Tales from childhood and the ‘root of evil’

Mr Theodorakis, on November 4, 2003 you said in this house the words that shocked Jews and non-Jews across the world. You said that the Jewish people are at the root of evil. What did you mean? For me the root of evil today is the policy of President Bush. It is a fascist policy. I cannot understand how it is that the Jewish people, who have been the victims of Nazism, can support such a fascist policy. No other people in the world support those policies but Israel! This situation saddens me. I am a friend of Israel. I am a friend of the Jewish people. But the policy of Sharon and the support for the policy of Bush darkens the image of Israel. I am afraid that Sharon is going to lead the Jews – just as Hitler led the Germans – to the root of evil. Even today, 10 months later, don’t you think you made a mistake when you uttered those words? No, but it’s important for me to emphasize that I never said that the Jews are the root of evil. I said they are at the root of evil. So you have no regrets? No. And I was very much hurt by the Jewish reaction to what I said. It was not a civilized reaction. I got hundreds and hundreds of poisonous e-mails from Jews all over the world. I couldn’t understand this hatred toward me. I fought against racism all my life. I was for Israel. I wrote «Mauthausen.» After all that, how could I become from one day to the next an anti-Semite? Let me explain to you the context for this reaction. Many Jews have a renewed fear of Europe. We are afraid that there is a new kind of anti-Semitism in Europe. So when you said what you said there was a feeling of «thou too, Brutus.» There was a feeling that even our old friend Theodorakis had turned against us. I don’t believe there is anti-Semitism in Europe. There is a reaction against the policy of Sharon and Bush. I think it’s artificial to think there is a new anti-Semitism. It’s an excuse. It’s a way of avoiding self-criticism. Rather than ask themselves what is wrong with the policy of Israel, Jews say the Europeans are against us due to a new anti-Semitism. Because they don’t love us. And even Theodorakis says we are at the root of evil. This is a sick reaction. Why? In what way is it a sick reaction? Because this kind of reaction is relevant to the psychopathology of the Jewish people. They want to feel victims. They want to have this comforting feeling. «We are in the right, we are again victims. Let’s create another ghetto.» It’s a masochistic reaction. The Jews are masochists? There is psychological masochism in the Jewish tradition. Is there sadism as well? I’m certain that when diaspora Jews talk among themselves, they feel satisfied. They feel that now, when we are so close to the greatest power in the world, no one can do anything to us. We can do whatever we like. This is why the claim of new anti-Semitism is not only a sick reaction, it’s a sly reaction as well. In what way is it sly? Because it really allows the Jews to do whatever they want. Not only psychologically, but also politically, it gives the Jews an excuse. The sense of victimhood. It gives them a license to hide the truth. There is no Jewish problem in Europe today. There is no anti-Semitism. Let us go a bit deeper. Let us go back in time. When you were a child, before the Holocaust, what were your impressions of the Jews? The Jews of Greece were no different from the Greeks. They were entirely Greek. They loved their work and loved their families. At school they were the best. Good friends, good neighbors. No problems. But there must have been something problematic as well. They were the other. They were different. The Jews were picturesque. I remember that for the old women, the Jews were the ones who crucified Christ! In 1932, I was in Ioannina. There was a very big Jewish community there. I played with the Jewish boys all the time. My grandmother was very religious. She had a room full of icons. She sang psalms. Much of my music was influenced by her religious singing. And I remember that in springtime she said to me: «Now that it’s Easter, don’t go to the Jewish quarter. Because during Easter the Jews put Christian boys in a barrel with knives inside. Afterward they drink their blood.» Was this story imprinted in your young mind? It was a very powerful image. Years later, before I became a communist, I was a member of a fascist youth movement. It was a state-sponsored movement during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. We walked up and down the streets in uniform and heiled all the time. It was a bit like the Hitler Youth but comical. One day they gave me an assignment – to talk the next day about communism. I went home and asked my mother, «What is communism.» She said she didn’t know but she thinks it’s something evil. «What kind of evil?» I asked. «Evil like the Jews,» she said. So I asked her if the communists also put little boys in barrels with knives and drink their blood. What do I want to say by telling you all this? These things exist. I wasn’t aware of it before, but now, through your questions, I realize it is there. Would you agree with me that for Christian Europe the Jewish people is not just another people. The Jews have a unique role in the inner theater of the European mind. I don’t know about Europe. It’s different than Greece. Different religion, different culture. We don’t have religious dogmas. We are not fanatic. Do you think the Jews are fanatic? Something that is very negative can also be positive. If the Jews didn’t have fanaticism, they wouldn’t have existed. There is no evil without good. The Jews need this fanaticism. What one might call Jewish fanaticism has more to do with self-defense. It was through their religion that Jews were interconnected and kept together. You seem to be fascinated by the Jews. Why? To be a community that disregards all dangers and remains true to its origins – that’s a mystery. Look at France, for example. There is a huge community of Jews in France where there is a great civilization. But do the Jews become French? No. They speak the French language perfectly. They succeed in their work. But they are not French. They always think of going back to Jerusalem. So there is something unique about the Jewish way of existence? It’s a metaphysical phenomenon. It cannot be explained. In your opinion, what is it that holds us Jews together? It is the feeling that you are the children of God. That you are chosen. Do you think Jews have a feeling of superiority because of this intimate relationship with God? There is that element too. Not all Jews have it. But very religious Jews do. Is there something a bit arrogant and aggressive about the Jews? Yes. Do you see in Sharon’s Israel an expression of that element of the Jewish psyche? No, I wouldn’t say that. But this question of superiority is not just a feeling. Because in the Jews’ battle for self-defense they became distinguished. There are 200 Jews who have won Nobel prizes. Christ, Marx and Einstein were Jewish. The Jews offered so much to science, art and music. They hold world finance in their hands. So it’s only natural that they would see themselves as very strong. This gives them a feeling of superiority. The Jews have international finance in their hands? They control a great deal of the world’s finances. So today’s globalized capitalism is controlled very much by the Jews? Since we speak frankly, I’ll tell you something else. The Jewish people control most of the big symphonic orchestras in the world. When I wrote the Palestinian national anthem, the Boston Symphony was planning a production of my work. It is controlled by Jewish people. They didn’t allow the concert to go on. Since then I cannot work with any great orchestra. They refuse me.

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