Friday, February 21, 2014

Russia: Mistaken for Jewish

Australian  Howard Willis describes the hostility with which he was met in Russia (and Poland).  People just assumed he was Jewish.

My naiveté was bumped but not quite overturned the week before I went to Moscow. On a rainy day in south-eastern Poland, an elderly man made a show of walking out of a bakery as I entered. A complete stranger, whose sudden fury was open and unmistakable. I had never before experienced such impersonal hatred, such open contempt. It shocked me. But then, what to make of it? That old bastard in Debica could have been just a nutter, right?

In Moscow there were those who looked at me, to use Anya von Bremzen's phrase, with a scowl like frostbite. But you can misread it. One old girl approached me, her eyes glittering with apparent malice ... and politely, timidly asked directions. Muscovites have a legendary rep for brusqueness (talk to them, they melt), but over and above the background surliness, there were a few distinctly hostile stares.

Settling the matter of my origins usually led to 'the Jewish Question'. The version put to me by one of my more forthcoming interlocutors concerned those Jews who got out of the stagnating and collapsing USSR in the 1970s and '80s. These people, I was told, acquired assets in the West and then returned to fall like wolves upon poor, vulnerable Russia during the disgraceful and terrible times of Yeltsin. 

More: Eureka Street

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