Is there basis to Lavrov's comments on Hitler, Judaism and antisemitism? - opinion

Russia's Sergei Lavrov said that Hitler was Jewish and that some of history's worst antisemites were Jewish.

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference after his talks with representatives of Arab League nations, in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2022.  (photo credit: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference after his talks with representatives of Arab League nations, in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2022.

A few days ago, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, refuted the Ukrainian argument that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish origin invalidated Russia’s claim that it invaded Ukraine in order to de-Nazify it. Lavrov added that even Hitler had Jewish blood and some of the worst antisemites had been Jews. He stirred up a hornet’s nest.

A day later, Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, furiously denounced his Russian colleague’s remarks as unforgivable. Israeli diplomacy went into overdrive, demanding public Russian apologies. Simultaneously, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Yad Va-Shem lashed out at Russia. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is the son of Tommy Lapid, a child survivor of the Holocaust who had narrowly escaped the worst and often spoke about it. Lapid’s emotion is typical of the children of survivors, more so than of many survivors themselves. The survivors are quieter and sadder. They have seen it all and heard it all. Their children vicariously walk in the shoes of survival.

What do history and science teach us about Lavrov’s two assertions: Hitler’s Jewish blood and Jewish antisemites? Lavrov invented nothing. The rumor that Hitler’s paternal grandfather was Jewish, has popped up all over the internet recently and has been around a lot longer. Why? Because almost nothing is known about Hitler’s grandfather. His father was born in 1836 in Austrian Graz. Did Jews live in Graz before 1836? Many historians say no, others say yes. But even if the true answer is yes, can we be certain that one of them slept with Hitler’s grandmother who then gave birth to an illegitimate son, Hitler’s father? In May 2019, the well-respected Journal of European Studies summarized the case in cautious scholarly language:

“The contemporary consensus regarding Hitler’s paternal grandfather does not have a strong evidentiary basis (there is little or no evidence about Hitler’s grandfather, or that there were Jews in Graz before 1836). Other evidence, deriving from earlier sources, suggests that the contemporary consensus may be incorrect (maybe Jews were indeed living in Graz). Avenues for further research which might help to clarify the question are suggested (today we know near to nothing – we need more research).”

The earliest known mention of Hitler’s alleged Jewish grandfather is attributed to Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal legal adviser and head of the Nazi government in occupied Poland. In 1946, Frank was hanged as a Nazi war criminal. Was the grandfather story Frank’s final infamy or was it Hitler himself who wanted to spread the story once he knew all was lost? Taunting the Jews with the accusation that one of their own had been indirectly responsible for their horrible fate? We shall never know.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE)

Hitler’s alleged Jewish grandfather will continue to haunt the lore – Israel’s protests only amplify it – like the other, easily disproved legend that the Fuhrer did not kill himself in his bunker but rather escaped to Latin America. The man was so perplexingly evil. He killed and uprooted so many millions, and changed the course of world history so dramatically that humans will never stop speculating about him.

And what has science to say about Jewish – or any other – blood? There are four major blood types and there are sub-types. Science tells us that these are essential to a person’s physical functioning but irrelevant to his or her character or morality. But, blood has become a metaphor for the alleged genetic inheritance of character traits. It was 15th century Catholic Spain that invented the racial, not religious, antisemitism. Iberian society wanted discriminatory barriers against the growing number of recently converted Jews, the New Christians. Legal requirements to prove limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) over several generations provided these barriers. Nazi Germany’s antisemitic race laws emulated old Spain’s obsession with racial or blood purity. Were there echoes of this in Russia’s history and Orthodox Christianity? Lavrov should know.

Lavrov’s second comment, that some of the worst antisemites were Jews, created less outrage – because there is a well-known historical basis for such claims. Tomás de Torquemada, the First Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, had many “suspects” executed and helped convince King Ferdinand to expel the Jews from Spain in 1492. Yet, his own family had a hidden blood problem: His uncle was a converso or New Christian of Jewish descent.

Not long after, the German theologian Johannes Pfefferkorn, born Jewish and converted to Catholicism, launched a life-long struggle against Judaism. He demanded the destruction of the Talmud and the forced conversion, expulsion or enslavement of Germany’s Jews.

In the Western world, Jewish self-hatred has never vanished. It appeared in particularly inhumane forms during the Nazi period. In several occupied countries, a minuscule number of Jews helped the Germans to discover Jews in hiding, and delivered them to deportation and death. Few were forced to do so.

What drives this hate, which some express today in their denial of the right of Israel to exist (not those who simply condemn Israeli policies)? All minorities that live among majorities know that individual members will drift out and assimilate. In every generation, Jews have quietly tip-toed out. But some would then return to loudly join their persecutors. It defies rational explanation. Did Lavrov meet some in the former USSR? There are no known parallels in the modern history of other peoples. Are the Jews unique even in this respect?

The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People’s Policy Institute and the heads of JPPI’s work regarding, civilization, India and China.