Martin Peretz falsely accused me of having been a "young cog in theHitlerite wheel" ("Tyran-a-Soros," February 12). I need to set therecord straight. In 1944, when the Nazis occupied Hungary, myfather arranged false identities for his family. He placed me withan official from the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture who claimedthat I was his godson. In return, my father arranged a falseidentity for the official's Jewish wife. In my capacity as 14-year-old godson, I accompanied the official on a trip to inventorythe estate of a wealthy Jewish family that had fled the country.That is the episode "60 Minutes" quizzed me about in the interviewthat Peretz quotes. In the same interview, I also said: "I had norole in taking away that property." The facts are documented inMichael Kaufman's biography, Soros: The Life and Times of aMessianic Billionaire. I have also described the events at length inmy own books, and my father, Tivadar Soros, gives an account of ouradventures in 1944 in his book, Masquerade. With regard to my useof the term "de-Nazification," I am not too proud to admit this wasa bad choice of words. I certainly do not put the United States andNazi Germany in the same moral category. What I meant was that theUnited States needs to engage in profound soul-searching about theharm the war in Iraq has done to others and ourselves. PostwarGermany underwent such a process, to its lasting benefit. Perhaps"truth and reconciliation" would have been a more felicitousexpression, although it is also inaccurate because we need to bereconciled with ourselves, not the terrorists. For the record, I amnot equating the United States to South Africa, either.
New York, New York
martin peretz responds:
George Soros lived through the depredations of Nazi Germany. I onlylearned of them from books and the oral testimonies of others. Butnearly every scholar of this darkest era describes the difficultyof excavating the precise narrative of events from the trauma andchaos that defined them. Soros points to his own father's memoirs,for instance, which paint a more complicated picture than the son'sresponse. But this is quibbling. What provoked my article was notSoros's biography; it was his casual suggestion that the UnitedStates has "to go through a certain de-Nazification process." I amglad that my article spurred him to abjure his words--and I doubtthat he would have retracted them in its absence. If he hasn'tnoticed, the United States is now in the midst of an anguisheddebate about Iraq. No one in that debate seems intimidated or hasbeen arrested. About half the country seems to be completelyagainst the war; even more when you take into account those who havesome mixed feelings. Opposing the Bush administration in this freecountry hardly qualifies as an act of dissidence. Even after thisclarification, I find his logic utterly baffling and hisassumptions no less pernicious.
Sarah Wildman obviously doubts the Vlaams Belang's sincerity inwelcoming Jews, but on the flimsiest of grounds ("Dewinter's Tale,"January 22). She attempts to cast doubt on Vlaams Belang's currentmotives by exposing its past anti-Semitism. If this is a validapproach to discrediting Vlaams Belang, couldn't the same approachbe used to attack the U.S. Democratic Party? What did the Democratsthink of racial integration, immigration, and anti-Semitism duringWorld War II? Would it be reasonable for African Americans to worryabout Democrats making slavery legal again because the DemocraticParty enthusiastically supported slavery in the past? Wouldn't theRepublican Party be the logical party of choice for AfricanAmericans because of its active support for the abolition ofslavery and for racial integration in the past? Maybe Vlaams Belangis as anti-Semitic as Wildman believes, but she has not made hercase.
Richland Springs, Texas
sarah wildman responds:
Matthew Dunnyveg misunderstands my argument. I didn't argue thatJews should be wary of Vlaams Belang because of explicit orimplicit antiSemitism on the part of Filip Dewinter or the otherparty leaders. Indeed, Dewinter himself has never publicly utteredan anti-Semitic slur; he has even been criticized by otherright-wing groups for his recent vocal support of Israel and hisoutreach to Antwerp's Jews. Instead, I argued that the VlaamsBelang's expressed--and purposeful-- philo-Semitism was politicallycalculated and possibly false. Jews in Belgium are wary of VlaamsBelang because the party is unapologetically Islamophobic and,arguably, racist. They fear the right-wing party has traded in onefear (Jews) for another (Muslims). And that trade-off makes moderateand liberal Jews extremely uncomfortable. Dewinter has been vocalin his anti- immigrant and anti-Muslim positions for years, herejects completely the idea of an integrated Belgian-Muslimcommunity, and he expresses utter disbelief that Muslim immigrantscan be equal members of Belgian society. He would like to suspendall immigration to Flanders. But, even if that xenophobicpositioning would not give Jews pause, perhaps his bedfellows might.Vlaams Belang and Filip Dewinter long have been eager champions ofunabashedly anti- Semitic right-wing parties across Europe, fromPoland to Romania to Bulgaria to Austria to France. In 2002,Dewinter even advanced the idea of Jorg Haider, an unapologeticNazi sympathizer, running a pan-European far-right movement. Thisyear, Vlaams Belang is forming a coalition in the Europeanparliament with two anti-Semitic groups: the Greater Romanian Partyand Bulgaria's Ataka. Does this mean they are anti-Semitic? Notnecessarily. It means their philo-Semitism should be seen for whatit is: politically expedient. As Cas Mudde, a University of Antwerppolitical scientist told me, "Dewinter is willing to work with veryanti-Semitic politicians. ... What that most notably shows is thathis [outreach to Jews] is secondary; it is all strategy for him. Heis not truly philo-Semitic. He cares about the Flemish." VlaamsBelang is, first and foremost, a Flemish nationalist organization,and, "if an alliance with Jews is good for the Flemish, he will doit. And, if it is good for the Flemish to work with anti-Semites,then he will do that."