Monday, February 26, 2007

To Adolf, from Cecil

During a Sunday afternoon trip to Biegeleisen in Boro Park, I came across 650-page collection of rare letters from the personal collection of R. David Solomon Sassoon (of Jerusalem, Israel) that has just been published in Israel,[1] I hope to discuss this new publication in some detail in the following weeks, however, I did want to first make mention of the 1941 biography of the Sassoon family, written by British scholar and Oxford-trained historian Prof. Cecil Roth.

In the short official obituary for Dr. Cecil Roth in the London Jewish Chronicle following his passing in Jerusalem in June 1970, there is a short and peculiar reference to Roth's study of the famed Sassoon merchant family. The brief mention within the obituary refers not to the contents of his "comprehensive history" of the renown Bombay-born and London-based Jewish family, [2] where he dispels the notion that the Sassoon family were simply to be considered "the Rothschilds of the East,"[3] but rather to his unfathomable inscription of the work to Adolf Hitler.[4]

The following is Cecil Roth’s inscription to The Sassoon Family:[5]

To Adolf Hitler
Fuehrer of the German Reich

For two reasons I desire to inscribe your name at the beginning of this book. The first is, that I consider its topic to be a useful object-lesson to the unfortunate people whom you have misled into thinking themselves a pure and superior "race" (whatever that may mean). The most rudimentary political commonsense should make it obvious that the absorption of gifted foreign families cannot be other than an advantage for a civilized state. England and English life have in particular been enriched for centuries past by receiving fresh elements from other sources, and there can surely be no reason to regret a liberality that has endowed her with soldiers, philanthropists and poets such as the Sassoon family and many life it have produced. Germany under you guidance has deliberately set herself on the path not merely of self-destruction (which while her present temper lasts would be a peculiar book to humanity at large) but of self-dementation.

In the second place, I am happy to have this opportunity to express once again, as publicly as I may, my profound execration and abhorrence, not merely as a Jew and an Englishman but as a human being, of you, your ideals, your ideas, your methods and all that you stand for. Should God punish the sins of the world by allowing you a momentary victory, I trust that this declaration will bring upon me the honour of the most drastic attention of your nauseous tools, for life in such circumstances would not be worth the having.

Cecil Roth
[1] Nahalat Avot: Teshuvot, Michtavim, Tefillot, Minhagim (Yad Samuel Franco, 2007); published on the occasion of Chanah Sassoon's recent wedding to R. Yehuda Michel Nissel.
[2] In 1968, a later work on the Sassoon family [Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons (London, 1968)] appeared and "superseded" the earlier work by Roth, as the author of this later work "had a clear advantage" as he had access to the personal papers of many Sassoon family members. See London Jewish Chronicle (May 3, 1968), 25. Notwithstanding this criticism, it was already noted in a 1941 review of Roth’s book that he had "not been granted access to 'family' records... [and] gathered a vast amount of authentic information, including many delightful stories, that has enabled him to present a comprehensive history of the Sassoon clan with his customary literary skill and thoroughness." See London Jewish Chronicle(May 30, 1941), 22.
[3] For early uses of this phrase, see, for example, London Jewish Chronicle (April 19, 1907), 21; ibid, (March 22, 1912), 16.
[4] "Obituary: Dr. Cecil Roth," London Jewish Chronicle (June 26, 1970), 38.
[5] The dedication appears in Cecil Roth, The Sassoon Family (London, 1941) and I thank Joshua Lovinger for kindly directing me towards this fascinating and little-known source.

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