To the Editor:
I immensely enjoyed Dafna Alton’s “Reflections on the Art of Lying” [June], but would like to make one correction. She states accurately that in August 1921, the London Times exploded the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But she ignores that previously, in May 1920, the same Times had become the worldwide disseminator of the forgery (see on this point Norman Cohn’s classic Warrant for Genocide). Why did the “Thunderer” take such a stand? In all probability, in order to discredit obliquely the Bolshevik rulers, describing them as a façade for the Jewish plot (see my History of Anti-Semitism, Vol. IV).
Why do most Jewish sources remain silent on this point, thus lying by omission? I would ascribe it to the awe which our forefathers felt for the formidable authority of the London Times. At the time, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Dr. Hertz, protested respectfully in its columns: “I want therefore to appeal to you, as Editor-in-Chief of the most influential newspaper in the world. . . .” To no avail, of course, and thus it began; for a couple of years, the whole English-speaking world toyed with the idea of an international Jewish peril. The Times‘s recantations of 1921, implicit as they were, cleared the atmosphere, but certain circles, notably those around Henry Ford in the U.S., went on.
Dafna Allon writes:
Let me thank Léon Poliakov for his letter and confess that I simply did not know that the London Times backed the Protocols forgery in 1920, though I called that the peak year. Mr. Poliakov is right in linking the ready acceptance of the Protocols with the belief that the Russian Revolution was no more and no less than a Jewish plot. This had long been an article of belief in Russia before the Revolution—a self-fulfilling prophecy of a sort. According to Russian police statistics, nearly 30 percent of those arrested for political subversion at the time of the abortive 1904 revolution were Jews. The year 1903 was the year of the Kishinev pogrom, and by definition a pogrom in Russia was permitted and abetted if not provoked by the police. The year 1904 saw the publication in St. Petersburg of the police-inspired fabrication, “The Plan for the Conquest of the World by the Jews.” The web of spreading connections from then on is still of interest.
In 1914 Arthur James Balfour, who as British Foreign Secretary was to issue the Balfour Declaration in 1917, confessed to Chaim Weizmann that he had absorbed a dose of anti-Semitism from Cosima Wagner in Bayreuth in 1912. On December 10, 1914, with remarkable prescience, Weizmann told Herbert Samuel (then a junior member of the Asquith cabinet) of his foreboding that in fighting a war with the Russians as allies, the English might be infected by Russian anti-Semitism.
Weizmann recalled (in Trial and Error) that on a visit to General Allenby’s headquarters in southern Palestine in 1919 he was shown typescript copies of a mysterious anti-Jewish mishmash circulating among British officers, extracts from something called the Protocols. General Wyndham Deedes told Weizmann, “You will find it in the haversack of a great many British officers here [in Palestine, in 1919] and they believe it! It was brought over by the British Military Mission which has been serving in the Caucasus on the staff of the Grand Duke Nicholas.”
In 1920, then, the London Times was not so much a source as a comforting confirmation. All the years between have been of little avail. Even if the Protocols is no longer handed out to visitors to Arab countries like a bazaar merchant’s card, the malignant thing is still referred to as if it were a consecrated classic. And its message goes marching on: Jewish-capitalist – Communist – imperialist – Zionist-world-conspiracy.
May I encroach still more on your space to tell your readers that only now, after the publication of my article, have I learned from Yuri Stern of the Soviet Jewry Information Center in Jerusalem that the issue of the Star of the Orient which contained the Babel story I discussed in my article was a special number, published to raise funds for the victims of the 1967 Tashkent earthquake? It also printed other previously unpublished works by other previously banned (and mostly dead) writers, in Russian, including Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Andrei Voznesensky. A second issue was put together with more of such works—but it was never published. Moscow caught up, apparently. So Babel’s story just got through by a nose!