As the swiftest and most powerful form of communication, the emblem is one of the greatest of human inventions, yet history knows not the inventor. Probably, it had no one particular inventor, any more than language, but simply came about. As ancient as antiquity itself, the emblem may yet have allied to it, in service, instruments that are the last word in modernity, and swastika-bearing youths drive their motor-loads of “un-German” books to the purging bonfires.
When the grand aim is not to use reason, but to put reason to sleep, then the emblem may be brought into the deadliest action. For it is “visible” communication as opposed to “audible”; hypnotizing communication as opposed to reasoning. Like other great instruments, the emblem may be, and often is, used for ends that are admirable; yet it is a tendency of our timesâ€”a strong ethical characteristicâ€”to divert the great gifts of the human spirit to the service of a barbaric, even criminal, egotism. Words invite the answer of words; but emblems invite only the frenzy of answering cheers.
The Nordic sentiment is essentially anti-Asiatic, but in Asia the swastika flourished of oldâ€”if as an emblem at all, then only as a sign of hope that all may be well; in other words, as a sign of “mazzeltov” or “good luck”. Mainly, it was an element of decoration that suited well the art of the weaver, and I have seen borders of old Persian rugs entirely composed of it. Greek vases, too, sometimes display this element ringed round them, and the lower part of ancient glass windows was sometimes decorated with it.
Now, at the very time, this spring, when the swastika was being brandished, so as to impose itself on the eyes of the whole civilized world, and the terrific announcement had already been made of the coming holocaust of books which had been contributed to German literature by an extraordinarily renowned phalanx of authorsâ€”mainly of Jewish bloodâ€”there dawned calmly in England a day consecrated for half a century past as an Imperial Festival. Disraeli was born, not only with one grandparent Jewish, but with all four grandparentsâ€”and both parents, tooâ€”of the blood pure. On the English countryside blows freely in the spring a dainty little yellow flower that was Disraeli’s favorite, and he often wore it. And, after his death, on April 19, 1881, it could no longer be said of any living Englishmanâ€”as Wordsworth had said of his Peter Bell:
“A primrose by the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.”
A PRIMROSE FOR DISRAELI
The greatest devotee of a more fiery color sees much more than a yellow primrose when it is sported in a British button-hole on any anniversary of Disraeli’s death. For the day and the emblem are alike of British nationalism and Imperialism. On this memorial day, the statue of Disraeli at Westminster is religiously decorated, and the primrose is worn throughout the country.
In the Islands that were a fastness of social feudalism, the Primrose League was formed to commemorate Disraeli, as representing the intensest British Imperial sentiment and policy. It is of course unnecessary to labor this; but it seems to be not so widely realized as it might that this last April 19â€”of the present year, 1933, that is to sayâ€”was the Jubilee Primrose Day; since the League’s foundation; and on May 5, in the middle of all the swastika-waving and the harassing of German Jewry by pure German nationalism, was held the grand Jubilee Demonstration of the League itself. Under the presidency of Mr. Baldwin, it was staged at the Albert Hall as a great demonstration of the deepest-rooted and purest British nationalism, and so declared by him to be. It was an overwhelming assembly; in the words of the descriptive reporter of a big London newspaper: “From arena to the topmost gallery, the vast building overflowed with the legions who had come from all parts of the country.” purely as a statement of fact, not in admiration or approval of its literary graces.)
OBJECTS OF DISRAELI’S LIFE
On that May 5 last, (whilst the fleet of Swastika cars was being overhauled for the predatory next day’s swoop on libraries, Mr. Baldwin was declaring that the objects of the Primrose League were “to carry out what were the objects of Disraeli’s existence; and they will be prosecuted by us in his memory and in his name, though his presence be among us no more.”
These respective procedures in England and Germanyâ€”a Jubilee Primrose Demonstration of honor and a Swastika expedition of destructionâ€”offer so dramatic a contrast both of thought and temperament as almost to exclude the possibility of any real unity.
The contrast is all the more vivid, inasmuch as Disraeli found high satisfaction, too, in his career as an English novelist. To be a great English writer seemed as glorious to him as to be a great English statesman. Nobody, from Queen Victoria to her humblest subject, would have dreamed of challenging his right to the description of English author.
A LITERARY CONTRAST
“If the Jew writes German, he is lying,” said the Berlin University students in their manifesto. “If Jewish works appear in German, they must be described as translations.” Such an idea as that Disraeli’s novels should be stamped as “translated from the Hebrew” would have seemed startingly comic in the days when, say, a book like “Endymion”, would go, hot from the press, in three volumes of large print, to every club and country-house in the realm and be found on every drawing-room table. When, after a couple of years’ labor, Disraeli felt very dubious about the merits of that work, and asked a noble Christian friend of his if he thought it would ever see the light, the noble Christian friend at once carried off the manuscript, and returned the same day with a cheque for Â£10,000 in exchange!
The Nazis, by denying the German character of artistic works written by Jews, have raised what is, in itself, a rather over-subtle though interesting question. But I feel its interest of a kind mainly suitable for debating societies, and if the Nazis had not turned the issue into a tragic one, it might have been well left in the universe of intellectual debate. The whole question of the right classification of contributions by Jews to the intellectual production of the modern world, has been treated in the most serious spirit, in America, by Professor Roback. His book, “Jewish Influence on Modern Thought”, is written con amore, with the purpose of enhancing Jewish prestige. It is now an irony thatâ€”since, in his classification, he treats all intellectual and artistic production by Jews, in whatsoever language, as specifically Jewishâ€”he falls into line with the Nazis who make the same classification, though with a totally different intent.
The works of the great literary artists which have now been blazed into ashes are, to the Nazis and Professor Roback alike, purely Jewish and not purely German. The difference is that Professor Roback would emphasize the cherishing of those works. It never occurred to him, as a highly civilized man, that those works could incur hatred and contempt; that it could possibly be conceived by “highly civilized” men anywhere that what was not pure German or pure anything-else should be denied unqualified right of existence in that environment in which, and by virtue of which, it had come into existence.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.