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2014 Blumenthal Awards

David Blumenthal and Benjamin Hary present Blumenthal Awards to Katherine Howard and Avi Dobrusin
David Blumenthal and Benjamin Hary present Blumenthal Awards to Katherine Howard and Avi Dobrusin

Established in 1999 by friends and colleagues in his honor, the David R. Blumenthal Award recognizes students who write excellent papers that link Jewish studies to broader human concerns. All Emory students are eligible to submit an entry, and awards are given for the best papers by an undergraduate and graduate student. This year, the committee chaired by Benjamin Hary awarded the prize to one undergraduate student, Avi Dobrusin, and shared the graduate award between students Carrie Crawford and Katherine Howard.

Avi Dobrusin, undergraduate major in anthropology and religion, wrote the paper "The Fair Weather State: The Historical Context to the Vatican's Response to the Holocaust."

The first half of the twentieth century was a time marred by competing interests throughout the European continent. Politically, the increasing strength of Fascism in Italy, Germany, and Spain was opposed by Soviet-style communism to the east and republican ideals to the west. Furthermore, the rapid modernization of western society was accompanied by the efforts of historical powers, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to maintain their spheres of influence. All of this occurred in an environment of great tension following the gruesome First World War and increasing prospects of another, even bloodier, battle.

I argue that Pope Pius XII's actions and deliberate inactions in response to the plight of the Jews throughout World War II demonstrate an attempt, above all else, to ensure that the Roman Catholic Church remained on the side of the victor. During the rise of Nazi Germany and the beginning of the Holocaust, the axis powers appeared destined to win the war, and the pope remained silent with regard to the ongoing genocide. Conversely, his decisions to help, or merely speak on the Jews' behalf, can be traced to times later in the war when the balance of power was shifting toward the Allies. A similar trend can be seen in the Vatican's response to other wars throughout the twentieth century, including the Spanish Civil War and Italo-Ethiopian War. Following the unification of Italy and conquering of the papal states in the nineteenth century, the physical and political survival of the Vatican depended on the good graces of other, more dominant European states. Therefore, siding with the losers of any conflict would have been detrimental to the church and potentially harmful to Catholics under the rule of these respective powers.

The political strategy of the Vatican in responding to World War II should be viewed not as one that encouraged the destruction of the Jews or that was indifferent to the horrendous acts being committed against them. Rather, it should be seen as one in which Pius XII took his title, Il Papa, very literally. As any father would, he sought to protect his home (the church) as well as his children from affliction at all costs. This is not meant to excuse him from responsibility but to humanize Pope Pius XII and acknowledge the difficult situation in which he found himself.

Carrie Crawford, graduate student in history, wrote the paper "'Jew-Baiting' in the Cotton Belt: An Examination of Anti-Semitism in the Postbellum South."

After exploring numerous episodes of anti-Jewish intimidation and violence in postbellum Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, I concluded that Jews' ambivalent social position made them vulnerable to levels of discrimination that they could not ignore.

My essay posited a more nuanced interpretation of anti-Semitism and argued that this "Southern strain" grew out of a distinctive socioeconomic context. It is most accurately characterized as a visceral, reactive strain that had less to do with Jews as Jews and more to do with Jews as symbols of economic modernity juxtaposed against hard-nosed southern toiling.

I argue that white Southerners—reeling from defeat in the Civil War—blamed immense social and economic disruptions on the erosion of white supremacy. To rectify this perceived hardship, they set about restoring the racial hierarchy of an idyllic Old South that had, for many years, maintained social order. Blacks, as an economically impotent and socially marginalized demographic, proved ineffectual for the purposes of scapegoating. Jews, however, provided the perfect "other" onto which white Southerners could project their fears and anxieties. As my study demonstrated, stereotypes that Jews as a race abused credit and crop-lien systems to exploit white Southerners enjoyed substantial cultural resonance.

By combining analyses of collective violence and peddler murders, my research revealed that anti-Jewish stereotypes proved functional for both white and black Southerners. Whereas black Southerners could highlight Jewish otherness and vulnerability in their requests for protection against vigilante mobs, white Southerners presented Jews as a shared "common enemy" in their effort to reclaim control and stabilize racial order in the New South.

Katherine Howard, graduate student in philosophy, wrote "Horkheimer, Adorno, and Anti-Semitism."

Though it remains unclear what role, if any, their Jewish identity played in Frankfurt Institute activities, it is significant that in the coauthored magnum opus Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno ultimately locate the focal point of that dialectic within the question of anti-Semitism. Tracing a trajectory of Horkheimer and Adorno's engagement with the question of anti-Semitism from the 1938 article "The Jews and Europe" and through the five-volume Studies in Prejudice project of the 1940s, we arrive at this dialectical account of anti-Semitism as the result of a significant shift in the institute's broader approach to 20th-century society.

Although "The Jews and Europe" displays the institute's early Marxist tendency to merely subsume social phenomena such as anti-Semitism under the larger rubric of class conflict, the later Studies in Prejudice presents an explicitly psychoanalytic approach to the question. In part, Studies in Prejudice asks why some members of society take up anti-Semitism while others show a greater capacity for resistance. What is important, however, is that the project is inadequate, both in scope and scale, to the unfolding catastrophe of which the fate of the Jews in Europe was emblematic. This inadequacy was, I believe, apparent to Horkheimer and Adorno as well. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, they invoke Marxism and psychoanalysis, integrating both approaches while crucially going beyond them, in order to place anti-Semitism precisely at that point of enlightenment civilization's turn toward barbarism.

Of crucial importance is the fact that the more comprehensive and integrated account of anti-Semitism found in Dialectic of Enlightenment was developed when the end of World War II was already in sight. This fact suggests that Horkheimer and Adorno were not only beginning to look beyond capital and psychoanalysis, but beyond the Jewish people as the sole and necessary victims of either modern capitalism or the modern era's confirmed psychoses. This shift in their approach withdraws from reference to specifically Nazi anti-Semitisms or the Holocaust in order to explicate how anti-Semitism may be viewed in broader terms, even non-Jewish terms, as barbaric enlightenment's declaration that the alien must be eradicated and the individual must be liquidated. In the face of modern trends, including genocide, that were making society increasingly one-dimensional, Horkheimer and Adorno began to see the Jew's relation of otherness as a healthy one. According to this view, the persistence of anti-Semitism is both a marker of difference in society and society's barbaric impulse to destroy it.

I follow this shift in Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis of anti-Semitism toward more complex and historical strategies of analysis that remain relevant after Auschwitz and wherever enclaves of difference still exist.

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About this Publication

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