After the ghoulish desecration of the Jewish cemetery at Carpentras in southern France last month and dozens of copycat incidents around the world, fears of a revival of one of history’s oldest blights--anti-Semitism--have resurfaced in a dramatic way.
Anti-Semitic demonstrations and the use of anti-Semitic themes during political campaigns in the nascent democracies of Eastern Europe showed that prejudice did not die after 40 years of communism.
In Hungarian elections this spring, for example, Jewish leaders of the progressive liberal political party, the Free Democrats, were regularly described by their arch nationalist opponents, the Democratic Forum, as “rootless cosmopolitans"--an old anti-Jewish hate phrase that attempts to paint Jews as people without national allegiances.
In Soviet Russia, the ultra-nationalist movement Pamyat (Memory) and proto-fascist organizations such as the People’s Orthodox Movement have pumped new life into the anti-Semitic demons of the steppes. At rallies like the one held recently by the People’s Orthodox Movement at Moscow’s Red October Aircraft Plant, speakers blame Jews for everything from the Stalinist terror to the current shortages in food.
Even in Poland and Romania, countries nearly emptied of their Jewish populations by extermination in Nazi death camps and by emigration, racist outbreaks continue--eerie examples of anti-Semitism without Jews. French writer/philosopher Andre Glucksmann calls it the “missing limb syndrome,” referring to the pain experienced by an amputee long after his arm or leg has been removed.
In the Polish city of Kielce on April 28, to give one example, a visiting Jewish musical group from the Soviet Ukraine was attacked by two men who sprinted through the theater and tossed a tear-gas grenade on the stage where the group was performing.
Although police say that they are uncertain whether the attack was anti-Jewish or anti-Soviet--both hatreds appear to have equal virulence in parts of Poland--the incident was particularly chilling because of the awful history of the southeast Poland city.
Before World War II, noted Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Paris, Kielce had 25,000 Jews. Only 200 returned from the Nazi death camps after the war ended. On July 4, 1946, only 12 days before the Communist party took power in Poland, Kielce was the site of the last pogrom in Europe. Only 42 Jews survived.
The attack in Kielce is a graphic example of the depressing deja vu that is being revealed as Eastern Europe, silent for 40 years, comes out of its shell.
“Anti-Semitism is an extremely powerful myth in popular European memory and imagination,” commented Michael May, director of the London-based Institute of Jewish Affairs, as he struggled to explain the phenomenon. “I guess it is so powerful that it has even survived the Holocaust.”
“Anti-Semitism was always there but it was dormant,” said Shmuel Almog, historian and director of the International Center for Study of Antisemitism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “It is like something in a freezer that you opened up. It began to thaw and then suddenly it came to life again.”
Bitter historical ironies like the Kielce attack are not restricted to the eastern half of Europe.
In one of the ugliest examples of the post-Carpentras wave of incidents in France, a teacher in Royan, a city near Bordeaux, was assaulted in her home after lecturing her students against anti-Semitism and racism. Her lecture came after the May 9 Carpentras cemetery incident--in which at least four vandals desecrated 37 graves and disinterred the corpse of a recently buried man.
Ironically, the Royan school where victim Christiane Guiard, 40, teaches is named Emile Zola College--after the crusading French writer who bravely defended the Jewish French army captain Alfred Dreyfus against trumped-up charges of treason. His famous essay in defense of Dreyfus, “J’Accuse,” is considered a classic argument against bigotry and prejudice.
Around the world, other examples of anti-Semitism range from the odd popularity of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” Jewish conspiracy books in Japan to the particularly crude attacks on Jews by the extreme-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement in South Africa. In the Middle East, where the long-stressed distinction between anti-Zionism (opposition to the Jewish state of Israel) and anti-Semitism (opposition to Judaism and Jews) is becoming increasingly murky, the most blatant examples of anti-Semitism can be found in the mainstream Arab press.
The leading proponent of anti-Semitic views in Japan is a neo-nationalist named Masami Uno, who details a “Jewish peril” in a book modeled on the classic malicious canard about a secret Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Copied from a 19th-Century French satire about Napoleon III that had nothing to do with Jews or Judaism, “Protocols” was adapted by the czarist secret police in 1903 and used to justify anti-Jewish acts.
Over protests from members of Japan’s small foreign Jewish community, the Uno book, “Understand Judea and the World Will Come into View,” can still be found in the “Jewish corner” of several Tokyo bookstores.
However, in September, the Japanese Foreign Ministry issued a warning to publishers that “Understanding Judea” and other similar books “offend the most sensitive areas of the Jewish psychology.”
Despite the keen interest shown by the Japanese public in these books--featuring such titles as “Jews Rule Wall Street” and “From Concentration Camp Victim to New Nazi"--anti-Semitism does not appear to be on the rise in Japan. No acts of violence or desecration have been reported. Indeed, the prevailing Japanese attitude toward Jews would seem to be one of admiration.
Anti-Semitism of a more menacing sort, on the other hand, can be found in South Africa, where the country’s 100,000 Jews, most of them immigrants from Eastern Europe, feel threatened from both the political left and right. On one side, African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela embraces Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, and on the other, far-right whites react to government reforms by parading through the streets with swastikas.
On March 11, a pig’s head was dumped on the steps of the synagogue of Kempton Park (near Johannesburg), and anti-Semitic slogans were daubed on the walls. On March 30, in the right-wing controlled town of Boksburg, a Jewish councilor, Issy Kramer, found a pig’s head wrapped in a Star of David flag on his seat in the council chamber.
In the Arab world, the distinction between hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel and its political policies blurs as the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, continues to rage in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip territories.
A February Israeli government report on manifestations of anti-Semitism around the world cited a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al Qabas, which on Nov. 28, 1989, described Jews as “human scum” in whom “treachery is inbred.”
For all those examples of anti-Semitism, there is a growing consensus among scholars and human rights organizations that any pattern may be more apparent than real. They say the different outbreaks relate not so much to a worldwide phenomenon, as to regional peculiarities--the emerging anti-immigrant extreme right wing in France, for example, and the Arab reaction against Israeli policies regarding intifada, to cite another case.
“There are no explanations that would convince me that there is a world pattern of anti-Semitism at this moment and time,” said May, whose Institute of Jewish Affairs is one of the most important international organizations monitoring outbreaks of anti-Semitism and racism.
“There has been a slight increase in anti-Semitic manifestations,” said May, “and there certainly has been an intensification of perniciousness of some of the incidents like the one in Carpentras that were particularly vile and obscene. But in my view there is no connection yet between some of the acts in the recently released countries of Eastern Europe and the basically hooliganism-vandalism of Western Europe.”
In France, which 200 years ago was the first European country to legislate the emancipation of the Jews, there has always been an anti-Semitic minority that dates to the time of the revolution. Many Jews were ardent republicans and therefore resented by the monarchist and fervently pro-church elements that opposed the revolution.
At certain times in history, during the late-19th-Century Dreyfus trial, for example, and during the German occupation during World War II, the anti-Semitic elements rose to prominence. During the occupation, as British journalist Paul Webster notes in recent book, as many as 76,000 Jews were handed over to German authorities by collaborating French officials.
“Nearly all disappeared forever into the night and fog of Nazi extermination,” Webster wrote in the book, “Petain’s Crime: The Full Story of French Collaboration in the Holocaust.”
Today, one of the raging issues in France is immigration. As the country’s mainstream political parties fail to address the concern, centered mainly on the estimated 3 million North African Arabs who have come here in the past 15 years, the extreme right-wing National Front party of Jean-Marie Le Pen has picked up the ball.
Le Pen’s movement also has elements of the old anti-Semitic right wing of France, the royalists and the Roman Catholic fundamentalists, who have once again come to the surface riding the broader wave of public outcry over immigration.
As a result, the taboo against public expressions of anti-Semitism born in the shame of the wartime collaboration by many French has begun to erode.
Lamented Shimon Samuels of the Wiesenthal Center office in Paris:
“We are reaching a stage when anti-Semitism that was considered a crime is now simply considered to be an opinion.”
Institute of Jewish Affairs director May argues that the right-wing-sparked revival of anti-Semitism is unique to France, particularly after the collapse of the extreme right-wing Republicans Party in recent elections in West Germany. The German Republicans lost their main issue when German reunification became an inevitable reality and thus part of the agenda of all mainstream parties.
In January, 1989, the Republicans were elected to their first German state legislative body by winning 7.5% of the vote in West Berlin. By May, however, they slumped below 2% in most national opinion polls and tallied only 1.7% in two recent state elections.
Encouragingly, reaction to the anti-Semitic episodes have also shown a new, broad-based sensitivity to the problem. After the Carpentras attack, more than 100,000 French men and women, including President Francois Mitterrand and Roman Catholic church leaders, marched in the streets.
Jews and non-Jews alike wore yellow Star of David badges to demonstrate their shared revulsion for the graveyard desecration. Jews living in ghettos or concentration camps under Nazi rule were forced to wear similar badges.
In Argentina, a South American country with one of the largest Jewish populations outside Europe and a somber history of anti-Semitism, new President Carlos Saul Menem--an ethnic Arab--donned a yarmulke and appealed for an end to “racist and anti-Semitic expressions” at a Jewish religious ceremony held after the Carpentras incident in France.
In Germany, officials at the famed Oberammergau Passion Play for the first time agreed to change some elements of the Easter spectacle that have offended Jews for centuries. The play, about Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, has been performed in the small Bavarian village every 10 years since 1634. But after consultations beginning in 1984 with Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant and religious feminist scholars, Oberammergau city officials agreed to make 25 changes in this year’s performance.
For example, the role of the Roman Pontius Pilate was changed to emphasize his complicity (and thus, that of a non-Jew) in the death of Christ. Also costume changes put Roman uniforms on the men lifting Christ on the cross, clearly identifying their non-Jewish origins.
To someone outside the ancient religious conflict between Christians and Jews, the changes in the script of a play in an obscure mountain town may seem insignificant. Jewish organizations remain unhappy that the townspeople refused to remove the so-called blood curse taken from the New Testament verse in Matthew--"His blood will be on us and our children"--that suggests Jewish acceptance of responsibility for the death of Christ, and which has been used for centuries to persecute Jews.
But in the context of emerging fears about a revival of anti-Semitism in Europe, the turnabout was seen as an encouraging sign.
“We are talking about two different religions,” the village’s city manager, Gerhard Ostler, said in a telephone interview. “There are bound to be differences. But there also has to be a mutual tolerance and understanding.”
Contributing to this article were Times correspondents John-Thor Dahlburg in Moscow, Scott Kraft in Johannesburg, Tyler Marshall in Berlin, Kim Murphy in Cairo, Charles T. Powers in Warsaw, Karl Schoenberger in Tokyo, James F. Smith in Buenos Aires, William Tuohy in London and Carol J. Williams in Budapest.
A Dwindling Presence
BULGARIA Prior to WW II: 50,000 1986 estimate: 3,200
CZECHOSLOVAKIA Prior to WW II: 207,000 1986 estimate: 8,200
GERMANY Prior to WW II: 566,000 1986 estimate: 33,200 *
HUNGARY Prior to WW II: 825,000 1986 estimate: 60,000
POLAND Prior to WW II: 3,300,000 1986 estimate: 4,400
ROMANIA Prior to WW II: 609,000 1986 estimate: 21,500
SOVIET UNION ** Prior to WW II: 3,284,000 1986 estimate: 1,515,000
YUGOSLAVIA ** Prior to WW II: 78,000 1986 estimate: 4,800 * West Germany--32,700; East Gemany--500 ** Total population for Czechoslovakia prior to World War II is the combined estimate for the territories of Slovakia, Bohemia and Moravia. Similarly, the total for the Soviet Union includes the estimates for the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
SOURCE: American Jewish Yearbook, 1989 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust