Oy Vey! Not Another One!

Below is a heavily reworked piece, originally titled Antisemitism Remixed.

Originally published, October 2009.

Antisemitism is boring and unoriginal. It manifests in many forms, from rabid to casual, and from genuine hatred to deluded Semitic embrace. The antisemitic spectrum is interesting only for its history and persistence, and that it is a kind of racism unique from the ill feelings towards other groups, as it is expressed worldwide and by people who have no direct knowledge or experience with the Jewish question.

The Jews of 13th century England were the money lenders, for money lending was prohibited to Christians. Edward the I, practical anti-Semite that he was, borrowed extensively so as to build England into a major power, and at the same time enacted laws to marginalize English Jews. He proclaimed that all the Jews in England  must wear a yellow Star of David so they may be readily identified  (the you-know-whos thought that a brilliant idea as well).

Edward’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems turned ugly when instead of inching England into the black with deft economic wielding, he simply banished the Jews, and with them went debts both public and private. A very popular decision at the time, and as the Jews were forced to migrate at their own expense, gentile ship owners doubly benefited. One enterprising ship’s captain thought to cut down on expenses by depositing his cargo of Jews on an island at low tide in the English Channel – resulting in the group drowning when the tide came rolling in a few hours later.

Antisemitism is no invention of the Nazis is hardly an original observation. Anyone with the slightest clue knows that Jewish persecution is an ancient phenomenon, and common throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Be that as it may, that caveat is often forgotten when discussing the influence of the Nazi propaganda machine. The story often goes like this: Germany, under the spell of the magnetic Adolf Hiter and hoodwinked by the agitprop of Goebbels, is transformed into frenzied mass of hatred and resentment toward those who stabbed Germany in the back, costing them the last great European war.

But how to measure the effect of propaganda? Surely, the germ of hatred is already present in Germany and antisemitism is mainstream, and while the leap from casual distaste to state-sponsored genocide may be a long one, to assume the result of evangelical racism is substantial rather than a mild reinforcement of preexisting  prejudice, is to see humanity as little more than fleshy robots – downloading whatever is fed to them and incapable of thought.

What is plain, and what is made plain by the Wansee Conference (brilliantly retold in the film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Braughnaugh) is the sophisticated brand of hatred practiced by all levels of German society. Some desired the Jews to be deported (perhaps to Madagascar). Others saw sterilization as the superior solution. Others still, saw any form of mercy too good for the Jews. What wasn’t in question, amongst the officer class, lawyers, politicians, old and young alike, was that the Jews were the enemy. No propaganda is that effective, and no form of advertising yet discovered is sufficient explanation for the frightening conviction held by such a literate and educated people.

Stories of a hypnotized populace are easier to live with than the difficult yet adult conclusion that vile hatred lingers near the surface, ready to make itself known whenever things take a turn. Fairytales constructed by well meaning historians so we may all sleep better.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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