us. We need to believe that causes are proportionate to effects. We want to think that our world is a cosmos, and here is evidence that our world is a chaos. We feel bad enough knowing about the Holocaust, but if we have to accept that one man decreed the Holocaust we can feel still worse. We would rather talk about socioeconomic stresses and strains, political backwardness, group psychopathology, religious hatred, racism.
All those things were indeed there, and Hitler was indeed affected by them—affected, not determined. Those things necessarily meant trouble for the Jews, they did not necessarily mean Holocaust.
Applauding Fackenheim’s resolve to “reject all facile deterministic explanations—such as the attempts to interpret the Holocaust in terms of economics, or xenophobia, or the vicissitudes of German history—” Maccoby nevertheless yields to his own determinism. He tells us that we must understand “the Christian background of the Holocaust.” For him anti-Semitism is inseparable, all but indistinguishable, from a timeless, unchanging Christianity: “The Jews in the [Christian] scheme are . . . the earthly agents of the cosmic powers of evil. . . . When a community [viz., Christendom] has been taught over the centuries that it is . . . virtuous to persecute them [viz., the Jews], it is only a step (albeit a large one)” to that speech of Himmler’s.
This is like saying “it is only a step (albeit a large one)” from an uncomfortable fever of 100° to a lethal fever of 107.° The step is not from less to more, it is from one kind to another kind altogether. “Only a step (albeit a large one)” papers over a chasm.
I know a man who was a young lawyer in Germany when he was forced to close his office and prepare to emigrate. When his secretary cried, he said, “Don’t worry. This sort of thing happens to us every two or three hundred years.” He meant being cast down from the heights to the depths, for which there were precedents aplenty in Jewish history. He could not imagine the Holocaust. It lacked precedent.
Maccoby knows, of course, that “the Holocaust . . . had not yet happened in world history.” Why did it finally happen, and only in the fifth decade of the 20th century? He adduces “the continuance into the post-Christian era of deeply-implanted fantasies about the Jews” and “the release afforded by Nazism from all vestiges of the restraint imposed by traditional Christian morality, which had hitherto acted as a counterweight to [anti-Jewish] Christian mythology.” But is not “the release . . . from . . . traditional Christian morality” in a “post-Christian era” only another way of saying that not Christianity but the weakening or supersession of Christianity was responsible for the Holocaust?
A further proof of Christianity’s responsibility, he says, is that “unsophisticated . . . people in Europe” later reasoned that after all, the Jews “are the Christ-killers, aren’t they?” But simple people may have said that out of a simple need for theodicy, the vindication of God’s justice. Jews call this zidduq haddin, at burials declaring with the Bible, “The Rock, His doing is perfect.” In Israel itself simple Jews from Muslim lands have been known to say that the Ashkenazim who perished in the Holocaust must have been very sinful, for God to punish them so.
When people who are not simple say such a thing we have a more serious problem. For the late Rav of Satmar and his disciples, the Holocaust was a visitation upon the whole house of Israel for the rebellion of too many of its sons and daughters against God and His commandments, and for their attaching themselves to the Devil (the “Other Side”) and his Zionism. Satmar is not simple, only implacably anti-modern. In a modern such a theodicy is particularly hard to stomach. I shall never forget my revulsion, and everyone else’s, when to a group of Jewish theologians and writers a professor of philosophy intoned, in an exaggerated East European (mis)-pronunciation of the Hebrew, his solution to reconciling Holocaust with God’s justice: the penultimate verse of the psalm that a Jew recites more often than any other, the 145th: “The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked will He destroy.”
Christianity was hostile to the Jews and Judaism, but when Christianity ruled and was strong Jews knew subordination, expulsion, even massacre, not Holocaust. If one sentence can summarize Church law and practice over many centuries, it is this: the Jews are to be allowed to live, but not too well.
Obviously, this does not mean that most Jews fared worse than most Christians: think of 12th-century England or 19th-century Russia. Or take literacy. About medieval Western Europe, G.G. Coulton concluded that the average Jewish layman was more literate than not only the average Christian layman but also the average priest, the Christians’ specialist in literacy. “Not living too well” is the sort of thing implicit in Casanova’s saying that for a doctorate in law he wrote a dissertation on the prohibition of building a synagogue higher than a church. The dissertation may have been fictitious but the prohibition was real.
Muslim countries prohibited Jews from riding horseback. In Jerusalem I once asked a mounted policeman for directions. To talk to him I had to crane my neck, I had to look up to him. A pedestrian has to look up to an equestrian. For Muslims it was unnatural to look up to a Jew, and not only for Muslims. To Christians, Saladin was a foeman worthy of Richard Lion-Heart’s steel. After the eviction of the last Crusaders from the Holy Land, Christians of all sorts, Western and Eastern, Latin and Greek and Syrian and Armenian and Coptic, became used to Muslims on horseback protecting the Christian Holy Places and keeping the peace between the Christian sects. But Jews on horseback? Jewish police protecting Christian Holy Places and keeping the peace between the Christian sects? A Jewish state in the Holy Land? Unnatural. It occurred to me then that such feelings might help to explain the coldness téward Israel of Christians like the late Bible scholar Father Roland de Vaux, and maybe of the Vatican.
In general harsh in his judgment of Christianity, on one point Maccoby is too tender. It was not “traditional Christian morality” which kept Christendom from killing Jews. Charlemagne did not doubt his Christian morality when he proved the truth of Christianity to the pagan Saxons by killing them. Some centuries later, Charlemagne’s successors likewise did not doubt their Christian morality when they disproved the Albigensian heresy by killing the Albigensians. In World War II the Ustashi, Croatian Catholic Christians, murdered as many Serbian Orthodox Christians as they could, and it now appears that the Ustashi were encouraged by Franciscans, whose patron saint, they tell us, would not hurt a fly. More than “traditional Christian morality” it was “Christian mythology,” the special place of Jews and Judaism in Christian teaching, that granted the Jews a special privilege of life. In principle, at least, the Inquisition had jurisdiction not over Jews but only over Christian heretics and apostates, actual or suspected, including ex-Jewish Christians and their descendants.
In the Ashkenazi rite, Av harahamim (“Merciful Father”) memorializes the Jewish martyrs killed by Crusaders in the Rhineland. It is a prayer for divine retribution, prefiguring in sentiment, if not in art, Milton’s “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont”: “Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints” the Waldensians. Ivan G. Marcus (Prooftexts, January 1982) summarizes the 12th-century German churchman Albert of Aix’s denunciation:
. . . when the Crusader rabble was itself decimated in Hungary, that disaster was a sign of God’s judgment. The Christians who had violated Church law by forcibly converting, not to speak of murdering, Jews were themselves justly punished.
It bears repeating: the Church law that protected Jews embodied “Christian morality” less than it embodied “Christian mythology.”
In modern times, with the dethronement or mildening of Christianity in the enlightened parts of Europe, the Jews’ privilege of life was replaced by a right to citizenship. Hitler revoked both.
Was Hitler a Christian? He was an anti-Semite, and Maccoby tells us that anti-Semitism lies at the heart of Christianity.
The Jews are old, Christianity is old, hatred of the Jews is old. “Anti-Semitism, -ic, -ite” are so new that they do not appear as entries on their own in the Oxford English Dictionary. “Anti-Semite,” undefined and dated 1881, only illustrates “anti-.” (“Semite” mentions “Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, and Aramaeans,” not Jews in the present.) “Semitic” includes a parenthesis: “(In recent use often spec. = Jewish).” For “Semitism” one definition, illustrated by something written in 1885, is “In recent use, Jewish ideas or Jewish influence in politics and society.” “Anti-Semitism,” therefore, is only a hundred years old in England and only slightly older on the Continent, where the word originated Why the new name for an old thing?
The thing was not altogether old.
In World War I some German had the bad idea of saying that the British soldiers were militarily contemptible, so they promptly called themselves the Old Contemptibles That is not how it was with the anti-Semites. They coined the name for themselves, and “anti-Semitism” for what they believed and propagandized. They needed a new name to distinguish their enmity to the Jews from the older, religious kind. They did not believe that Christianity was truer and better than Judaism, or that Jews were to be guarded against because of their Judaism: “Say this for the old-fashioned Jews, they are easier to recognize and guard against than the modern kind, who are abandoning their Judaism.” Those who used the new name believed something new, that the uncreative, parasitic Semitic race endangered the creative, productive Aryan race. The neologism took root and spread, displacing the older “Jew-hatred.” Soon people were also using it anachronistically, so to speak, as by applying it to antiquity.
Aside from the troubling anomaly of the New Christians in Spain, tainted indelibly by their Jewish blood, the rule in Christendom was that baptism, which Christians were exhorted to promote zealously, made a Jew into a Christian; but a Nazi ditty went: “Ob Jud, ob Christ, ist einerlei,/In der Rasse liegt die Schweinerei” (“Whether the man’s a Jew or a Christian makes no difference, it’s his race that’s filthy”). Many anti-Semites hated Christianity itself as Jewish. Ludendorff, second only to Hindenburg among the Kaiser’s war lords, wanted Germans to throw off Semitic Christianity and return as good Teutons to Woden and his pantheon. Neal Ascherson reports (New York Review, November 24, 1983) that Klaus Barbie the boy had been a Catholic but that Barbie the member of the Hitler Youth was “committed to anticlerical neopaganism.”
Anti-Christian anti-Semites could play down their anti-Christianity in order to make a united front with Christian anti-Semites, and Christian anti-Semites could contrive not to notice the anti-Christianity of people otherwise estimable for their anti-Semitism. The Christian and anti-Christian anti-Semites agreed that the Jews, having by a swindle acquired French/German/etc. citizenship, were now swindling, corrupting, and lording it over the true Frenchmen/Germans/etc.
Hitler the boy was Christian but Hitler the man was anti-Christian. (Remarkably, this enemy of the liberal Enlightenment scorned Judaism and Christianity not like Ludendorff the Teutonizer but like Voltaire the Enlightener.) Hitler was about as Christian as Stalin, the ex-seminarian.
Grynberg agrees with Maccoby: “. . . the Holocaust was prepared and caused by Christian anti-Semitism. . . .”
Grynberg “left Poland in 1967.” The late Sam Levenson used to say that Jewish kids don’t go to summer camp, they’re sent. That is funny. What is less funny is that in 1967, the year when Israel had the impudence to win the Six-Day War, Jews did not leave Poland, they were pushed out. Gentile Poles were happy with Israel’s victory because it was a black eye for Moscow and Moscow’s puppets in Warsaw: “Our Jews beat their Arabs.” Jews were happy because—well, because they found to their surprise that they were still Jews, a little. The Polish government could not banish all those Poles, but it could banish nearly all the Jews.
Between the two world wars the ratio of Jews to the total population was higher in Poland than anywhere else except Palestine. Jews were Polish in citizenship, but for the most part not in language or culture. Governments were Christian and nationalist. They were also anti-Semitic, some more than others. In a notorious incident in the 30’s a Polish government did not readmit Polish Jews whom the Nazis had expelled from Germany, but no Christian Polish government ever expelled Polish Jews.
In 1967 no more than one or two Jews were left in Poland for every hundred in 1937. This remnant was Polish in language, culture, and national feeling. The government was Marxist, anti-Christian. Christian Polish governments had not expelled un-Polish Polish Jews, but an anti-Christian government expelled Polish Polish, Marxist, anti-Zionist Jews—as “Zionists.”
Grynberg reminds us that the Pope visiting Auschwitz repeatedly apostrophized the slain as Jews. In the Soviet Union the anti-Christian authorities have never consented to recognize the slain of Babi Yar as Jews.
In 1968 the Polish army’s journal based a good part of its case against “Zionism” on a denial of the Bible’s account of the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt and their exodus under Moses. Even if we concede the relevance of such antiquarianism, the argument remains odd. Marxists pride themselves on being wissenschaftlich, scientific, and modern Wissenschaft of the Bible and the ancient Near East, whether practiced by believers or by unbelievers, Jews or Christians, is skeptical of what the Bible says about Egypt and exodus. Marxists might therefore be expected to crow that even believers, so long as they make any claim to Wissenschaft, must pooh-pooh the Bible as history. Instead those Polish Marxists chose to put forth a bit of anti-Semitica situated not in any pretense to modern scholarship, nor in any Christian tradition however anti-Jewish, but in a pagan tradition stretching back to Tacitus and finally to Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived some centuries before Christianity. Countering the Jews’ version of their history with his anti-Jewish version, Manetho said that a thousand years earlier the Israelites had left Egypt not triumphantly but shamefully, expelled as lepers.
The main reason why the Polish Marxists repeated this ancient nonsense, preferring it to traditional Christian anti-Judaism and to modern Bible scholarship, must be that Marx himself had repeated it. Only that tradition about Egypt and exodus derides the Israelites. Both in antiquity and in modern times it has been used to legitimate enlightened distaste for the Jews.
Just a few intellectual generations before Marx, mediated to him by the French Enlightenment of the 18th century and radical German Protestant theology of the early 19th, were the English deists, of whom Thomas Morgan was particularly nasty. On one of the Ten Plagues he wrote:
And perhaps, one Reason why the Egyptian Sorcerers could not create Lice, might be because they had none about them, and the Israelites were better stock’d; for according to all Antiquity, Leprosy, Scabs, and Lice, were some of the Plagues with which these Shepherds, before their Expulsion had infested the Egyptians.
Traditionalist Christians might hate Jews and Judaism, but none ever jeered at Israelite sacred history and especially its core, the exodus. They believed that that history now belonged to them, the new Israel of the spirit, having passed to them from the Jews, the old, disinherited Israel of the flesh. Only an anti-Christian could laugh about “Scabs, and Lice” and “Expulsion,” and only in reliance upon the anti-Jewish pagans of “all Antiquity.”
Having suffered from anti-Christian anti-Semitism, Grynberg condemns Christian anti-Semitism. And though, like Maccoby, Grynberg denounces abstractions, for him too Hitler is hardly more than an abstraction.
In a way, it is easier to understand the Christians who blame Christianity for the Holocaust than the Jews who blame it. Historian or theologian, a Christian can feel that for Christians it is morally insufficient to strike the balance dispassionately and judge that Christianity in the 20th century is not primarily responsible for the Holocaust. But there is more. Perhaps without being aware of it, Christians may be moved to say that Christianity is responsible because responsibility implies power, and they would rather think Christianity guilty and still powerful than guiltless and powerless. Be that as it may, such people recognize an obligation of Christian teachers to lead their fellow Christians in contrition and in confession of sin.
One-sidedness in preaching need not be a vice, and historically Christians have had less cause than Jews to fear being overheard by the Others, the unfriendly majority. When the Israeli commission of inquiry found Israel’s government and army indirectly responsible for the killings by Lebanese Christians in Shatila and Sabra, many Jews outside Israel were upset. They thought, “That may be all very well to say in Israel, it’s a Jewish state. But here, what will the Gentiles think? Won’t they just love hearing Jews say that Jews are murderers!” Catholics amid Protestants may have corresponding reticences, and Protestants amid Catholics, but seldom Christians as such. If Christians overemphasize the guilt of Christianity, that does them honor. Let them by all means continue—provided, however, that in emphasizing how anti-Semitic Christianity was in the past they do not deny how anti-Semitic neopaganism can be in the present. Chastising what is left of Christendom, some Christians now tend to be if not pro-neopagan then at least anti-anti-neopagan.
So, precisely because Christians, or most of them, would rather not hear about Christian anti-Semitism, their teachers ought to tell them about it. Applying the principle of telling people what they would rather not hear, what should Jewish teachers tell Jews? But first, what do we like and what do we dislike to hear?
John G. Gager’s Origins of Anti-Semitism1 is an impressive addition to scholarship. The book’s substantive findings are evenhanded:
Only in a highly restricted sense can Western anti-Semitism be said to originate in pagan and Christian antiquity. The presumption of a universal anti-Semitism in antiquity, pagan or Christian, has been made possible only by suppressing, ignoring, or misinterpreting the mass of nonconforming evidence.
That is Gager the scholar, the authority on early Christian society. Gager the citizen says that as a concerned but disinterested outsider to the Jewish-Christian debate—doubtless meaning that he is not a Jew and no longer is a Christian—he thinks it necessary to restore balance by emphasizing the good in pagan antiquity, on acount of the prevalent “belief in a uniformly anti-Semitic pagan antiquity . . . [which] has in different ways served the interests of both Christians and Jews.”
It is Gager the citizen that I am not sure I agree with fully. The reason he suggests for Christians’ belief in a uniformly anti-Semitic pagan antiquity is plausible: “It has served to absolve Christianity of full responsibility for anti-Semitism in the West.” Less plausible are his finding that Jews share the belief and the reason he suggests for it: “Pagan persecution is held to have greatly strengthened the cohesiveness which has enabled Judaism to survive.”
A priori, Gager should be right. The Jews’ three pilgrimage festivals celebrate redemption from Egyptian bondage and triumph over that primordial, archetypal pagan oppressor, Pharaoh. Moses’ Song at the Sea is part of the Jewish prayer book, to be recited every morning of the year. In Exodus we are commanded to remember the Sabbath because of Creation, in Deuteronomy to keep the Sabbath because of our bondage in Egypt. Accordingly, our Sabbath benediction is in commemoration—zikkaron, zekher—of both. Purim celebrates victory over the pagan enemy Haman, and Hanukkah over the pagan enemy Antiochus. So much for our celebrations. Our mournings—primarily Tish’ah be’Av—recall the destruction of the First Temple by the pagan Nebuchadnezzar and of the Second by the pagan Titus.
What an outsider can miss is that the very Jews who rejoice on the feasts and mourn on the fasts can be taken aback when asked to remember that all these enemies were pagan, and that all but Titus were pre-Christian. The unstated assumption, by no means limited to the ignorant and unsophisticated, is that Gentiles = Christians. (I had to keep reminding myself that a Baghdadi Jew’s reminiscences about Gentiles were about Muslims.)
Maccoby says that behind “the world’s” transparently anti-Jewish denunciation of Israel for killings perpetrated by Christians is, again, Christianity. But even better than Americans he as a European should know that that denunciatory world was mostly the world of leftist parties and journalists, nearly all Gentile but few Christian. After terrorists attacked a Roman synagogue, wounding many and killing a little boy, a remorseful Italian journalist cried out that the media, slipping from anti-Israel to anti-Jewish, had in effect incited the attack. I do not think he was referring chiefly to l’Osservatore Romano.
Once, speaking in Israel to mostly Modern Orthodox Jews, I said: If the Church had wished, no more Jews than Albigensians would have survived in Christendom. The Church did not want us to live well, but it let us live. In the Hitler years, who would not have welcomed back the rule of the Church? Then I used the Polish example to make the point that anti-Christian anti-Semitism continues to be worse than the Christian kind.
This was received without enthusiasm. “How about Pobedonostsev?” someone asked. Pobedonostsev, the lay procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in the reigns of Alexander II and Nicholas II, believed that the best solution to “the Jewish problem” in Russia would be for a third of the Jews to emigrate, a third to be baptized, and a third to starve to death. (He also despised the West and Catholicism, prizing autocracy and caesaropapism in state and church.)
I answered: Practically every Jew in the world longed for an end to the czarist regime. With the revolution of 1905 Pobedonostsev was dismissed. He died soon afterward. A few years later still, anti-Semites brought Mendl Beylis to trial on a charge of killing a child for the Christian blood that they said Jews use in preparing matzot for Passover. The jury in the czarist court exonerated Beylis and set him free.
After forty years and two world wars, in Communist Czechoslovakia, Rudolf Slansky and seven others officially identified as “of Jewish origin,” fervent Communists and anti-Zionists, were charged with treason in the service of Zionism, declared guilty, and hanged. Then, in Russia proper, came the Doctors’ Affair, in which Jewish doctors were accused of having conspired, in the service of Zionism, Wall Street, and the CIA, to poison the leaders of the Soviet state and the Communist party. The Jews of the Soviet Union are convinced that only Stalin’s providential death spared them to live their wonted life of anxious inferiority.
In the old Russia the czar and his entourage abetted the Black Hundreds and the other pogromchiks, and the Okhrana, the secret police, concocted the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, still potent for evil. But in that Russia the Jews, beset by hostility and hardship, doubt and division, were nevertheless not kept from living a communal and cultural life unsurpassed anywhere, before or since, for variety, intensity, and achievement, from the most traditional to the most revolutionary, in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew. And the Jews of the czar’s empire could leave. In their many hundreds of thousands they did leave, a few to prepare the way for the state of Israel and more to become the parents and grandparents of most Jews in the English-speaking countries and Latin America today. The anti-Christian Russia of Stalin and his legatees almost makes the czar’s Christian Russia look good.
Later on a man told me that I had persuaded some minds but no hearts, because people are not stirred by a demonstration that something is less bad than something else. Besides, he said, the new, anti-Christian anti-Semites are hypocritical. They denounce their quarry not as Jews but as Zionists or rootless cosmopolitans, and somehow they benefit from their hypocrisy. Not so the old, Christian ones. Remember Admiral Horthy, regent of Hun-gar) between the wars, unfriendly to the Nazis. After World War I, when the Young Men’s Christian Association sent a relief mission from America to Hungary, Horthy shook the YMCA representative’s hand and said, “Glad to meet a fellow anti-Semite.” More often than not the word Christian—christlich, chrétien—in the name of a European movement or party meant anti-Semitic.
The man speaking to me had been young in Poland in the 30’s. He said that while he could not deny anti-Christian anti-Semitism, for him only Christian anti-Semitism was real: Jewish benches in the universities, and assaults by the student anti-Semites, and frightened alertness in the Easter season. He was a teacher and did not fail to tell his students what he had seen and experienced.
Loyal children of the Enlightenment think that irreligion’s ideas are good, so they are slow to admit that its deeds can be bad. As Marxists and marxisants can say that the Soviet Union is not truly socialist, so they will say that true Marxism/socialism cannot be anti-Semitic, that it has not failed but has never been tried. (G.K. Chesterton said that Christianity had not failed, it had never been tried) Do Marx’s own words convict him of being a foul-mouthed anti-Semite and racist? Ignore it, deny it, explain it away. (“Newton may have been loony about the numbers in the Book of Daniel, but he was a great genius anyway.”) Does George L. Mosse’s meticulous examination of the evidence prove that “revolutionary socialism desired to put an end to Jews and Judaism”? Ignore it, deny it, explain it away. Do leftists, in pain, report anti-Semitism on the Left? Forget it. By definition, enemies must be on the Right, the political and above all the religious Right.
Liberals can exhibit a similar tropism. For many American Jews the enemy is the Moral Majority, never mind that it is pro-Israel and that its morality is close to traditional Jewish morality. Though some may have a less than unshakable faith in prayer—or, for that matter, in God—few things give them greater pleasure than the chance to express righteous indignation when an old-fashioned fundamentalist blurts out that God does not listen to the prayer of a Jew. Probably that fundamentalist is an unreconstructed upholder of a classical Christian doctrine, no salvation outside the Church (or Matthew’s “. . . no one knows the Father except the Son, and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”). Probably he would say about the prayer of a Muslim—or a Catholic?—what he said about the prayer of a Jew. That does not matter. He has furnished an excuse for continuing to locate danger in Christianity, especially the Christian Right.
Devotees of “liberation” theology, and most conspicuously the World Council of Churches, are pro-Third World (except Afghanistan), pro-PLO, anti-West, anti-Israel. In France the esteemed Catholic journal Esprit, highbrow and leftist, faults Rome for being backward about pretty nearly everything, with one exception. Because Esprit hates Israel, it faults Vatican II for being soft on Judaism. About Shatila and Sabra the prevailing tone was, “What can you expect of people whose religion is Judaism?” We are not to suppose that Esprit is bigoted, or anti-Semitic. It has great respect for Islam, and Arabs are Semites too, aren’t they?
Perhaps we should think of such people rather as Christian leftists than as leftist Christians, because the common element in anti-Israel/anti-Jewish animus has long been not Christianity but leftism. As in the 30’s, when the farcical Red Dean of Canterbury flabbergasted even the cynic who was the Soviet ambassador in London by asking him to convey to Moscow the Dean’s felicitations on Stalin’s splendid victory at the polls, so today, Christian leftists—and Jewish ones—are fellow-travelers of anti-Christian leftists, far more powerful and numerous.
Let me summarize, fill in some lacunae, and draw some conclusions.
- Hitler made the Holocaust because he wanted to make it. Anti-Semitism did not make him make it.
- Hitler was ex-Christian and anti-Christian.
- There was much and there remains some Christian anti-Semitism. Hitler’s anti-Semitism was anti-Christian.
- Marxist anti-Semitism also is anti-Christian.
- Anti-Christian anti-Semitism is descended ideologically from pagan disdain for Judaism and the Jews, and emotionally from Christian hatred of Judaism and the Jews.
- In Hitler’s time the world capital of anti-Semitism was Berlin. Since then it has been Moscow.
- Jews now have more to fear from anti-Christians than from Christians, and from the Christian Left than from the Christian Right.
1 Oxford University Press, 312 pp, $24.95.