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Holocaust history

Books | Authors trace attitudes and actions that culminated in Jewish horror

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year's Day, coming on Sept. 29, I've been wondering why Germany, the liberal Jewish hope in the 19th century, became the center of 20th-century horror and holocaust. Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck: A Life (Oxford, 2011) quotes German Jews as early as 1880 who saw elite anti-Semitism: As Ludwig Bamberger observed, "The ordinary people have nothing to do with it. It is the hatred and envy of the educated, professors, jurists, pastors and lieutenants."

One problem was that German Christianity had often become cultural nicety rather than belief. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck at various times called himself a Christian, but his real religion was "blood and iron." Britain in the 19th century had lots of anti-Semitism but better leaders, including Jewish-Christian Benjamin Disraeli. Two biographies-Adam Kirsch's Benjamin Disraeli (Schocken, 2008) and Christopher Hibbert's Disraeli: The Victorian Dandy Who Became Prime Minister (Palgrave, 2006)-tell the prime minister's scintillating story.

Britain could have used a 20th-century Disraeli when the action described in Giles MacDonogh's 1938: Hitler's Gamble (Basic, 2009) occurred. MacDonogh shows how Hitler played off one group against another: Czechs vs. Austrians (p. 46), assimilated Jews vs. Zionists (p. 61), evangelicals vs. Catholics (p. 66). The horror film that was 1938 often includes only one frame, with appeasing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain trading lives for a piece of paper and claiming that he had achieved "peace in our time," but the failure was general.

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Evangelicals who ponder the hostility of many Jews should read about what happened when Hitler at first wanted to send the objects of his hatred to other countries rather than to gas chambers. Country after country, including the United States, denied them entry. Christians rarely spoke up. MacDonogh shows that countries, not wanting poor Central European Jews, knew that "once they were in, it would prove difficult to send them back." MI5, Britain's counter-intelligence agency, saw a Nazi plot to flood Britain with Jews and create a "Jewish problem" in the United Kingdom.

The irony is that over the millennia countries that admitted Jews prospered, and those such as Spain that exiled them lost out. German Jews who got out before the gates closed, and made it to America, played key roles in creating the atomic bomb: It's one of God's mercies that Germany, stripped of many leading scientists, was unable to come up with the bomb first.

Kristol clear

One of the 20th century's most important intellectuals, Irving Kristol (1920-2009), moved away from conventional Jewish liberalism: Although a secularist, he had some appreciation of Christianity and called it (echoing Franz Rosenzweig) "a sister religion to Judaism" and a "Judaism for the Gentiles." Kristol's The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 (Basic, 2011) has thoughtful political analysis and also a section on "Judaism and Christianity."

Kristol, who explicitly discounted the importance of theological truth, was neither receptive to nor offended by attempts to evangelize him and others, or by statements that Christ is the only way to heaven. In his humorously scoffing way he saw no need for "Jewish organizations, having fought (quite successfully) against Jewish exclusion from country clubs ... to take on the specter of discrimination in that Great Country Club in the Sky."

Kristol's widow, the fine historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, also has looked for the best rather than the worst: I've just read an advance copy of her excellent work to be published in November, The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill (Encounter).

Good reminder

Subscriber David Misner wrote, "I am so disappointed not to find any mention of Patrick O'Brian in your 2011 Book Issue." (I listed many wholesome books.) Misner continued, "I took your recommendation over 10 years ago ... you said O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series was the best in the historical novel genre. I have read them (all 20) a couple of times and agree with you-best I've ever read. Have you changed your opinion?" Answer: Nope. Just forgot. They're great.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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