Sunday 7 December 2014


This phenomenon aroused lively disgust in us, Bertha von Suttner wrote in 1891. She wrote a number of articles against this reversion to the Middle Ages. But the Viennese newspapers turned them down on the grounds that the proper attitude toward [anti-Semitism] would be contemptuous silence.

Suttner objected: Wrong must be withstood if it is recognized as such. There is no other way. In such cases silence, though professing to express contempt, is itself contemptible. Not only the victims but their fellow citizens must act. No one should stand by when they see injustice. Silence is complicity.

The antisemitic movement in Vienna had led to brutal attacks, her husband, Artur von Suttner, wrote: I mention only the suburban heroes who smashed the windows of Jewish women and shouted threats of murder, the soldier who struck down an old man in the street, the schoolboy who thrust a knife into the eye of his Jewish fellow pupil.

To combat discrimination, he founded a Union for the Resistance to Anti-semitism. It was officially incorporated in the summer of 1891. The announcement  was published in Die Neue Freie Presse on 22 July 1891:

The purpose of the Union was to take action against that hostile movement which is aimed directly against a segment of our fellow-citizens.The fight against antisemitism would be carried on through public lectures and the dissemination literature, but (rather oddly, in my view) not through political action.

Politics is excluded: primarily because our Union is not political, and secondly because this is a question of social practices in the strict sense of the word and has nothing to do with the business of government (Staatspraxis).

At a time when societies are founded to protect animals from cruelty – and rightly so – it is, I think, only logical that we should at last take a stand also against cruelty to our fellow-men, all the more as the attacks have not been confined to assault on the honour of Jews, but have taken the form of actual assaults, which have given our Jewish fellow-citizens every reason to fear for their lives.

More on the subject in my next blog post on Thursday.

(Source: Bertha von Suttner’s autobiography and Artur von Suttner's article in Neue Freie Presse, 22 July 1891, my translation)

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