Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy
ROBERT WISTRICH Weidenfeld £18.95
IN AN AGE when epithets such as Fascist and Nazi are as liberally sprinkled as political confetti, it is a sobering experience to be confronted with the Hitlerite madness. The first part of Robert Wistrich’s book is also a cultural antidote to the fantasy, kitsch and subsumed eroticism that often portray Hitler and the National Socialists on television and on the silver screen.
Hitler drank from the wells of anti-Semitism in fin de siècle Vienna where sexual and racial obsessions were common themes. He regarded Marxism and Jewry as inseparable evils which demanded the racial poisoning and subsequent elimination of the German nation. The highly assimilated Jewish leaders of Central European social democracy, Adler, Bauer, Hartman – all traditional non-Jewish Jews – symbolised the growing infection. The resurrection of a new Germany and the destruction of the ancient Jews were intrinsically related. ‘There is no making pacts with Jews,’ he declared in Mein Kampf, ‘there can only be either-or.’ The struggle against the Jews was the extinction of the forces of darkness, the exorcism of the Jewish dybbuk from the pure German soul.
Hitler’s anti-Semitism was neither narrow nationalism nor simple political opportunism but an integral part of an apocalyptic vision of the shape of things to come. As Wistrich shows, between 1920 and 1945 there was no straying from the path of true racial righteousness. Although Christianity and Bolshevism were deemed to be inventions of the Jews, Hitler also used Christian imagery in his early speeches to spread his good news. Indeed, the Nazis were enthusiastic in tapping the Christian tradition of anti-Semitism for electoral purposes.
The genocide of the Jews was thus preordained in the Nazi gospel. The doctrine of ‘either-or’ consumed six million in its ideological flames. It is more than significant that Hitler’s last sentence in his final Testament reads: ‘Above all, I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples, International Jewry.’
The second section of the book deals with post-war anti-Jewish manifestations. Here Mr Wistrich is on much weaker ground and does not unravel the complex distinction and relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. From Gorbachev’s new model USSR to Khomeini’s medieval republic, there are severe examples of state-inspired anti-Semitism.
One chapter is devoted to Soviet McCarthyism whereby ‘Zionists’ are responsible for all the nation’s ills – from Chairman Mao to the Prague Spring. Since ‘Zionists’ are often equated with Nazis and no distinction made between Jews and ‘Zionists’, it is easy to understand how crude propaganda attempts to bolster Soviet interests in the Arab world propagate racial stereotypes and exacerbate anti-Semitic tendencies in the USSR.
Mr Wistrich examines the Left in Britain for their attitude to the Jewish problem and selectively finds them wanting. Unfortunately, he does not differentiate between various factions of the Left. Moreover, he seems to suggest that ‘Zionism’ is a central rather than a peripheral theme for the dedicated headbangers of the WRP and SWP.
Within the Labour Party, Ken Livingstone as co-editor of Labour Herald was quite happy to publish a crude caricature to express a pro-Libyan stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict. To be fair, this was, of course, in the era before our Ken aspired to cuddliness and smelled the sweet allure of Westminster.
Virtually no one on the British Left, with perhaps the exception of Socialist Organiser, has actually attempted to analyse the Jewish problem. The term ‘Zionism’ sets the alarm bells ringing and automatically breaks off any analysis. The Left has been content, as Mr Wistrich demonstrates, to bury itself in a mountain of slogans and clichés which occasionally veer towards the anti-Semitic. The Holocaust and the centuries-long persecution of the Jews occupies little space in the memory banks of today’s activists. This is not surprising as the overwhelming majority were not alive to be sensitised by the trauma of Hitler’s Holocaust. The persecution and destruction of European Jewry is a watershed which separates, the Old Left from the New. Today’s generation would be surprised and embarrassed to discover that Nye Bevan was an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism and that he almost resigned from the Attlee government because of the Labour Right’s intransigence and lack of concern about the Jewish problem.
Mr Wistrich’s book, despite its weaknesses, certainly provides food for thought.
New Statesman 3 January 1986