Letters Week of April 11, 2013


Was T.S. Eliot an anti-Semite, did the president speak too late and just how were Jews saved in the Soviet Union?

Should Eliot Be Placed Among Anti-Semites?

Jay Starr includes T.S. Eliot among other intellectual anti-Semites in his opinion article (“My Martin Heidegger Problem, and What It Means for Society,” April 4). There are anomalies in Eliot’s life that raise doubts that he should be included, or at least justify the thought that our view of him should be tempered. It is true that a younger Eliot who, as a parlor anti-Semite, among other hateful declarations, wrote in a poem in 1920: “The rats are underneath the piles./ The Jew is underneath the lot / … ”

But I suspect that his later years brought a change of heart. The change may have begun when as a fire warden in London during the Blitz, he experienced war and Nazism. Then he had the image of the concentration camp horrors — frightening evidence of what parlor or any other anti-Semitism can lead to.

In the 1950s, he made two speaking trips to the United States which he had not visited since his departure years earlier. As a world-famous poet, he had his pick of venues. Colleges and universities were screaming for him. Among the few engagements that he made, he chose New York’s 92nd Street YM&YWCA Poetry Center — not once but for both of his two visits. Would a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite have made such a choice? Probably not.

The hall was packed on both occasions. And Eliot delivered. I forget the poems that he chose.

The audience was rapt as he delivered the lines of earlier and later verse in his distinctive tinder-dry drawl, lacking either a British accent or detectable localisms that would have identified him as coming from St. Louis.

Eliot was probably not Wagner, popularly known as an unreconstructed anti-Semite. Yet, there are even doubts about Wagner. When it came time to introduce his opera Parsifal to the public, Wagner accepted a Jewish conductor, Hermann Levi.

Donald J. Middleman, Haverford

American President Speaks, but Maybe Too Late

I listened to President Barack Obama affirm U.S. military support for Israel before a Jerusalem audience, adding the words in Hebrew for his Jewish listeners, “You are not alone” (“Did Obama’s Charm Offensive Work,” March 28). I wonder if I was the only listener who thought that these words from an American president had come 70 years too late.

David Broida, Haverford

One Way Jews Were Saved in the Soviet Union

One important part that is always missing in commemorating the Holocaust is the fact that the Soviet Union saved the lives of over 3 million of its Jews as well as about 100,000 Polish and other Jews. A principal role in that was played by the Soviet-born Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. They were able to secure the relaxation of restrictions governing movement, travel and relocation.

I know, because my cousins went from Kiev to Baku before the Nazi takeover. If you should ask any former Soviet Jews where their families were during the war, you will likely hear Tashkent, Baku, Siberia, etc. That didn’t happen by itself. When you consider what others did at that time to save lives, it is remarkable.

But, of course, it doesn’t excuse the anti-Semitism in the waning Stalin years of 1948-53 that eventually killed many prominent members of the Anti-Fascist Committee.

Aaron Libson , Philadelphia


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