Exploring What is Behind the Rare Phenomenon of Jewish Anti-Semites

What is behind the rare-but-recurring phenomenon of Jewish anti-Semites?

The Weak Jew
Co-existing with the myth of Jewish power and aggression is a parallel and yet contradictory stereotype: the Jew as vulnerable and weak. And it is this image of the Jew that most often gives rise to Jewish self-hatred.

"Jews who become genuine anti-Semites do so because of a need to recapture some sense of lost power, and that idea is very much connected to the image of the weak Jew," Gilman says.

When faced with a barrage of anti-Semitic stereotypes the majority of Jews readily choose to discard the images, says Gilman. But some Jews get caught up in false notions of "good Jews vs. bad Jews," while others may internalize the stereotypes or even choose to identify with the aggressor.

It is this latter tendency that best explains the behavior of those Jews who became leading advocates of forcible conversion in medieval times, along with those who join neo-Nazi groups in the modern era. In fact, Gilman cites studies by the famous child psychologist Anna Freud (the daughter of Sigmund Freud), who observed Jewish children in England who had recently escaped from Nazi Germany. She found that during some forms of spontaneous play, many of these children chose to identify as Nazis.

"Identification with the aggressor signals an attempt to recapture a sense of power and indicates a tremendous sense of powerlessness in the psychic life of the Jewish anti-Semite," says Gilman.

He also points to a similar phenomenon that was identified among African Americans by black psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark during the 1940s.

Among other things, the couple's pioneering "doll studies" revealed that black children as young as 5 years old already had developed negative self-images based upon the racially prejudiced values of the larger society. When given a choice between playing with a white doll or a black one, these studies found, the majority of African-American children chose the white doll.

"You cannot assume that there is a single explanation for the all of the individual nuances of self-hatred," says Gilman, "but you can develop a model which explains the movement toward certain end goals. And the principle goal is the achievement of power."

Certainly, this seems to have been the case with Daniel Burros, a tragic figure from Queens, N.Y.

One More Victim
Growing up, Burros' pious devotion to Judaism greatly impressed the elders of Talmud Torah synagogue. But by 1960, Burros had pledged his loyalty to George Lincoln Rockwell, "commander" of the American Nazi Party. A year and a half after moving to Rockwell's headquarters in Arlington, Va., Burros left the party — but not Nazism — and returned to his native New York.

Back in the Empire State, Burros hooked up with a variety of hate groups, earned a conviction for conspiracy to riot, and eventually migrated to the Ku Klux Klan, where he became the New York State organizer for Robert Shelton's United Klans of America (UKA), the most notorious Klan group of the period.

But on Halloween, 1965, Burros got quite a shock: A front-page article in The New York Times exposed his Jewish roots. Burros killed himself that same day.

At the time he died, Burros had been living for about a week in the Reading, Penn., home of Roy Frankhouser, then the 25-year-old grand dragon, or state leader, for the UKA. Frankhouser, who would go on to serve two federal prison sentences, bizarrely eulogized Burros at a Maryland gathering a short time later.

"To the good Jews, we offer our love and respect and understanding," said Frankhouser, praising his fallen compatriot for having separated himself from the "bad" ones.

Burros, of course, had made no such distinction. Throughout his short career as a militant white supremacist, he had favored total extermination of the Jews.

After hundreds of thousands of people read the Times story about Burros' roots, along with the front-page account the next day of his suicide, two editors at the paper teamed up to investigate.

Abe Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb's One More Victim: The Life and Death of a Jewish Nazi traced Burros' self-hatred to the same sources identified by Gilman: a quest for power by one who has come to associate all of his inadequacies and feelings of powerlessness with being Jewish. They wrote:

The record of his short life shows that never since his childhood did he believe himself strong enough, worthy enough, to survive as himself.
Dan Burros searched for the explanation ... and discovered it. ... Everything that was 'Jewish' in him was weakness to him. ... Most men hate something ... within them, but most men do not find the world telling them over and over, 'You are right to hate yourself.'

Dan Burros did ... and the one overwhelming irony of [his] life was that he became an example of the quintessential Jewish victim — the Jew who confesses that the diseased fantasy in the mind of the anti-Semite is truth.

Having confessed, Dan Burros sought to escape punishment. The only way he could do this was to identify himself with the aggressor, the man of strength, and become himself a judge of the Jews. To survive as he wished to survive, he had to destroy his enemy and his enemy was the Jew. ...

The Nazis were the accusers, judges, torturers, and executioners of the Jews. Thirsting for the torment and execution of the Jew in himself, Dan Burros fled to them. They would help him kill the Jews and they would give him the greatest gift, the death of a particular Jew.

Burros' story might have faded from memory, were it not for the efforts of Hollywood writer-director Henry Bean, who this year released "The Believer," an award-winning film based loosely on an updated version of the Burros story.