Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
OF THE ten and a half million Jews who live in Europe some nine million are to be found in the eastern half of the continent, in the cities and on the plains between the River Inn and the Ural Mountains. During the last four years the policies of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany have cast a shadow over the lives of all these Jewish millions. So far they have been unwilling to believe that anti-Semitism in the starkly brutal form which it has assumed in Germany will spread abroad. Yet the fact remains that a great and highly civilized European nation has excommunicated half a million people merely because they adhere to the Jewish religion or belong to the so-called Jewish "race," and thus has given other lands a dangerous example of positive anti-Semitism.
Two hundred years ago all European Jews moved in nearly the same intellectual climate. A Jew from Worms felt quite at home in Lemberg or Kishinev. He found the cultural background and the conditions of life among his co-religionists to be identical no matter where they lived, and he took it as a matter of course that in all Jewish communities the religion based on the Old Testament and the rabbinical teachings was a living force.
But in prewar Europe this had ceased to be true. The nine million Jews of Eastern Europe no longer formed a compact, homogeneous mass. With the gradual spread of emancipation there arose marked divergences among them, and it no longer was possible to speak of a uniform East-European Jewish type. The Hungarian Jews, for instance, were so well assimilated -- in their sentiments, their mentality, even their appearance -- by the Magyar people that according to the English writer Macartney they cannot be detected today except by an expert. Much the same may be said of Viennese Jewry, cradle of great writers and scientists like Schnitzler, Zweig, Freud. In the period before the Great War, the Jews of Austria-Hungary and Serbia did not regard themselves as belonging to a separate race or people; and in 1914 they fought just as valiantly for their fatherlands as did their Christian comrades (though anti-Semitic literature would have us believe the contrary). In Tsarist Russia, on the other hand, the Jews did not identify themselves with the host nation; they continued to constitute a separate people with their own special characteristics and language. In particular was this true of the Polish Jew, whose mentality and appearance changed little with the centuries.
Indeed, the bare fact whether they lived under the Hapsburgs or under the Romanoffs used before the war to be a convenient guide for distinguishing between the two principal types of East-European Jew. But after the war this distinction began to break down under the impact of anti-Semitism, which was widely felt even before the advent of National Socialism in Germany. Even the best assimilated Austrian and Hungarian Jew had to start learning that he was not an Austrian or a Hungarian but simply a Jew. Fortunately, in Austria the Hapsburg tradition of tolerance and innate feeling of equality, and in Hungary a solid tradition of chivalry and liberalism, prevented this incipient anti-Semitism from leading to the discrimination and degradation which took place in Germany. The same can be said of Jugoslavia. But it cannot be denied that a Jewish problem exists even in those countries where hitherto it has never had any violent form. As a result, the Jewish generation that came of age after the war was against its will driven into an attitude of self-defense. It is true that full equality before the law, the great achievement of nineteenth century liberalism, is today enjoyed by Jews in all the East-European countries: Austria, Hungary, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, the Baltic States and Russia. But in many of those countries social discrimination against them is becoming more and more acute.
Poland has more Jews than any other European country; there, for that reason, is found the core of the Jewish problem in Europe. Ten percent of Poland's population of 33,500,000 is Jewish. About one-tenth of these Polish Jews are engaged in agriculture; only 40,000 earn their living as public functionaries or in the professions; practically all the rest are traders or artisans.
According to Dr. Borenstein's estimates, only 20 percent of the Polish Jews make a good living. One quarter are semi-independent; another quarter could be rehabilitated with some external aid; while the remaining 30 percent are so hopelessly destitute as to be reduced either to complete dependence on charity or to the brutal necessity of emigrating. It is safe to say that 1,200,000 of Poland's Jews live today in utter misery.
It was not until 1931, twelve years after the establishment of the Polish Republic, that the disabilities under which the Polish Jews suffered during the Tsarist régime were completely abolished. Today, they are legally on a perfectly equal footing with all other Polish citizens. The invisible bar between Jew and Gentile nevertheless still exists. In consequence of the reckless agitation of the National Democrats the danger of pogroms has increased in Poland since last year, and in recent months many Jews have been massacred in more than one completely Jewish town or village. The Polish Government's policy is characterized by a quiet but constant endeavor to exclude Jews from intellectual and economic life. Tax and credit policies are made to serve this purpose, for the urban population has to bear the greater part of the tax burden and this means a special hardship for the Jews. Only 15.9 percent of the national income is derived from commerce. Yet the income tax paid by tradesmen amounts to 33.6 percent of the total proceeds of that tax. The state banks supply agriculture and the coöperatives with nearly ten times as much credit as they grant to commerce.
About 40 percent of all the artisans in Poland are Jews. Far the greater part of the Jewish workers are employed in small workshops and therefore are not entitled to the "dole" when unemployed. The coöperatives profit on a constantly increasing scale from the active help of the state; but the Jewish merchant, especially in Galicia, is gradually being ousted from the retail trade. In the government trading monopolies (salt, tobacco, spirits, matches), and in plants owned by the state, no Jews are employed. When we consider that 22.5 percent of Poland's entire industry and banking organization is in the hands of the state, the weight of this discrimination becomes obvious. The prohibition against the ritual slaughter of animals (except for the use of religious Jews) has been a severe blow for the thousands of Jewish butchers who depended for their livelihood on this traditional monopoly.
Two tendencies have come into being as a result of these varied blows. In the first place, the Jewish masses of eastern Poland are relapsing into the orthodoxy of the Middle Ages; and on the other hand, Zionism and the emigration movement connected with it have won many followers. In 1934 about half of all Polish emigrants were Jews. And half of the postwar Jewish immigration into Palestine was from Poland. The Polish Jews resort to all sorts of expedients to elude the immigration controls established by neighboring nations. This illegal percolation, even into distant countries, goes on incessantly. And is it surprising that it should? Living in misery, and in continuous fear of his life, the Jew never knows what misfortune the following day may bring him so long as he remains on Polish soil.
In their habits and ethnic characteristics the Polish Jews are closely connected with those in Lithuania. For centuries -- since the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom -- the two groups have lived in intimate contact. At the end of the last century the population in the territory of the present Lithuanian Republic included about 300,000 Jews. This was about 13 percent of the total population. At present they number in round figures only 150,000. The decrease is due to emigration. In South Africa, for instance, 80 percent of the Jewish population is of Lithuanian origin. One-third of Lithuania's Jews cannot read -- a ratio exceeded only in Bessarabia. Their range of economic opportunity is meanwhile gradually narrowing. Though equality is guaranteed them by law, racial and confessional discrimination has in practice degraded them to a status of second-class citizenship.
In Rumania there are about one million Jews, which means six percent of the total population. The figures are mere estimates, however, since no precise statistics have been made available for more than ten years. These Jews do not form as homogeneous a mass as do those of Poland, due to the fact that before the war certain sections of them were subjects of the Hapsburgs or the Romanoffs. Most of the Rumanian Jews live in the old Kingdom (the Regat) and in Bessarabia, formerly part of Russia; there are a comparatively small number in the territory formerly Hungarian.
Before the Great War, Jews did not enjoy equal citizenship in the Kingdom of Rumania, although those in Bucharest and other large cities were pretty well assimilated. In Bessarabia, the Jews were the most oppressed and backward of any in all Russia. Suffice it to mention the terrible, government-inspired massacre at Kishinev in 1903 which resulted in the loss of thousands of Jewish lives. In sharp contrast, three generations of Transylvanian Jews had enjoyed comparative freedom under the Hapsburgs, and a general and intensive Magyarization had resulted -- especially noticeable, of course, in the upper strata. In consequence, there are many Jewish physicians, lawyers and manufacturers in Transylvania today who still profess to be Hungarians even though the territory has been transferred to Rumanian rule; and as a result these have to bear the double burden of being both Hungarians and Jews.
A small number of the Rumanian Jews -- only about 2.5 percent -- live by agriculture; considerably more are engaged in professional work; while 80 percent earn their living in industry and commerce. Economic conditions are better for the Jews here than in Poland, for though the country is rich in undeveloped resources, the Rumanian people are rather primitive and not particularly hard-working. The Jews thus have considerable opportunity to carve out careers for themselves in expanding industries. Another point to note is that the administration is chaotic and graft-ridden; this condition offers the lower type of Jew many opportunities of gaining a livelihood.
In recent years a wave of passionate anti-Semitism has spread through Rumania, led partly by the Transylvanian Saxons and partly by the sons of the peasantry who are trying to secure entrance into the bourgeoisie. Most of the leaders of the notorious "Iron Guard" are of peasant origin. Yet the mass of the peasantry itself -- more than 80 percent of the population -- has no real animosity towards the Jew. The Rumanian Government does not officially sponsor anti-Jewish movements, and so far it has not adopted the extensive program of state socialism which in other countries has resulted in the curtailment of Jewish business enterprises. All in all, then, the economic and political situation of the Jews is better in Rumania than in Poland, notwithstanding the noisy anti-Semitism of the Iron Guard.
In the three Danubian states of Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia the Jews live under quite different conditions from those so far described. Except in eastern Slovakia these Jews belong almost entirely to the middle class.
The proportion of Jews is highest in Hungary. In 1930 there were 440,000 of them, that is to say 5.1 percent (as against 5.9 percent in 1920) of the total population. Only 4.3 percent are engaged in agriculture; those in the professions and the public services account for 8.7 percent; while the bulk, more than 75 percent, earn their living in trade, industry and banking. In 1848, almost a hundred years ago, they participated in the national revolution, and since then the process of assimilation has been intense.
Before the war, Hungarian Jewry grew up in an atmosphere of complete freedom and equality. This evolution was stopped by the postwar collapse. The Communist régime in Budapest, which counted many Jews among its leaders, helped produce a very strong anti-Semitic sentiment. This subsided during the premiership of Count Stephen Bethlen, but it blazed up again after the Nazi victory in Germany. It is not a noisy or brutal anti-Semitism, but it is felt in all strata of social and economic life. Its aim is to push the Jews out of the professions -- in particular, journalism, the army, and the public services -- and also from some branches of trade.
Yet in spite of all this, the material situation of the Hungarian Jews can be said to be a good one. They play a leading rôle in banking and in the development of industry (the textile industry has been built up almost entirely by Jews), and they contributed greatly to the expansion of the fruit and vegetable export business. Jewish scientists, physicians, lawyers and writers are among the most prominent in Hungary. The greatest theatrical success in Budapest during the past year was a romantic drama written by a Jew. As the Hungarian Jews still regard themselves as Hungarians, Zionism does not find a great following among them. Though Hungary was the first state to introduce the numerus clausus in its universities, the rule is not rigorously applied and the number of Jewish students is many times the prescribed ratio.
In Austria the Jews number about 190,000, or 2.8 percent of the whole population. Of these, 174,000 live in Vienna; 15,000 dwell in the two provinces near the capital (Burgenland and Lower Austria); only a handful are to be found in the Alpine provinces. But the Viennese Jews, once wealthy, have fallen on evil days. The ruin of Vienna's banks, the dwindling of the city's export trade, and the loss of business that once flowed to her as the capital of the great Hapsburg Empire have impoverished the Jewish community.
Of all the European Jews, those in Austria are the most directly exposed to the dangers of National Socialism. This sword of Damocles suspended over their heads has atrophied the intellectual activity which was once so distinctive a feature of Jewish life in Vienna. It lends poignancy to the difficulties they must in any case cope with growing out of the grave economic situation. For the moment they enjoy complete equality of rights; but the limits of their activity are constantly being restricted and the opportunities for gifted young Jews to find outlets for their talents are becoming fewer and fewer.
In Czechoslovakia the ratio of Jews is still smaller -- 2.4 percent. The number is around 36,000, but they are not evenly distributed, there being proportionately fewer Jews in the western areas than in the Sub-Carpathian provinces. The greatest part of the Czech Jews -- 46 percent -- live by trade and industry. In the east they are chiefly inn-keepers; in the west a relatively high percentage of them (9.2) are found in the professions. Anti-Semitism is manifest only in the Sudetic German provinces and in some parts of Slovakia. Even among the Jews who have been assimilated the tendency to profess Jewish nationality is very noticeable.
In spite of the depression that weighs on industry, and notwithstanding the very strong economic nationalism of the Czechs, the material situation of the Jews in Bohemia may be said to be favorable. But the fate of those in the Sub-Carpathian provinces is miserable indeed. Eighty percent of them are on the verge of starvation. Poverty even more grinding than in Poland is the rule. As might be expected in these conditions, the attraction of Zionism is very strong.
In two states of Eastern Europe the number of Jews is negligible. Jugoslavia has only 77,000 (0.55 percent of the population), the majority of them dwelling in the former Hapsburg provinces. They nevertheless play an important part in the country's economic development. They are accorded legal and economic freedom by the government, and in view of their small number the country may be said to be practically without a Jewish problem.
In Estonia there are about 4,500 Jews, or only 0.4 percent of the population. Since Estonia grants each minority of 3,000 souls or more full national and cultural autonomy, the Jews have no occasion for complaint.
Latvia has a somewhat larger Jewish population -- 100,000, or about 5.9 percent of the total. The proportion, however, is slowly decreasing. Here the government's minority policy is not as correct as it is in Estonia. But the Latvian Jews do not as yet suffer serious hardship or have to fear pauperization.
In Russia the latest census reports 2,700,000 Jews. These are very unevenly distributed, 59 percent of them living in the Ukraine, 22 percent in Great Russia, and 15 percent in White Russia. Under Tsarist rule the Jewish masses were not permitted to emigrate from the western provinces into other parts of the country. This restriction no longer holds, so that large reservoirs of Jews are now free to spill over into all parts of the Soviet Union. The census of 1937 will very likely show a quite different distribution from that of a generation ago. The present Jewish population of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa is five times as great as it was in 1918; in fact, about one-third of Russia's Jewish inhabitants dwell in these cities.
The proportion of Jews engaged in agriculture in Russia has risen to ten percent and in industry to 40 percent; to offset this, the number of traders and artisans is decreasing. A remarkable fact is that the number of mixed marriages has jumped to 30 percent. The creation of the Soviet régime and the subsequent adoption of the Five Year Plans opened up careers to young Jewish men and women in the state bureaucracy, the great industrial trusts, and the armed forces; and though there are only two Jews prominent in the inner councils of the Soviet Government, the proportion of them in the civil and military administration as a whole exceeds many times their ratio in the general population. Russian Jewry today appears to be in a state of slow but steady absorption, and within two or three generations will probably be incorporated in the bulk of the population -- partly by voluntary assimilation, partly as a result of the increasing number of mixed marriages -- just as many Finnish and Turanian peoples have been swallowed up in the past.
Due to the differences found between the Jewish populations in different countries, and in some countries between the different groups and strata of Jews, it is very difficult to arrive at generalizations valid for all the Jews of Eastern Europe. But there are a few fairly universal trends that might be worth noting.
It is to be observed, for example, that the strength of anti-Semitism is in direct ratio to the proportion of Jews in the population of any given country. This obviously was not the case in Germany; but in the Eastern European states it may be taken as a fairly rigid rule. Jugoslavia, with a Jewish community amounting to only about half of one per cent of the population, knows hardly any anti-Semitism; but in Poland, where ten percent of the people are Jewish, anti-Semitism has assumed a violent, though illegal, form. The same tendency appears in individual cities. In Vienna, one-tenth of whose inhabitants are Jewish, anti-Semitic agitation is much more intense than in cities where the proportion of Jews is smaller.
Another general observation is that while in Germany it was the lower bourgeoisie which furnished the chief Jew-baiters, that rôle has usually been taken in Eastern Europe by the ambitious sons of peasants and artisans. A universal phenomenon in Eastern Europe in recent years has been the gradual rise of the peasantry. Before the war, very few persons of peasant antecedents could be found among the middle classes in Hungarian, Polish or Rumanian towns. But after the war came the land reforms. These greatly improved the economic and social position of the peasants, whose sons and daughters thereupon sought to enter the ranks of the urban bourgeoisie. These additions to the middle class invaded the fields of economic activity that formerly belonged to the Jews. Whatever benefit the development may have conferred on society as a whole, it certainly has been disastrous for the Jews.
The same may be said for another phenomenon common to the East European countries -- the rapid development of coöperatives. The coöperative movement has contributed greatly to the material progress of the peasantry, but at the same time it has deprived the small Jewish retailers and middlemen of their means of livelihood. Even in such liberal countries as Estonia, where the constitution grants full equality to all national minorities, the coöperative store is slowly supplanting the shop of the Jewish merchant. Further, when the agricultural crisis diminished the purchasing power of the rural masses, the distressing economic situation of the Jews, who depend largely on the peasant's trade, was greatly aggravated.
Another general observation connected with the progress of the peasantry concerns the taxation policies of the various Eastern European states. Even in highly industrialized Austria and Czechoslovakia, agriculture is favored by shifting the bulk of the tax burden to commerce and industry. Since the majority of Jews are engaged in these fields, the weight of taxation falls on them with greater force than it does on the rest of the population.
Except in Russia, then, the situation today of the Jews of Eastern Europe must be painted in sombre colors. Almost everywhere the liberal and humane ideals of the nineteenth century are under attack, and as they weaken the anti-Jewish trend becomes more pronounced. The Jew is being pressed back with varying degrees of violence into his mediæval state of servitude. The most tragic victim of this social process is the assimilated, cultivated Jew. The orthodox masses of Galicia, Bessarabia and Ruthenia are less conscious of what is happening except when there is some special outbreak of terror. They still live the religious, often mystic, life of their ancestors -- a life of fear and privation, cut off from contact with the world around them, confident in Jehovah's wisdom and relying on his protection. The waves of anti-Semitism now rising in Eastern Europe are as incapable of destroying these Jewish masses as were the systematic persecutions they underwent in past centuries.