Thursday, November 8

Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution - Book Review

Published by (October 2007)

Richard S. Levy, ed. _Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of
Prejudice and Persecution_. 2 volumes. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO,
2005. xxiv + xxvii + 828 pp. Illustrations, table of contents, list
of contributors and entries, index. $185.00 (cloth), ISBN 1-85109-439-3.

Reviewed for H-German by Michael C. Wallo, Department of Foreign
Languages and Literatures, Central Michigan University

The Beginning of Research on Antisemitism

Recent memory is filled with episodes of antisemitism such as Mel
Gibson's drunken invective or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's harangues of
Holocaust denial. These outbursts make Richard Levy's _Antisemitism:
A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution_ even more
indispensable as a counter against such antisemitic attacks. Its avowed
mission is to educate readers to the "destructive nature of antisemitism
and the injury it can still do to the human community" (p. xxxiii), and to
accomplish this aim, Levy attempts to offer and succeeds in giving "the
educated reader the most accurate, thorough, and up-to-date information
on antisemitism in an unbiased manner" (p. xxix). His encyclopedia
demonstrates substantial breadth of information and the considerable
progress of research into the discrimination of Jews until this point in
Yet, at the same time, this work illustrates the vast study yet to be done
on antisemitism around the globe.

Levy has gathered a contingent of international, well-versed scholars who
have contributed to the compendium. The work has an overwhelmingly
western perspective and deals to a large degree with antisemitism in
those nations. Other cultures are not completely disregarded: authors
examine nations, individuals, and incidents from the Middle East, North
Africa, South America, and even Japan, but these entries are limited in
number. On the other hand, articles whose topics derive from some part
of a German-speaking culture make up approximately 40 percent of the
entries while articles associated with the United States are the next
highest percentile, consisting of around 9 percent of the total. For those
of us in German Studies, the number of entries devoted to German-speaking
cultures makes the encyclopedia particularly attractive. Many of these
entries examine nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century antisemites or
groups such as Heinrich Class (p. 130), Adolf Stöcker (pp. 684-685),
and the Pan-German League (pp. 528-529); others inform about National
Socialists and Holocaust-related incidents. These topics certainly deserve
scrutiny in an encyclopedia on antisemitism; however, the lack of entries
pertaining to other nations and their relationships with Jews strongly
indicates that research remains to be done on exposing the discrimination
against Jews within other cultures.

An examination of the types of entries shows that the largest number
are biographical, such as those on Erasmus (pp. 210-211), Henry Ford
(pp. 233-236), and Theodor Fontane (pp. 232-233), and that historical
incidents like the Jewish census in the German army in 1916
(pp. 371-372) and the Waldheim Affair (pp. 752-753) are the second
most frequent type of article. Other categories of entries include
concepts, groups, works, documents, and countries associated with
antisemitism. One should also mention that the contributors' articles
go beyond mere perpetrators of antisemitism, so that defenses of
Jews such as Mark Twain's 1898 essay "Concerning the Jews," which
rejected contemporary antisemites' wild conspiracy theories on Jews, or
Christian Wilhelm von Dohm's late-eighteenth-century treatise, "Über die
bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden," which pleaded for Jewish
emancipation, are also broached in the two volumes as responses to
antisemitism and as part of "the history of anti-Semitism" (p. xxix).
However, in an encyclopedia on antisemitism, these positive stories
are unfortunately few.

Of all the entries, those on the "Judensau," "masculinity," and "Thomas
Mann" are particularly striking. The _Judensau_ is not only shocking for
its disgusting depiction of Jews feeding on the teats of a pig, sucking on
the pigs' tail, and licking its posterior, but
also for its open representations
in German cathedrals and on the Sachsenhauer Bridge in Frankfurt am
Main (p. 388). The stereotype of the effeminate Jewish male derives from
such absurd claims as the feminine speech patterns of Yiddish,
emasculation through circumcision, and ritual murder accusations in
which the male Jew tries to stem his menstruation with the blood of a
newborn (pp. 447-448). While the overwhelming majority of scholars
would not associate Thomas Mann with antisemitism, recent research
has begun to call into question this assertion. As the article's author
demonstrates, his diary contains some dreadful statements and his
novella _Walsungenblut_ (1906) revolves around Jewish twins who view
Wagner's _Die Walküre_ (1870) and emulate the incestuous acts of
Wagner's characters to become, like them, more German. The most
disturbing part of the novella is Mann's depiction of the young man's joy
at having cheated his sister's Gentile fiancée of his "sexual prerogative"
(p. 444).

As the Mann entry demonstrates and as Levy notes, the designation of
antisemites and antisemitic acts can be complicated based upon the
lack of firm definition of the word "antisemitism" (p. xxxi). That said, one
entry is out of place in the encyclopedia and a few others could have been
included. The "Gottfried Benn" article is undeserving of inclusion in the
work, considering that Benn made no antisemitic statements and was
the friend of many Jews (pp. 65-66). His injudicious membership in the
National Socialist Party for a short time was certainly not based on
antisemitism. On the other hand, articles on Ethiopian Jews, Israel's
history as a nation suffering from antisemitism, gender-specific
discrimination against Jewish women, and one of the foremost antisemitic
publishing houses in pre-World War II Germany, J. F. Lehmanns Verlag,
would have been excellent additions to the volumes.

Levy's compendium is user-friendly with alphabetized entries,
recommended further readings for each entry, and "see also"-sections.
Articles range from approximately 400 to 2,000 words; about 120 of the
total 612 entries are nearer the latter length and deal with general
topics such as modern anti-Jewish caricatures (pp. 102-107),
emancipation (pp. 201-204), Roman literature (pp. 612-617), and
Holocaust denial, negationism, and revisionism (pp. 319-322).
Prominent among the quality visuals of the encyclopedia are disturbing
illustrations of the _Judensau_ (p. 388), ritual murders (pp. 603, 606,
656), and Jews being burned in Cologne (p. 461). Some entries that
may be difficult to find on a first attempt--for instance, if a searcher
were looking for an entry on Francisco Franco, he would not look
under "F," but rather under "S" for the entry "Spain under Franco" (pp.
674-675)--are located easily enough in a comprehensive thirty-five-page
general index.

To my knowledge, this work is the first of its kind on this topic and
provides a wealth of information and new and surprising facts that
would benefit any scholar interested in the topic.[1] However, the
compendium is particularly ideal for Jewish Studies scholars
and--because of the entries on Germanic antisemitism--Germanists
and German historians. Although the cost is certainly one of its
shortcomings, individual entries would be useful in applicable
undergraduate courses.


[1]. Jerome Chanes published _Antisemitism: A Reference Handbook_
(Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004), but its title and genre indicate its
lack of comprehensiveness.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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