The Prague Cemetery

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  2011

 
Umberto Eco’s fascinating and disturbing new novel is a fictional account of how the notorious sham  “The  Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was invented from novels and forgeries to become the work that contributed so heavily to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. In Simone Simonini, the only fictional character in the novel, Eco has created one of the most despicable characters in modern literature. He describes how this spy, forger, glutton, and virulent anti-Semite manufactured an eye-witness account of a meeting of rabbis from throughout Europe who come together in a cemetery in Prague to plot the destruction of Christian civilization and become the rulers of the Western world. Eventually Simonini will enhance his original narrative for the Czarist secret service; it subsequently becomes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Eco's novel requires some understanding of nineteenth century European history, as he moves from the events that unified Italy;  to the Prague Jewish cemetery, where the legendary Rabbi Loew of Golem fame is buried, to the France of the Dreyfus affair. Along the way we encounter the Jesuit plot against the Freemasons, and the canard that Jews were behind the Masons and all revolutionary movements since 1789, conspiring to destroy crown and scepter. Through the character of Simonini, Eco shows us the underworld of conspiracy theory which played its part in the events that led to the rise of Hitler and  the Holocaust. He concludes this work with a quote from Hitler’s Mein Kampf :       

How much of the whole existence of this people is based on permanent falsehood is apparent in the famous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Every week the Franfurter Zeitung whines they are based on forgery: and here lies the best proof that  they are genuine… When this book becomes the common heritage of all people, the Jewish peril can then be considered as  tamped out.

Eco notes that the Protocols may be the most widely circulated work in the world after the Bible.



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