Hugo Bettauer’s book The City Without Jews was published in Vienna in 1922. In it, Bettauer, a Jew who converted to evangelical Christianity, depicted a socially, economically and politically destitute Vienna that attributed all of its troubles to the Jews and expelled them from the city in cattle cars. Upon emptying the city of Jews, the Viennese discovered they had been left with nothing. The disappearance of the Jews led to the city’s final collapse. The expellers demanded that the Jews be brought back, and upon their return, welcomed them with great appreciation.
The City Without Jews was an immediate bestseller, and in 1924, it was adapted into a silent movie. But reality frowned upon Bettauer’s happy ending. In 1925, at the age of 52, he was murdered by a Nazi activist. In 1933, the Nazis took control of the German government. Austria was later annexed by the Third Reich and in 1942—20 years after his book was printed—almost all of Vienna’s Jews were transported to concentration camps and death camps from which they would never return. Europe’s Jews were deported and murdered.
A majority of the world’s Jews once lived on the continent; only 3 million remain. And they are now reliving history.
Seventy-four years after the Holocaust came to an end and almost 100 years to the publication of Bettauer’s book, Jewish lives are once again at risk. This is no longer just anti-Semitic incitement; the desecration of cemeteries, synagogues and gravestones or the graffiti spray-painted on Jewish institutions, stores, schools or private homes. In recent years, Jews have been murdered simply for being Jewish in France, Belgium and Denmark. And the number of the anti-Semitic attacks, both physical and verbal, is once again on the rise.
Political parties on both the right and the left that foster anti-Semitism are growing more and more popular. In liberal Great Britain, the Labour Party, which finds it difficult to admit that anti-Semites have taken over its leadership and party lines, could soon control the government.
According to a poll on anti-Semitism in the European Union, 45 percent of European Jews consider anti-Semitism to be a major problem in their country of residence. Some 62 percent believe anti-Semitism has significantly increased in their country of residence, and 38 percent are contemplating immigrating because of anti-Semitism. In Britain, the percentage of Jews who say they would consider emigration should Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn take power is even higher. Many Jews have already left France for Israel and other places, while others sit and wait, their suitcases already packed. It seems that Europe could soon become “the continent without Jews.”
Europe, which for too long refused to take responsibility for the Holocaust, still today finds it difficult to admit it suffers from chronic anti-Semitism. And when a disease isn’t treated, it tends to break out all over again.
If in the past it was the radical neo-Nazi Right that presented the greatest threat to Jews, today that threat is also from the “new Europeans,” Arab and Muslim immigrants who are allies of the left. And if in the past, blatant anti-Semitism was voiced on the fringes of European society, today it has become mainstream. If Europeans were once ashamed to make their anti-Semitic views known, now they espouse them with pride. Once a stated vow, “never again” has become something of a question.
Despite their situation, Jews in Europe may still feel comfortable, relatively speaking. But when anti-Semitism—and anti-Zionism disguised as anti-Israel sentiment—becomes a legitimate part of the public discourse, it should be clear to Europe’s Jews, including those determined to fight for their right to remain in the “Old World,” that they are living on borrowed time.
Eldad Beck is an Israeli journalist and author.