“The Jews such as they are today are our work, the work of our 1,800 years of idiotic persecution.” (Emile Zola 1897)
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles”
To this point the history of Jew and Judaism dispersed in Christendom describes a clear trajectory: antisemitism is an unalterable and self-perpetuating reality. Insinuated in the fabric of Christian religion it passed seamlessly during the 19th century from religion-based society to the secular Western nation-state. Where previously pogroms were limited to local or regional Jewish communities, with the advances of modern technology in 20th century communications, computation and manufacturing the possibility for achieving a final solution to Christendom’s eternal Jewish Problem was now within reach.
Almost immediately following “legal” emancipation in the 19th century reaction set in. Pogroms in Russia intensified, spread to Germany. In France, “cradle” of Jewish emancipation, parliament sought to overturn recently provided social and political equality.
Pinsker, and Herzl fifteen years later, reached identical conclusions: so long as Jews remain in Christian society they will be at risk. But, decades before the Holocaust, not even these prophets of a Jewish national home and refuge could have anticipated just how great the danger to Jewish survival was life in the Diaspora. There was no precedent for a final solution to the West’s Jewish Problem, no precedent for the Holocaust. The idea that the “civilized” West was capable of “solving” its pathological Jewish Problem by murdering each and every living Jew, from infant to aged was beyond imagining.
Is it easier today, the Holocaust barely seventy years past, for the Jewish People in the Diaspora to accept that the Final Solution was directed at all Jews, everywhere? How is it that even today, the Holocaust barely seventy years past, that for most Jews, in Diaspora, and in Israel, that the significance of the Holocaust remains beyond our understanding? Had Germany won the war, something not unimaginable to Roosevelt and Churchill in 1943, that it is likely there would today be no state of the Jews, in fact no Jews to write or read about Christianity’s yet to be solved Jewish Problem? How is it that that which Pinsker and Herzl concluded decades before the Shoah still fails to pass the walls of 21st century Jewish Denial?
Leon Pinsker originally believed in the promise of Jewish emancipation, of assimilation. The resurgence of Russian pogroms following Jewish emancipation convinced him otherwise. Relatively unknown today, his short 1882 volume, Auto-Emancipation, (download available) appeared a decade and a half before Herzl’s Der Judenstadt. (download available) Where Herzl was a journalist and described the Jewish Problem as a writer, Pinsker was a physician and described the Problem as a diagnostician. Antisemitism, Pinsker wrote, is a historical process, a “disease” that developed over centuries. His brief essay is relevant today, in the wake of the Holocaust, as when it was written. What follows is a brief introduction to this forgotten father of Zionism, an introduction to Zionism as the Jewish Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem:
“Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary [a historical process] and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable.”
Pinsker is intent on breaking through Jewish Denial, returns repeatedly to that forlorn Jewish faith in “education” as instrument of change for our unfolding tragic destiny:
“Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument, however forceful and clear.” (emphasis added)
All the “education” in the world changes not one whit the status of Jew as “Other” living in a Christian world:
“Since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he remains an alien everywhere. That he himself and his ancestors as well are born in the country does not alter this fact in the least.”
Even in “normal” times “the Jew” is Other. America continues today to be described by its majority “a Christian country.” But under economic and social stress antisemitism rises reflexively to the surface. This is clearly represented by, for example, polling taken from 1938 until well after the Holocaust. Antisemitism was reflected in America’s “closed door policy towards Jewish refugees” which condemned millions in Europe to gas and flame in Auschwitz.
It is against this backdrop, the place of “the Jew” in history-inspired popular culture as antisemitic stereotype that we approach Pinsker:
“To the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner… to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country: for all a [feared and] hated rival… the prejudice of [Christendom] against us rests upon anthropological and social principles, innate and ineradicable... The time has come for a sober and dispassionate realization of our true position.” (emphasis added)
And so Pinsker introduces the Zionist position, a solution by the Jewish people to Christendom’s unfolding and, at that time, unimaginable final solution to its Jewish Problem:
“We must seek our… salvation not in self-deceptions, but in the restoration of our national ties… We must set vigorously to work to complete the great task of self-liberation. (emphasis added)
Throughout Autoemancipation! Pinsker anticipates Herzl. Both were pragmatists, preferred Palestine for historical and sentimental reasons, but neither were they opposed to an alternate site for Jewish refuge should Palestine not be achievable. Pinsker and Herzl both, as example, seriously considered Argentina, in the 19th century seeking immigration and, at the time, even hospitable to Jews (a century later the Argentinean junta would arrest Jews; suspect a “Zionist plot” to take over Patagonia). Despairing of securing Palestine Herzl also proposed Uganda, accepted but never implemented by the Sixth Zionist congress in 1903.
Neither Herzl nor Pinsker held out hope for a Jewish future in Christendom. According to Pinsker it is neither realistic nor rational to expect two-thousand years of anti-Jewish history to just disappear. In fact,
“our future will remain insecure and precarious unless a radical change in our position is made by the auto-emancipation of the Jewish people as a nation, the foundation of a community belonging to the Jews, which is some day to become our inalienable home, our country.
“Woe to our descendants, woe to the memory of our Jewish contemporaries, [shades of Auschwitz] if we let this moment pass by!” (emphasis added)