Superstar playwright, dramatist, acerbic literary personality, showman, controversialist, pundit, wit, polemicist, and radical socialist propagandist, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) produced more than 52 plays, prominent among them Candida (1894), Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Man and Superman (1902), Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1912), and St. Joan (1923).
A master of English prose who revolutionized the Victorian stage, he developed a drama of moral passion and intellectual conflict and revived the comedy of manners, venturing into symbolic farce with what came to be known as “Shavian wit.” A renaissance man of many causes, primarily socialist, he was also a noted essayist; a well-respected music, art, and drama critic; and a spellbinding orator. By bringing a bold, critical intelligence to all his areas of interest, he molded the political, economic, and social thought of his generation. He remains the only person to have been awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938) (for his work on Pygmalion, which was later adapted to become My Fair Lady).
Shaw was also an open and rabid Jew-hater, as evidenced by the June 7, 1932 handwritten entry pictured below which appears on a standard pre-printed form he used to decline requests for speaking engagements and other appearances: “Bother you Zionists! They never let me alone. I shall be forced to join the Anti-Semites in self-defence.” This anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist ranting is by no means unique for Shaw, who despised Zionists and disparaged the characterization of the Jews as a chosen nation as “a monstrous presumption” which constitutes “a dangerous paranoiac delusion.”
A major proponent of the notion that the concept of a “chosen people” represents an inherently racist ideology, Shaw frequently emphasized the Jews’ “racial arrogance” and maintained that the Nazis, with their doctrines of racial superiority, were merely imitating the Jewish doctrine of chosenness. For example, in response to a request by the American Hebrew and Jewish Tribune for sympathetic commentary about Jews on the occasion of their new year, Shaw famously lashed out (Literary Digest, October 12, 1932):
This craving for bouquets by Jews is a symptom of racial degeneration. The Jews are worse than my own people. Those Jews who still want to be the chosen race (chosen by the late Lord Balfour) can go to Palestine and stew in their own juice. The rest had better stop being Jews and start being human beings.
Shaw underscores this theme in his play Geneva (1938), where he equates what he views as a Jewish sense of racial superiority with other forms of rabid nationalism, including Nazism. As a bonus, he characterizes Jews as monstrous materialists who selfishly go on making money while the world hurls toward World War II. In fact, his unambiguous view of Jews in general left little to the imagination:
No doubt Jews are obnoxious creatures. Any competent historian or psychoanalyst can bring a mass of incontrovertible evidence to prove that it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed.
Shaw often served as an apologist for the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jews, writing that Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was “the product of mass discontent over Jewish wealth.” He identified the “real enemy” as “the invader from the East, the Druze, the ruffian, the oriental parasite; in a word, the Jew.” (London Morning Post, December 3, 1925). In a June 1933 interview with The Sunday Dispatch, he affirmed: “The Nazi movement is in many respects one which has my warm sympathy; in fact, I might fairly claim that Herr Hitler has repudiated Karl Marx to enlist under the banner of Bernard Shaw.”
And in a June 1935 letter to Siegfried Trebitsch – the Jewish-born Austrian playwright known for his German translations of Shaw’s works – he wrote: “Tell Colonel Goring with my compliments that I have backed his regime in England to the point of making myself unpopular, and still continue to do so on all matters on which he and Hitler stand for permanent truths and genuine Realpolitik.”
An avid and unapologetic eugenicist, Shaw suggested that the Nazis “make it punishable incest for a Jew to marry anyone but an Aryan.” He offered Hitler a solution to the “Jewish problem” which, he claimed, would also help to create a stronger Germany (New York Times, November 24, 1933): “Instead of exterminating the Jews, he [Hitler] should have said, I will tolerate Jews to any extent, as long as no Jew marries a Jewess. That is how he could build up a strong, solid German people.”
Consistent with his overarching theory of eugenics, Shaw enthusiastically embraced state intervention in racial breeding, a view made manifest in his Man and Superman and which underscored his own proposed solution to the Jewish Question: “I think we ought to tackle the Jewish Question by admitting the right of the State to make eugenic experiments by weeding out any strains they think undesirable…”
In one infamous interview published on February 7, 1934 in The Listener (BBC Magazine, London), he could not have made his views on eugenics clearer:
I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly-appointed board, just as they might come before the income tax commissioner, and say every five years, or every seven years, just put them there, and say, “Sir, or madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?” If you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the big organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself…. I appeal to the chemists to discover a humane gas that will kill instantly and painlessly. In short, a gentlemanly gas – deadly by all means, but humane not cruel.
When he spoke these words, Shaw certainly meant to specifically include killing the Jews. For example, impressed by reports of Hitler’s “ethnic cleansing” of the Jews, he wrote the following in a February 6, 1938 correspondence to Beatrice Webb, a renowned English sociologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics:
I think we ought to tackle the Jewish Question by admitting the right of the States to make eugenic experiments by weeding out any strains that they think undesirable, but insisting that they do it as humanely as they can afford to.
As we all know, the Nazis did, indeed, come up with a gas, which they used so efficiently to murder millions of Jews in the crematoria. Although there is no definitive proof to this effect, one can reasonably conjecture that the great George Bernard Shaw was the father of the use of Zyklon B gas in perpetrating Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Finally, the Holocaust-denying Shaw opposed the Nuremberg War Crimes trials after World War II on the grounds that the horrors of the concentration camps could be attributed to simple “administrative inefficiency.” He maintained that such ill-advised trials would have more to do with self-serving Jewish martyrdom than with actually achieving justice.