Albert Lindemann is perhaps the only Jewish scholar who, unlike most Jewish pundits, acknowledges the reasons why they’ve been so disliked. Lindemann is no self-hating Jew. A retired professor who escaped from Germany wrote a letter to Lindemann saying that Esau’s Tears “is by far the best book I have ever read on this sad subject” and that “all of us who are of Jewish origin are permanently in your debt.” In fact, most reviews of Esau’s Tears were favorable.
Since I am studying this 568-page book (plus a preface) very slowly, just a few pages each day, I will be quoting the most intriguing sentences in Esau’s Tears and updating this entry once in a while until I finish reading it. As always, I won’t add ellipsis between unquoted excerpts.
Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
The importance of Jew-hatred in the last hundred years is undeniable, the repercussions appalling. That I have devoted many years of study to anti-Semitism underlines how important I think it has been and is.
Expressing irritation with Jews, as a number of prominent Germans did—and so did prominent figures, including Jews themselves, in nearly every country—is one thing; calling for their systematic murder is quite another. In many accounts (Goldhagen’s is the latest in a long series) such distinctions are blurred; some writers go so far as to condemn the distinctions as morally dubious, thus making any irritation with Jews or criticism of them “anti-Semitic,” a conclusion that takes on extraordinary dimensions when linked to such assertions as “all anti-Semitism is as dangerous as a little bit of cancer.”
I cannot accept such reasoning, which seems to me facile, especially insofar as it implies that Jews, unlike other human groups, cannot provoke legitimate irritation.
Indeed, the opposite position, that Jewish conduct is the main cause for hatred of Jews, has been described by Edward Alexander (disapprovingly) as “an argument of wide and enduring popularity,” which it certainly is. It was even more popular in the nineteenth century when it was almost universally assumed, by both Jews and non-Jews, that Jewish behavior was the all-too-obvious cause of the appearance of modern anti-Semitism.
Chapter 1. Anti-Semitism before the modern period: overview and definition
Esau’s tears: the deepest roots of anti-Semitism
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gentile rulers of Jews in Europe generally became classified as “Esau.” Anti-Semites of various stripes have drawn upon the Jacob-Esau tale, that Jacob will always hurt Esau.
The Esau-Jacob story and Jewish commentary on it do, however, suggest a number of provocative points in conceptualizing the nature of anti-Semitism. In a central passage of the Hebrew Bible, Esau’s angry tears were presented as perfectly understandable; they were not the result of some mysterious fantasy about a wholly innocent Jacob.
As a reader of the Hebrew Bible must recognize, brutality was hardly an invention of the Other Nations; the biblical Jews committed, and their spokesmen afterwards glorified, unspeakable bestial acts. The inclination to picture Jews as perennially helpless victims, in no sense responsible for the ills that have affected them, has often been part of an unsophisticated and transparently defensive reflex. The popular writer Howard Fast concludes his book The Jews, The Story of a People, with this remark: “Such despair and agony as the Jewish people had to endure over the past thousand years is the result, not of what they are, but of what the Christian world has inflicted upon them.” This is by no means an isolated or unusual comment. Critics have charged that women, workers, or minorities have been portrayed one-dimensionally by some historians, as utterly helpless, uncomprehending, and pitiful victims of history, in no way responsible for their misfortunes (and to assert that they were responsible would be to commit the cardinal sin of blaming the victim).
The sheer horror of the Holocaust has made it understandably suspect or even unconscionable in the opinion of some observers to suggest that Jews themselves may have had a degree of responsibility for that catastrophe. Study of the sufferings of Jews is now advocated mostly as a way of preventing suffering in the future, largely by exposing the sinful or corrupt nature of Gentile society and its responsibility for Jewish suffering and almost never as a means by which Jews could become aware of their own sins. The following pages will provide evidence that anti-Semites were frequently less simple and occasionally less morally corrupt than they have been generally presented.
The Rise of the Jews
Arthur Koestler has stated the matter with characteristic bluntness: “The Jewish religion, unlike any other, is racially discriminatory, nationally segregative, and socially tension-creating.” The same Ruth Wisse who was earlier quoted as describing anti-Semitism as functioning “independent of its object” observes at the same time, without apparently sensing any contradiction, that “the dynamism of the Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is almost unparalleled.” The rise of the Jews, notes Paul Johnson, was above all the rise of the Jewish intellectual, whose “shattering importance to modern history” can hardly be exaggerated in nearly all realms but perhaps most strikingly in that of the left-wing and revolutionary politics.
A once despised and legally set-apart group seemed to be prospering more than others, and, more to the point, it seemed to be assuming power over non-Jews. A few scandals or frauds involving Jews, Jewish braggarts, or strutters—and there was no lack of them—set off poisonous spirals of anger, indignation, and envy.
Chapter 2. Modern Times (1700 to the 1870s)
The French Revolution and the Jews
Opponents of Jewish emancipation retorted that Judaic belief, included the belief that Jews were a separate nation, was not then merely a private affair. Jews could not serve in the army because they could not be depended upon to defend the French nation; they were potential enemies of France.
The liberal years of Midcentury
Legal restrictions concerning Jews were lifted, and many Jews became prominent politicians. This period of liberal triumph has been referred to as the “honeymoon years” of Jewish-Gentile relations. [But] honeymoons always end, sometimes with bitter reflections concerning the flawed beliefs and naive expectations upon which the union was initially conceived.
Backward Russia in Ostjuden
Russian Jews throughout the nineteenth century remained a nation most emphatically apart from the dominant Great Russians. Historians now doubt that hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by Chmielnicki’s forces, as earlier stated.
By the end of the [18th] century Jews had sufficiently recovered economically and demographically that they represented ten percent of Poland’s population.
By the middle of the [19th] century, the Jews of Posen and Galicia were awarded Prussian and Austrian citizenship, including the right of free movement.
Russia’s “Liberal” Experiment
Jews became prosperous industrialists, merchants, bankers, doctors, and lawyers in proportionately much larger numbers than did Great Russians, Byelo-Russians, Poles, or Ukrainians. Jews also entered white-collar employment in sharply disproportionate numbers.
Eastern European Jews were also infamous in the nineteenth century for involvement in activities associated with the saloon, as pimps, or in the language of the time, on “white slavery,” but also in other illegal activities.
Anti-Semites in Russia were inclined to perceive yet another area of Jewish vice, one that emerged from the destructiveness of Jewish character, in the unusual proclivities of Jews to engage in subversive activity.
Revolutionary Agitation and Tsarist Reaction
Arrests and repression followed, and thereafter activists took a more violent and terroristic direction. When Alexander II was assassinated by revolutionary conspirators in 1881, much attention was drawn to the Jews involved in the conspiracy. Following the assassination, popular rioting against the Jews, or pogroms (the word originated in Russia), broke out in many areas.
The May Laws of 1882, not formally repelled until 1917, were designed to bring Russia’s Jews under control; control [of] what was considered the increasingly unscrupulous exploitation by Jews of peasants. Quotas on the number of Jews allowed in higher education were established to reduce and stabilize the numbers of Jews in the universities. The new goal was around ten percent, since by the 1870s the percentage of Jewish university students had grown much beyond that figure in many areas.
The 1880s marked the beginning of a massive Jewish emigration out of the Russian Empire. Now opportunities to get out of Russia opened up as never before, especially for those willing to go to the New World. Jews from eastern Europe arrived in floods.
The Concept of Race
By the middle years of the nineteenth century, the term “race” came to be commonly and unapologetically used by nearly everyone in western Europe. In stark and revealing contrast to the situation by the mid-twentieth century, few questioned that there was a Jewish race.
A Gentile child, adopted by Jews at birth, can never qualify for priestly status. His moral probity or fidelity to the beliefs and rituals of Judaism, no matter how perfect, cannot alter his lower status. Nazis, too, said that one is born a Jew and Jewishness could never be relinquished.
In the nineteenth century, the word race began to replace blood. The English politician and writer Benjamin Disraeli (prime minister, 1868), in spite of having converted to Christianity as a child, emphatically insisted that he remained a member of the Jewish race. In his novel Coningby, Disraeli depicted a vast and secret power of Jews, bent on dominating the world. His noble Jewish character, Sidonia, describes race as a supremely important determinant (“all is race; there is no other truth”). He wrote that if the “great Anglo-Saxon republic” (the United States) allowed its white population “to mingle with its negro and coloured populations” it would be the beginning of the end for the new country.
Racism and anti-Semitism
It is significant that racism in its nineteenth-century form had no single theorist whom most racists recognized, in the way that Marx was recognized by socialists or J.S. Mill was recognized by liberals. Racism did not become a movement in the way that socialism and liberalism did, nor did racists–even specific kinds of racists, such as anti-Semites–form coherent, durable parties comparable to socialist and liberal parties.
There seems little question that increasingly systematic observations about various human societies had important implications for the growth of racism in the nineteenth century.
The Evolution of the Vocabulary of Race
Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) developed the concept of Volkgeist. He presented himself as the outspoken friend [of the Jews], yet he rejected Jewish emancipation in Germany, at least in the near future, and termed Jews “parasites.” He wrote that Jews “belong to Palestine and not Europe. Since Israel and its prayers despise all other peoples from which it is set apart, how can it be otherwise than that it is itself despised by other nations?”
A number of influential European anti-Semites arrived at Zionist conclusions: The Jewish problem in Europe could be solved if the Jews would go to Palestine, where they belonged.
Racist Ideas among Jews
There were many Jewish racists in the nineteenth century. As noted, Disraeli was probably more influential in spreading certain general notions about the Jewish race than any of the theorists of race described in the preceding sections. He despised what he termed “that pernicious doctrine of modern times, the natural equality of man.”
Moses Hess (1812-1875), who had worked closely for a time with Karl Marx, later affirmed that the “race struggle is primary, the class struggle secondary.” Judaism would become the spiritual guide of humankind, whereas Christianity, “a religion of death,” would wither. He was a good friend of Graetz, who wrote him of his delight in “scourging” Germans. Graetz added that “we must above all work to shatter Christianity.”
Chapter 3. The Appearance of Modern Anti-Semitism (1870-1890)
Germans and Jews
The nature of German-Jewish interplay is still bitterly debated—in particular the extent to which one can properly speak of mutual benefit and respect—but there is little doubt that nowhere else have Jacob and Esau had a more intricate, fecund, and yet finally tragic relationship. Nowhere was the rise of the Jews more notable, and nowhere was it more searchingly debated whether the nature of Jews was unchangeably foreign, undermining those among whom they resided, or adaptable and beneficial to the host people. Similarly, the possible ramifications of the notion of closeness are nowhere more clearly revealed than in the history of modern Germany, for growing numbers of Germans came to believe that they were somehow chosen by history for a special destiny.
Real issues were involved, issues that emerged from the concentration of Jews in certain occupations, from their related extraordinary economic and social success, and from a range of cultural traits that distinguished them from non-Jewish Germans.
German-speaking Jews were the largest and economically most successful population of assimilated Jews in Europe, and because of their important positions in the German economy, they were almost unavoidably identified with the Depression. Germany’s economy, or the economies of the various German states before unification, had been growing with remarkable, even breakneck speed in the 1860s, and it grew even faster in the early 1870s. Jews seemed to benefit disproportionately from that growth, and they were widely and plausibly (which is not to say justifiably) blamed for its sudden collapse.
For much of the 1880s and 1890s the first modern anti-Semitic movement found its most impressive and influential form in Germany. As noted, many Germans were inclined to see world historical significance in the establishment of the German Reich; it represented a turning point in modern history. Even more grandiosely, some German nationalists believed the new Reich was the expression of divine purpose, an affirmation of the mission of the German spirit in the modern world. How unique or “special” such beliefs were is debatable. We will see that the Jews in many countries, not only Germany, were inclined to see the rise of the Jews in modern times as expressing a divine purpose or a Jewish mission. Citizens of the United States, too, with their notions of Manifest Destiny, expressed a belief that they and the new American nation were agents of God’s will.
For such reasons, the wave of anti-Semitic indignation and rage that passed over Germany, and the efforts to give to that wave the form of a modern mass movement, caught the attention of the civilized western world.
German Liberalism and the New German State
The liberal middle years of the century had seen the final steps in granting civil emancipation to Jews in most German-speaking lands, not without mean-tempered dissent from various quarters. Being counted among the most modern, most highly civilized nations was important to Germany’s elites; discriminatory laws against the Jews characterized the backward nations, such as Russia and Romania.
By the late 1860s liberal principles were given fuller application in many arenas besides those touching the condition of the Jews. Indeed, those general principles were the primary consideration; the emancipation of the Jews was seen as a necessary of them, much as was the case in the debates of the French National Assembly from 1798 to 1791.
In 1871 a number of important liberal principles were incorporated into the constitution of the new German Empire, such as the free trade, the rule of law, representative institutions, and guarantees of free speech. Religious freedom and Jewish equality under the law were also a part of the constitution.
The Rise of the Jews in Germany
With the unification of Germany, Jewish wealth began to expand even more rapidly than before, and Jews began to move into a number of prominent positions in politics. However, until 1914 they remained almost completely excluded from the very highest and most prestigious positions of the state, as did most non-Jews without the proper pedigrees. Nonetheless, throughout the nineteenth century Jews continued to nurse hopes for an eventual change in such exclusionary practices; they persuaded themselves that much steady progress had been made and that the future was bright.
Banks, although less exclusively Jewish in Germany than elsewhere in central and eastern Europe, were still owned and operated by Jews (estimates range from forty to fifty percent, whereas Jews were one percent of the total population). The man reputed to be the richest in Germany was the Jewish banker Gerson Bleichröder.
Jews in Germany moved rapidly into the professions. Upwardly mobile Gentiles, or those who hoped for upward mobility in their children, encountered a most unwelcome competition to get into medical school or law school; Jews in those schools became overrepresented, often by ten, twenty, even thirty times their numbers on German society.
The liberal press was overwhelmingly in the hands of the Jews. It was an arena “in which Jewish intellectuals could be active in an unhampered way”.
The Mittelstand and Modernism in Germany
In literature and many other arts Jews were prominent in modernist trends, not only in Germany but in most other countries. Modernism was characterized by a contempt for traditional aesthetic norms; modern art became ever more divorced from what ordinary people could appreciate, ever more disdainful of popular tastes, ever more “difficult.”
Those arguing for an “organic” Aryan art, one that had roots in the traditional peasant communities of Germany, could see modern art as inorganic, market-driven, cosmopolitan–and Semitic.
The image of modernist Jews as “culture destroyers” reflected an undeniable reality; however much exaggerated by anti-Semites. The disproportionate numbers, visibility, and volubility of Jews in modern art roughly corresponded to the disproportionate numbers of Jews in journalism, medicine, law, banking and revolutionary politics.
The “Founding Years” and the Crash of 1873
Nouveaux riches of whatever origin have rarely been known for gracious manners. Those Jewish newly rich in Germany who had recent origins in the eastern European shtetekh, where standards of civility or public manners were markedly different from those of Germany, were widely regarded as especially offensive.
In Germany during the early seventies, the contrasts between rich and poor, successful and unsuccessful, were perhaps even more striking than in the opening stages of England’s industrialization. In the summer of 1873 the stock markets collapsed. Certain anti-Semitic themes took on particularly sharp expression by the late 1870s. Now it was declared that Jews, constituting a mere one percent of the population, were more than “too influential”; they were talking over the new German nation, its economy, its political institutions, its art and music.
The Press Campaign against the Jews
The popular (circulation ca. 350,000) and generally liberal magazine Die Gartenlaube published a series of articles in December 1874 by Otto Glagau exposing the role of various shady entrepreneurs in the stock market crash. He maintained that ninety percent of brokers and stock promoters in the capital were Jews.
A century later, when it became clear that the stock market scandals of the mid-to-late 1980s in the United States saw an overwhelming preponderance of Jews–at least ninety percent was a widely accepted figure–that clear correlation seemed to interest the broad American public scarcely at all, and overwhelmingly non-Jewish journalists and politicians skirted the issue. But in Germany in the 1870s popular interest and indignation were intense.
By no means all Germans agreed with Glagau. He responded that “No longer can we suffer to see the Jews push themselves everywhere to the front... everywhere seize leadership and dominate public opinion.”
Chapter 4. Anti-Semitic Ideology and Movement in Germany
(1879 to the 1890s)
Wilhelm Marr has been given credit for coining the term “anti-Semitism.” His pamphlet The Victory of Jewry over the Germans has been described as the first anti-Semitic bestseller. He was married four times, the first three to Jewish women. He had intimate Jewish friends and was attacked for his supposed philo-Semitism.
Wagner, too, lamented as early as 1850 that Jews were taking over Germany. Both Wagner and Marr emphasized inherent and tenacious Jewish racial traits, ones that were destructive to Germans.
Marr [said that] wherever they go, Jews try to dominate and jewify the surrounding society. To do so is in their racial nature. It was a matter of victory or defeat—Jacob and Esau must fight to the finish, not work out ways in which they could live together. He noted that other peoples had indeed blended, had become German: the French Huguenots, the Wends, various Slavic peoples. But not the Jews. Marr concluded that the Jews are “stronger and tougher” than non-Jews.
His biographer believes that his pessimism was genuine, that it reflected his belief that the Germany he loved was doomed. Without weapons, he noted, Jews had become the masters of Germany.
Heinrich von Treitschke
The complains and laments of Glagau and Marr did not immediately alarm most Jewish observers, since the two could be easily dismissed as lowbrow, demagogic, and lacking respectability. Many influential Jewish observers considered Marr and his following not only beneath contempt but laughable. However, late in the same year and early in the next (1879-1880), Heinrich von Treitschke, the celebrated historian of Germany and popular university professor, published a series of articles critical of the role of Jews in Germany.
Treitschke expressed dismay over the persecution of Jews in history. He wrote that “the is no German commercial city that does not count many honorable and respectable Jewish firms.” Treitschke was a political liberal. How then, Treitschke earned such an evil reputation in many influential accounts of the origins of Nazism? Treitschke’s case, like so much else in nineteenth-century Germany, has been refracted through the distorting mirror of the Nazi years.
That the presence of newly-emancipated Jews in Germany could present a genuine problem, not a fantasy, was freely recognized by a number of thoughtful Jewish observers at this time, as in years past; Jews did indeed have significantly different cultural traditions from the rest of the population.
[Franz] Mehring complained that Jewish opponents of Treitschke engaged in “intellectual terrorism,” attempting as they did to smear as anti-Semitic anyone who expressed whatever critical reservations about the actions of the Jews. Treitschke’s consternation about Jewish influence also reflected his rising distaste for modern mass culture. He, like most educated Germans, felt an abhorrence for what he perceived as the Mishckultur (mongrel-culture) that was coming to characterize the United States in these years. They did not believe that the German spirit, in its barely achieved unity, could survive cultural pluralism—a chaotic and debilitating mongrelization in their eyes—that seemed to be growing up in the New World.
Treitschke remarked: “Ours is a young country. Our country still lacks national style.” But the young German nation, divided and still unsure of itself, was being flooded “from the inexhaustible cradle of Poland.” Treitschke argued further that the materialism of the early 1870s, so threatening again to the moral tone of the young German nation, was significantly reinforced by Jews.
Treitschke complained that Jewish journalists had introduced an element of petty quarrelsomeness and intolerance, of a wholly one-sided sort: “About the shortcomings of the Germans or French, everybody could freely say the worst things, but if somebody dared to speak in just and moderate terms about some undeniable weakness of the Jewish character, he was immediately branded as a barbarian and religious persecutor by nearly all of the newspapers.”
Mehring also recognized a new temper, “a gifted, shrewd, tough-fibred race,” “intoxicated” with its new freedoms. Jews in Berlin had developed into “an expansive and explosive force which is hard to imagine for anyone who has not seen it with his own eyes.” On this point, Mehring found much agreement from German Jews themselves.
Treitschke and Graetz
Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891). His History of the Jews is still lauded by twentieth-century Jewish historians as one of the great nineteenth-century histories of the Jews.
Graetz harbored a deep contempt for the ancient Greeks and considered contemporary European civilization to be “morally and physically sick.” There was some substance in Treitschke’s charges: Graetz had written that Boerne and Heine had “renounced Judaism, but only like combatants who, putting on the uniform of the enemy, can all the more strike and annihilate him.”
In private correspondence, Graetz expressed his destructive contempt for German values and Christianity even more forthrightly. Treitschke was not far off base when he angrily noted that “the man shakes with glee every time he can say something downright nasty against the Germans.”
Anti-Semitic Movement and Countermovement
Agitators circulated the Anti-Semites’ Petition, which by October 1880 had gathered some 265,000 signatures. It charged than an “alien tribe” in Germany had gained domination over the “Aryan race.” In order to combat the incursions of that tribe a number of measures were needed: (1) the limitation of Jewish immigration into Germany, (2) the exclusion of Jews from positions of high governmental authority, (3) a special census to keep track of Jews, and (4) the prohibition of Jews as teachers in elementary schools. This minimal program was moderate in that it looked to orderly action through the Reichstag, not to popular violence, not to chasing Jews out of Germany. Right-wing revolutionaries comparable to the Nazis were not common at this time and found only sporadic support among the masses.
In the elections of 1881, the left-liberals in Berlin, led to an important degree by Jews, totally overwhelmed Stoecker’s party. The Progressive Party gained thirty-three new seats. Bismarck evidently concluded that not much political mileage was to be had from even covert identification with the anti-Semites, and he let it be known that “I most decidedly disapprove of this fight against the Jews.” At the height of its popularity in the 1880s political anti-Semitism in Germany won scarcely five percent of the popular vote.
None of the various bills proposed by the anti-Semites came anywhere near passage in the Reichstag, Jewish rights were in no tangible way limited by political measures in these years, and anti-Semites seeking to foment violence were arrested and thrown into jail. The various economic boycotts proposed by German anti-Semites had little or no effect; Jews continued to prosper and were increasingly among the very richest of Germany’s citizens.
The Peasants and Otto Böckel
Anti-Semitism mitigated by traditional constraints existed among the peasantry, a large class that cannot be ignored, since it was among elements of peasantry that the most dramatically successful anti-Semitic movement in late nineteenth-century Germany developed. And among the peasants one of the more colorful and charismatic anti-Semitic leaders appeared: Otto Böckel.
As he recorded in his pamphlet The Jews, Kings of our Time, “the image of the peasant robbed by the Jews drives me onward.” The pamphlet went through a hundred editions by the end of the century.
Böckel used pomp and fanfare, mass meetings, torchlight rallies, songfests, and sloganeering with great creativity. He established a newspaper that reached thousand of peasants who had never before read newspapers, and advertised “Jew-free” markets. Some called him a “second Luther.”
The situation, while in some ways unique, was also familiar: Jews under progressive rule prospered, while non-Jews believed themselves threatened with ruin, especially during an economic downturn. Böckel offered the same warnings, that a “stubborn, old, and thoroughly alien race” was taking over; that modern capitalism was weakening the very backbone of Germany.
Böckel avoided using such terms as “Aryan” and “Semite”. Nevertheless, his movement finally disintegrated. He simply did not have a long-range or realistic program; his was a movement of slogans and pyrotechnics, emotional catharsis for his followers, not long-range political realism.
Chapter 5. Socialists, Jews and Anti-Semites
"Marxism is not a scientific theory at all, but a piece of clever Jewish superstition." (Paul Johnson)
Socialist Movement and Ideology
In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, when modern anti-Semitic movements made their first appearance, the socialist movement grew with great rapidity, above all in Germany after the turn of the century, when support for anti-Semitism waned. The socialist movement, or, as it was called in Germany, the social-democratic movement, may be seen as a successful model of a modern mass movement in a way that the anti-Semitic movement was not.
Marxian socialists identified social class, not race, as the key category of analysis. Indeed, there were elements of philo-Semitism in socialist movements. Friedrich Engels wrote in a personal letter in 1890, “We owe a great deal to the Jews. Marx was of purely Jewish origin; Lassalle was a Jew. Victor Adler, Eduard Bernstein, Paul Singer... all of them Jews.”
Franz Mehring, the socialist biographer of Marx, observed that “side by side with a good many defects in modern Jewry, it is perhaps its highest glory that there is today not one person of culture in Germany who is not linked in intimate relations of heart and intellect with one or more Jews.”
In most countries, but especially in Western Europe and the United States, it was much the same. Even in Russia at the end of the century Jews and non-Jews in the socialist movement bridged to a degree unequaled in other political movements the chasm that separated the two communities. The non-Jew Lenin and the Jew Trotsky forged a powerful partnership in 1917. Lenin worked closely with many Jews, both before and after taking power, and to his death he retained the highest personal affection for his Jewish factional opponent, the Menshevik leader Julius Martov. And of considerable symbolic importance was the famous partnership of the Jew, Marx, and the Gentile, Engels.
Chapter 6. Austria-Hungary: Racial Radicalism and Schlamperei
Liberalism and the Rise of the Jews
These Jewish successes were less widely shared by members of the Gentile lower and lower-middle classes. Similarly, Jews did not become, or long remain, artisans, factory proletarians, or other kinds of manual laborers. Urban Jews were in general upwardly mobile; non-Jews were more often proletarianized—overwhelmed by the forces of modern urban civilization. Tens of thousands of small shops in Vienna went bankrupt in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and thousands of peasants plots in the surrounding countryside were put up for auction. The benefactors of these Gentile misfortunes were frequently Jews.
By the turn of the century, a German-Jewish writer who had moved to Vienna from the German Reich was struck by how much
all public life was dominated by Jews. The banks, the press, the theater, literature, social organizations, all lay in the hands of the Jews... The aristocracy would have nothing to do with such things... The small number of untitled patrician families imitated the aristocracy; the original upper-middle class had disappeared... The court, the lower-middle class and the Jews gave the city its stamp. And that the Jews, as the most mobile group, kept all the other in continuous motion is, on the whole, not surprising.
Henry Wickham Steed, correspondent for The Times of London in Berlin, Rome, and Vienna from 1896 to 1914, and widely recognized as one of the best informed, most pertaining observers of the day, wrote that “among the peoples of the Austria-Hungary the Jewish people stands first in importance... Economics, politically, and in point of general influence they are... the most significant element in the Monarchy.” Moreover, embracing German language and culture by no means meant merging into German-Gentile society. Time and again assimilated Jews themselves referred to the Jews’ “stubborn emphasis on racial solidarity.”
It seems reasonable to conclude that any group, even one enjoying wide esteem, that rose as fast as the Jews in Austria-Hungary would have encountered some resentment and hostility.
The Jewish Press and the Crash of 1873
No area of Jewish influence in Austria-Hungary was more important than journalism in terms of spreading German language and culture—with a Jewish nuance. Jewish-owned and -operated newspapers in the empire were even more important than in Germany. “After Moritz Benedikt [the owner of Neue Freie Presse], the most popular man in the realm is Franz Joseph [the emperor of Austria]” was a popular witticism. He and his paper were admired by some, feared or detested by others. Nearly all observers regarded him as a man of fierce ambition and easy morals.
The complaint that Jewish journalists were vituperatively critical while remaining hypersensitive to criticism themselves was often expressed in Austria. Wickham Steed described the Neue Freie Presse as “a journal that embodies in concentrated form and, at times, with demonic force, the least laudable characteristics of Austro-German Jewry.”
The stock market crash in 1873, which catalyzed political anti-Semitism in Germany, affected Austria in similar ways. Jews were the obvious culprits, even more so in Vienna than in Berlin, since Jews in the stock market in Vienna were even more prominent than in Berlin. In Austria the capitalist robber barons, to borrow a phrase from the American scene, the railroad-building and factory-owning plunderers of the countryside, the noveaux riches, those ostensibly responsible for the bankruptcies of artisans and small retailers, the deceivers of the small investor were overwhelmingly made up of Jews, if only because Jews constituted a heavy majority of those involved in such modern economic activities.
Friedrich Austerlitz asserted that the Jewish-owned liberal press was concerned to serve Jewish interests, to cover up misdeeds by Jewish capitalists, and to shower with abuse anyone who criticized Jews. Jewish press supremacy, he later observed, “was a conspiracy in favor of the Jews; the legend of the solidarity of all members of the people of Israel was at that time a reality.” Austerlitz granted that in the earlier part of the century, when Jews had been oppressed, criticism of their “eccentricities” was inappropriate, but by the latter half of the nineteenth century, when they dominated so much of public life in Austria and when their activities were so often corrupt, criticism was not only appropriate but the duty of all honest observers, Jews and non-Jews.
The notion of racial purity, of Aryan superiority, gained an even stronger hold on parts of the Austrian German-speaking Gentile population than it did in Germany itself. Similarly, in Austria fears about the “destructive mission” of Jews, their alleged tendencies to take over, dominate, and jewify, were even more pervasive.
Any synthesis of German and Jewish culture implied a distinctly larger Jewish component, an unacceptable result to many völkish Germans, who seem to have been driven, ostensibly because of the elusiveness of what it meant to be a German in the Austrian context, to an almost panicked assertion of the need to preserve the mystical “purity” of their race. They dreaded a loss of identity, a so-major dilution of what it meant to be a German that the world would lose its appeal for them. Feelings of German nationalism in Austria came increasingly to include a call for liberation from Jewish influence, a freeing of the Aryan-German spirit from the destructive inroads of “Semitism.”
Above all in Vienna and Budapest, assimilated, secular Jews were for traditional Catholics a formidable and alarming enemy. Jews were very rapidly increasing in numbers, and some were becoming spectacularly rich. They were articulate in ways that made many of their opponents feel the rage of impotence. As far as many Catholics were concerned, Jews were not only taking over modern economic life; they were also talking over the cultural life of the empire.
Catholic Antimodernism and Anti-Semitism
For large numbers of Austrian Catholics, Jews became “the enemy,” to be vigorously combated, and large numbers of Jews felt similarly about the church. The sophisticated, cosmopolitan, atomistic, and materialistic life of the modern city symbolized a world of evil and moral anarchy—prostitution, corruption, drunkenness, social and economic irresponsibility—for the Church, whereas for secular Jews the church was a repository of bigotry and unreasoning fear of the modern world.
In 1870 the doctrine of papal infallibility was proclaimed. One of the most penetrating Catholic social theorist of the time, Baron Karl von Vogelsang, hoped for a return to an idealized past, whereas Marx confidently predicated a transformed, if no less idealized, future. In their descriptions of liberal capitalism, however, they were in agreement: It was a system of unbridled egotism, and they were both inclined to derive anti-Semitic conclusions from that judgment.
Vogelsang further concluded that liberal rules favored Jews, allowing them to prosper extraordinarily and unjustly. Jewish prosperity, he observed, was paralleled by growing misery for the Christian lower orders. And that could hardly be accepted by a Christian as natural to the proper order of things.
Vogelsang lamented that Austria had lost its Christian bearing, had lost sight of the basis in Christian morality for social harmony. The country’s indigenous Christian population was being “robbed, dominated, and reduced to pariahs by the Jews.” The problem was not only exploitative Jewish capitalists; the “incredible insolent Jewish press” worked constantly to undermine the moral fabric of a society, as did the atheistic Jews at the head of the revolutionary parties.
Vogelsang was not a racist; he welcomed Jewish converts. He believed, however, that unconverted Jews could inflict and undermine an entire society if they were allowed to get out of control. And he was persuaded that just such an infected society had come into existence: “If by some miracle, “ he wrote, “all our 1,400,000 Jews were to be taken from us, it would help us very little, for we ourselves have been infected with the Jewish spirit.” The taste for pushing and shoving, the mocking of sacred tradition, the sardonic wit and intellectual arrogance, the sensuality and sexual immorality—these many “Jewish” traits had infected Catholics in Austria and were fatally undermining Christian society.
Vogelsang was willing to grant that capitalism and its associated modern industrial techniques could increase material wealth, but the price paid in moral terms, he believed, was too high. It meant the breakdown of the family, alcoholism, and urban crime; the replacement of quality production by the cheap and shoddy; swelling ranks of the chronically unemployed; and the bars, cabarets, and prostitutes. Capitalism and liberalism atomized society, destroyed valuable social and economic ties.
Modern secular Jews could be credited with bringing progress, new industrial techniques, scientific discoveries, cultural sophistication, and a new intensity and richness to life in cities like Vienna. They could also be credited with exploitation, corruption, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, social disintegration, and cultural nihilism. Both views had some basis in reality: “Progress” and “corruption” went hand-in-hand in nearly every country, whether or not Jews were present.
Anti-Semitism and Humanitarian Idealism: von Schönerer
In the early 1880s, particularly in the year 1882, the Austro-Hungarian Empire experienced an upsurge of popular hostility to Jews, much exceeding that in Germany, although not as physically violent as in pogrom-afflicted Russia.
Georg Ritter von Schönerer, in what might be interpreted as a rebellion against the world of his father, began to use language attacking the Jews that went much beyond anything so far heard in respectable circles. He spoke in coarse and brutal tones, with violent threats and violent actions.
Chapter 10. The Ambiguities of “Failure” in the Belle Époque: Germany and Austria
Morality aside, the enmity against the Jews is nonsense, because it is simply impractical. Everybody I know here in Berlin, especially the military and nobility, are eminently dependent upon the Jews and are daily becoming more so. There is no other way but to hold one’s tongue. —Theodor Fontane
Enough has been said about Germany and Austria to make clear how they might be considered, already in the 1880s, failures as models of harmonious Jewish-Gentile relationships. On the other hand, millions of German-speaking Jews and Gentiles continued to live beside one another in reasonable harmony, Jewish material success continued at an impressive rate, and Jewish-Gentile interplay counted many impressive aspects. Many of those in the German-speaking world who spoke out in criticism of the Jews were not willing to go beyond mere exhortation, urging the Jew to improve manners and economic morality or encouraging them to become more whole-hearted in their national feelings. Antiliberal trends become stronger everywhere after 1890, and highlighted tensions between Jews and non-Jews could be noted in nearly all countries. But those tensions often took on curiously unfathomable forms.
The Appearance of Zionism
Gentiles earnestly believed that they and their values had been rejected by Jews, that Jews were not living up to the concessions they implicitly accepted when they gained civil emancipation.
The familiar distinction that religion was a private matter, one that was compatible with various nationalities, which satisfied many Jews in earlier years, began to appear unworkable or at least very awkward in practice. The dialogue of the deaf between Jew and non-Jew ultimately went back to the flawed assumptions, on both sides, of civil emancipation in the first place. The honeymoon was over; divorce was being contemplated. But its costs promised to be terribly high, and the decision was being avoided—perhaps something could still be worked out.
Theodore Herzl [1860-1904] wrote a friend that his book had earned him the “greatest of hatreds [from fellow Jews] while the anti-Semites treat me fairly.” That “fair treatment” constituted one of the earliest examples of what would later become fairly common, that is, open agreement, even an occasional, opportunistic kind of cooperation, between Zionists and some anti-Semites, since they both agreed that Jews should get out of Europe.
The impact of Zionism on non-Jews was also mixed: While anti-Semites pointed to it as evidence that they had been right all along, other non-Jews saw Zionism as a potentially acceptable solution to the Jewish problem.
Anti-Semitism and German Tradition
As historian Steven Beller has commented, “Jews began to see themselves as the real bearers of the Enlightenment” in Austria and Germany. The matter was stated quite openly in a speech by Solomon Ehrmann to the B’nai B’rith in Vienna in 1902. His vision of the future was not simply one in which Jews were to be an honored part; it was to be in fundamental ways a Jewish future, one in which “not only the B’nai B’rith but all Judaism will have fulfilled its task. All mankind will have been jewified [verjudet, the same term used by the anti-Semites] and joined in union with the B’nai B’rith.” In short, Verjudung meant Aufklaerung, jewfication equaled enlightenment. It was in truth a broad and humane vision, but it cannot come as a surprise that many non-Jews were wary of it.
Racism and anti-Semitism were, in the eyes of many German-speaking Jews, more accurately seen as products of reactionaries and of the mob. Hatred of Jews, they believed, was most typically to be found in eastern Europe, or in the less developed parts of the German-speaking world.
There had been a wave of anti-Semitic agitation in Germany from the mid-1870s to the early 1880s, which then receded in the mid-1880s. Another wave gathered force in the late 1880s through the first years of the 1890s, with a high point in the elections of 1893, but it, too, receded, leaving the anti-Semitic parties more discredited and weaker than ever.
The next twenty years were similarly indecisive.
The “Dormant Period” of Anti-Semitism in Germany
The Wilhelmine period (1890-1914) has gone down in most histories as a relatively dormant period insofar as political anti-Semitism is concerned. [But] the decline of the anti-Semitic parties by no means necessarily indicated a decline in anti-Semitic sentiment.
Anti-Semitism of the Tivoli Program was not radical. (In it the party denounced “the multifarious and obtrusive Jewish influence that decomposes our people’s life”; a clause was voted down that said “we repudiate the excesses of anti-Semitism.”) That the latter clause was even proposed suggested that many leaders of the Conservative Party were not anti-Semitic in the radical-racial sense. A number of the party’s leading figures had Jewish wives.
The so-called “dormant” period after 1900 was only the lull before the storm.
The fact remains that the Conservative Party, the anti-Semitic pressure groups, and the anti-Semitic parties themselves were either unwilling or unable to pass a single piece of significant legislation against the Jews in Germany. The material welfare of the Jews in Germany, at the same time, continued its remarkable, seeming inexorable force.
Anti-Semitic Agitation in Austria: Karl Lueger
As we have seen, anti-Semitism in Austria had a significantly broader, more “progressive” appeal in the 1870s and 1880s than it did in the German Reich. In the generation before World War I anti-Semitism in Austria, especially Vienna, was far from politically dormant.
It will be recalled that von Schönerer’s movement suffered a sharp and humiliating decline after its initial success of the 1880s. He was arrested, thrown into jail, and stripped of his title of nobility. Within a short time, however, political anti-Semitism found a more adept practitioner in the person of Karl Lueger, far and away the most successful anti-Semitic politician of prewar Europe.
Like von Schönerer, Karl Lueger began his political career as a liberal but then turned against key liberal tenets. Mention has been made of Treitschke’s aversion to the “jewified” German culture of Austria, of Gratez’s desire to “destroy” Christianity, of Hess’s opinion that Christianity was “religion of death,” and Ehrmann’s conclusion that “jewification equals enlightenment.” Many other Enlightened Jews saw themselves as upholders of justice, as a “light unto the nations” in a modern way. The theme was endlessly manipulated, and it found expression in nearly every country, but the relevant point is that “jewification” was actually more than an absurd fantasy of the anti-Semites. Leading German Jews in Vienna did look to a jewification of the non-Jewish world. On the other hand, it does not take much imagination to understand how alien and hypocritical such an ideal may have seemed to the average citizen in Vienna at the turn of the century, especially when, in its immediately perceptible form, jewification seemed to mean financial scandals, unfair competition, and the revolver press, social exclusiveness, and capitalist exploitation.
Even while Lueger was mayor, Jews continued to move into the city at a rapid rate, Jewish upward mobility continued unabated, and Jewish wealth remained impressive. The period considered the “Golden Age of Viennese Jewry” (1897-1910) coincided with the years that Lueger was mayor. One needs to ask what the “success” of Lueger’s movement actually entailed. In truth, his anti-Semitism was mostly noise. The period of his ascendency marked an end to the honeymoon of Jewish-Gentile relations, but Lueger did not hate all Jews. He never looked forward to a Vienna that would be judenrein (free of Jews).
The “Unpolitical” Germans: Langbehn, Lagrade, Chamberlain
Houston Steward Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Twentieth Century (first published in 1900 but many editions followed, including an inexpensive one in 1906 that was distributed in Germany’s schools) became a hugely popular book by the standards of the day. Its success was all the more remarkable because, by the standards of any day, it was a lengthy tome that made large intellectual demands on its readers. And whatever may be said about the defects of the book, it grappled with many substantial issues. Emperor Wilhelm II read it avidly; he quoted it constantly and sent copies to friends and acquaintances. To be sure, Wilhelm was not an intellectually distinguished or discriminating man, but among the may others who openly and effusively admired the book were Albert Schweitzer, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, and Carl Becker. In his book Chamberlain tried to show, with richly arrayed historical examples, how racial determinism had operated from the distant past to the present. The racial element explained the rise and fall of civilizations, the particular genius of cultures throughout history. Like Gobineau, he was much concerned with racial mixing and the degeneration that he believed came from it.
Chamberlain’s biographer has persuasively argued that in spite of repeated denials, he harbored a tenacious if fluctuating animus against Jews, one that found clearest expression in private communications, especially after 1914, as his health and fortunes declined. The point made earlier about Treitschke (that he had no real program and did not support political action against Jews) holds even more for Chamberlain. He spoke of an inner, spiritual struggle against Jewish influence, not a physical battle against Jewish individuals or groups.
Nationalists in many areas feared that their identity was being overwhelmed and all urged against the forces that were undermining the true identity of their people.
Chapter 12: World War I
The Beginning of Disillusionment in the West
It was at the front, of course, that the most horrendous price was paid. Single battles saw hundreds of thousands young men massacred and large areas turned into moon landscapes. The battles of 1916, particularly at the Somme and Verdun, by far exceeded in senseless death and destruction anything known in the annals of warfare. Those clashes, which were finally indecisive in military terms, induced even some of the most patriotic to question how much longer a war of this sort could continue.
One cannot help but be impressed with the far-ranging ways in which fears and resentments were finding focus in anti-Semitism: Jews as shirkers at the front; Jews as weak-kneed parliamentarians and pacifist press lords; Jews as capitalists making money from the war; Jews as all-powerful and self-serving bureaucrats in the government; Jews as treacherous revolutionaries; even Jews as rank-and-file workers who were especially prone to destructive radicalism. The old anti-Semitic refrain—“the Jew is everywhere”—gained unparalleled plausibility in Germany and began to attract a larger part of the population than even before.
The Peace Settlement
Civilian control of the military prevailed in both France and Great Britain, and in neither country was the tendency to point an accusing finger at Jews as in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.
In Great Britain the Jewish World commented, in response to an anti-Semitic exchange in the columns of the London Times, that Jews faced “the beginning of a new and evil era. We cannot say any more that there is no anti-Semitism in the country that loved the Bible above everything.”
The Polish overlords and neighbors of the Jews in Galicia had hardly been free of anti-Semitism before the war, but the empire’s constitution protected Jews, and mutually beneficial political arrangements had been worked out, encouraging a degree of Polish toleration. These fell apart under the hammer blows of the war, and the non-Jewish population began to blame the Jews, natural targets given their central role in local commerce, for the shortages, high prices, and generally catastrophic economic conditions of the time.
To the east, in the chaos and moral anarchy of the Russian civil war, conditions were far worse for a longer period. The Red Army of the new Bolshevik regime faced not only the reactionary Whites but also anarchist forces and the rag-tag armies of various nationalities that hoped to gain independence. The White armies were particularly prone to anti-Semitism, since they believed the Soviet regime was ruled by Jews and assumed that Jews, even traditional ones, were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. Such beliefs became all the stronger when a pro-Bolshevik soviet regime took over in Budapest in March 1919 led by a communist council of people’s commissars that was in fact composed entirely of Jews.
The entry of the United States, in the spring of 1917, gradually tipped the balance in favor of France and Great Britain. That victory was finally achieved in the autumn of 1918 after internal upheavals in Germany brought to the fore those who were willing to negotiate a peace.
For the anti-Semitic right in German-speaking central Europe, America’s alliance with the French and the English meshed into a by now well-established image of Jewish-controlled powers that were conspiring to destroy Germany. The prewar assertion by men like Treitschke, Langbehn, and Chamberlain that the English and the Americans were shallow, commercial minded and materialistic—Jewish in spirit—was now made even more adamantly. Chamberlain, in a letter to Wilhelm II, wrote that “England has fallen totally into the hands of the Jews and the Americans. This war is in the deepest sense the war of Jewry [Judentum] and its near relative, Americanism, for the control of the world.”
When the Germans agreed to an armistice, they thought that it could be in accordance with Wilson’s Fourteen Points. They were tragically mistaken.
The Paris Peace conference that gathered in early 1919 oversaw the redrawing of the map of most Europe and large parts of the rest of the world. The Jewish Question was on the agenda at Paris, one of a large number of nettlesome issues, seemingly impossible to resolve in a way that would be just to all concerned. The German quickly labeled it a “Jewish peace,” not only because they believed it vindictive, which it unquestionably was, but because they were persuaded that it meant even greater Jewish power in the postwar world.
Again, their fantasy world found much in the real world to nourish it. Even many of those who were not notably anti-Semitic viewed the peace settlement as part of a titanic struggle between German and Anglo-American values. Germans saw themselves as an idealist, disciplined, self-sacrificing people facing peoples devoted to shallow liberalism and egotism. Those Germans who had put faith in Wilson’s points believed themselves cynically betrayed. In their eyes, the final “dictated peace” (Diktat) was an act of unspeakable perfidy. A number of smaller adjustments favoring Germany’s neighbors only added to the sense of impotent outrage in Germany. The worst outrage on the eyes of many Germans was the huge reparation payments with which they were saddled.
Most Germans concluded that these measures were designed not only to punish but to ultimately destroy their country. Enormous debate emerged at the time and for many years afterward about the wisdom and justice of these draconian arrangements. Those Germans leaders who eventually agreed to work within the terms of the treaty did so not because they accepted them as reasonable but because they finally saw no realistic alternative.
The weakness of Hungary in defeat made possible the temporary victory of a communist takeover; no other political tendency was willing to assume responsibility. That the soon notorious communist dictator of Hungary, Bela Kun, and all the commissars of the short-lived soviet republic were Jews helped to bring about a sharp change in the climate of opinion in Hungary. From being a country whose elites recognized the usefulness of Jews, it became one in which Jews were widely seen as destroyers. The virulence of Magyar anti-Semitism soon came to rival that in other parts of east-central Europe.
Most of the new countries to emerge from the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires had sizable Jewish populations, and the new leaders of these countries were required by the Allies to accept so-called minority clauses. The clauses, attached to the various treaties establishing the new countries, not only stipulated that civil equality be given to minorities, long an issue in official relations with the state, such as courts of law. Furthermore, the state was obliged to support separate primary schools for the minorities in their own languages.
The manner in which the minority clauses were imposed lent itself to a belief in international Jewish power. The minorities in question, Jews in particular but also large numbers of Germans and Magyars, worried about their fate in the new nations. The dominant nationalities in the new countries, on the other hand, angrily objected that sovereign states could not accept or long tolerate impositions and prescriptions from outsiders. Many of the leaders of the new nations saw the minority clauses as providing a way for the Jews to be able to continue in their prewar economic prevalence—or even to exercise a behind-the-scenes domination of the new countries—whereas Jews saw the clauses as absolutely necessary protection, as did other minorities.
American and British Jews at the Peace Conference played a key role in the formulation of the terms of the minority clauses. As one author put it, “such distinguished Jewish spokesmen as Louis Marshall, Stephen Wise, and Julian Mack laid siege to Allied plenipotentiaries” and were “in continual contact with President Wilson and Colonel House.” Another scholar has observed that the British activist Lucien Wolf had established an “intimate relationship” with Jacques Bigart, the secretary of the Alliance Israelite Universalle, and “essentially fused the policies of Anglo-French Jewry during and after the First World War.”
Most of the representatives of the new nations considered the American and British Jews to be their enemies. In the eyes of those representatives, the minority clauses imposed or perpetuated autonomous enclaves of foreign peoples on them of a sort that would not have been acceptable to Wilson or other major American politician in their own country, or by the leaders of the other Allied countries.
Well-placed Jews in America, Great Britain, and France believed that they had an obligation, now even more than before the war, to defend Jews in eastern and central Europe, even if those well-placed Jews also differed vehemently among themselves about the notion of Jewish nationalism as such.
The issue was much like that already discussed in regard to Romania: The leaders of the new nations wanted to develop their own national middle class, and they did not want that class to be predominantly Jewish, especially if the Jews in question did not speak the national language or identify with the national culture. Jews also understandably tried to hold on to the social and economic positions they had established in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The Balfour Declaration and the Palestinian Mandate
The Peace Conference dealt with many issues, including carving up the defunct Turkish Empire, which had profound implications for the Jewish Question in Europe, in that it opened up a possible fulfillment of the Zionist dream, the establishment of a national home for Jews in Palestine. The story of the genesis of the Balfour Declaration, in which Great Britain officially favored the establishment of such a home under British protection, is an improbable, even astonishing one. Some have presented the Balfour Declaration and the eventual establishment of a modern Jewish state as a modern miracle; others have seen the emergence and survival of the state of Israel as evidence of how the power of Jews, operating in the corridors of power in Europe and America, has been able to achieve things that defy all probability—and justice.
Churchill and others argued that Jewish financial clout and the control of the news media by Jews were compelling reasons to have them on Great Britain’s side. Churchill was particularly concerned to rally American Jews. Other British leaders worried about the reaction of the indigenous Arab population in Palestine, and those who knew something about the population warned that British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine risked permanently alienating the Arab world, with disturbing long-term implications for British national interest.
Balfour was an enigmatic personality, impressing many of those he met as cynical and remote. In spite of his distaste for the great masses of eastern Jewry, he considered the Jews as a “gifted race,” and he spoke of an “immeasurable debt” owed to them by Christianity. Many scholars have concluded that he, more than any other British politicians, was moved by religious sentiment and a related doctrinaire attachment to Zionist ideals. However much that was the case, he was a man who, once having committed himself, pursued a project with an iron will, proving to be Weizmann’s most important Gentile convert to the Zionist cause.
In a letter published in the London Times on May 24, 1917, the presidents predicted that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would be a “calamity.” It would be a dangerous violation of the principle of equal rights if Jews in Palestine were to get special political privileges and economic preferences. Prophetically, the letter warned that the result would be endless, bitter warfare with the Arabs of the region.
The term “window of opportunity” has nowhere been more appropriate for a declaration of this sort could never have been made before a short period in 1917, and certainly at no time afterward. Wilsonian principles were ignored: The overwhelming Arab majority in Palestine at the end of the war (Jews constituted at most a quarter of the population) was simply not given the same consideration.
A declaration by the British foreign minister in favor of a Jewish national home did not automatically make such a home acceptable to the rest of the world. In 1917 most countries were distracted by more pressing issues. News of the Balfour Declaration shared headlines on November 8 with the announcement of the Bolshevik victory in Petrograd. In the midst of raging war and revolution, the declaration simply did not get the scrutiny it deserved. It was at any rate a political document of the British government, not a legal one based on international consensus, appropriate deliberation, and due process.
The vagueness of the declaration also accounts for the degree to which it was not much discussed. The French were particularly distracted at this time, in that they were losing their Russian ally and about to face another concentrated onslaught of the German army; they understandably did not devote much attention or energy to the Middle East.
What the European powers or Great Britain had to say about the future of Palestine was not considered binding by the Arabs of the region, who had not been consulted—indeed, who felt cynically misused and betrayed, not unlike the Germans in reaction to the Versailles Treaty. They soon began to mobilize in violent opposition to Jewish settlement, which they saw as a form of European imperialism.
They also began to pick up some of the baggage of modern European anti-Semitism. Already by early 1919 Arab leaflets were comparing Jews to poisonous snakes. No nation, it was asserted in them, had ever welcomed or long tolerated Jews, and the Palestinian Arabs would fight to prevent Europeans from solving their problems at the expense of the Arabs—dumping unwanted Jews from Europe into Palestine. These words uncomfortably recalled Herzl’s own searing and widely quoted remarks that “we move where we are not persecuted; our appearance then leads to persecution. This is a fact and is bound to remain a fact everywhere.”
Many in the British military administration of the region sympathized with the Arab majority. They also viewed the Jews as “refuse” from Europe, economic parasites and communist revolutionaries.
Churchill’s comments in 1919: “We are pledged to introduce the Jews into Palestine, and they take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.”
As suggested in the Preface, it would be grotesque to argue that the hostility of the Arabs, this “anti-Semitism” by “Semites,” was mysterious, having to do only with their own psychic problems and not at all with Jewish actions. One might argue that the Arabs made many mistakes, had poor leadership, and showed many moral flaws. That they picked up some of the crudest anti-Semitic myths developed in Christendom is hardly to their credit. But an irreducible reality remains: They were not treated with fairness, and their resentments were understandable, indeed predictable.
At the same time, another bold experiment, which might be described as an utterly contrasting attempt to resolve the Jewish Question, had begun in Russia.
Chapter 13: Jews and Revolution (1917-1934)
The horrors of the revolution from 1917 to 1921 were in some areas even more devastating than those of the war; the connections of Jews and socialist revolutionaries were more visible than ever before and the anti-Semitic potential greater. The perception that revolutionaries were predominantly Jewish and that Jews were particularly vicious as revolutionaries spread now from minds like those of Nicholas II—limited, paranoiac, almost pitiful—to those of a different cut, such as Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill. It was no longer only scandal sheets like La Libre Parole or the Bessarebetz that identified radical revolution with Jews; now that identification was made by newspapers like the London Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Christian Science Monitor, all of which enjoyed a reputation for sobriety on Jewish issues and at least relative fairness.
Many of those who had been inclined to a hesitant or inconsistent anti-Semitism before the war, such as Wilhelm II, now embraced more extreme opinions. Wilhelm’s attitude to “the threat of international Jewry” was influenced by reports like those of Walther von Kaiserlingk, the German admiralty’s chief of operations, who had visited Petrograd in the winter of 1917-18: He described the new government as run by Jews in the interest of Jews; it was “insanity in power,” and it presented a moral threat not only to Germany but to the civilized world. Wilhelm agreed that the Russian people had been “turned over to the vengeance of the Jews, who are connected with all the Jews of the world.”
We have seen how, in western countries where Jews experienced less oppression, an active and highly visible minority of them, especially young, secularized Jewish intellectuals in the generation before the war, were powerfully attracted to socialist ideas. Jews such as Hess, Marx, Lassalle, Bernstein, Otto Bauer, Luxemburg, Martov, Trotsky, and León Blum played a major role in formulating, refining, and propagating those ideas. Non-Jews (Engels, Kautsky, Bebel, Plekhanov, Lenin, Guesde, Jaurès) were also important, in many regards more important than Jews, but considering that the Jewish population of Europe was approximately 2 percent of the total, the Jewish participation in socialism, revolutionary and democratic, was remarkably large.
Both Jewish and non-Jewish socialists in the late nineteenth century saw great merit in the idealism and radicalism of a moral elite of Jews. Just as the non-Jew, Friedrich Engels, had praised Jews for their contribution to the socialist movement, so V.I. Lenin, in a speech in Zurich in 1905, observed that “the Jews furnished a particularly high percentage of leaders of the revolutionary movement. It should be noted to the credit of the Jews, they furnish a relatively high percentage of internationalists.” On another occasion Lenin, in lamenting the low moral and intellectual level of his compatriots, remarked to Maxim Gorky that “an intelligent Russia is almost always a Jew or somewhere with Jewish blood in his veins.” León Blum, who after his participation of the Dreyfus Affair went on to become a prominent figure in the French socialist movement, “glorified in the messianic role of the Jews as social revolutionaries.” Although he was one of the most perceptive critics of Bolshevik theory in the debates within his own party in 1919 and 1920 concerning whether it should join the new Communist International, he had earlier written that “the collective impulse” of the Jews “leads them toward revolution; their critical powers… drive them to destroy every idea, every traditional form which does not agree with the facts or cannot be justified by reason.” Revolutionary socialism, he asserted, was a modern form of “the ancient spirit of the Jewish race.”
Most Russian Jews were pulled unwillingly, even uncomprehendingly into the vortex of revolution and ensuing civil war from 1917 to 1921, observers rather than actors. But others, especially many who had felt blocked in their dreams of a career or who had suffered daily under the irrationality and inefficiency of the tsarist regime, were only too understandably moved by a desire for violent revenge. Some of those revolutionaries, especially when driven into the moral anarchy of civil war, proved themselves capable of breath-taking ruthlessness.
Recognizing that there were fewer Jews in the Bolshevik faction than in the Menshevik, or even that Bolshevism was not a typically Jewish ideology, does not mean that the issue of the role of Jews in Bolshevism is settled, for there were still many Jewish Bolsheviks, especially at the very top of the party. And there were even more in the dreaded Cheka, or secret police, where the Jewish revolutionary became visible in a terrifying form.
Any effort to compose a list of the most important Bolsheviks must be unavoidable subjective, but it seems beyond serious debate that in the first twenty years of the Bolshevik Party the top ten to twenty leaders included close to a majority of Jews.
At a notch down in visibility was Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov. Described as “very Jewish looking,” he became secretary and main organizer of the Bolshevik Party in 1917. There was at any rate no little symbolism in the fact that a Jew was both the head of the state and the secretary of the ruling party. Percentages of Jews in state positions or in the party do not capture that adequately.
In approximately the same second-level category was Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky, notorious as the chief of the Cheka in Petrograd where Red Terror raged with special brutality. For anti-Semites he became the personification of “Jewish terror against the Russian people.” He was certainly less fanatical than Zinoviev [another Jew], whose pervasive cruelty and vindictiveness toward alleged counterrevolutionaries prompted Uritsky at one point to lodge an official complaint.
A list of prominent non-Jews in the party would begin with Lenin, whose name outweighs the others, although in the first year or so of the revolution, Trotsky’s name rivaled his. Yet his status as a non-Jew and “real Russian” is not as clear as subsequent Soviet propaganda tried to make it. His grandfather on his mother side was Jewish, though a convert to Christianity and married to a woman of German origin. On Lenin’s father side were Kalmyk and Swedish forebears. Lenin the non-Jew, in other words, was Jewish enough to have fallen under the shadow of doubt in Nazi Germany or to have been accepted in the state of Israel.
Lenin was of course considered jewified, if not exactly Jewish, by anti-Semites. As noted, he openly and repeatedly praised the role of the Jews in the revolutionary movement; he was one of the most adamant and consistent in the party in his denunciation of pogroms and anti-Semitism more generally. After the revolution, he backed away from his earlier resistance to Jewish nationalism, accepting that under Soviet rule Jewish nationality might be legitimate. On his death bed, Lenin spoke fondly of the Jewish Menshevik Julius Martov, for whom he had always retained a special personal affection in spite of their fierce ideological differences.
An even more remarkable case was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka, a “non-Jewish Jew” in a different sense. (The destruction of his statue in front of the KBG building in Moscow in August 1991, after the ill-fated putsch by party conservatives, was widely seen as symbolic of the destruction of a hated past of secret police domination.) In origin a member of the Polish gentry, he had learned Yiddish as a young man in Vienna and had established close friendships with many Jews in the revolutionary circles of the town. He had several romances with Jews and finally married one.
The backgrounds and personal contacts of non-Jews such as Lenin, Kalinin, and Dzerzhinsky help explain how it was that so many observers believed the Bolsheviks were mostly Jews or were in some way under Jewish tutelage. The various refinements of Jewishness—traditional Jew, reform Jew, cultural Jew, half-Jew, non-Jewish Jew, self-hating Jew, Karaite, jewified Gentile—did not have much meaning to most of those who were in a life-and-death struggle with the Bolsheviks and who of course were not used to seeing Jews in any position of authority in Russia; to see them in such numbers spoke for some radical undermining of a previously accepted order. The leaders of the anti-Bolshevik White armies were convinced that they were fighting Jews and other foreigners (Georgians, Armenians, Lithuanians, Poles)—but most importantly Jews—who had somehow seized control of Mother Russia. To most of the Whites the differences between the various revolutionary factions were of little importance; they all appeared alien, foreign in inspiration, jewified, and destructive. Indeed, for many on the right even the liberal Kadets were viewed as westernized and jewified.
Such exaggeration was hardly limited to the White armies. One book published in the West, The Causes of World Unrest, presented a list of fifty members of the Bolshevik government and declared that 95 percent of them were Jews, a common conclusion, as was the notion that the Bolsheviks were murderously destructive.
Destruction of the Jews by the Nazis was from this perspective to be considered a preventive measure, ultimately one of self-defense. As early as 1917, Belloc’s friend and intellectual colleague, C.K. Chesterton, had sternly warned the Jews in Great Britain who were sympathetic to the revolution that “if they continue to incite people against the soldiers and their wives and widows, they will learn for the first time what anti-Semitism really means.
Anti-Semitism, well entrenched on the right, revived in the rest of the political spectrum, undermining what had been achieved through the patriotic unity of August 1914. The older charges that Jews were unpatriotic or part of the capitalist conspiracy now refocused on the Jew as a social subversive, “taking orders from Moscow.”
A revolutionary unrest spread to central Europe in late 1918 and 1919. The party’s first two leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and, after her murder in January 1919 at the hands of a right-wing paramilitary organization, Paul Levi, were of Jewish origin. Even in France and Italy, with their small and overwhelmingly bourgeois populations, the emerging Communist parties counted a number of Jews in hardship positions. “Foreign Jews, taking orders from Moscow” became an issue.
A Communist coup was attempted in Berlin in January 1919 (the Spartacus Uprising, when Rosa Luxemburg was killed), and in the course of that tumultuous year in Germany pro-Bolshevik revolutionaries took over, however briefly and confusedly, in Munich. In France a general strike was launched in the spring of 1920, and in the autumn of that year there were massive factory occupations in the industrial north of Italy. Perhaps most worrisome to the western powers, the Red Army, headed by Trotsky, launched an offensive against Poland in the summer of 1920 that was touted as the beginning of a triumphant advance of the Red Army into western Europe.
Russian Jews in Revolution: From March to November
One of the first measures taken by the Provisional Government was a decree conferring complete civil equality upon Russia’s Jews. That action was hailed as long overdue by the Russian press; even Novoe Vremia, which, as a semiofficial organ before 1917, had often published anti-Semitic material, applauded the move.
Many of Russia’s Jews were jubilant at the news. In some Jewish homes, Passover was celebrated that year with the reading of the decree instead of the traditional Haggada. Plans were quickly made by Jewish activists for an all-Russian Jewish congress. The excited appeal that went out for it proclaimed that whereas elsewhere Jews had received civil equality, only now in revolutionary Russia were they also going to receive recognition of their separate nationality within another nation. Nothing finally came of this congress, since the Bolshevik Revolution, and then civil war, got in the way.
In Russia, perhaps even more than elsewhere, civil equality for Jews, to say nothing of an official recognition of Jewish nationality, opened up Pandora’s box.
Jews who had faced pervasive discrimination and persecution suddenly found government positions opened to them while closed to the older privileged classes, who were overwhelmingly of Great Russian background.
Still, after 1917, especially after November 1917, there was in Europe a most remarkable change in the status quo: Large numbers of individual Jews assumed, for the first time in modern history, a major role in the government of non-Jewish peoples. Such was the case not only in Russia but in other areas, most notably Hungary and Germany.
The Red Terror—a Jewish terror?
In some areas, for example, the Ukraine, the Cheka leadership was overwhelmingly Jewish. By early 1919 Cheka organizations in Kiev were 75 percent Jewish, in a city where less than a decade earlier Jews had been officially forbidden to reside, except under special dispensation, and constituted about 1 percent of the total population.
The pattern of employing non-Slavic ethnic minorities in the Cheka was duplicated in many other areas of Russia. George Leggett, the most recent and authoritative historian of the Russian secret police, speculates that the use of outsiders may have been a conscious policy, since such “detached elements could be better trusted not to sympathize with the repressed local population.”
It is instructive that the high percentage of Jews in the secret police continued well in the 1930s, when the population of Jews gradually diminished in most other areas of the Soviet and party cadres. The extent to which both Cheka and Gestapo leaders prided themselves in being an elite corps, characterized by unyielding toughness—unmoved by sympathy for their often innocent victims and willing to carry out the most stomach-turning atrocities in the name of an ideal—is striking.
The number of Jews involved in the terror and counterterror of this period is striking. These many Jewish terrorists helped to nurture, even when they killed Jewish Chekists, the belief that Jews, especially once they had broken from the confines of their traditional faith, turned naturally to fanaticism and anarchistic destructiveness.
An even more important institution than the Cheka in defending the revolution was the Red Army, and, again, Jews played a key role in its leadership.
Trotsky fascinated a broad public inside and outside Russia. In Hungary, a Jewish observer who was in fact hostile to the Bolsheviks nonetheless write: “The evolutionary flame which has burned beneath the surface of world history is now blazing up for the first time in a Jewish genius: Leo Trotsky!” According to Paul Johnson,
It was Trotsky who personally organized and led the armed uprising which actually overthrew the Provisional Government and placed the Bolsheviks in power. It was Trotsky who created the Red Army, and who ensured the physical survival of the new Communist regime during the Civil War.
Trotsky’s paramount role in the revolution cannot be denied; Johnson’s views even if exaggerated, underline how powerful and durable has been the mystique around Trotsky’s name. He was second to Lenin, but a strong second. There was no Jew in modern times, at least until the creation of the state of Israel, to rival him.
It has been claimed that the actual proportion of Jews in top party and state positions in the 1930s did not notably drop from the 1920s. However, “visible” Jewish leaders, comparable to Trotsky, Zinoviev, or Uritsky, diminished in numbers and would continue to do so in subsequent years, so that by the mid-twentieth century there were almost no Jews among the highest officials in the Soviet Union.
To state the obvious, Jews were never purged explicitly as Jews in the Soviet Union, and millions survived the worst years of Stalin’s terror.