In his column for the February 12 edition of The New Republic, editor-in-chief Martin Peretz cut out a key portion of a transcript in attacking billionaire philanthropist and progressive financier George Soros for his January 27 comment at the World Economic Forum that the United States has “to go through a certain de-Nazification process.” Peretz claimed that Soros' comment was “twisted” because Soros “himself experienced something of Nazism,” adding that Soros was “a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel.”
Peretz's smear of Soros (a Hungarian-born Jew who survived the Holocaust) echoed the factually dubious accusations leveled against Soros by right-wing pundits David Horowitz and Richard Poe in their discredited book, The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party (Nelson Current, 2006). Like Horowitz and Poe, who claimed that Soros “survived [the Holocaust] by assimilating to Nazism,” Peretz pointed to Soros' experience as a 14-year-old boy in Nazi-controlled Hungary to suggest that he collaborated with the Nazis.
As explained in Michael T. Kaufman's biography of Soros, Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire (Knopf, 2002), Soros' father attempted to protect his family from Nazi persecution by paying an employee of Hungary's Ministry of Agriculture named Baumbach to take in Soros, “ostensibly as his godson.” Soros accompanied his “godfather” as he went to oversee the confiscation of property from Hungarian Jews. Peretz, however, cropped out a key portion from the transcript of a December 20, 1998, 60 Minutes segment in which interviewer Steve Kroft asked Soros about those activities. While Kroft noted that Soros “went out with this protector of yours,” Peretz left that out of the transcript, suggesting that Soros, at the age of 14, went out on his own and, in Kroft's words, “helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.” From Peretz's column:
What makes Soros's remark even more twisted is that he himself experienced something of Nazism. He was 14 when the Nazis entered Budapest. On December 20, 1998, there appeared this exchange between Soros and Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes”:
Kroft: “You're a Hungarian Jew ...”
Kroft: "... who escaped the Holocaust ..."
Kroft: "... by posing as a Christian."
Kroft: “And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.”
Soros: “Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that's when my character was made.”
Kroft: “In what way?”
Soros: “That one should think ahead. One should understand that -- and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a -- a very personal threat of evil.”
Kroft: “My understanding is that you went ... went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”
Soros: “Yes, that's right. Yes.”
Kroft: “I mean, that's -- that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?”
Soros: “Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don't ... you don't see the connection. But it was -- it created no -- no problem at all.”
Kroft: “No feeling of guilt?”
Kroft: “For example, that, 'I'm Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.' None of that?”
Soros: “Well, of course, ... I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn't be there, because that was -- well, actually, in a funny way, it's just like in the markets -- that is I weren't there -- of course, I wasn't doing it, but somebody else would - would -- would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the -- whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the -- I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.”
So this is the psychodrama that has been visited on American liberalism. We learn Soros never has nightmares. Had he been tried in a de-Nazification process for having been a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel, he would have felt that, since other people would have confiscated the same Jewish property and delivered the same deportation notices to the same doomed Jews, it was as if he hadn't done it himself. He sleeps well, while we sleep in Nazi America.
Here is the unedited text of the 60 Minutes interview:
KROFT: In what way?
SOROS: That one should think ahead. One should understand and -- and anticipate events and when -- when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a -- a very personal experience of evil.
KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.
SOROS: Yes. Yes.
KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.
SOROS: Yes. That's right. Yes.
Blogger Steve Clemons of The Washington Note defended Soros, writing in a February 3 entry:
Soros properly and appropriately referred to de-Nazification because that was a process that assured that there was accountability for the deadly, barbarous, and horrible actions taken by the government of Germany. Like in Japan, political and military leaders -- and some social, educational, and business leaders -- were purged from their offices in order for those of different political ilk to come into positions of power.
Soros is referring to political accountability and political change after what many conservatives are calling a series of the worst political and military strategic mistakes in modern American history. He is referring to those in the White House and in American politics who turned a blind eye after Abu Ghraib, who did nothing when people were shut up -- some mistakenly -- without legal counsel in Guantanamo. He is referring to those who sat on information related to the Haditha horror until it was exposed.
Clemons also had criticism for Peretz, writing that he is among those “who have twisted Soros' comment”:
I agree with Soros and understand the metaphor he was using. I have the sense of context and I think the maturity to know that Soros was not implying that America is on the same moral plain of a German state that exterminated six million Jews. Of course Soros is not saying that -- and Peretz and the other critics that have tried to ride this wave know it too.
They are manipulating Soros's comments to try and pin on him some notion of moral equivalence while missing the key issue that Soros is saying that we have gone through the worst erosion in the fundamentals of American democracy since the domestic internment camps of Japanese-Americans since World War II, and perhaps even before that.
Soros has a strong and compelling point -- and I think it should be heard for what it is, untarnished by the likes of Martin Peretz who have twisted from Soros's comment the important value it should have for our discussions in this country about the character of our future political course.