Yom HaShoah thoughts from Bob Dylan

Yom HaShoah thoughts from Bob Dylan

What does (or did) Bob Dylan think about the Holocaust?

In recent weeks, that question has been answered by two sources. One, a friend of Dylan’s who recalled putting the question directly to Dylan. The other, a journalist and Dylanologist, unearthed a Hitler reference in Dylan’s little-read, barely-readable 1966 novel Tarantula.

In his actual music, Dylan has two explicit references in his early 1960s songs to the Holocaust — or more specifically, to the massacre of six million Jews.

In “With God on Our Side,” from 1963, Dylan critiques militarism in general and the Cold War in particular.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

A year earlier, and more controversially, he had attacked the John Birch Society, in a song that Columbia Records wouldn’t let him release. Speaking in the voice of a John Bircher, a paranoid anti-Communist:

Now we all agree with Hitler’s views
Although he killed six million Jews
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria

So that’s the basics of Dylan and the Holocaust.

In a recent interview with the Forward, ’60s counter-culture figure Paul Krassner related how he was a speaker on a panel that included Abbie Hoffman and Rabbi Meir Kahane, the radical right-wing founder of the Jewish Defense League. “Bob Dylan was there, too, hanging out backstage with his Hebrew teacher, a guy called One-Legged Terry,” Krassner recalled. “I asked Dylan how come he was learning Hebrew, and he said, ‘Because I couldn’t speak it.’ I asked him how he felt about the Holocaust. Dylan, a minimalist, said, ‘I resented it.'”

The mood is more theological in an article by Ron Rosenbaum at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Rosenbaum, a reporter who is now writing a biography of Bob Dylan, tells of discovering a passage in Tarantula:

“down with you sam. down with your

answers too. hitler did not change

history. hitler WAS history … “

more to come…

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