Jun 2004 Journal

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The longest hatred

Mel Gibson's The Passion, which revives the charge of Jewish deicide, also features some antisemitic grace notes. In the scene where the bag with the 30 pieces of silver is flung at Judas Iscariot, he fails to catch it and has to grub around on the dirty floor to collect the spilled coins.

That vignette neatly combines two antisemitic stereotypes: Jewish greed and lack of physical dexterity due to non-participation in sports. The latter charge - which incidentally prompted the founding of the Maccabi and Hakoah clubs - is, of course, nowhere near as poisonous as many others, such as Jewish kinship with the devil.

This notion, most readily believed in rural areas unvisited by any strangers, results from the image of Jews having horns. That image, reproduced in many works of art - including Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses - can be traced back to St Jerome's mistranslation of Hebrew 'beams of light' (that issued from Moses's forehead on his descent from Sinai) as 'horns' in the Latin version of the Bible.

The alleged Jewish kinship with Satan inspired pathological fantasies in medieval Germany; a castle near Nuremberg still features images of Jews engaged in carnal intercourse with pigs. This preoccupation with the Jews' inordinate sexual desires was a recurring theme. In the 1820s Wilhelm Hauff penned a historical novel about Jud Süss-Oppenheimer, depicting the court Jew as a self-aggrandising lecher. A century later Hitler in Mein Kampf devoted a long paragraph to the description of a young Jew lying in ambush to deflower a German maiden. Once in power the Nazis commissioned a film of the Jud Süss story which portrayed the court Jew as an insatiable rapist responsible for the (blond) heroine's suicide.

All in all, the sexual sphere afforded German antisemites unlimited scope for attacking Jews. They disrupted theatre performances of Schnitzler's Der Reigen (La Ronde), denigrated Freud as der Lustlümmel (lascivious lout) of the Berggasse, and charged Dr Ehrlich, discoverer of salvarsan - an antidote to syphilis - of wanting to poison the bloodstream of German men.

Matters sexual also fed into Polish antisemitism. Readers may remember the scene in Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah where elderly Polish women reminiscing about the 1930s allege that chic, sophisticated Jewesses threatened the stability of their marriages.

Then the war intervened and by 1945/6 Poland resounded to the cry of zydokomuna (Jewish Communism). The only pogrom to stain Europe after the Holocaust occurred in Kielce during the first postwar winter - connived at by Catholic prelates opposed to the Sovietisation of the country.

The compound noun zydokomuna likewise encapsulates the creed of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, self-appointed moral tutor to the Russian nation. Solzhenitsyn believes that the 1917 Revolution - which he considers an unmitigated disaster for his country - was largely the work of the Jews. (To be fair to him, he also implicates other nationalities, such as Poles, Letts and Georgians, in the guilt for the imposition of Bolshevik rule on the Russian people.) Which is odd given that Karl Marx, the founding father of Communism, wrote that the capitalist system was suffused with the spirit of Judaism. He actually wrote: 'What is the wordly cult of the Jew? Huckstering! Who is his worldly deity? Money!'

Today of course post-Communist Russia has embraced capitalism, and so, to an extent, has Communist China - which leads one to wonder what the global conflict between the two systems was all about.

The longest hatred, however, is still with us but it has switched location. Today Teheran and Baghdad have replaced pre-war Berlin and Warsaw as places where crowds shout 'Death to the Jews!'
Richard Grunberger

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