In The Kingdom and the Power, Gay Talese’s fantastic book about the history of the New York Times, there’s a story about editor A.M. Rosenthal’s receiving a letter from The Jewish Agency for Israel in 1965. The letter claimed that a man named Daniel Burros, the New York head of the Ku Klux Klan and an officer in the American Nazi Party, was actually Jewish. Rosenthal was skeptical. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, after all, had included Burros on its list of “prominent Klansman.” Burros had traveled the country starting riots, leading protests and spreading the most virulent Jew hatred imaginable. He had been arrested numerous times in possession of various weapons and of destruction of property — painting swastikas on the wall of the B’nai Brith building in Washington DC. How could he possibly be a Jew?
It turned out that Burros was indeed Jewish. He had been born in the Bronx to George and Esther, had lived in Richmond Hill in Queens, where he went to Hebrew School at Talmud Torah and was bar mitzvahed. Burros purportedly had an IQ of 154. Growing up, he took a real liking to German language, and read voraciously about Nazi generals, whom he soon began to idolize. In the late 1950s, Burros was fired for his job at the Chamber of Commerce after being seen protesting in front of it with a gaggle of Nazis. He then moved into George Lincoln Rockwell’s compound in Virginia and became a professional hater.
When the New York Times finally caught up to him, Burros had absolutely no compunction talking about his activities or his detestation of Jews and blacks. Surely his friends would be impressed by an interview in a major American publication. He told a New York Times reporter that his ultimate goal was to purge of the Jews from America — which, he noted, would be a lot wilder and more fun in the chaotic atmosphere of the United States than it had been in Germany.
The reporter let Burros go on, but as the interview was winding down, he finally asked the Nazi about his Jewish background. Burros’s smile disappeared and anger fell over his face. He first threatened to “kill” the reporter, and then he begged the reporter not to publish the story. His life would be ruined, he explained, and all his friends would abandon him.
Once the New York Times obtained records of Burros’s Bar Mitzvah, they ran the story on the front page. Burros happened to be in Reading, Pennsylvania, that day with a Klan group. When the newspaper was delivered, and his secret revealed, Burros went upstairs and killed himself with two shots, one to the heart and one to the head.
This is the story I think of every time someone tells me a Jew can’t be an anti-Semite or that a person married to a Jew can’t be an anti-Semite. Most cases of self-loathing aren’t as dramatic or as ugly or as simple. But there’s a long history of this among Jews. And I’m sure we’re not alone.