Anti-Semitism Is America's Concern
A SYMPTOM OF THE DISEASE THAT KILLS GREAT NATIONS
By DR. BARUCH BRAUNSTEIN, Historian and Lecturer
Before the Institute on Contemporary Jewish Affairs, December 12, 1939, Washington, D. C.
Sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 405-407.
THE most tragic fact of Jewish history is that one-third of all the Jews of the world, numbering altogether less than 16 millions, are either exiled or exterminated or facing exile and extermination: 600,000 in Germany, 250,000 in Austria, 400,000 in Czecho-Slovakia, 12,000 in Memel, 3 1/2 millions in Poland.
A few years ago we ridiculed Robert Nathan's prophetic insight in his remarkable little book Road of Ages. He envisages all Jews of Europe exiled. No nation offers them hospitality. So they begin the long trek to the Gobi Desert. This is no longer a figment of the poet's imagination but a hard and cruel fact. For this fate even the darkest persecutions of Jewish history has not prepared the modern Jew. In former times exiled Jews always had some place to go. When Jews were driven out of Palestine, other parts of the Roman Empire welcomed them. France welcomed the exiled English Jews in 1290. Each time France expelled her Jews in the fourteenth century they could go to Germany, Spain and Italy. When the catastrophe befell rich and prosperous Spanish Jewry in 1492, the Empire of the Turks eagerly invited them. The Russian pogroms of the last century found America's gates open. Today, however, we witness the spectacle of millions of Jews thrust into exile without a welcoming sign from any nation! Even the Intergovernmental Refugee Committee, grateful as we are for the lofty spirit that brought it into being, finds few havens for the exiles. They sail the seven seas in boats that are unseaworthy and find ports shut in their faces. They storm across land borders to find bayonets of the frontier guards turning them back. For these kind of tragic times modern Jews are utterly unprepared.
What has happened is this: Based on a Hegelian conception of the race-state, the leaders of the New Germany are determined to construct a race-empire (Volksgemeinschaft). This new philosophy teaches: "Wherever Germans live, there is Nazi Germany." Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Memel, Danzig, Poland have now become Germany on the thesis that "Wherever Germans live, there is Nazi Germany."
Nor is the process of Germanization of Europe completed. There are Germans in Switzerland. Three Belgian provinces are German, so is Alsace-Lorraine. Schleswig-Holstein is German. There are Germans in Hungary, Rumania, Yugo-Slavia. All this means that these places belong to Nazi Germany! Indeed, they are Nazi Germany by virtue of Germans living in their borders. This augurs ill for both the future of Europe and for the Jews still living there. Once Hitler creates the Pan-German Europe (in which Germany "pans" Europe), we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that there will be no Jews left in Europe. Complete and utter extinction face all of Europe's Jews. This is the tragedy of the present situation.
Now if I could be convinced that Hitler's ravenous appetite would be satisfied with Europe, then we would write "finis" to the history of the Jews of Europe—and fear no more. I cannot be taken in. Some call Hitler a madman. More precisely he believes himself to be a messiah, moved by a passion to convince the world that the New Germany ought to be the pattern for all the world. That as he has convinced the Germans, Czechs, Poles et al that the Jews were their misfortune, so he passionately desires to convince the world they are the misfortune of all people everywhere. This is a genuine fear. Prof. L. B. Namier of the University of Manchester voiced it: "When the head of Louis XIV fell, all the monarchs of Europe felt their necks, and now that the blow has fallen upon German Jewry, all the Jewries of the world are wondering what will be their fate." Their fate is obvious if Hitler's role as messiah is effective. In the service of that role all Germany is absorbed. Going out of Germany is "World Service" (Welt-Dienst) that feeds newspapers everywhere (whose chief American representative lives in St. Albans, W. Va.) The Congress for German Foreign-ism is working from Stuttgart. The Deutsche Fichte-Bund has world-wide contacts from its offices in Hamburg. After the War this Bund tried to convince the world of Germany's guiltlessness in the World War. Now its greater aim is to convince the world that no matter what happens nor where—the Jews are responsible and guilty. The Dies Committee has revealed the power of these organizations, of both the Right and Left. Should they amalgamate their power domestically as their chiefs have done on the internationalscene, hurt and tragedy for the Jew will be inescapable. Between the upper millstone of Fascism and the lower mill-stone of Communism the Jew will be exterminated.
What should be the Jews' reply in their own behalf to the world?
In the first place we are convinced—contemporary events prove that this thesis is correct—that when a nation embarks on a program of anti-Semitism it ends with war. That is the course of events: anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Protestantism, anti-democracy, and finally comes the destruction of the peace of the world. Anti-Semitism leads to war. There is no other way out. It is the inescapable end, and events of our day prove our case.
In the second place we must point out that we living in democratic America hope that America shall remain a democratic power and a great nation, and that we shall work in that direction. But no nation remains great that refuses to encourage the inter-penetration, the cross-fertilization of the many peoples, races, religions, cultures that live within it. The moment a nation determines upon a policy that shuts her from the currents of new ideas, that nation is doomed.
Spain is a case in point. Spain was to medieval times what Great Britain is to our own world. She spanned the seas. The sun never set on her domains. For many centuries Moslems, Christians and Jews worked together for Spain's glory. They produced the maps of Spain. It happened that a Jew first incorporated the travels of Marco Polo into a map. Together they created the instruments of navigation that supplied eyes to the Spanish seamen. They discovered new worlds for Spain. Spain excelled in music, literature, science. Then a frightful blight settled upon the nation. She exiled her best minds. Those among her thinkers and scientists who refused to go suffered death and extinction in prison and at the stake. Spain fell from her greatness. Not because Jews were exiled. This is said uncritically because of some Jews' conceit. Jews were only an incident in her fall. Spain fell (as every nation that duplicates her folly will fall) for she hermetically sealed herself against the progress that comes when peoples, races, religious patterns, are allowed the free process of inter-penetration and cross-fertilization. Therefore, one who wants to see the sixteenth century-mind goes to Spain today. In the same way that those who will want to see the twentieth century mind in the twenty-fifth century will surely go to Germany. Spain fell. Germany will fall. Any other nation will fall from her greatness that hermetically seals herself against the outside world. The Jews' exile is but the symptom of the disease that stifles a nation's greatness and kills it.
Therefore I say forthrightly that anti-Semitism is not Jews' problem alone. It is America's concern too. Therefore I insist that when anti-Semitism appears here it ought to be called to the attention of the American people. Anti-Semitism is directed not against Jews alone. It is directed ultimately against the destruction of all greatness in any nation. In a sense the German Jews were partially responsible for the fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany. They refused to see that anti-Semitism, while first striking at them, was ultimately destined to undermine the foundations of the Republic. Of course it was a heroic gesture when the Jews bore the brunt of it themselves. It was heroic insofar as they thought it was aimed at them and at them only. But today we see the picture more clearly. Anti-Semitism was the beginning. Its end came with the destruction of the Republic and the beginning of war. This is the inescapable curve of contemporary history. Let us learn its lesson!
On the coasts of all warring nations sensitized instruments are built to warn of the approach of enemy aircraft. Jews are the sensitized instruments that must warn the American
people of the approach of the enemy, an enemy not directed against Jews alone, but against the American people itself. If we refuse to sound the warning, we are false sentinels. We are treasonable to America.
In the third place, Jews must not yield to the threats of the anti-Semites. "Lay low. Don't be prominent. Refuse public office." These are threats of the anti-Semites. They demand that no Jews shall hold public office in America— in which, perhaps surprising to some, certain Jews agree. To my mind, when a Jew enters American public office, he goes not as a Jew. No more than when a Protestant or a Catholic enters public office does he go as a Protestant or Catholic. They all enter as Americans. Jews have served America just that way. I thank God for the great public service, often at high sacrifices, given by men like Brandeis, Cardozo, Lehman, and all others who serve America in this hour of crisis.
I recall my late friend, Mr. Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo, tell me what happened when Mr. Hoover invited him to the United States Supreme Court. He was called to the telephone at Albany, and told that the White House was telephoning. "I knew Mr. Hoover was not going to ask me about the weather here. I knew he was going to ask me the fateful question: 'If nominated, will you serve?' . . . Not an easy question. I did not want to go to Washington," Mr. Justice Cardozo said. "It meant leaving every fond memory I had. For all my memories were bound up with New York, and with Columbia University, my alma mater. I hated to go to a strange city. . . ." But he was asked to serve. No matter at what personal sacrifice. He placed his great legal mind at the disposal of his nation during one of its most crucial hours. It was his duty. He could not have done less.
Once before, in order to meet a crisis in Jewish history, we asked for the ghetto. Those ghettos became the foul-some prisons for Jews for 500 years. We ought seek no moratorium on Jews in public service in America, in order to forestall a temporary crisis. It is a trick of the anti-Semites. Then they will say with some justice: "When the nation needs Jews most, they desert her." Beyond our own personal safety we place our patriotic duty to America. We shall not yield to the threats of the anti-Semites.
In the fourth place Jews ought to profit by the mistakes of the immediate past in Germany. There some Jews believed that anti-Semitism was directed not even against them, but against "other" Jews; there called "East-European
Jews." But when Hitler came to power, he refused to discriminate between Jews, and persecuted them all, regardless of how well they spoke German, or dressed or deported themselves. It is a snare and a delusion to believe as some Jews do that they will be immune when the hour comes. Anti-Semitism brooks no distinctions. It encompasses all Jews.
Some Jews in Germany tried to ride the bandwagon of reaction to personal safety. They naively believed that Hitler would be "tamed" when he came to power. Some helped him to power. Now we know that protection cannot be purchased from a racketeer. Let us learn this lesson. Some American Jews, happily very few, dislike the present administration with a profound dislike. They would help a reactionary regime into power here with the hope that their properties might be saved, their taxes reduced. . . . Now we ought to know that when we ride the bandwagon of reaction we play directly into the hands of the anti-Semites as well as into the hands of the destroyers of democracy. The exiled-wealthy of Naziland know this to their great sorrow.
We owe it to ourselves and to America to make our position clear. No one can be expected to do it for us.
This is a terribly tragic time. Jews need wisdom and courage, fortified by a faith that tyranny and brutality, any more than darkness, cannot last forever. Morning comes after every dark night. Jews are not a people of a day or of a year. Their life's span is measured in centuries. In patience there is faith. Meanwhile our hands and energies are not atrophied. We are the sensitized instruments warning our nation of the approach of the wreckers who parade at first as our enemies alone. We continue to contribute to our nation every atom of value in our people's life, collectively and individually, refusing to bow to the threats of anti-Semites who would deny us our share in helping make and keep America great and mighty. We recognize that when any Jew is attacked, all Jews are attacked. Bitter experience has taught us. Our world is too small for any isolated attacks upon any segment of Israel. We join hands with many peoples, cultures, religions, and groups in American life to build America strong, so that she might today serve as an exampled nation of light to a world fast growing dark. Hatred of any group in America's family of people would extinguish that light. To do less would brand us as false Americans and bad Jews. In this crisis when America can once again be a light unto the nations we will do no less than be true Americans by being good Jews.