Since I started to write about what I see as the trivialisation of antisemitism in recent months, I have been asked many times: “Are you Jewish?”
I’ve tried to ignore the question because I don’t want to encourage idiots into thinking it’s OK to glibly discuss the ‘Jewishness’ of other people when it comes to debating antisemitism, or anything else for that matter. Because it really is not OK.
But it’s got to the stage now where I can no longer ignore it.
So here is my reply:
My father’s Jewish family were murdered in the Holocaust. Three brothers survived – one my grandfather – who were ‘allowed’ to leave Vienna in the 1930s.
In those days, when the Nazis took over Austria, Jews were allowed to leave, if they had enough money to ‘buy’ their way out of the country. The family (we presume) clubbed together to pay for the three youngest members of the family to leave. They left with virtually nothing.
Imagine the pain of having to pay for your children to leave you? Forever. Just so they could survive the coming storm. Within a couple of years, the rest of the Jews who remained in Vienna were deported to concentration camps – the men to camps in southern Germany, women and children in cattle trucks to camps mostly in modern day Poland.
They were nearly all of them brutally murdered.
I remember my grandfather. He was a chemist – a highly-educated man who spoke three languages: Italian, German and English fluently.
But here’s the thing.
He used to take me and my brother to Methodist Sunday School. He never took us to the local Synagogue. In fact, he never spoke of his Jewishness. Why could that be?
Well, one explanation is that he probably (until the Nazis came along) did not ‘feel’ in himself all that Jewish. He was a man of science. He didn’t seem to be religious.
My father was not brought up by my grandfather as being ‘Jewish’ either – in a religious or even cultural sense. People who think these things are important regard ‘Jewishness’ as being passed through the maternal bloodline, so even if my grandfather had regarded himself as Jewish in a serious way, why would my father?
I remember watching the ‘Sound of Music’ when I was a kid. To most people a light musical. But I remember my grandfather saying during the film: That’s your family history. The only time I remember him mentioning it.
Of course, the Nazis themselves would not have been so equivocal about my grandfather’s, or my father’s Jewishness. Or mine, for that matter. So why after all he and his family went through – after the heartbreaking tragedy that had befallen his closest family members – was my grandfather so quiet about his Jewishness?
The answer is Fear.
He’d been brought up at a time and place when being Jewish was something to feel afraid about. And I mean really afraid. Not the invented so-called ‘fear’ people like Margaret Hodge have been talking about when she said recently she feels like people felt who were fleeing the Holocaust.
No Margaret. This is a trivialisation of the fear felt by people like my grandfather and all the other Jews who were forced to flee for their lives from the firestorm that was to become the Holocaust.
All of the people trivialising the tragedy of antisemitism – belittling the Holocaust – to attack a party leader, just because they don’t like his policies on nationalisation, or taxation or whatever, should be ashamed of themselves.
It is time for this to stop.
And when people start to question my or anyone else’s Jewishness, just because of differences in political opinion or whatever, they are on VERY dangerous ground.
Because we’ve been there before. And there is VERY bad precedent for this kind of investigating the Jewishness, or religious and ethnic backgrounds of others.
I think of my grandfather, and his fear.
His Jewishness was important only to his enemies – to the people who wanted to destroy him – because they couldn’t see past his Jewishness to the human being ‘underneath’.
So please, never question my ‘Jewishness’ – or supposed lack of it – ever again. I will not be so polite the next time it happens.