Black on White

My friend Larry is not exactly naive. But he is easily impressed. I mean that while he doesn’t quite believe in Santa Claus, he does believe what the advertisements say. He does take editorials in the newspaper seriously, imagining that editors remember today what they cried so flamboyantly the day before. He is unduly responsive to the trend of popular opinion.

In short, if I want to know what the average American is thinking (or reacting under the impression that he is thinking), or what the average American is feeling at a given moment, Larry is an excellent barometer. He registers the emotional weather of his milieu. He senses new winds of opinion or prejudice in his bones, just the way rheumatic Aunt Sarah senses oncoming rain in hers.

And being a Jew, a successful Jewish business man, in fact, Larry is at this juncture in a tragic dilemma. His psychological barometer is registering the new atmospheric pressures of anti-Semitism. In the quips of friend and foe alike, in the tone of events around him—even in the protests of affection for the Jews by some of his associates and business contacts—he senses stronger winds of antagonism. What can he do about it?

He explained the dilemma to me the other day. "You know, they’ve got me wondering what’s wrong with me," he said, and there was genuine distress in his voice. "Geez! It can’t be that the world’s making it all up, can it? Everybody dislikes us Jews. I catch myself thinking the way they do about us. In my heart I know that it’s all baseless prejudice, but in my nerves I can’t hold out always against the pressure."

As he talked, my mind swung to my last sojourn in Germany, about ten months ago.

I had found the Jews huddled together, for mutual comfort, for human warmth. Once upon a time they used to frequent cafes and restaurants and clubs of their own economic class or professional group. Now they foregathered only in Jewish cafes and clubs and restaurants. Everything else was closed to them, not so much by law as by the danger of humiliation.

All of them were sorrowful over the turn of events. Many were bitter, vengeful. A few, a very few, were hopeful of change. But what struck me as most terrible in the entire situation was a growing feeling among them that the Hitlerites were right in some if not all of their charges against the Jews.

I had gathered some anti-Jewish literature—foul, vicious, degenerate stuff, reeking of blood and stamped indelibly with the mark of the beast. To my utter amazement I found Jews there, in the new ghetto of Berlin and Hamburg, who looked at the putrid attacks and shook their heads sadly in agreement with some of the charges. Yes, they said, we Jews did go too far in law and medicine and journalism and the theatre….

The spurious logic of the anti-Semites had impressed itself upon

NEXT STORY