Now-editorial Notes

The passing of Dr. Maurice Fishberg removes from American Jewish life a unique personality—a great physician, a brilliant anthropologist, a fearless fighter for scientific truth, a daring enemy of sham and hypocrisy in religion, in politics, in professional life. He was simple and unaffected throughout his life. The honors that came to him as result of his scientific work in medicine and anthropology did not change his mode of life in the least. He rose to the top of his profession through hard work and extraordinary ability.

His essays and books on scientific subjects are scintillating—full of brilliant wit and irony, despite the depth of his searching erudition. His medical works on tuberculosis have become recognized as authoritative throughout the world. His writings on anthropology have attracted widespread attention, and particularly his book, “The Jews: A Study of Race and Environment,” published more than twenty years ago in the scientific series edited by Havelock Ellis, is the foremost book of facts about the Jews in the English language.

Dr. Fishberg’s views on Zionism were unpopular. His outward cynicism and his frankness made him a number of enemies. But those who knew him intimately will always remember him as a real man, brilliant, broadminded, genial and loyal, ever prepared to make personal sacrifices for his ideals.

Beneath his cynical criticism of the Jewish scene and of certain Jewish leaders, there was at all times a genuine and deep sympathy for the Jewish people. He believed that the surest way of disarming anti-Semitism was by means of establishing scientifically that there is no such thing as pure Semitism. And though opposed to Zionism, he advocated the idea that, since anti-Semitism has assumed such monstrous proportions and since the rebuilding of Palestine by the Jews has aroused envy and suspicion toward the Jews among the Arabs, it would be well for the Jews of Palestine to initiate a Pan-Semitic movement which would bring the Arabs and the Jews into closer and friendlier relationship and which would tend to develop their cultures side by side and remove the present friction caused by fear and envy.

Since the rise of Hitlerism, Dr. Fishberg has suffered keenly because of the spurious “Aryan” race theory that has been invented by charlatan scientists and that has led to such savage forms of anti-Jewish persecutions in Naziland. Dr. Fishberg’s address on “Aryan and Semite, With Particular Reference to the Aryan,” delivered before the Judeans and the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences last March, was a masterpiece both in content and form.

The characteristic paragraph of his essay on “Aryan and Semite” was:

“We are living in an age of science; anybody who wants to impress other with his sagacity, or to ‘sell’ an idea, right or wrong, is surer to put it across, if he claims that there is a scientific foundation for his assertions. Note the frequency with which modern advertising is utilizing scientific, more frequently pseudo-scientific, assertions. The most successful form of religious healing is called Christian Science. Politicians formerly appealed to the religious, emotional, often the mercenary instincts of their constituencies; it is better today to give the cause of scientific tinge. Witness the great brain trust in Washington. Formerly, when in any country a dominating majority wanted to harass or oppress a helpless minority in its midst, it did not hesitate to give, as a reason, the differences in religions, political or social opinions or convictions. But in modern democracies tolerance for enlightened differences in religious and political conviction has become the slogan. Hence, when, for any reason a dominating majority organizes to curb, torment or destroy a minority, it is the proper thing to ascribe some scientific motive for the persecution of the helpless unfortunate group. It is in this manner that ‘applied anthropology’ or ‘anthropo-sociology’ has arisen in some parts of Europe and America. It is agreed by all competent to judge ethnic problems that most of those who have become demagogic apostles of the pernicious doctrine of the inequality of human races are as innocent of the scientific truths of anthropology as quacks and charlatans are devoid of knowledge of medicine. But they are more vociferous and, unfortunately, as perhaps might be expected, often more successful in spreading their fallacious doctrines than those who have conscientiously devoted their lives to the study of the varieties of human ethnic groups and their physical and mental characteristics. Their dogmatic teachings have as much of scientific foundation as astrology, numerology, phrenology and palmistry. It may be stated that among the pseudosciences that are being propagated at present, the most pernicious is that which inculcates the gospel of the inequality of the human races.”

And in his closing paragraphs, he said:

“It is noteworthy that the German geneticists and anthropologists whom the Nazi government has developed to purge the country of “non-Aryan” racial elements, Eugen Fischer, Fritz Lenz, and especially the notorious ignoramus Hans Guenther, in their writings before the Nazi revolution insisted that there is no such thing as an “Aryan” race. To quote but one Guenther in his ignominious book Rassenkunde Europeas says: ‘At present the term “Aryan” has gone out of scientific use, and it is not advisable, especially since in lay circles the word “Aryan” is current in still other meanings, and mostly with a very confused application.’ In editions of the books of Fischer, Lenz, Guenther, etc., published since the advent of the Nazis, the “Aryans are again Kosher; otherwise the Fuehrer would have to be considered a “non-Aryan.”… A curious feature of the whole Nazi race discrimination is that its leader, its deity, is a brunette with Slavonic features; not at all of the Teutonic, or Nordic race; so are his most active collaborators in his efforts to rid Germany of all “non-Aryan” race elements.”

Dr. Fishberg was preparing to go on his first extensive vacation in sixty-two years. He was planning to revisit his birth-place, Kamenetz Podolsk, Russia. And then he intended to devote his vacation to rewriting his famous book on the Jews. He was on his way for his passport when he was stricken. He walked home from the subway station and shortly afterward died in the arms of his son, Dr. Arthur Fishberg. His last words were:

“Now I need no passport any more.”

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