The Left Party: Jews and Jew-haters

01Aug08

The Left Party – Die Linke – are a German parliamentary party, formed from a fusion of the de-Stalinized Eastern European SED (led by Gregor Gysi) and a radical breakaway from the SPD (led by Oskar LaFontaine).

Interestingly, LaFontaine leans towards antisemitism, while Gysi is Jewish and pro-Israel.

This is a recent comment at the Bob From Brockley blog:

bob said…

I have no doubt that the majority of Die Linke are atheists. But I am talking about “Jewish” as something other than “confession” (“glauben”); I am talking about Jewish as ethnicity.

Wikipedia reported that Gregor Gysi is Jewish. A recent Jerusalem Post article by Benjamin Weinthal, posted at Engage, spke of Gysi’s sensible anti-anti-Zionism, and noted in passing that his father Klaus was Jewish. (see also ZBlog )

Way back in 1989, when Gregor became leader of the de-Stalinizing East German Communist Party, the New York Times reported that:
His father, Claus Gysi, was the son of a Jewish physician who became a Communist before the war and fled when the Nazis came to power. His mother was not Jewish. A.D.N., the official East German press agency, desacribed him today as ”of Jewish ancestry.”

Irene Runge, described as a spokeswoman for East German Jews, said Mr. Gysi was not a member of the Jewish community there, as such, but had shown an interest in its activities.

Klaus’ Independent obit says that he was the son of a Berlin doctor and his Jewish wife. The doctor, non-Jewish, was Hermann Gysi. Hermann seperated from his wife Erna in 1938, according to Dan Diner and Jonathan Frankel’s fantastic book Dark Times, Dire Decisions: Jews and Communism, noting that she survived the war in France, as also stated by the Indy obit:
With the growing persecution of the Jews by the Hitler regime, Gysi’s parents divorced and his mother fled to France. Klaus and his fiancee, the Russian-born Irene Lessing (they had met while at university in Berlin, but Nazi racial laws made marriage impossible), visited her in 1939 – she pleaded with them not to return to Germany. They resolved to go back but the German invasion intervened and the young couple were briefly interned in Toulouse before escaping. Despite the dangers – Gysi was doubly under threat as a Jew and as a Communist – they moved back to Nazi Germany in 1940 (the party believed he would not be arrested as he did not “look Jewish”). He worked underground throughout the rest of the Nazi regime from a base in his fiancee’s mansion on Berlin’s Schlachtensee. It was only after the end of the war that he could at last marry Irene (sister-in-law of the novelist Doris Lessing).

Klaus was a lifelong Stalinist apparatchik, although removed from his posts in 1953, during the antisemitic turn in the Communist Party, later rehabilitated, purged again, and rehabilitated again. This story is also told in A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe by Jonathan Kaufman. Gregor Gysi, although a Party member, was very much a dissident, and sharply critical of his father’s politics.

Klaus’ wife, Irene Gysi, ne Lessing, was the sister of Gottfried Lessing. Gottfried, as a Jew and Communist, also fled Germany in 1938, for Southern Africa, where he met Doris Taylor, better known as Doris Lessing (not Jewish). I don’t know exactly how Jewish Irene was, but let’s say at least a bit, and therefore Gregor has Jewish heritage on both sides.

According to Antisemitism and Xenophobia in Germany After Unification by Hermann Kurthen et al, Gysi Jr was very supportive of East Germany’s Jewish community as it emerged from the shadows of Stalinism, and played a role in opening Germany to Soviet Jewry.

Gysi has certainly been the victim of antisemitism. According to Time magazine in 1990: GYSI IS NOT A GERMAN! and OUT WITH THE JEW GYSI! read some banners at one rally.

Incidentally, I never said Oskar LaFontaine was Jewish. He is described as “römisch-katholisch” on the German parliamentary website. LaFontaine also leans a lot closer to the virulently anti-Zionist current within the Left Party.

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