Comment and Reflection on Topics of the Day

There are many who will say that Hitler Germany is a rubbish heap. There is nothing too bad to say about it. But is there really anything new in present-day Germany? Has not the spirit of brutality, of the jackboot and the mailed fist been there (side by side with all the noble qualities of German art and German pacifism) before Hitler was born?

“At the end of 1907, when the waves of Catholic barbarism threatened to submerge Prussian Poland, whose million Poles (twice the number of Germany’s Jews), the German Reichstag—at the instigation of the Hakatists with their policy of ‘Ausrotten’—proposed to expropriate and replace by Prussians proper,” Zangwill wrote nearly twenty years ago, “the illustrious Polish novelist Sienkiewicz made an appeal to ‘the conscience of the world’ !” (Incidentally Zangwill recalls that later, when the Poles started their anti-Jewish boycott, even Sienkiewicz, who had appealed to “the conscience of the world” on behalf of the Poles of Prussia, omitted to protest against the boycott of the Jews by his own countrymen). “As a Jew,” Zangwill replied to Sienkiewicz, “I cannot agree with you that the proposed outrage upon German Poles is the greatest iniquity and infamy in the history of the 20th century; that abominable title has already been earned by the massacres of the Jews in Russia, carried out with official connivance and under circumstances of atrocity which have no parallel even in medieval times. I cannot believe that the 20th century reserves for us a deeper horror. But this is almost the only hope I can permit myself of a country which has seen this occur with no effective protest.

“Might is recognized as the rule of life. In this degeneration of the human conscience, Germany has played perhaps the leading role. The Germany of Goethe and Schiller, of Kant and Beethoven, to which humanity has turned in reverence, has been replaced by a Germany of blood and iron, a Germany from which we turn shuddering” (1907 mark you, not 1933—to say nothing of the Hun and the Boche of the war years).

“Why should you expect Europe to interfere on behalf of the Poles?” Zangwill asked Sienkiewicz (or the Jews?) “Whence comes your optimism, your generous belief in the power of the pillars of civilization and intellectual culture? You and I should know that a people that has lost its power of military resistance is the doomed prey of the nations with teeth and claws.”

When Germany fell in her turn and lost her power of military resistance, she did indeed become the prey of the nations with teeth and claws. What else were the demands for astronomical reparation payments? What was the humiliation of Germany, the refusal of equality, the Ruhr invasion, the insistent pay! pay! pay!? Does it make things better to say that Germany, had she been the victor, would have been even more ruthless? Do two wrongs ever make a right? Is it surprising that the smouldering sense of injustice has burst into flame?

As for this new insistence among Jews that Germans are barbarians, is it not a fact that till recently— except for the war patriotism in the Allied countries—and to a large extent even in the War (above all, while America was still neutral)— Jews have had a sneaking sympathy for Germany? Be the reason what it may, hostility to Czarist Russia, admiration for German Kultur, the proximity of oppressed Polish and Russian Jewry to German Jews across the border, and envy of their clean-looking, prosperous German citizenhood, the ability by means of Yiddish to converse with Germans— a thousand and one reasons.

And yet anti-Semitism in Germany is not a new thing that Hitler has conjured up out of hot air. I have in front of me an article by a German-Jewish scholar that appeared in an American Jewish magazine in 1906, when Hitler was in his teens, complaining of the virulent anti-Semitism that was embittering the life of the Jews in Germany, and particularly of the Jewish student in Germany who found “himself considered an outsider, denied his German nationality and social equality, made to feel that he is a Jew and not a German.”

Maximilian Harden, who died long before Hitlerism became a serious movement, confessed that “I myself, who grew up in a purely German atmosphere, was bred in the Christian Faith, have had very little to do with Jews and have in every respect considered myself a German, had to find out one fine day that the pure racists do not consider me a real German.”

NEXT STORY