Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Anti-Semitism: A Lethal Obsession

Yonoson Rosenblum

Professor Robert Wistrich, perhaps the foremost historian of anti-Semitism in our generation, has built an irrefutable case to expose the true face of “Islamofascism.” In this exclusive interview with Mishpacha, Professor Wistrich traces Islamofascism’s ignoble birth; how the sickness has intensified as a result of classical and Nazi-era anti-Semitism; and how the relative ignorance of Western society enables it to flourish. And he offers the one and only remedy the Jewish people have to battle it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Due to ongoing renovations at the Hebrew University’s Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, my conversation with the center’s director, Professor Robert Wistrich, took place in a small academic conference room. But Professor Wistrich had no trouble establishing an air of intimacy in the somewhat austere setting, and our talks extended over several hours.

Our discussion eventually took us beyond the confines of his newest book, A Lethal Obsession, to central questions of Jewish identity and the search for a perspective on the endlessly erratic nature of anti-Semitism.

Though A Lethal Obsession is densely packed, it is far more than a brilliant academic study. It has vital implications for many of the most pressing issues affecting Jews around the world, and especially those living in Israel.

Our talk began with some personal history, as I tried to gain a feeling for the author behind the book.


You hold appointments in both European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University. So I gather that your academic interests were not initially confined to anti-Semitism, no matter how broadly defined.

That’s true. My doctoral thesis at University College London was on socialism and the Jews in Germany and Austria, and I’ve written several books on subjects connected with Central Europe, including The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, which won the Austrian State Prize for History.


What brought you to the study of anti-Semitism? Was it something in your own personal history?

My parents were forced to flee Krakow for the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded Poland. I was born in the Muslim Soviet republic of Kazakhstan in 1945. After the war, we moved to London, after spending several years in Poland and France.

My parents were modern, Polish-speaking Jews. My father was a member of HaShomer HaTzair. But my mother’s father was a strictly observant Jew. I have warm childhood memories of accompanying him to Munk’s shul in Golders Green and of the family Sedorim he conducted.

However, I would not say that personal history was the most important influence pushing me towards the study of anti-Semitism. In 1974, after completing my doctorate, I was appointed director of research at the Institute of Contemporary History in London, which housed the Wiener Library. Alfred Wiener was a Prussian Jew from Potsdam, near Berlin, who was very active in Jewish self-defense organizations in Germany. He assembled an extremely impressive collection of documents concerning Hitler’s Nazi Party, which he managed to take with him when he fled Germany. Subsequently, his collection provided much of the crucial documentation used in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after the war. It was while working with these documents that my research began to focus more on anti-Semitism.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you