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Pittsburgh's hymn of hate

  • 29 October 2018


When I was a child, expressions of hatred were very frowned upon. Even a statement as innocuous as I hate rice pudding (I still do) received short shrift, especially from our nana. 'No hymns of hate,' she would declare, and frown severely. She was deeply religious in her Nonconformist way, and had strict standards with regard to conduct and ethics.

For decades I thought this ruling about hate was one of her own inventions, but I have recently learned of a poem written in 1914, the year of the outbreak of World War One, when Nana was a young woman, and when times were simpler.

The poem was actually called 'Hymn of Hate', and was written by German Ernst Lissauer. The main idea expressed is that Germany has one foe 'and one alone: ENGLAND'.  Unsurprisingly, the poem was immensely popular in Germany: school children learned it by heart, and the Kaiser honoured Lissauer. The British, running true to form, treated the whole thing as a joke, and set the poem to music; when the choir of the Royal College of Music sang it, however, laughter interfered with their rendition.

By 1926, Lissauer regretted writing the poem, and regrets deepened when his beloved Germany turned against him, maintaining that hatred was 'unGerman'. And unluckily for him at that period, Lissauer was Jewish.

As I write, the western world is trying to cope with news of yet another episode of gun violence in the United States, the worst anti-Semitic outrage in recent US history. The event in Pittsburgh is particularly horrifying because of the number of dead and injured, and because a congregation was attacked in a synagogue during Shabbat services.

The perpetrator, one Robert Bowers, reportedly yelled 'All Jews must die' as he began to shoot: 11 people died. This heinous act is not being treated as a terrorist attack, but as a hate crime, with the police trying to come to a conclusion about Bowers' motivation.

As is usual these days, Bowers' usage of social media is undergoing close examination by the investigating authorities. He seems to have convinced himself that Jewish people are assisting the so-called caravans of would-be immigrants, especially those from Central America, whom he refers to as 'invaders', and then conceived an irrational desire to protect Americans from this imagined threat.


"Hate itself is not a crime. But in its pathological form, it is a complex business, often involving a troubled childhood background