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.