During the absence on vacation of the conductor of this column, Harry Salpeter, prominent guest conductors will pinch hit for him.â€”Ed.
Not very long ago I attended a meeting of protest against the cruel treatment of Jews by the Hitler regime in Germany.
The first speaker, a rabbi, pointed out to the audience that the Jews were a chosen people, that throughout history God had cared for them, and that with proper loyalty to Judaism the German Jews would again see the sunlight.
The next speaker laid stress upon cultural unity among the Jews, referring not only to contributions of the Jews to civilization, but directing his remarks to the point that these contributions, were as Jews and probably resulted largely from Jewish traditions, heritage and a careful regard for a national rather than a general culture.
The third speaker took up the Zionist or nationalist proposition, and pointed out that nowhere on earth would the Jews be able to develop their talents except in a national homeland; that anti-Semitic prejudice always existed and always would exist, and that the ambitions of the race should turn toward Palestine.
SOUNDS LIKE NAZIS
I was a little uncomfortable during these remarks. Having returned from Germany not very long before, the speakers echoed what I had heard in Nazi circles. Of course, the Nazis put it differently, but the different interpretation was not wholly unjustifiable. Said the Nazis, “The Jews are a people by themselves. They do not become a part of the race. They are clannish. They form sort of a closed shop within the state. They look at things from a Jewish point of view, not from a national point of view.”
If a few Jews become leaders among Communists, then Communism is regarded as identified with Judaism. If a few Jews become rich, then wealth becomes a Jewish characteristic. If some of these are ostentatious, then we add ostentation. If a few non-Communists are wealthy Jews and attack the Communists, or vice versa, those who wish to make use of anti-Semitic propaganda choose either one group or the other as the Jewish group. Thus the Communists are attacked as Jews and the wealthy conservatives are likewise attacked as Jews. It comes, of course, largely from identifying Jews with particular activities and without the realization that what they do is done as individuals rather than as members of a race or believers in a religion.
PROVIDING THE AMMUNITION
But then, I pondered, if what the speakers said was true, they were providing the Nazis with ammunition. If the Nazis were wise they would use material of this kind from Jews themselves rather than their malicious lies, to develop anti-Semitic propaganda.
Then I wondered if these men were actually representing the usual Jewish point of view. Most of us take remarks of the kind with a grain of salt. There are, no doubt, millions of Jews who identify themselves as chosen people, millions who have a much higher regard for so-called Jewish culture than for any other, and perhaps hundreds of thousands who would like to see a Jewish state, sometimes a place for other Jews, sometimes for themselves or their descendants. But most of us are pretty well satisfied with the countries in which we live. We know we are loyal citizens. Our national interests are exactly the same as those of our neighbors, and except for oratorical purposes we do not ordinarily lay much stress upon any unique attributes of our specific race. We recognize that there is no such thing as pure blood, and unless we are pretty close to the synagogue, the fact of religion and race is somewhat incidental in life. This is probably so to the regret of a great many rabbis. Of course, I can only speak for myself and those Jews I have known, most of them descendants of Germans whose families have been in this country for a great many generations.
To me the statements of the speakers had a false ring. I do not question the values that Jewish culture has given to the world. So have other cultures. Usually what Jews give depends upon the background in which they have lived. Their culture is no more a unique culture than that of any people. We are all the beneficiaries of all the scientific and cultural discoveries of the past hundreds of years, irrespective of race and nationality.
A CURIOUS GOD
Further, I reflected that the rabbi was wrong when he suggested that God was taking care of the German Jews. If He was taking care of them, He was doing it in a curious way. In fact, I should say. He was making a rather bad job of it.
As to Palestine, it seemed to me that that was a good haven for refugees and for those interested. But I have always doubted whether Jews, as individuals, will ever be better off if a particular spot on earth ever becomes known as a Jewish nation. No doubt our anti-Semitic friends would then suggest that we all ought to go back where we came from, although today they have difficulty in determining just where we did come from. So have most of us.
I was not wholly popular when I suggested to the meeting that I did not entirely approve of the Nazi propaganda of the rabbi, the professional Jew and the Zionist. I had more of a response when I said that a hundred thousand Jews had volunteered for the war in Germany, of whom about twelve thousand had been killed, and that in every country in the world the Jews had always played a patriotic part not only at the fighting front but wherever called upon.
I resented the distinction which was often made between Americans and Jews, and between Germans and Jews. I spoke particularly of German friends whose roots have been in the Homeland for hundreds of years and whose brutal treatment seemed to me particularly malicious because they were so obviously German. The audience was naturally pleased at my references to the effect that the Jews were identified with others as among the most loyal citizens of all national states.
But I left the meeting with somewhat of an unsatisfied feeling that a large part of the misunderstanding of Jews and anti-Semitic prejudice, may result either from a misinterpretation (or perhaps a correct interpretation) of the views expressed at the meeting.
The incident brought to mind the story told by Jonah Goldstein in the preface to his book, “The Family Court.” A Negro boy telephoned from a drug store to a prominent doctor.
“Do you need a boy?”
“Have you got a boy?”
“Is he thoroughly satisfactory?”
The Negro turned from the telephone. The proprietor of the shop said to him, “Why do you call up your own boss to ask if he needs a boy?” “Well,” said the youngster. “it’s worth a nickel to check up on yourself.”