I've just discovered my name is on a secret list of Jews being compiled by neo-Nazis
My grandfather spent his teens inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. I can't bear to tell him what I now know about the rising threat of modern antisemitism
The first time I suspected I was on a list of Jews being compiled by neo-Nazis it hardly seemed worth mentioning.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed before bed, I was surprised to receive a message containing a collage of a few of my old tweets and a picture of my old face. The person who got in touch felt he’d somehow caught me out because I have contradicted myself over the years, occasionally referring to myself as white though at other times I have not.
You would think a Nazi of all people would have understood why, as a Jew, I sometimes suspect I do not get the full benefits of white privilege. But then empathy may not be a strong suit of the far right.
I blocked the correspondent in question and thought nothing of it, until someone else tweeted the exact same collage at me and received the same response. This happened five times in an hour before I casually concluded that I must have appeared on some sort of Nazi forum somewhere. I decided against informing my friends and family, turned over and went to sleep. In 2019, given the state of our political discourse, this just seemed an inevitable thing to have happened and not worth the undue worry.
But the weeks went by and, every so often, I’d be confronted with that collage yet again. It all seemed quite unreal, like a game of Whac-a-Mole, in which I had to block far-right racists on social media as quickly as I could.
Last week I was sent an article published by the American website Mother Jones, which explained the situation more clearly. “Anti-Semitic trolls are creating an online list of Jewish people who are critical of white nationalism," it stated. So my suspicions were correct. I had been put out of my misery and entered into an entirely new kind of despair. By virtue of condemning the racism of the far right, I had myself been added to a list of Jews viewed as enemies. From a historical point of view, this didn't look good.
The article explained that the list had started on 4chan in July but moved to the Telegram chat service after failing to meet even their desperately low standards of user conduct. That's like being kicked out of a Wild West frontier town for being too lawless.
I was left shocked, not just that I was named on the list, but that the realisation had so little impact when I first suspected as much. We have reached a point in history where subtlety and nuance are all but extinct; subtext is now simply text.
The comedian Bill Burr used to have a routine about how prejudice is depicted in the movies in unrealistic and exaggerated ways. “Real racism is quiet. It’s subtle," he went on to say. "People look around first. They make sure the coast is clear. There are disclaimers…" That material isn’t much more than a decade old, yet it feels as dated as a vaudeville act. Today's racism is loud – and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Ernest Hemingway wrote that bankruptcy occurred in two ways, "Gradually, then suddenly". It feels as though we reached have this point in time in the same way. We have seen the rise of the far right on both sides of the Atlantic, and we have convinced ourselves that the horror stories from the last century will never be repeated. But a mantra of “never again” won’t be enough to stop those who disagree with the premise.
My mother’s father spent his teenage years inside a succession of concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, for no other reason than that he was Jewish. He is now a great grandfather three times over and will turn 90 in January. These days he shares his testimony in schools in a bid to teach future generations about the dangers of hatred and where it can lead.
Here's where it leads: his grandson recently received confirmation that he was on a list of Jews being compiled by Nazis.
So now it seems worth mentioning, but not to my grandfather.