Tuesday, April 19, 2022

I had read great things about this book, and they are all true.

Dara Horn, who is normally a novelist, put together a series of essays about today's antisemitism. She is an excellent writer, but more importantly, she has the ability to cut through the bull and point out what seems obvious in retrospect.

The title of "People Love Dead Jews" is its theme: Jews are adored when they are dead, and are not liked at all when they are still alive. The first essay is about Anne Frank and points out that her famous diary is loved because it makes non-Jews feel good about themselves. This paragraph is devastating:

The line most often quoted from Frank’s diary—“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”—is often called “inspiring,” by which we mean that it flatters us. It makes us feel forgiven for those lapses of our civilization that allow for piles of murdered girls—and if those words came from a murdered girl, well, then, we must be absolved, because they must be true. That gift of grace and absolution from a murdered Jew (exactly the gift, it is worth noting, at the heart of Christianity) is what millions of people are so eager to find in Frank’s hiding place, in her writings, in her “legacy.” It is far more gratifying to believe that an innocent dead girl has offered us grace than to recognize the obvious: Frank wrote about people being “truly good at heart” three weeks before she met people who weren’t.  
That paragraph is worth the price of the book - and there are observations like that on every page.

Horn notes that this is not a unique issue with Holocaust memoirs. The ones that are popular in English have happy or inspiring messages, tied up in a neat bow. But the ones written in Hebrew and Yiddish are far more bleak and reflect the reality of the Holocaust more accurately. The gentile audience wants the inspiration, and the dead Jews provide it for them.

Chapter 2 is an amazing essay about Harbin, China. In three decades, the Jewish community lived a history of the exact trajectory that Jews have gone through over centuries in most other places that they went through in the Diaspora. They moved there when Russia needed Russian speakers who they could convince to move to a frozen wasteland in Manchuria to support the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and the opportunity to not be persecuted by Russian antisemites was enough to attract Jews. The Jews built the city from scratch and became successful. White Russian fascist antisemites and later Japanese occupiers decided they wanted the Jews' money, and the persecution started - extortion, kidnapping, murder, and finally the Soviets returned and sent Jews to the gulag and likely death. 

But the microcosm of Jewish diaspora history doesn't end there. The Chinese who control Harbin now decided that they have a Jewish Heritage Site, and they built up a museum with mostly fake pieces that supposedly show the history of the Jews there - with the intention that rich Western Jews will visit and bring more prosperity to celebrate the dead Jews.

Horn's trenchant observations continue. She only touches upon anti-Zionism being antisemitism - it is obvious to her - but I was struck by her observation that German Nazis in 1935 would chant slogans as they publicly beat Jews - a leader saying a line and the crowd joyfully repeating it. Horn says this sounded like Christian liturgy, but the Nazis sound exactly like how anti-Zionists hold their own rallies today.

There are some dead Jews that people don't love, though. Horn notes that the news coverage of the murders of Jews in Jersey City and Monsey was completely different than that of any other attacks. The media justified the murders, by consistently pointing out that residents of Monsey and Jersey City resent religious Jews moving into their communities - even though the murderers weren't from those communities and they murders had nothing to do with the supposed gentrification that was their crime. (In the case of Jersey City, the Jews moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to flee gentrification!)

Horn hits other topics that do not fit within the theme, but even those chapters are captivating.  She researches Varian Fry, an unknown righteous Gentile who saved the most famous Jewish artists and philosophers from the Holocaust, yet was never thanked by these leading lights who transformed the West. She describes listening to an audiobook of the Merchant of Venice with her ten year old son who recognizes the play for what it is, and cuts down her apologetics for Shakespeare. She describes how she starts to  study Daf Yomi, the page-a-day Talmud study. 

Her writing is a joy to read.



Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

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