“Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.”
Victor Klemperer, LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii, 1947
As soon as we encounter depictions of people as rats who carry contagion and devour precious resources, we can be sure that anti-semitism – and the language of National Socialist propaganda and hatred – is lurking behind the sinister corner.
Even before the rise of Nazism to power, “rats” were a recurrent description of Jews (and other “uncivilized and parasitic people” like the Roma people or gays), which reached the ideological peak with the anti-jewish Nazi propaganda film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) from 1940, and served as the ideological justification of the Final Solution, with horrific consequences not only for the Jewish people, but Europe as such.
When, for Easter 2019, the deputy mayor of Adolf Hitler’s home town – Braunau am Inn – published a poem under the title Die Stadtratte (The City Rat) in a local newspaper, it was not just a benign act of a bad poet who compared migrants to “rats”.
Although Christian Schilcher of the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) stepped down as deputy mayor, and even Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, demanded that the Freedom party – with which his own People’s party is in coalition – distance itself from the “abominable” poem, we are concerned that this case of a bad and sinister poet from Adolf Hitler’s hometown is not just an isolated case of antisemitism in today’s Europe. It is the top of an iceberg of accumulated hatred towards the Other, whether it is a Jew or Muslim, migrant or refugee.
The deepening crisis of Europe’s economies and societies instead of being located in Europe’s deep establishments’ utter incompetence, is now, once again, being blamed on the migrants.
But let us not be deceived: it was precisely Sebastian Kurz’ government that closed the borders during the Balkan refugee crisis and prepared the conditions for such “rats” poems to appear.
It is not enough just to distance oneself from antisemitism, we must be building such a society in which bad poets comparing migrants to “rats” would just stay that – bad poets destined to be forgotten, and not politicians who represent a party that is in coalition with Austria’s leading party”.
We at DiEM25 know very well that language is never just language, that words can be, as the great German author and linguist of Jewish descent, Victor Klemperer put it, “like tiny doses of arsenic” which can literally prepare the terrain for concentration camps.
Photo: image from the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew
Keywords: antisemitism, Israel
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