Anti-Semitic Jews? Oh Yes, There Are!
’Don’t you marry him; he’s a Jew, and Jews drink children’s blood!’ said my grandmother, referring to my mother’s first serious suitor. My mother didn’t marry him. But she didn’t share my grandmother’s hatred of Jews – she considered them clever, talented people. She didn’t see herself as belonging to them, however, because she had no idea of her origins. My grandmother had kept that a secret from her, in the same way she hadn’t revealed why her own beloved great-uncle had been in a concentration camp and had come back reduced to skin and bone and with frostbitten feet. Perhaps he hadn’t recounted what had happened there. Perhaps it was just that we never talked about it. When I asked my grandmother about it, when I asked what her Uncle Józsi had been doing there, she told me he had been guarding the Jews. And that he had been really decent to them, that he had let them escape. Even as a child, I had felt this story somehow didn’t add up. Then it turned out that his name had been Hungarianised. Something also emerged about my grandmother’s husband, my Granddad. She was always boasting that he was Italian, and while it turned out he really had come from Rome, there was reason, it seemed, to suspect he was Jewish.
I was thirteen years of age when I realised that I was partly Jewish. (As to how I realised this, that’s another story.) I proceeded to pass through every stage of identity development, from researching this new identity and feeling attracted to it, through denial of it (!) all the way to taking pride in it. At eighteen years of age I acquired a fiancé. I left him on account of, among other things, his extreme neo-Nazi views. We had been planning our new life together and had been in the process of doing up a flat, when, one afternoon, as we were reorganising a bookcase, an old book fell out of it onto my foot. An old Jewish prayer book. This man, the son of an orthodox Jew, had become a neo-Nazi. Quite how, I never found out.
Shocking, aren’t they, these two stories? The reason is the clash of the two concepts: Jew and anti-Semite.
The Roma also engage in Gypsy-bashing, but I get the sense that with them this is more a kind of amusing habit, almost a custom, than an expression of deep self-hatred. Gypsy-bashing Roma stand up for one another. The same cannot be said of Jew-bashing Jews. Anti-Semitism is fed by hate. In the case of Jews, perhaps this self-hate stems from something outside their control. They are the children of a nation, who – albeit only for a while – still came off worst.
But then who wants to belong to the losing side? Sometimes a person’s sense of self-importance can override the feeling of being part of a community. Or maybe what’s at play here is an instinct for self-preservation? For if history repeats itself, what then?
Many are the parents and grandparents who decided not to tell their children the truth because they didn’t want to burden them with it. Some of them became Holocaust deniers, in their imaginations transforming an incomprehensible tragedy into something that never happened.
According to the latest research, it is possible that the tragedy of Shoah has left its mark on the genes of survivors’ descendants. Perhaps, then there is no need for someone who dreams over and over of barbed-wire fences and cruel people yelling in a foreign language to go a clairvoyant to search of an explanation…
Anti-Semitism exists. Anti-Semites exist and live among us. There are, however no full-length feature films about them as there are about psychopaths. Being a psychopath is ‘in’. Just as the gossip magazines can make anyone a psychologist with their superficial, simplistic articles, allowing anyone to diagnose their colleagues. Luckily, anti-Semitism has not yet become trendy.
Now, however, as well as Jew-bashing, anti-Semite-bashing has also reared its head.
I am thinking of a now (in)famous case from the early 2010s involving two Hungarian historians. One of them, András Gerő, accused the other of anti -Semitism, on this occasion because he had stated that the Revolutionary Governing Council at the time of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 was made up in large part of people of Jewish origin. A year earlier, Gerő had made similar accusations in relation to the same colleague’s acceptance speech given at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. These charges were refuted by, among others, the well-known philosopher and public intellectual Gáspár Miklós Tamás, who pointed out that the statement was merely one of fact, and the element in the acceptance speech had been at worst misguided.
Now it is the turn of the famous Hungarian poet, Milán Füst to be on the receiving end of Gerő’s anti-Semite-bashing. Gerő has remarked that the only reason he can see for MAZSIKE, the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association continuing to use Füst’s name for a section of their organisation is that the Jewish poet held left-wing views.
It’s true that some parts of Milán Füst’s diary are really hard to explain away. He says, for example, in connection with the Weisz perfume factory (owned by a Jewish family of the same name) that for him, the name Weisz is ‘smelly’. He also says that the Jews are ripe for perdition. Furthermore, that he avows no fellowship whatsoever with that nation, whose members, in his opinion are base, fawning liars.
As my own personal family anecdotes demonstrate, being Jewish is no guarantee that a person will not be anti-Semitic. Neither is being left-wing.
When the census-takers knock on the door and ask us about our ethnicity, we have the right to say whatever we want. If, for example, someone does not state that he is Roma, he cannot be regarded as such. If that’s all there is to it, then we are not obliged to consider Milán Füst a Jew.
Which brings us back to Gerő’s question: by what right does this section of a Jewish organisation bear Füst’s name? To be honest, I couldn’t care less. There are more pressing problems. No-one asked the great poet Endre Ady which street ought to be named after him; the literary museum that bears Petőfi’s name has little to do nowadays with the writer of the National Song. If, however, I really had to state an opinion on the matter, I would say: regardless of his identity or any identity crisis he might have suffered, Milán Füst was an excellent writer. No amount of argument can take that away from him. Let posterity process the rest as it wishes and feels able to.
Perhaps I will not be committing too great a blasphemy if I compare the shouldering of one’s Jewishness to bearing the Cross. A cross which, though it is heavy, signifies an acceptance of the Creator’s will. Even those who do not volunteer to take it up will feel the weight of it. Isn’t it better then, to fulfil the fate that is intended for us?
Being Jewish is not compulsory. If our children don’t know about their origins, they won’t become Jews and it is at this point that the chain will break. As to what kinds of traditions, what ways of thinking and feeling about life and what community we might be depriving them of, let that be a question for our consciences. It is possible, of course to be a non-Jew – that is painless. It’s also possible to be a self-hating Jew. (In the name of free will.) But it’s not worth being the latter, because denial makes a person sick. Just as it isn’t good to be a self-hating homosexual either. Hate poisons the soul and affects those around us too. We hate ourselves, we project our negative feelings onto the world, and become unhappy, even cruel people.
Judaism is not a proselytising religion. You have to be born a Jew. (Conversion is possible, but not an aim.) Jewishness is passed down, like a family name, like facial features or an endearing resemblance we might have to a beloved grandfather or to that sibling who’s got their eye on our inheritance. Our Jewishness is a part of us, as inseparable from us as our personality. We can hack it off or conceal it, but for all that it will still be there, and we know it. Like a twin brother or sister, you can embrace it, or push it away but you will belong together all the same.
This article first appeared in Kibic Magazin on February 12th, 2019.
Translated by Anna Bentley