Elmer Davis never bores. Well, just to be cautious, Elmer Davis almost never bores. His article, On the Gentility of Gentiles, is one of the brightest spots in the July issue of Harper’s. It is full of wit and knowledge and should make a lot of people squirm.
He begins on a summer note, by pointing out how difficult it is for Gentiles of the middle-class who go off on summer vacations to invite to their favorite resorts even their most admirable Jewish friends. He tells, for example, of a Gentile friend who simply had to invite a Jew to his place over the week-end. It was a most urgent matter and the Jewish friend came. “The visitor happened to be by far the most distinguished person who had ever visited the settlement; but his host smuggled him in as cautiously, and kept him out of sight as vigilantly, as if he had been an abolitionist of the fifties harboring a fugitive slave.”
And of another, a neighbor of his in a summer colony who had been greatly offended either by the real estate company or the club committee, who meditated the most awful revenge against his fellow-Aryans: he would sell his house to Jews. Mr. Davis continues:
“The sort of Jews who cared to live in that suburb would not have bought his modest cottage. We had several Jewish residents and the least opulent of them lived in a house far better than his. But to point that out to him would have been unkind, and futile. For by that time he was in a mood of homicidal and suicidal frenzy; he wanted to do the very worst thing he could think ofâ€”scuttle the ship, derail the train, blow up the powder magazine; betray the citadel, and let in the alien who would steal the palladium of Aryan exclusiveness.”
And from this point he becomes serious, he comes down to brass tacks, he quotes Scripture for his purpose. And Mr. Davis knows Scripture. Although known to most as a light novelist and clever magazine writer, he is something of a Hebrew scholar, having studied at one of the English universities in that subject. One of his least known novels is built on the story of David and Goliath. And the subject to which Mr. Davis turns his wit and knowledge, after the anecdotes about summer colony exclusiveness, is: What is a Jew?
And the conclusion to which he comes, and which he adorns with much illustrative data, is that the Jew is different from the non-Jew neither in race nor in religion. The Protestant excluders don’t even go to their Protestant churches and those who do, give their allegiance to a “Modernist Protestantism whose differences from Reformed Judaism are infinitesimal.” We ourselves doubt it but Mr. Davis talks like one who knows.
Now if you think that putting a hair-line between Modernist Protestantism and Reform Judaism is a bit too thick for credence, hear Mr. Davis out on the subject of Jews as a racial unity. They just aren’t a race, he says. Now whether or not we are disposed to believe any statement so rash, let’s hear him out.
“If the evidence of history and of eye-witness observation is worth anything, the Jews are no more a race than the Germans; like every nation in modern Europe (to say nothing of America), they are a mixture of races unified by a culture in so far as they are unified at all. Even that culture is chiefly of alien and largely of Christian imposition; what people think of as traditional Jewish characteristics cannot be discerned in the Jews who appear in the first trustworthy historical passages of the Old Testament. The Jews of David’s day were ignorant and bigoted farmers, exactly like the hill-billies who made up the strength of the Ku Klux Klan. The Phoenicians were the smart business men of that period and while Hiram, King of Tyre, complained that Solomon had gypped him in a real estate deal, that seems to have been a distinct exception. Then and for centuries after the bulk of the Jews had the hill-billy’s distrust of the city slicker who appreciates the amenities of life; the roars of Amos of Tekoa against those who lie on beds of ivory, and chant to the sound of viols, and drink wine in bowls (they used goatskin bags back in Tekoa) set the keynote to which rural fanatics have faithfully attuned their vituperations for twenty-seven hundred years.”
Now since the limits of space prevent us from quoting Mr. Davis’s provocative article in its entirety, may we not suggest to our readers that they borrow, if they cannot buy, a copy of the July issue of Harper’s.
“THE HITLER JITTERS”
Berlin says “Heil Hitler!” with great gusto when the brown-shirted Nazi lads come marching up the street, but beneath the surface there is a furtive fear of being overheard, of being spied upon, of having phones tapped, of the stranger who may be overhearing a casual remark not precisely in the Heil Hitler style. That is the tenor of T. D. Ybarra’s article in the current issue of Collier’s, entitled “The Hitler Jitters.”
Mr. Ybarra tells how amazed he was at the measures of caution his friends urged upon him while he was going about speaking casually to friends and strangers. He had never known anything like it before.
“Don’t telephone if you can help it,” a friend warns him. “Telephones are being tapped all over town.”
“And a German,” he writes, “to whom I innocently made a remark in an ordinary conversational tone of voice bearing on the political situation, put his fingers to his lips, and drawing close to me, whispered: ‘We don’t talk politics around here any moreâ€”too much risk of being overheard and locked up.’
“With the words came something which I had never encountered on any previous visit to Germanyâ€”a sudden furtive glance over the shoulder, followed by a quick flash of relief when it appeared that nobody had been eavesdropping.”
EMPTY GERMAN PROMISE
The Nation, in its current (June 28th) issue points out that the promise of the Germans to the International Olympics Committee that no Jews would be excluded from the 1936 Olympics competitions is meaningless in view of the fact that Jewish athletes are forbidden to hold membership in German sports organizations and are therefore, in effect, if not in technicality, forbidden to compete.