PARIS — After the ghoulish desecration of the Jewish cemetery at Carpentras in southern France last month and dozens of copycat incidents around the world, fears of a revival of one of history's oldest blights--anti-Semitism--have resurfaced in a dramatic way.
Anti-Semitic demonstrations and the use of anti-Semitic themes during political campaigns in the nascent democracies of Eastern Europe showed that prejudice did not die after 40 years of communism.
In Hungarian elections this spring, for example, Jewish leaders of the progressive liberal political party, the Free Democrats, were regularly described by their arch nationalist opponents, the Democratic Forum, as "rootless cosmopolitans"--an old anti-Jewish hate phrase that attempts to paint Jews as people without national allegiances.
In Soviet Russia, the ultra-nationalist movement Pamyat (Memory) and proto-fascist organizations such as the People's Orthodox Movement have pumped new life into the anti-Semitic demons of the steppes. At rallies like the one held recently by the People's Orthodox Movement at Moscow's Red October Aircraft Plant, speakers blame Jews for everything from the Stalinist terror to the current shortages in food.
Even in Poland and Romania, countries nearly emptied of their Jewish populations by extermination in Nazi death camps and by emigration, racist outbreaks continue--eerie examples of anti-Semitism without Jews. French writer/philosopher Andre Glucksmann calls it the "missing limb syndrome," referring to the pain experienced by an amputee long after his arm or leg has been removed.
In the Polish city of Kielce on April 28, to give one example, a visiting Jewish musical group from the Soviet Ukraine was attacked by two men who sprinted through the theater and tossed a tear-gas grenade on the stage where the group was performing.
Although police say that they are uncertain whether the attack was anti-Jewish or anti-Soviet--both hatreds appear to have equal virulence in parts of Poland--the incident was particularly chilling because of the awful history of the southeast Poland city.
Before World War II, noted Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Paris, Kielce had 25,000 Jews. Only 200 returned from the Nazi death camps after the war ended. On July 4, 1946, only 12 days before the Communist party took power in Poland, Kielce was the site of the last pogrom in Europe. Only 42 Jews survived.
The attack in Kielce is a graphic example of the depressing deja vu that is being revealed as Eastern Europe, silent for 40 years, comes out of its shell.
"Anti-Semitism is an extremely powerful myth in popular European memory and imagination," commented Michael May, director of the London-based Institute of Jewish Affairs, as he struggled to explain the phenomenon. "I guess it is so powerful that it has even survived the Holocaust."
"Anti-Semitism was always there but it was dormant," said Shmuel Almog, historian and director of the International Center for Study of Antisemitism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "It is like something in a freezer that you opened up. It began to thaw and then suddenly it came to life again."
Bitter historical ironies like the Kielce attack are not restricted to the eastern half of Europe.
In one of the ugliest examples of the post-Carpentras wave of incidents in France, a teacher in Royan, a city near Bordeaux, was assaulted in her home after lecturing her students against anti-Semitism and racism. Her lecture came after the May 9 Carpentras cemetery incident--in which at least four vandals desecrated 37 graves and disinterred the corpse of a recently buried man.
Ironically, the Royan school where victim Christiane Guiard, 40, teaches is named Emile Zola College--after the crusading French writer who bravely defended the Jewish French army captain Alfred Dreyfus against trumped-up charges of treason. His famous essay in defense of Dreyfus, "J'Accuse," is considered a classic argument against bigotry and prejudice.
Around the world, other examples of anti-Semitism range from the odd popularity of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" Jewish conspiracy books in Japan to the particularly crude attacks on Jews by the extreme-right Afrikaner Resistance Movement in South Africa. In the Middle East, where the long-stressed distinction between anti-Zionism (opposition to the Jewish state of Israel) and anti-Semitism (opposition to Judaism and Jews) is becoming increasingly murky, the most blatant examples of anti-Semitism can be found in the mainstream Arab press.