Losing the Jews

Whether during the Inquisition or the Holocaust, the willful extermination and expulsion of Jews cost their mother countries dearly.

By MEIR RONNEN
January 12, 2006 09:18
3 minute read.
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Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors By James Reston Jr. Doubleday 384pp., $27.95 The Setting of the Pearl: Vienna Under Hitler By Thomas Weyr Oxford University Press 368pp., $30 The three subjects of James Reston's colorful and readable book - Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors - have been written about ad infinitum. They were all of a period and Reston has linked them in a popular history that has some added relevance in light of the current Muslim invasion of Western Europe. Reston paints a vivid picture of a myriad of Christian, Jewish and Muslim characters playing out the dramas of 15th-century Spain. The Hounds of God were the holier-than-thou Dominicans, led by Tomas de Torquemada, the inventor of the Inquisition that quickly challenged even the authority of Ferdinand and Isabella. The royals and Torquemada made use of each other, particularly in getting rid of the Moors. The Inquisition wasn't popular in Spain, but not even the royals could stand up to it. This book reminds you of things you may have forgotten: that Ferdinand, Isabella and Torquemada all had a Jewish grandparent; that the two famous court Jews, Rabbis Isaac Abravanel (admired not just as an intellectual, but as a skilled tax collector) and Don Abraham Senior, at times lost sight of the sufferings of their community; that the wealthy Senior was eventually converted in the presence of the King and Queen; that Columbus was partly financed by confiscated Jewish gold and that in addition to a Jewish navigator, depended for his maps and instruments on a Jewish astronomer royal; and that his crews imported syphilis into Europe. Ferdinand's newly acquired artillery reduced the Moorish positions. The summer battles between Christian and Moor were often fought with hand-to-hand ferocity but Cordoba and Granada, two of the last great Muslim strongholds, were eventually taken, not by force of arms, but with handsome bribes given by Ferdinand to their divided leaders. Torquemada led the forced conversion of Granada's survivors. On the other hand, the Jews he burned were conversos tortured into admitting the secret practice of their original faith. The banishment of the Jews unwilling to be baptized took place after they were looted of their property (as in the Third Reich). Their departure to Europe and North Africa left Spain (and later Portugal) bereft of its most useful citizens. THE EXILE of the Jews of Vienna has also been extensively documented, but historian Thomas Weyr is able to add a personal note: scion of a noble Viennese family and a Jewish mother, his was a last-minute escape to the US. But The Setting of the Pearl isn't a personal memoir; it deals with the story of how Goering pushed a still-timid Hitler into the Anschluss and how one of Europe's most cultured and intellectually influential cities lost its Jewish artists, writers, musicians, physicians and thinkers (and its Jewish cleaning ladies), a self-inflicted wound from which, says Weyr, it has never recovered. Prof. Weyr begins his survey in the 19th century and goes on to the period of the assassination of Engelbert Dolfuss. He also describes Hitler's ambivalence about a city that had never treated him well in his youth. Hitler initially promised a magnificent setting for his "pearl," but all the Viennese got were hard times. As Hitler's war progressed, Baldur von Shirach boasted that he had made Vienna judenrein, but the depressed and hungry Viennese soon began to lose their taste for Nazism and the vainglorious posturings of von Shirach, who eventually deserted them. This is one of the best books about the decline and destruction of Vienna ever written, replete with detail about how the servile Viennese survived Hitler and were eventually rescued from Russian occupation.

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