I am reposting this discussion on “Jewish identity” as seen within the Jewish family, and from without. As many of my readers over the years are aware my multi-year JPost blog describes the process of me composing a book. I am now approaching actually publishing it. As I near the end of the final editing I am considering options for publishing with Kickstarter as possible funding option. Building an identity at that site led me to this article which appeared some months ago on JPost as, What is a Jew: a Zionist Perspective and on Academia.edu as, Being Jewish: Implications for Holocaust. In light of recent and continuing events in Europe, the United States and across the West I feel the latter title more appropriate.

 

"Who is a Jew?" raises the question of Jewish identity within the extended Jewish community, Israel and Diaspora; "What is a Jew" raises the question of Jewish identity determined by our persecutors over the past two centuries. And while the Who seems compelling for those concerned with the survival of Judaism, the What has, and continues to, determine Jewish survival.

 

Between the first and eighteenth century persecution of “the Jews” was based on their collective identification with gospel portrayals as Christ-killers responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (a belief held by more than a third of Americans in 2011, before the upsurge in antisemitism of recent years, according to ADL’s 2011 survey of antisemitism). With the transition from religious to secular governance most evident in the eighteenth century criticism of religion, secularism called for a reevaluating of the place of Jews in the “secular” West. Christianity's "Who" became secularism's "What”: how fit a group with a common culture, history and language, all attributes of national groups identifying French and German nationals. But these other groups were also identified by geography: France, Germany…, etc. The Jewish people were dispersed among these others, a "nation apart." The Jewish Problem continued to vex scholars and politicians until late in the nineteenth century when the Jewish people were “defined” by race by the pseudo-science eugenics. Within decades Germany's Third Reich would replace Jews-as-“race” with Jews-as-"bacillus," carriers of an infectious disease that demanded extermination!

Although antisemitic political parties had existed in Europe and the United States for a century, it was only with the rise to power of National Socialism in Germany that a legal definition for “Jewish” was enacted. Before the rise of Hitler German Jews were among the most assimilated and intermarried in any country in the world. Germany’s democratic constitution for the Weimar Republic was drafted by Hugo Pruess, a Jew; and Walther Rathenau, also Jewish, had held two ministerial positions in Weimar, economics and foreign affairs.

The Nuremberg Laws (1935), The Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, describe five levels of blood "purity" although, to my knowledge, the core concept of "blood" as applied to "völkisch" was not itself defined. Would, according to the chart above, a “pure” Aryan Christian convert to Judaism be considered "Jewish" or "völkisch"? As regards the five categories of blood, “pure Aryan” describes offspring from four Aryan grandparents; “pure Jewish” may consist of three Jewish grandparents. Between these extremes of “purity” are two grades of Mischlinge, or “half-breed” populations:  A mischling second grade has a single Jewish grandparent; a mischling first grade has two Jewish grandparents.

What are the implications of Nuremberg for Jews today? For one thing they bear on Israel as refuge for the Jewish people. Shortly after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence he proposed a law confirming Israel as Zionist. The purpose of Zionism was to create a safe haven for Jews to escape traditional Western antisemitism. Ben-Gurion wanted this role clearly stated to be included as a Basic Law of the newly emergent State of Israel. Recognizing that Nuremberg provided a legal model upon which another government at a later date also determined to complete the failed "Final Solution" Israel, in 1970, included Nuremberg’s “mischling second grade,” offspring of a single Jewish grandparent, as the baseline defining “Jew” for purpose of refuge in time of need. The 1970 Amendment to the Law of Return was referred to as the “Grandparent” Amendment.

 

The inclusion of "mischling" in Israel's Law of Return has been challenged both by religious and secular critics. Under Nuremberg it appears that only those classified “pure Jews” were targeted for extermination. And while this may have been true it is also fact that the goal of the Final Solution was not achieved due only to Germany losing the Second World War. There should be little doubt that had Germany prevailed very few Jews would likely have survived.

 

Nuremberg was clear in its definition of both “pure blood” categories. The fate of the Jews of Germany’s was sealed by those laws. Why Nuremberg left obscure the status of "half-breeds" was never explained but was likely a result of Hitler’s gradual and cautious preparation of the ground before embarking on the actual Final Solution. What was never obscure was Hitler's description of "the Jews" as pathogen; his intention to eradicate the disease he described as threatening human survival. In his Mein Kampf (1925) and speeches and writings, in his private “table talks,” he repeatedly proclaimed his intention. Had Germany prevailed in the war, an outcome still considered possible by Roosevelt and Churchill as late as 1943: would the Holocaust have ended with Nurenberg’s “Jew-by-three-grandparents” definition? What likelihood the survival of the mischlinge “half-breeds” of two, or even a single Jewish grandparent? Would the pathogen be eliminated by murdering only Jews “pure” according to Nuremberg? According to Hitler,

 

". . . the discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! ... We shall regain our health only be eliminating the Jew.”

 

The Holocaust was unprecedented and unanticipated to Zionism before the event. Who could even consider the possibility that the Jewish Problem could take on such dimensions as to result in such an act? Such a thing was beyond experience and, before it happened, beyond even imagination. What was clear was, and continues with more urgency after the fact, is that Jews are inassimilable by religion or nationality: Jews are physically unsafe in the Diaspora. With the reality of Auschwitz so recent a reality; with a final solution no longer “unprecedented” or unimaginable: Had Hitler won the global war, is it credible to imagine that limiting the threat or its scope would have satisfied Hitler? Would such a future such motivated charismatic leader in an as yet unknown state: would limiting the Jewish threat to Nuremberg’s “pure Jews” satisfy the need to purify the human stock by eliminating the pathogen? Would it not be prudent to insure the threat not reemerge due to not completing the task and eliminating also those closely related, such as the “child of a single Jewish grandparent”?  

 

 

Implications for the Future

 

How is this relevant for Jews today?  Hitler set out to murder each and every one of us, but failed. And according to most historians including, or especially, Jewish historians the Final Solution was an aberration, a "departure" from history. The Holocaust was unique. So reassured, what have we to fear?

 

I suggest that while the slaughter of the Jews called the Holocaust was unique in scale, that persecution and even mass murder of entire communities of Jews is itself far from "unique," has been occurring with such a consistency that such terms as "aberration" and "unique" and "mysterious" so fail to apply as to suggest instead denial, or even more sinister, revisionism. Hitler referred to the extermination campaign as the “endlösung,” the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. The term “final” alone indicates a pre-history to the “solution.”

 

The problem referred to in "the Jewish Problem" was originally theological, an inability to square the fact of continuing Jewish survival in an a proposed post-Jewish, "new" Israel-Christian era. Secularism challenged the "mysticism" of theology only to replace it with the pseudo-science of eugenics, the rage of America's elite during the first half of the twentieth century. Eugenics set out to protect the national gene pool through selective human breeding; to eliminate the “unfit” by closing America’s borders to the “inferior” unwanted. Eliminating the Unfit already present took two forms: involuntary sterilization and eugenicide, the "humane" murder of those deemed "unfit."  With a zeal bordering on religious fervor American eugenicists financed by America’s most wealthy, exported their enthusiasm to Germany.

 

As a problem according to its origins in religion one possible solution to the Jewish Problem could be and was voluntary or involuntary conversion to Christianity. But in a secular world “conversion” has no meaning, provides no possibility of sanctuary.

 

For centuries the imagined “threat” represented by Jews resulted in millions murdered at the point of sword, clubbing and drowning; beginning in the tenth century whole communities of Jews were rounded up to be burned alive in town squares. These are the first recorded holocausts, incidents satisfying the definition, holos (completely) caustus (burned). With the arrival of the modern nation-state and the secularization of the Jewish Problem by the twentieth century, technology had developed to a level that the means were finally available to achieve that which was previously not achievable, a “final solution” to the West’s two-thousand year Jewish Problem.

 

By the twenty-first century technology today makes available what, compared to Auschwitz, seems primitive by comparison. 

 

A single example suffices: Beginning at the earliest stages of Hitler's ambition IBM provided Germany its most advanced data processing technology along with its best technicians to program the “computers” for the ever-changing needs of the Holocaust as it progressed. Today IBM produces supercomputers which routinely collect data from birth to death, track everything from library check-outs to credit card usage and internet sites visited: a complete biography of any person is available to any willing and able to access it, from hackers to the NSA. Such data can easily be tailored to identify every member of any search category. “Jew,” for example.  
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