The Holocaust Survivor Who Foresaw the Dangers of Left-Wing Anti-Zionism

September 20, 2021 | Alvin Rosenfeld
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Born in Austria to a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Hans Maier—better known as Jean Améry—was captured by the Nazis in Belgium and sent to Auschwitz. After World War II, he authored influential works on his own experiences and on the Holocaust in general, which, writes Alvin Rosenfeld, “are distinguished by a rare degree of intellectual vigor and moral courage” that put him on par with Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. He also became one of the first prominent leftists to see the dangers of the European left’s anti-Zionist turn. Rosenfeld writes:

Under the guise of anti-Zionism, “the old, wretched anti-Semitism ventures forth,” [Améry] ruefully noted. . . . At anti-Israel rallies in German cities in the 1970s, Améry heard not only fierce denunciations of Zionism as “a global plague” and “strike the Zionist dead—and make the East red,” but also repeated cries of “Death to the Jewish people.” The fact that these primitive hatreds were voiced by young men and women of the left, his own political home, infuriated Améry. He had not expected to witness such a scandalous spectacle in postwar Germany, especially coming from people he had regarded as his friends and natural allies, but “the tide has turned. Again, an old-new anti-Semitism impudently raises its disgusting head, without raising indignation.”

Knowledge of Zionism was no more a part of Améry’s formative years in Austria than was knowledge of Judaism, and yet in his later years he became a passionate defender of Israel, especially against the country’s adversaries on the left. In this respect, he stood out among German-language authors of his time, for his voice as a public supporter of the Jewish state’s right to exist found few others to match it. In fact, he was the first publicly to denounce anti-Zionism as a new form of anti-Semitism in Germany.

As he saw it, “the possibility cannot be ruled out that the systematic annihilation of large numbers of Jews could recur.” Israel, he believed, was as sure a defense against such a fearsome recurrence as any the Jews could hope to have. And yet, since its birth, Israel was the target of militant opposition by Arab countries in the Middle East and, to his horror, by many in Europe whose anti-Zionism was trumpeted as a necessary and even “virtuous” political stance.

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