Chapter I


The Genesis of Jew-Hatred

Dear Herbert: -

I want you to learn of these things out of the overflowing of my pen, and know my feelings as if you had heard my own voice uttering them.  I would not want the tongues of others, strangers or pretenders to my friendship, to touch this story with the sour whimsy of gossip.  In any other voice but my own it must sound incredible and ugly that I should have taken this attitude towards our people.  But it is not incredible because, as you see by my vouching for it, it is true. And nothing can be entirely without beauty that has lived so close to the fire which consumes.

How shall I get you to understand what an agony of spirit is involved in the launching of this work?  It was easy enough to write, I assure you.  What I have set down here I had to or go out of my mind. It struck me like a tidal wave; and before I could make any effort to direct it, it had made an avenue of progress out of every vein and artery of my body, it was riding every one of my living senses: everything I had ever seen, felt, heard and learned was being welded into artillery and commandeered into action in this new battle of my blood.  Writing the book was really something of an organic necessity.  But to give it to the printer, read proofs, arrange pages, and ultimately sign to it my tortured name, that is a metamorphosis I am still agonizing through.

People will say to you:  It is obvious that Roth is deplorably blinded by what happened to him.  He apparently got mixed up with a set of ruthless Jews.  They fleeced him.  And he is ungallantly throwing the onus on the whole Jewish people.  Which is unjust and unfair.

If it were not for what the Jews did to me, it is possible that I might never have come to this pass, for they lifted me bodily out of the set life of a Jew of forty and carried me here on their own shoulders.  Does this impair my case against them?  I do not think so.  How, I ask you, have messages like this been brought to the world before?  How have people been awakened before, to those strange and terrible visions which have catapulted mankind into what it describes itself today?  Would my plea seem more authentic if I presented it in the guise of a series of statistical studies proving what a hideous swamp the Jews have made of Western Civilization?  Would it better establish my sincerity if, like one of the minor prophets in Israel, I began my vision with the words And the Lord appeared to me and said? 

Is there any need to tell you what a lovely, fearful and proud thing my Jewishness has been to me all my life?  I remember that when you first wandered into my bookshop on Eight West Street you sported a silver cross ornament, so far had you strayed from the fenced consciousness of being a Jew.  I made no effort, then, to learn how it had come about.  I judge now that you must have been born into a particularly ugly corner of Jewish life, and that the cross you wore was merely a symbol of the flash of fancy with which you raised yourself, by your bootstraps one might say, out of a contemptible environment.  My enthusiasm served as a hook-chain to drag you back.  Yes, I could almost see you change, as day by day you listened to me speak Yiddish and heard me discuss Jewish things.  One day the cross disappeared entirely, and you began to speak Yiddish yourself, not badly.  You were present on numerous occasions when I made myself the defender of our national integrity, as when I ordered a celebrated English poet out of my shop because he admitted that he was a contributor to G. K. Chesterton's anti-Semitic weekly. 

We lived those days in what the Jews call mockingly the Olem Hatoi, the world of illusion, as distinguished from the Olem Hazai, the real world, of which they speak with awe and reverence.  We looked upon ourselves as free Jews, princes of the world's most precious blood, descendents of the warrior-man Bar Cochba, and of the warrior-princes the Maccabees.  For enchantment we had only to sound the names Abraham, Issac and Moses.  For assurance:  were we not an active and mighty factor in the upbuilding of America?    And for reassurance:  were not the deserts of Arabia blossoming under our patient labors of rehabilitation of forty years?  As Jews we were the living embodiment of the vision incarnate.  Everything said against us was so much evil slander inspired by envy. disappointment, and an unreasoning hatred - Jew-hatred.  Jew-hatred differed from every other hatred in the world because it was altogether inspired by lies.  About that there could possibly be no question.

In that spirit I wrote and published two books:  Europe (Liveright, 1919) and Now and Forever (McBride, 1925).  Europe was a sort of uncouth epic in free verse in which I attacked Europe for the outrages she had wantonly practiced on the Jews during the great war.  "The face of Israel will shine with power when Europe will be a name difficult to remember," was one of the taunts in it that particularly pleased Israel Zangwill, for he frequently quoted it.  Now and Forever continued in prose my reprisals against the gentiles, by means of an imaginary conversation on an imaginable variety of Jewish problems between myself and Zangwill who contributed a characteristic preface.  If I remember correctly you did not like either of these books because, you argued, it should be possible for a man to remain a Jew without developing a serious case of high blood pressure.

But even in the blindness of my racial self-love I was observing things.  In Now and Forever I pried a surgical knife into the anatomy of the God of Israel.  I noticed the earthiness and unloveliness of Jewish women.  I pricked the bubble of the theory that Jesus was a man of peace.  I regretted that the Zionists had not had the fundamental decency to remain faithful - in spite of alluring British promises - to their pre-war pledges to Turkey.  And I suggested that I would probably live to see Jews roasted alive on Fifth Avenue.  My book was none the less a passionate defense of the Jews against their enemies.  Yet, under the heading "A Playboy Prophet in Israel," a man named Franklin Gordon, reviewing my book in The American Hebrew of July 10, 1925, wrote:

"What is the significance of this book, its salient characteristic?  Perhaps its absolute freedom from cant, its plain speaking.  So out-spoken is Mr. Roth in voicing his sentiments that one may question the advisability of having a book like his too promiscuously circulated.  So much of it is open to misconstruction; so many pages in it could be lifted to serve as material for anti-Jewish propaganda."

I remember that this paragraph perplexed me a little and amused me a great deal more.  How could I take seriously the possibility that I might be instrumental in adding to the already overcrowded armory of the enemies of my people?  Apparently I had pointed out serious blemishes in our poor defenses.  But did even the most fanatic of Jews claim that we were a nation without faults?  In their times, did not the Prophets report the blemishes of Israel from the housetops?  So, secure in my illusions, I rested till the early months of 1933, the year of calamity. . . .

It is one of the felicities of my life that accident, or it may possibly be fate, always dramatizes my misfortunes by setting them up, as they occur, on a promontory.  When news of the Nazi warfare against the Jews of Germany blazed out on the front pages of the American press, my own business affairs had just been swallowed in the waves of catastrophe.  An employee of mine, a Jew, whom I had discharged for dishonesty, had devised a scheme for seating my publishing business from me.  With the help of several of my creditors, all Jews, a happy conspiracy was hatched.  The available stock of my publishing firm, over fifty thousand books, well worth thirty thousand dollars, were sold by means of a fraudulent marshal's levy to satisfy a dishonest judgment of some four hundred dollars.  I shall go into the details of this sale later - as an illustration of the working of the Jewish lawyer in America - but for the present let it be sufficient for you to know that by that one stroke in the dark, for no inkling was given to me either of the judgment or the sale, my estate, worth easily a hundred thousand dollars, built up out of the hard work and consuming enthusiasm of fifteen years, became valueless.

Almost the same day, as it usually happens in my life, the dreadful news from Germany broke.  Adolf Hitler, having become Chancellor of the Third Reich in spite of what had appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, was invoking all the powers of his new office against his political rivals, but especially against all the Jews of the realm.  A general boycott had been proclaimed against Jewish business men and Jewish professionals.  Jewish lawyers were being ousted from German courts, Jewish doctors from German hospitals, and Nazi troops were stationed in front of Jewish stores to warn Germans against patronizing Jew-owned shops.

Did you ever read Ovrohom Raisin's story of the little ghetto boy who set down in his notebook the Jewish Almanac's figure of the world population of the Jews, and, as they were reported in the press, subtracted from it the number of Jews killed in the Russian pogroms?  As a Jew you know how true a picture of a Jewish child this is.  Jewish children are brought up to take to heart all the difficulties of their people, as if what is happening to Kol Ysroel [1] is the business of Ben Ysroel [2].  They get to feel that way whether they are brought up to it or not.

I was only ten years old when the Kishenev pogrom broke out in 1904.  But on account of it I could not eat or sleep well for a month.  I knew no one in Kishenev.  Like millions of others I had never heard of the place before reports of the massacre emblazoned its name on my revolving mind.  It was as if people very close and dear to me had been assaulted.  Fifteen years later I was on a Eighth Street cross-town car when a newspaper, opened in a seat opposite me, headlined the news that General Denikin was marching, through South Russia at the head of a vast army bearing on a multitude of banners the slogan:  "Kill the Jews and Save Russia."  Tears gathered in my eyes.  I got out at the next corner and wandered about the docks of Manhattan in a daze till past midnight.

And so, in the midst of the news of the misfortune that had befallen the Jews of Germany, I wandered down Broadway, my own plight almost completely forgotten, when I remembered that the Harlans, friends of ours, were coming to the house for dinner.  I must get home a little earlier, I thought.  But time had already passed me and left me far behind.  When I reached home the Harlans were in my library.  Cocktails were being served; mine was already set aside for me.

"Still worrying about your business?" asked Mrs. Harlan.

It was not my business but rather the loss of it that was worrying me, I was about to reply when, suddenly, the peculiarity of my position flashed on me unpleasingly.  The Harlans were gentiles.  Moreover they had never tried to hide their dislike of Jews as a people.  In this tragic moment of my people's disillusionment was I not giving comfort to the enemy?  I considered it cowardly and dishonest to entertain such thoughts in secret, so I proceeded to explain myself the the Harlans.  A few days ago, I said to them, German Jews and German Gentiles were meeting in a cordial fellowship, such as we are meeting here tonight.  Today, thousands of German Jews are knocking in vain on the doors of erstwhile friends, German Gentiles, for sympathy.  Suppose, as appears to me entirely possible, what is happening in Germany today should break out in America tomorrow?  I wonder if I might not find myself coming to you to ask you to harbor my children from the violence of the mob, even as Jews are doing in Germany today, only to hear you say, as many an honest German burgher is saying today to a suppliant Jewish neighbor:  "I cannot do what you ask of me. It is against law and order."

Mrs. Harlan, whose first novel I had just published, undertook to answer my question.  "We do not like Jews, as you know," she said.  "But we do like you, and we are particularly fond of your children.  If in the fury of mob psychology we should so far forget ourselves as to forget in our anger against your race our affection for you and your children, I suggest that our loss will be even greater than yours."

I felt both mollified and rebuked, and for a while the subject was dropped.  After dinner, we played, as usual, two hours of Pope Joan.  Game over, Mrs. Harlan leaned back and said:  "I should think, after what you've gone through in the last few days, that you'd become something of an anti-Semite yourself."

I looked up with surprise.  "Why?"

"If you could forget," she mused, "a lot of what you must have learned in Hebrew school just long enough to get a glimpse of what the Jews are doing to you you wouldn't have to ask why."

"I see your point, " I said.  "But how can I let the thought of a few dishonest Jews blur for me the vision of a whole people?"

"But have you really in your mind a vision of the Whole people?" she pursued.  "You have a vision, of course.  But it is not a vision which came to you out of the experience of your life.  It was imposed on you, like any other form of patriotism, when you were too young to examine anything critically.  It was grafted into your blood by the rabbis, in the spirit of My country, right or wrong.  You have probably, all your life, suffered experiences such as these at the hands of the Jews you dealt with.  But have you allowed your vision of the whole people to be modified ever so slightly?  It just simply hasn't occurred to you that the living people has to back up the living vision.  Your vision, believe me, is one thing.  What the Jews are in reality is something directly different."

Such an argument in my own house!  I would never have thought it possible.  For the moment I was even too stupefied to protest.

"I have heard you talk of your princely Jewish blood," continued Mrs. Harlan.  "You may have something of a mystic strain in you yourself.  But look at the Jews you associate with.  We have been meeting them in your house during the past year. We ate and drank with them at your table.  Didn't they continue to come here days after they had secretly sold you out?  Are we to accept them as specimens of your princes of Jewish blood?  In the course of our own lives, my husband and I have met many Jews, for how is one to avoid them in New York?  But even knowing Jews as genuine as you and your wife has not helped to modify our feeling that Jews are a nation of leeches crowding the sensitive arteries of mankind.  Take what is happening in Germany."

"Blind race hatred," I interrupted.

"Conducted by eighty-five million people?  Do you believe a whole civilized nation would stand aside, witness what Hitler is doing to the Jews without a protest, unless there are real abuses on the part of the Jews which justified what is happening?"

I could not permit such an argument to remain unanswered.  I told the Harlans vehemently and sincerely that it is wrong to blame a whole people for the malpractices of a few of its members.  "You are wrong," I averred, "and so is Hitler's Germany.  Germany's Jews have enriched Germany far beyond her capacity for gratitude.  Are not Germany's foremost living scientists, doctors and lawyers Jews?  We are not mad enough to expect gratitude.  But we do ask for a little reasonableness.  As for my own difficulties, I added, I don't think I can conscientiously blame the people who cheated me, as Jews.  It is so easy to cheat me, the temptation would be too overwhelming even for a society of saints."

The Harlans smiled and tactfully changed the subject of the conversation.  I don't think they had the faintest notion of what they had accomplished.  For they had opened in me the locked gate of an emotion that  must have been pounding away at my heart for a long time.  It dawned on me suddenly, blindingly that all the evils of my life had been perpetrated by Jews.  How powerfully woven about me had been my racial illusion that even a suspicion of this had never occurred to me before?  The scroll of my life spread itself out before me, and reading it in the glare of a new, savage