Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, could not have been more off the mark when he asserted in a recent interview that Adolf Hitler, the dictator and originator of the Holocaust, was actually a Jew masquerading as a Nazi. In this same interview, Lavrov again slammed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, as also being a true Nazi while claiming that “some of the worst antisemites are Jews.” Such false equivalents are not only factually and historically erroneous but also are patently antisemitic and extremely dangerous. Lavrov’s statements, however, provide us here in Maine with an excellent opportunity to educate and continue a difficult conversation about the hatred of Jewish people that is both pertinent and pressing.

Israel Russia Ukraine

In a recent interview with an Italian news channel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, above, accused Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of supporting Nazism and asserted that “Hitler also had Jewish blood.” Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File

How insidious is it for Foreign Minister Lavrov to directly blame the deaths of some 6 million Jews during the Nazi Holocaust on a Jewish man? Such perverted logic undergirds the Russian Federation’s war aims in Ukraine. Eradicating fascism during the Second World War was a noble enterprise. Today, it smacks of hypocrisy and abject antisemitism. And while such comments are beyond the Pale of comprehension, they come as no surprise to those of us engaged in Holocaust education. For more than three decades, almost every student I have ever taught in Maine and Vermont has heard the unfounded rumors that Hitler was really Jewish. 

The question of Hitler’s Jewish identity has remained at the forefront of professional and amateur scholarship because of a combination of several factual circumstances. The first and foremost centers on the identity of Hitler’s paternal grandfather. Hitler’s father, Alois, was born in 1837 to an unmarried woman, 42-year-old Maria Anna Schicklgruber, and people have speculated for decades about whether Alois’ father was really a Jewish doctor, a Jewish merchant or a related family member in Upper Austria. Recent scholarship has refined the search, but there is no direct evidence that Hitler was ever related to any Jew.

The fact that Hitler, some four months after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, ordered the records of his paternal grandmother’s community destroyed as well as the actual town of Döllersheim plowed under only serves to fuel speculation that Hitler had a secret to cover up. That secret could certainly have been that his paternal grandparents were not married, a topic that is far less ignoble today but one that was potentially damaging then. 

In addition, the posthumous publication in 1953 ofIn the Face of the Gallows,” the memoir of Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and the head of the Nazi-occupied government in Poland during the war, raised further questions about Hitler and his possible Jewish roots. Frank claimed that William Patrick Hitler, Hitler’s half nephew (the son of his half brother), tried to blackmail Hitler and expose his Jewish roots. Frank supposedly investigated. Like much of this apologist memoir, the description of the investigation is riddled with errors and supposition. Hitler’s half nephew never publicly made such claims, even after becoming a U.S. citizen. But the fact that Frank mentions such a possibility only serves to fuel speculation.

In the internet era, such falsehoods continue to circulate. But we can and should use Foreign Minister Lavrov’s canards as opportunities to explore the difficult topic of the hatred of Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League just released its 2021 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. While instances of antisemitism have dropped slightly in Maine (6, down from 7), incidents across the nation have risen more than 12 percent, reaching the highest total level since the ADL began chronicling such acts in 1979. For many, the world is once again safe for the hatred of Jewish people. Antisemitism is certainly at the root of the Russian foreign minister’s deeply troubling assertions. May we face such hatred with courage and a commitment to use history not as a weapon but an occasion for investigation and constructive conversation.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.