the national interest

1939 Atlantic Author’s Jewish Husband Way Too Sensitive About Anti-Semitism, Hitler

He probably didn’t even appreciate the Hitler Teapot she gave him. Photo: /r/Pareidolia/imgur

The Atlantic recently opened its archives and republished the 1939 essay “I Married a Jew.” [Update: it was apparently republished a few years back, and recirculated recently.]  The mercifully anonymous author writes to reassure the world that it is indeed possible to harmoniously marry a Jewish guy, mainly because her husband is not like the other Jews (“People have known Ben casually for two or three years without discovering he was Jewish. It pleases him that he looks and acts like other people.”)

There are, however, complicating factors. The author is German-American, and describes herself as “pro-German.” And it is, you know, 1939. She tries to take a balanced, blame-both-sides-equally approach to the anti-Semitism issue that you can imagine being pleasantly offered on a Sunday morning political talk show, while her husband is irrationally partisan about it:

However, in our discussions, it is always I who must choose the more tactful way, for Ben, poor darling, still has the Jewish hypersensitivity toward all criticism of his race, for which he and his people are not to be blamed.

I am obviously biased here, but I see where Ben is coming from on this.

His lips clamp shut when I venture to suggest that Judaism is at least as dogmatic as Catholicism and as jealous of its own, that the Jewish church plays politics quite as much as Rome, wields an international influence equally strong.

Again, Ben’s argument here — that the “Jewish church” in 1939 lacked the international influence of the Catholic church — seems more persuasive. She is able to see both sides of the anti-Semitism issue:

I tell him: the Jews must come off the fence and make up their minds whether they want to be primarily citizens of, say, France or England or primarily citizens of Jewry. They cannot be Jewish in their homes and French or English outside. They cannot pledge their pride and loyalty to Israel and expect Frenchmen and Englishmen to treat them exactly like other Frenchmen and Englishmen. If they decide it is more important to preserve the Hebrew culture, tradition, and pride of race, then they must accept more graciously the distinction accorded them as aliens. In that case they would encounter less friction if they adhered to their own society, community centers, clubs, and so forth. At the same time, we on our side should give them the greatest respect as remarkable and admirable aliens.

Naturally, these arguments ended with Ben, being pretty emotional about the subject, committing a Godwin’s law violation, which may have been more understandable in the context of a debate with an anti-Semite over the subject of anti-Semitism in 1939. Once again, Ben is really making a lot more sense here:

I try to tell Ben that Hitler is merely writing another page in a history that will continue so long as the status quo between Jews and Gentiles remains — a status that only the willing shoulders of both protagonists can remove.

But it is hard for Ben to take the long view. He looks upon Hitler as something malignantly unique, and it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century 

She is the world’s first recorded Shiksplainer.

1939 Jewish Husband Too Sensitive About Hitler