This week in 1903 Shalom Aleichem, the giant of Yiddish literature, wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy, the giant of Russian literature. It was shortly after the gruesome Kishinev pogrom. Shalom Aleichem planned to publish a modest compilation about the atrocity, to which he asked Tolstoy to contribute a short message to “Russia’s millions of distraught and disoriented Jews, who more than anything need a word of comfort.” Tolstoy never so much as bothered to reply.
The famed novelist, feted as the conscience of Russia, received dozens such letters urging him to speak out against the slaughters – then a seminal trauma in Jewish annals. The Holocaust was decades away. Nobody 109 years ago could imagine anything more bloodcurdling than the horrors of Kishinev.
But not everyone was moved – not even a renowned humanitarian like Tolstoy.
Not only did he not speak out, but he resented the entreaties.
He replied to one Jewish correspondent only, Emanuel Grigorievich Linietzky, to whom he caustically complained about being pestered. Tolstoy then blamed the Czar’s government, absolving the masses who bashed the skulls of babies, gouged children’s eyes, raped their mothers and sisters, eviscerated them, beheaded men and boys, quartered and mutilated them and looted all they could carry.
We hear much the same throughout Europe at each memorial to the Holocaust.
The upgraded, systemized, gargantuan-scale German sequel to Kishinev was by all accounts committed by unidentified extraterrestrials called Nazis. All the others, Germans included, were their victims.
But Tolstoy foreshadowed an even more sinister inclination that would fully and hideously burst upon our scene a century and more after the Kishinev devastation. The great author and icon of compassion exhorted Russia’s shaken Jews to behave better.
The implication was that the Jews were somehow guilty, needed to improve themselves and achieve higher virtue in order to merit better treatment.
And so wrote Tolstoy to Emanuel Grigorievich: “The Jews must, for their own good, conduct themselves by the universal principle of ‘do onto others as you would have them do to you.’ They must resist the government nonviolently…by living lives of grace, which precludes not only violence against others, but also the partaking in acts of violence.”
Given the background of Eastern Europe’s downtrodden Jewry, such ’turn-the-other-cheek’ sermons appear chillingly pitiless (to say the least) because all the Jews had been doing was turning the other cheek. Taken in a broader context, Tolstoy argued against Jewish self-defense before any self-defense was actually attempted. Jews, Tolstoy in effect said, share culpability for their tribulations, must suffer quietly and cannot rise to protect themselves.
Sound familiar? It ought to. It’s exactly what we keep hearing today from current preachers of goodwill, literary or otherwise. The more things change the more they sickeningly stay the same.
Enter Günter Grass. Germany’s Nobel laureate for literature has just warned the world about the danger which the Jewish state poses to global peace and warned that little Israel is out to no less than exterminate the Iranian people, all 80 million of them. It doesn’t matter that we – including even the loopiest left-wingers on the outermost fringes of our political spectrum – know that this is utter drivel.
The last thing on any Israeli’s mind is annihilating Iranians. We only want to make sure that they don’t nuke our tiny uber-vulnerable national home.
Too much to ask? When it comes to Jews, anything is apparently too much.
This is particularly pertinent for us in the springtime of the year, when we collectively remember the six million who perished in the very Holocaust in which Grass, by his own candid admission, was an enthusiastic accomplice.
But his stained personal history clearly constitutes no incentive to discreet reticence on his part. Like many Europeans, Grass has lost all shame and the disappearance of shame is the new bon ton among like-minded genteel Jew-haters.
It’s politically incorrect to even accuse Grass of thinly disguised anti-Semitism. That instantly turns him into the muzzled good-guy and us into loathsome Jews seeking to silence yet another legitimate critic of Israel with their doomsday weapon – charges of anti-Semitism. Moreover, any remote reference to the Holocaust is sure to elicit howls of derision.
This diabolical yet prevalent deformation of perceptions confers on all anti-Semites the freedom to slander, while denying Jews the right to call a spade a spade.
It’s a foolproof arrangement. Jew-revulsion now masquerades behind acutely inflammatory anti- Israel and pro-Arab propaganda, whose disseminators inevitably deny anti-Semitic motives. Their favorite ploy is to present Israel-bashing as just deserts for the Jewish state’s policies.
Post-Holocaust circumspection has bred cleverly camouflaged anti-Semitism – not less dangerous or less in-your-face but more cunning and deceptive.
Most contemporary anti-Semites are remarkably practiced in accompanying their invective with instant disclaimers – by now an expected part of the pattern.
Grass is extraordinarily true to form.
Indeed, he already gets star-billing on a host of Judeophobic websites, which celebrate him as yet another upstanding and righteous critic of Israel, an honorable observer pilloried as an anti-Semite in order to suppress his heartfelt outcry.
Thus Grass becomes the ultimate robbed Cossack in a rationalized German adaptation of the infamous Russian tradition. Anti-Semites – whether they specialized in mere pogroms or outright Holocausts – habitually portrayed themselves as the aggrieved side.
Robbed Cossack Grass actually volunteered for the barbarous Waffen-SS (branded a “criminal organization” at the Nuremberg Trials). But what of it?
He has put it all behind him, wiped his own slate clean and now feels empowered to launch anti-Jewish diatribes at will. Professing to have propelled himself to a loftier leftist plane, he can reproach the Jews and, like Tolstoy before him, demand they do nothing to defend themselves.
If they do, they become, in Grass’s idiom, “the greatest danger to the world.” It’s Israel that threatens Iran and not vice versa. By his criteria, our forebears threatened Egypt’s pharaohs, the Amalekites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Haman’s Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusader marauders, Muslim conquistadors, Spanish inquisitors, Chmielnicki’s Ukrainian mass-murderers, Russian pogromchiks, to say nothing of the Germans, whose fuehrer always screamed hysterically about the danger posed to the world by “the forces of International Judaism,” compelling him to formulate a “final solution” to their problem.
Fallacies of the sort which spawned the worst tragedies that befell our nation are still promulgated passionately today. An unbroken chain of lies links the hounding of Jews throughout the ages, rendering flagrant fabrications, like Grass’s, ever pertinent.
With mounting disbelief we witness world callousness toward the Jewish state that arose against all odds from the ashes of that great Holocaust conflagration. It’s beyond our grasp that we are vilified while supposed advocates of justice and seekers of peace cosset Arab/Muslim torchbearers of Nazi genocide.
We can’t comprehend the hypocrisy. We can’t understand how assorted glitterati and literati perennially postulate that those who strive to continue what the Nazis failed to finish are actually the “victims’ victims.” Europe loves to regard Israelis as victimizers and sympathize with “victimized” Arabs/Iranians/Muslims.
It’s nothing less than mind-blowing that the children of murderers, sadists, collaborators, bureaucrats, robbers, those who didn’t see, those who didn’t want to know, those who saw and knew but didn’t act – all now profess to occupy the moral high ground. They now preach to the children of the slain, gassed, burned, shot, buried-alive, starved, tortured, degraded, dehumanized, enslaved, dispossessed, bereaved and orphaned.
How can the moral onus be shifted onto the victims’ progeny? Easily – if the Holocaust is viewed as a crime without perpetrators. No occupied country colluded in rounding up and deporting its Jews. None produced greedy plunderers and collaborators. The occupiers themselves were a mythical extinct band of no distinct ethnicity, known generically as Nazis, who methodically hunted hidden Jewish babies.
In our topsy-turvy existence nothing is unthinkable. And so descendants of history’s worst-guys parade as good-guys, while descendants of the most downtrodden are considered as still woefully deficient of decency.
A German friend, Josef H, notes that official reactions in his country to Grass’s diatribe “were 99% negative.” Nevertheless, he writes, “I admit that I very rarely meet people who feel that they have to stand up for Israel when Israeli-Palestinian problems are mentioned. So I normally abstain from using the word ‘Israel’ in any conversation in order not to set fire to explosive material.”
Josef asked a member of his own extended family what he thought of the Grass imbroglio. The relative, Josef relates, “a really decent, reliable, honest man, generally following Christian principles… answered, without thinking twice about it: ‘Grass is right.’”
Such is the climate of opinion around him that Josef requested I not reveal his surname. Significantly, to his mind, Grass echoes his fervent Nazi past, deeply rooted in his psyche.
Grass isn’t the only Nobel literature laureate of such a mind-set. Some, like Britain’s Rudyard Kipling, didn’t even wax indignant pro forma when accused of anti-Semitism. Kipling unflinchingly blamed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution on an “international Jewish plot.” In 1919 he backed the publication in the UK of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In 1920, Kipling agreed only conditionally to read proofs of the memoirs of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) prepublication, vowing to return them if he finds them “pro-Yid.”
Kipling dismissed Einstein’s general theory of relativity as a component of a comprehensive Jewish conspiracy to destabilize world order.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t so. It doesn’t matter that every Jew knows there’s no Jewish world-domination conspiracy. What matters is that the Kiplings and their ilk expressed the zeitgeist of their day, just as Grass now does – regardless of whether his country’s establishment sanctions his opinion.
The fashionable, respectable anti-Semitism of European intellectual salons in the early 20th century made the Nazi persecutions of Jews palatable. The fashionable, respectable anti-Israelism of European intellectual salons in the early 21st century makes Ahmedinejad’s calls for our extinction palatable.
And above all hovers Tolstoy’s sanctimonious spirit which hints that our misconduct is the root cause of our misfortune.
wonderful and sadly very true- i hate this reality- till when will we have to defend our right to self defence?
This article hits every anti-semitic, anti-Israel nail right on the head. When will somebody- like Sarah Honig- delve deep into the underlying reasons for this hatred for us, disgust about us, contempt for us? The deep seated emotions, jealousy, envy amd fear, underlies all these negarive reactions to the Jew and the Jewish State\. Our very existence makes these haters insecure, Someone very gifted with words might be able to uncover the basics here, express them clearly, and then , possibly, there will be enough thinkers who might, little by little, figure out how to deal with this fact and help the world to get over this vicious hatred for the Jews.
Your article is brilliant and moving, but as a British-Israeli living in Israel with acquaintances both home and abroad I looked for mention of the serious problem of useful Jewish idiots. There is no mention in your diatribe of the many leftist Jews in the UK (e.g. Guardian Readers and further left) who side with Israel’s enemies. Perhaps they deserve another article, either about them, for them, or both.
We don’t have to defend our right to self-defense.
Something about poets:
Tolstoy and also Dostojevskij had been Antisemites !
The Germans Goethe and Schiller had been Antisemites, Shakespeare INVENTED Shylock and most recently I read a Poem of Charles Baudelaire out of his famed “Les Fleurs du Mal”, named the ” The Seven Old Men”….I was shocked about his mind boggling and most extreme Jew hatred…
It is most telling, that these “giants” of literature had been ROTTEN scumbags altogether…
Chris, I just saw your reply appear right after I got done posting mine.
Could it be a sign??
Noodles, for sure it is…!
Well Sarah, my buddy Chris Rettenmoser who often posts here, and is one of the real decent Germans alive today, and I, are going to be giggling to ourselves when we see the whole thing blow up in Ahmadinejad’s and Obama’s face. There does seem to be the sweet smell of divine retribution coming to this basically anti-semetic world in the air, and although it probably won’t be a very happy time to be alive, at least the Jewish people won’t have to take it laying down, as in years gone by.
The root cause of Tolstoys Jew hatred came out of the “New Testament”…the “New Testament” is the big book of EVIL…The “Russian soul” consists of Christianity and nationalism…(sounds new ?) Tolstoy was a Christian pervert like millions and millions all around the globe and for him, the Jews had been something worthless, because they didn’t buy into his religious ideology.
Hitler was raised as a Catholic and stayed in the Church and was never evicted from it… Tolstoys and Hitlers Jew hatred was grounded in Christian ideology and Hitler only adapted his racist ideology later in his life, because he already had become a traditional Christian Jew hater like Tolstoy.
Goethe disliked the Jews out of the same reason.
Something to digest for the German readers of this blog: Goethe was evil…and Bach also !!!
‘We can’t comprehend the hypocrisy. We can’t understand how assorted glitterati and literati perennially postulate that those who strive to continue what the Nazis failed to finish are actually the “victims’ victims.” ‘
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
Those who swallow the big lie about the basic goodness of mankind do so because they reject God’s statement on the EVIL human condition which history has attests to since the beginning.
After all the evidence is in, Israel continues to follow illusions and delusions of peace with EVIL
by compromise and appeasement even though this has never worked and ALWAYS failed.
It would be so much easier to obey God (Exodus 23:27-33) than trust in ‘evil by nature’ mankind and their peace of the grave for the Jews.
“The great author and icon of compassion” – If it’s any consolation, Tolstoy hated basically everybody, while speaking loftily of humanism and compassion. He was one of the world’s greatest misogynists. He praised peasants and robbed them of the little they had. But then, again, pontificating on generosity, he was one of the stingiest men around. Paul Johnson has a brilliant chapter on him in his must-read book Intellectuals. As for Grass, he’s obviously a victim of involutionary processes: if it’s his “second childhood” senility, he must be re-living his glorious days in the WaffenSS, and if it’s just general dementia, he must be imagining getting a second Nobel Prize. Actually, in the present climate perhaps it’s not impossible, and he may well get one. Like Arafat. Not for attacking the Jews, of course, but for Peace.
‘Local police arrest two 16-year-olds suspected of stabbing the Israeli border police cadet in upper body in Karmel ;” motive for attack remains unknown.” ‘
With Israel is led by such clueless idiots ,is it any wonder why the situation goes from bad to worse ?
An extemely eloquent and compelling essay Sarah, and unfortunately very true. In the 1960 movie Judgment at Nuremberg, when one of the judges (Spencer Tracy) meets the somewhat intoxicated army prosecutor (Richard Widmark) in a nightclub, and the judge says it would be out of order for the two of them to be discussing the case of the Nazi judges presently being tried (in which the characters portrayed by Tracy and Widmark are both officially taking part) outside the courtroom, Widmark, the prosecutor, replies;
“No, sir. We can’t do anything
that’s out of order.
There are no Nazis in Germany.
Didn’t you know that, Judge?
The Eskimos invaded Germany and took over.
That’s how all those terrible things happened.
It wasn’t the fault of the Germans.
It was the fault of those damn Eskimos.
What a great article. I was shocked to hear about Kipling. I grew up with The Jungle Books. I never read anything else by Kipling, but have seen a few movie adaptions and the film about sending his son to war. It is especially grim to hear that he offered some kind of opinion on Einsteins physics. Perhaps he never heard that the Catholic Bishop Berkeley, the namesake of the California city, rejected Isaac Newton’s Calculus on similar shallow grounds.
I myself thank the Lord every day that Israel is there..a beacon of freedom and democracy in the middle east. i asked my Irish partner “why do you think the jews are so universally hated?” his response was simple: “I think people are frightened of their power in the world..they control that most powerful of propoganda machines: Hollywood! in addition they are powerful members of the world banking networks and many industries .” Sound familiar? I believe the little Austrian used to say the same kinds of things. He went on to say that he has nothing aginst jews personally but he thinks “that is the universal perception.” He also said, with admiration, “the jews look out for each other, not only in business but in moral support: they suport each other in all aspects of jewish life” Unlike their arab neighbours who are always squabbling amongst themselves like my Irish compatriots”I know that this message will unleash a barrage of complaints..just sayin’…
Sarah, your German friend described the truth, when speaking about Germany…that is why I very often wear an Israeli flag pin…but it is never ever appreciated…a dumb gaze at the pin is the most likely reaction !
I personally know of no German who is only slightly in support of Israel…the Germans consists of arrogant cowards and Antisemites, that’s for sure !
GraSS is only a symptom of a rotten people who will never change for the better…
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Dear, Sarah,I wonder in all the story with Grass, that nobody has noted that Grass is a hero of “Homecoming” by B. Schlink. This is a very fine novel and since it was written before the past of Grass had came to light, it seems to be a typical German story and explains many things happening in Germany today
Can you give us a hint about the content of that novel ?
You should read it. It is very nicely written and I do not want to be a spoiler. This is a story about a guy searching for his father. One should read Schlink to understand Germany and the ties of her present and her past…
Thank you for your wonderful piece about Tolstoy/Grass.
Unfortunately Grass represents the majority view in Germany-the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that published the ‘poem’ conducted a poll. Mrs Merkel did not want to comment on ‘art’. Many critics of Grass accuse him of breaking the taboo of silence about Israel, not the content!
The problem Sarah, is that Germany has never been really honest about its history. It has never delved into the writings of Christian theologian Augustin, the pre Nazi rantings of Luther,-the two most influential theologians in Europe- the massacres in the Rhineland, the hep hep riots, the Ludendorff/Kaiser Judenzahl in WW1 and so on and tried to re educate Germans (or Norwegains etc) and re interpret these theologians. Instead Germany concentrated on superficial issues like forbidding the Hitler salute while ignoring the fundamentals. That is a failure of German post war education.
In post war Germany, Adenauer appointed Nazis like Dr Hans Globke (architect of the Nuremberg laws, and who worked under Eichmann) to very senior positions. During this time, Jewish cemeteries and shuls were desecrated in Germany. The humanitarian concern was for (Nazi) German refugees from Czechoslovakia and other Volksdeutsche.. not the Jews. Reparations to Jews were highly unpopular. Adenauer pushed it through because he saw the political benefit for Germany with the USA and also believed that Jews have enormous economic power in the world. Hence political expediency would help to apply for loans. Hardly genuine remorse-more opportunistic contrition although Adenauer was certainly no Nazi.
No one talks of “Germans” but of Nazis when discussing atrocities. And Jewish leaders, addicted to photo-ops with German leaders at Holocaust memorial ceremonies or ceremonies to restore a shul where hardly Jews now exist, play the game by their attendance.
Now we can understand the Longerich Report in Jan 2012, presented to Dr Merkel. Anti Semitism is alive and well in young generation Germany. Grass knows that.
Very good points you made …!
Adenauer was in fact a Nazi pig (ein Nazischwein), as he tried to SAVE Eichmann !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Adenauer was an Antisemite par excellence…there is a most telling Youtube video of him…demonising the American Jews and the Jews altogether>>>shortly after the Holocaust, he spoke about the “power of the Jews”…he only supported Israel out of fear, to avoid any harm done to his beloved Germany by the hands of the otherwise revengeful Jews !
Dear Sarah, I agree with you 100 percent, but I think the real problem is the reaction of Jews and Israelis to anti-semitism. I think we we all are suffering from the syndrome of the abused wife, who because of feelings of guilt blames herself for the abuse she sustains. In a similiar vein we seem to be in the same position. When Gunther Grass attacked us, what was the reaction of the media here. Instead of declaring him a person non grata we should have invited him to a discussion with Israeli authors. Another words, lets give him a bigger forum to spew his bigotry. They went even farther by claiming we shot ourselves in the foot from the point of view of public relations. When Iran threatens to wipe us off the map the reactions of our fellow Jews has been pathetic. The latest travesty is a call to boycott goods from Israel when we aqre facing an existential threat. Turning the other cheek or worse blaming ourselves are the guarantees for further anti-semetic and anti Israel incidents.
Very few of us want to acknowledge the dangers we face, especially here in the USA. The Holocaust was once unimaginable as well. We deny at our own peril. A Jew must dare not distance himself from Israel,ever. Ignorance of our past will kill again, siding with our enemies will not spare you either. Awake
Excellent column. It should be published in German newspapers. Be sure to send a copy to the anti-semite Grass. I am sure that he is such a sophisticated intellectual it would go right over his head. Best wishes to you.
very deep and emotional too qne wo hard to take it all in.its true, we need to be awareof everything qround us including most of all anti semitism. its everywhere. you cant get around it and it will always be there.what to do is the question? esther
Let’s hope that G-d Willing we will never allow ourselves to be abused and murdered by the Amaleks again. Never. We know them for who they really are. They will never change. We are taught by the Rebbe to bring Heaven down to Earth by doing acts of kindness; by doing the Mitzvot and so we should; BUT at the very same time; our Midrash tells us clearly that when Amalek tries to hurt us, we need to do unto them what they try to do to us. Very clearly and Baruch H’ for Israel. May He Who Is Above bless them and keep them safe.