This is a summary of an insightful conference webinar with Dr. Peggy Shapiro as the main speaker. The conference was part of the Hindu Heritage Month celebration in October 2021
Dr. Shapiro began her presentation with her personal story. She is a child of Holocaust survivors. One hundred eighty-two members of her family members were killed in the Holocaust, and all she has to know them by are less than five photographs because it was forbidden for a Jew in a concentration camp to have any photos. She pointed out that the enemy not only meant to destroy Jews but to erase the memory that they ever existed as human beings. At the end of the Holocaust, the surviving victims took a pledge ‘Never again.’ They took a pledge to never again let the specter of anti-Semitism rise and consume their future. But in spite of their Herculean efforts, this irrational hatred has not been eradicated. It continues to adapt to new environments and circumstances and mutate. Thus, it can be termed as the longest hatred, and Dr. Shapiro pointed out that both Hindus and Jews have been subjected to such hatred.
Dr. Shapiro notes that, over centuries, Hinduism and Judaism have been misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned. Thousands of Hindus and Jews have been forcibly converted or subjected to suffering and death if they rejected to convert. She said that similar comparisons can be drawn between how the Brahmins in Hinduism and the Rabbis in Judaism were treated as mendacious and power-hungry. What was once a hatred of religion became a hatred of the individual. Darwin’s theory of the fittest was misinterpreted to suggest some humans were superior to other humans. Race science was used to claim that physical and intellectual differences exist between groups and that these differences are biological, permanent, and irreversible. Thus, anti-Semitism became racial. From the beginning, the Nazi party and the ideologues of National Socialism adapted, manipulated, and radicalized this unfounded belief of an Aryan race and that Germans belonged to this master race. The next step was that it went from theory/words to action. Anti-Jew legislation was passed. Not only were the Jews projected as a lower race but as lesser biological beings who needed to be terminated. So words turned into social ostracizing, which turned to a loss of jobs/property, loss of rights, and finally, loss of life, resulting in the cold-blooded murder of 6 million Jewish people.
Dr. Shapiro then says that she feels the world has learned nothing since 1936 because the war of words continues, and the lies still kill. Dr. Shapiro shares examples of some of the most recent episodes of hatred towards Jews, such as the murders of Ilan Halimi and Sarah Halimi (unrelated to each other) and the multiple incidents where Jewish religious books and institutions are routinely vandalized and desecrated.
She also says that the war of words continues today, and continuous efforts are made to deny the holocaust, even by well-respected academicians. When the individual Jew is not attacked, the collective Jew of Israel is attacked, and they slander the democracies that are India and Israel. These two democracies are in a sea of tyranny, and they have been bombarded with false accusations of racism and caste discrimination. Hindus and Jews who live outside of India and Israel are silenced and marginalized in media and municipal councils for feeling connected to their ancient homelands. Academic conferences are held to spread hate against them, and students are bullied and harassed for being pro-Israel and pro-India and are denied their rights to speak. School administrations are actively pressured to prevent pro-Israel and pro-India speakers from visiting campuses. Academic institutions are revising the ethnic studies courses and excluding Hindus, especially from India, from the study groups. Dr. Shapiro then shares statistics of hate-motivated crimes in recent years. She concludes on a very positive note that, despite this discrimination, Hindu and Jewish communities stand out almost everywhere. They stand out in education, innovation, women’s rights, average household income, etc. She proposes that Hindus and Jews must stand united, and then they will prevail. They need to control their own story and the definition of anti-Semitism and Hindu phobia and not leave it up to someone else.
Aryan Race Theory – A Primer
The Aryan race theory was an idea that emerged from linguistic and ethnic studies and had a connection with Sanskrit. When Friedrich Schlegel first came across Sanskrit, he believed it to be a God-given language that was the mother of all languages. But over a period of time, he and his brother August managed to reverse this thought. They came up with a bogus theory that India was not the origin of Sanskrit but that a higher race (Aryan) that was favored by God wandered into India, bringing with them the Sanskrit language and mixing with the aboriginals in that area, creating those who were the current population of Bharat. With this reversal, India was not considered the cradle of the highest order of culture, civilization, and intellect anymore, but the Aryans had bestowed that excellence from outside upon India.
Soon, this Aryan myth became fatally entwined with Germany’s long-standing hatred for Judaism. While Judenhass, or Jew-hatred in Germany, predated the Reformation period, it gained renewed strength after the creation of the polemical pamphlets by Luther. Germany was in the process of forging a national, racial identity. The discipline of humanities during this time only comprised the exercise of categorizing and cataloging the cultures of the world and marking them on a scale of evolution to eventually ‘prove’ that the Aryan race was the highest form of race, destined to rule the other races.
While hatred for Jews was already prevalent in Germany, Luther’s writings in the mid-1500s added much more fuel to the fire. In spite of such censure, the Jewish people, beginning around 1678, had gradually abandoned their cultural separateness and assimilated into German society. They did not consider themselves a separate nation living in Germany but equal German citizens. But centuries of hatred finally took the form of racial anti-Semitism when the Nazi party fostered the development of racial thinking. Institutionalized, state-funded projects were run in Anthropology, Human Hereditary, and Eugenics. A discipline of ‘race science’ was created where skulls were collected across German colonial territories around the world and were measured to correlate facial features to the intellect. These studies attempted to support the idea of a Jewish race with inherent features that could not be overcome through assimilation or conversion. Events such as the Kristallnacht and Nuremberg Race Laws completely wiped out the legal emancipation of the German Jews, finally leading to the murder of millions of Jews.
The 50-year-old book ‘German Jews and the University’ contains biographies of Jews from 1678 to 1848. The book describes how they struggled to be emancipated and accepted and the humiliations and harassment that they faced. Sadly, many of these humiliations and sort of imbalances or prejudices and discrimination still survive in academia, and therefore, it’s very important that we read the Jewish experience closely.