Commentary Magazine

Anti-Semitism Without Jews, by Paul Lendvai


Anti-Semitism without Jews: Communist Eastern Europe.
by Paul Lendvai.
Doubleday. 393 pp. $7.95.

In a recent review of Paul Lendvai’s new book, Vladimir Dedijer, the author of an idealized official biography of Tito and a true “internationalist,” informs us that the real anti-Semites in the world today are the “court Jews from Vienna, Moscow, Harvard, and Washington who despise their brothers who preach and fight for social equality and justice.” Coming in response to a book about anti-Semitism in Communist East Europe, Dedijer’s remark is reminiscent of the old “What about lynchings in the South?” gambit with which any mention of Stalin’s purges used to be greeted in certain circles in the 1930’s. But Lendvai is not writing about any putative threat to Jews posed by other Jews who work in the governments of the world; he is writing about actual campaigns of political anti-Semitism of a highly traditional and highly murderous kind, one of whose effects has been to remove any trace of “court Jews” from the capitals of the four countries with which his study deals.



The pre-war Jewish population of the four countries discussed in Anti-Semitism Without Jews (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Rumania) was nearly five million. Fewer than seven hundred thousand survived the war, and, as a result of emigration, only one-third of this number remained in 1968. Before World War II, Mr. Lendvai points out, every eighteenth East European was a Jew. In 1968 there was only one Jew per four-hundred-and-twenty inhabitants. And yet the virtual absence of Jews did not bring about the disappearance of anti-Semitism. On the contrary; during the last few years anti-Semitism reemerged as a potent political weapon in East European countries.

In Poland, for example, as is now commonly recognized, anti-Semitism was used as a political football in the recent power struggle which resulted in the unseating of Gomulka—a struggle incidentally which may yet prove to be far from over. Launched in the wake of the Six-Day War and ostensibly aimed against Jewish sympathizers of Israel, the propaganda drive rapidly degenerated into an orgy of blatantly racist, anti-Semitic vituperation and harassment which culminated in the virtual expulsion of over half of Poland’s twenty thousand Jews. The Communist Polish “anti-Zionist” campaign of 1967-69 should therefore be viewed as a macabre mop-up operation: it destroyed those remnants of Jewish life that had escaped the Nazi Holocaust and a Jewish community that was as old as Poland itself.

If the anti-Jewish drive in Poland was, in a sense, domestic in origin (it was inspired and framed by the more xenophobic segments of Poland’s own Communist party), the anti-Semitic campaign in Czechoslovakia which accompanied and followed the Soviet invasion of that country in 1968, was, in Mr. Lendvai’s view, distinctly “imported.” It has been and continues to be used by the Soviet Union as a weapon against the surviving remnants of Czechoslovak liberalism. The methods employed are quite primitive. More often than not they boil down simply to identifying prominent liberals within the Czechoslovak Communist party as Jews—incidentally, with little regard for accuracy. Thus, the list of unmasked “Zionists” includes Eduard Goldstücker, the former head of the Writers Union who is, indeed, a Jew, as well as Jiri Hajek, the Foreign Minister in Dubcek’s liberal government, whose ancestry is impeccably Aryan. At the same time, every effort is made to link the liberal cause in Czechoslovakia with the State of Israel and with “international Zionism.” As in Poland, the drive was accompanied in its early stages by a mass exodus of Jews so that, for all intents and purposes, Czechoslovakia’s Jewry has ceased to exist as a viable community.



The major part of Mr. Lendvai’s book is taken up by a detailed account of these recent anti-Semitic campaigns with only brief chapters devoted to developments in Hungary and Rumania. Documented with a truly extraordinary thoroughness, Anti-Semitism Without Jews will surely remain one of the definitive accounts of the recent anti-Semitic convulsions in Eastern Europe. It is therefore much to be regretted that the book’s analytic sections, unlike its purely documentary ones, are marred by a narrowly partisan approach, a shortcoming further aggravated by the author’s rather limited familiarity with Jewish history as well as that of Eastern Europe as a whole. Thus, for example, while referring to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, he writes of a “fear and hatred of Russia, the traditional oppressor of these small nations.” Yet Russia, far from being regarded as an oppressor in these countries, and particularly in Bulgaria, has traditionally been viewed as a friend and a liberator. Similarly, one is dismayed by Mr. Lendvai’s assertion that prior to World War II, in spite of persecutions, East European Jews refused to leave their native lands because “Exodus appeared to them as a surrender to anti-Semitism, an abdication of their rights and their beliefs in the rationality of man.” Actually, the real reasons were a good deal less ideological and less heroic, being rather well summarized in the old Yiddish song—vu ahin zol ikh gein (“Where am I to go?”). The doors to British-ruled Palestine were all but closed, emigration to other countries was extremely difficult; beyond that, there was the inevitable inertia and attachment to an accustomed way of life, however impoverished and insecure.

The ideological underpinning for Mr. Lendvai’s book seems to come mainly from Isaac Deutscher’s essay, “The Non-Jewish Jew,”1 which is the most frequently cited single theoretical authority in the volume. I cannot here embark on a critique of Deutscher or Deutscherism, yet it must be pointed out that Deutscher’s well-known Trotskyist-Marxist position renders his credentials—as a Jewish historian at least—very much open to question. Mr. Lendvai’s failure to provide correctives to Deutscher’s highly opinionated observations and very selective use of historical data imparts some of the same dogmatically ideological flavor to his own interpretation of the data he has so masterfully assembled. The most obvious example is the author’s tendency to examine only that form of anti-Semitism which is clearly government-inspired and to disregard the rest, in good Marxist fashion, as a deplorable survival of the bourgeois past in the consciousness of man. But there is also noticeable throughout the book—side by side with a feeling of outrage at the injustice of discrimination against assimilated Jews—an apparent lack of sensitivity to the problems of those Jews who aspired to a tolerance of their separate religious and cultural identity within a non-Jewish society.

Time and again Lendvai sidesteps issues he finds not to his liking. Thus, in the early part of the book where its themes are being set out, he writes that “This is not the place to dwell on Marx’s youthful essay on the Jewish question and his unreserved rejection of Jewry and Judaism for which he has so often been accused (in our opinion unjustifiably) of anti-Semitism.” Indeed, one wants to ask, why should this not be the place for a discussion, however brief, of a problem that is so clearly relevant to the subject of the book? Mr. Lendvai offers no explanations. Or, on the following page: “Although leftist or socialist anti-Semitism is not as such part of our survey, I would like to make one point absolutely clear: the political anti-Semitism of Stalin and his successors cannot be regarded as an offshoot of anti-Jewish currents in the early and genuinely leftist or socialist movements.” Why not? Isn’t this, in effect, a refusal to discuss unpleasant subjects?



A gifted journalist, Mr. Lendvai has produced a somewhat unbalanced account of a desperately important contemporary event. The weaknesses of the book come to the fore when he attempts to fill the additional role of historian and sociologist, a task which, indeed, should perhaps not be undertaken at this early date, given the fragmentary nature of the evidence at our disposal. As a reporter, however, Mr. Lendvai is usually excellent. In particular, his dramatically told and thoroughly researched account of the demise of two Eastern European Jewish communities deserves to be widely read today, and will certainly provide a wealth of information for future scholars of this subject.




1 Walter Laqueur places this essay in its proper historical context in his article. “New York and Jerusalem” (February).

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