You can’t judge people by their ancestry.

The Israeli government is furious at the suggestion by a Russian minister that Hitler had Jewish blood. In fact very little is known of Hitler’s ancestry but a Persian, Omar Khayyam, summed it all up correctly.

He said in his Rubaiyat “The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on. Nor all thy piety and wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line. Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”

You can’t judge people by their ancestry. A very great snooker player has two criminal parents but a nicer fellow it would be hard to find.

Would it stop Hitler being a monster if he had Jewish blood?  Not for a moment but you equally can’t disguise the fact that, as a Lance Corporal in the First World War, he received the Iron Cross, First Class. An unusual distinction for a Lance Corporal.  He was recommended by his commander, Lieutenant Hugo Guttman, who was Jewish. In 1939 Hitler got Guttman an entry visa to America and had his army pension paid to him throughout the war. Hitler was still a monster.

How you are remembered also depends on your point of view. Outside the Houses  of Parliament there is a statue to Oliver Cromwell, the “Father of British democracy.” So he was, but he was also responsible for the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford in Ireland in 1649-1650, when thousands were slaughtered. The rationale for Cromwell was that he hated Catholics. Luckily he didn’t mind Jews.

Gladstone was one of our greatest prime ministers, but his father was a slave owner. There are people condemning him today for his Dad. How does that make any sense? If you want to condemn him for anything, he introduced Income Tax.

Or take another great prime minister, Lord Palmerston. He was notorious for his mistresses. Benjamin Disraeli was asked by a fellow MP whether he had heard of Palmerston’s latest amour. Disraeli told him not to say a word, or Liberal Palmerston would win the next election by a landslide! Which he did. The treatment of a recent Minister of Health shows how the world changes.

It is no surprise that the Sikhs do not have a memorial day for General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer who ordered the massacre of the Sikhs at Amritsar in 1919. It was a peaceful demonstration but 380 died when the soldiers opened fire. Back in England the newspaper, the Morning Post, raised a subscription for the General which produced £26,000 in donations from many parts of the Empire. In today’s money that’s well over a million pounds.

dA lot of history gets cleaned up over the years. Nobody mentions the antisemitic clauses in Magna Carta, though there is a stone in Littleton, Dornoch in Scotland to mark the last burning of a witch. In Shakespeare’s Richard III the king is portrayed with a hunchback; there is absolutely no evidence he had one, but it pleased Queen Elizabeth I.

You have to be careful with history. The Nazis did come to an agreement with the Zionists, the Haavera agreement in 1933, to let German Jews emigrate to Israel. The disgraceful condition was that they left their valuable behind, but 50,000 did get away before the war.

“Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it”. All you can do is try to improve civilisation. If the Holocaust is denied, we have ample irrefutable evidence to prove it did, alas, happen.

So are the Israelis right to be angry? A large number of famous and infamous people had Jewish ancestry. You can’t – or you shouldn’t – judge their descendants by actions, positive or negative, with which they had nothing to do. Those who have the power to influence, which means mainly the media, have a responsibility to see that the truth is told. Until they do, it is historians who will have to set the record straight.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book