He was the father of anti-Semitic publishing in America
While I was researching a 19th century Jewish immigrant, Google, in its infinite, algorithmic wisdom, brought me to a white supremacist website with a link to a book called “The American Jew: An Exposé of His Career.” The work, published in 1888, embodied anti-Semitism in its most base, rabid form: a vile portrait of dirty, deceitful, hook-nosed Hebrews swindling unwary gentiles and causing most of the world’s evils.
Its author, a Greek-American named Telemachus Timayenis (1853-1918), actually wrote three works along these lines. The website hailed him as one of the first to “formulate a discourse on the Jewish Question along racial lines in the United States, rather than considerations of religious doctrine.” In other words, his “contribution” was to set Americans on a path to demonizing Jews for their ethnic characteristics rather than for the murder of Christ.
Although Timayenis’ works on the Jews belong in history’s dustbin, they regrettably enjoy tremendous staying power. A hundred years after his death, the writer is the darling of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer and David Duke websites, and one can download his works right along with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” Henry Ford’s “The International Jew” and other iconic anti-Jewish works.
Despite his exalted position in the anti-Semitic firmament, little has been written about Timayenis. So to understand the source of his hatred and what light it might shed on the thinking of those who honor his memory, I decided to do a little digging.
A “Well-formed Man”
Telemachus Thomas Timayenis, I learned, sailed into Boston harbor in 1871 at the age of 18. Many Greek immigrants found work in the mills and factories of Massachusetts in the late 19th century, but Timayenis was no mill hand. The son of a university professor, he was a highly educated person.
Born in Smyrna, an Aegean port in Turkey known today as Izmir, Timayenis received a classical education. With his natural talent for languages and broad knowledge of world history, he found work in Massachusetts teaching Greek and Greek history. He claimed to have taught at Harvard, though the university has no record of him today. In 1875, he joined the Collegiate Institute, a preparatory school in Springfield, and two years later published a textbook on modern Greek.
In 1878, he relocated to New York, becoming an instructor at a popular language academy. In the summers, he headed upstate to the Chautauqua Summer College, and there we get our first physical description of him from a reporter as a “well-formed man” whose “stature is above the medium, and his large bones are well-knit into a muscular-looking frame. He has a large head and a full, dark, rosy face, covered with a black beard. His hair is dark and is combed well back from a forehead of medium height.” In short, the writer concluded, he was a man who “looks indeed the noble Greek that he is.”
Timayenis soon founded his own school, the New York Hellenic Institute, and published several more books, including a translation of Aesop’s Fables. In its review of the work, The New York Times praised him as “inventive on his own account, and ready to carry out the thoughts of others.”
It was a prescient description.
In 1881, he published his most ambitious work, a two-volume “History of Greece,” but the speed at which he was churning out books raised eyebrows. This time the Times cried foul. Although Timayenis acknowledged a debt to two British historians, The Times demonstrated how massive that debt was by comparing passages from those writers with Timayenis’s work, laying bare nothing less than abject plagiarism. It would not be his last instance of passing others’ work off as his own.
His linguistic talents afforded him the opportunity to rub elbows with New York’s rich and famous. He taught Greek and Latin to the children of Charles Scribner and Jay Gould, among other luminaries, and, for a half dozen years during the 1880s, the children, wife and sister-in-law of John D. Rockefeller.
He actually got to know the tycoon fairly well. Rockefeller once urged him to invest in oil stocks, but when they lost much of their value in 1884, he nearly went bankrupt. Pleading poverty, he asked for help. In exchange for a $3,500 loan, he assigned the copyright to his forthcoming work, “Greece in the Time of Homer,” to Rockefeller. He also obsequiously dedicated the book to him, citing “the many noble qualities that adorn his private life.” Within a few years, however, their relationship would sour and he would offer the world a far less charitable take on the man.
Writer for Hire
In 1886, Timayenis married, and with a wife to support, he decided to offer his writing skills for hire. He received a $7,000 advance from John McCullough, a noted Shakespearean actor, for an original play entitled “The Wife of Miletus.” But here, again, the finished work was anything but his own. Not only did he employ a co-author; the New York Tribune noticed that the play’s similarity to an earlier work for the theater. When McCullough died before it could be produced, his leading lady, actress Kate Forsyth, advanced Timayenis another $500 for the rights. But she eventually sued for her money back when he failed to deliver them. It was the first of many court battles, nearly always about mishandling money, that Timayenis would face during his career.
For Charles Scribner & Sons, he translated Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare into French. But working with publishers meant splitting earnings with them, and so in 1887 he decided to go into the book business for himself. Together with a partner, Emma Dickson, he established the Minerva Publishing Company. Mrs. Dickson put up $1,500 in capital and Timayenis was to create works for the new concern to publish.
Mrs. Dickson’s husband Jimmy managed a Philadelphia theater owned by the best-known magician of his time, Professor Alexander Herrmann. A Paris-born Jew known as “Herrmann the Great,” he had performed for the crowned heads of Europe and audiences throughout the world. Herrmann, who had arrived in America in 1861, commissioned Timayenis to write a book about him.
In “A History of the Art of Magic,” Herrmann got what he paid for: a sycophantic work that sang his praises on page after page. The author was aware of his client’s Jewish origins, but the pair enjoyed a close business relationship for some time.
Minerva Press was profitable, but the audience for books about ancient Greece was limited. If Timayenis was to make publishing pay, he had to find a topic that would interest a broader readership. And with the birth of a daughter, he needed money more than ever.
“The Original Mr. Jacobs”
It was a French author – Édouard Drumont – who inspired Timayenis to write about Jews. In 1886, Drumont had written a scathing, 1,200-page attack on French Jewry. “La France Juive” was a runaway bestseller in his native land; it sold more than 100,000 copies in its first year and enjoyed a whopping 126 printings. The most widely read book in France, it earned its popularity in no small part by naming and excoriating many living French Jews.
Drumont’s work included traditional Catholic anti-Semitic tropes such as holding Jews accountable for the murder of Jesus. But it also castigated them for racial, social and economic faults and misdeeds. Timayenis seized on these in his first anti-Semitic book, “The Original Mr. Jacobs: A Startling Exposé,” which was published anonymously by Minerva Press early in 1888.
He acknowledged his debt to Drumont for ideas in the work, but not the extent of his borrowing. In fact, whole passages were lifted directly without attribution; even typos were reproduced. But he did whittle the topic down to a more manageable 300 pages.
“This book deals with facts,” Mr. Jacobs began, but what followed was anything but factual. For fifty cents, readers were treated to a diatribe of absurd racist generalizations and name-calling that portrayed all Jews as vain, ignorant, corrupt, money-grubbing, dirty, disease-ridden and foul-smelling.
Timayenis’s Jew was a born liar, a perpetual agitator, a nihilist, a coward and a trickster. He was a usurer, a mercenary and an exploiter, inferior to the “Aryan,” with whom he was locked in perennial, elemental conflict. Throughout the book, Timayenis portrayed Jews as sworn enemies of Christian civilization, intent on ruling the world.
Lest one find oneself unable to recognize a Jew, he was ready with a handy cheat-sheet. He urged readers to note “the famous hooked nose, the restless eyes, the close-set teeth, the elongated ears, the square nails, the flat foot, the round knees, the soft hand almost melting with the hypocrisy of the traitor.” He even insisted many Jews had one arm longer than the other.
One didn’t even have to be Jewish to earn his anti-Semitic enmity. He used Mr. Jacobs to denounce Rockefeller, a gentile, despite his earlier history with the man. “If Rockefeller is not actually a Jew, he has many Jewish traits,” he asserted, adding that “the spirit of the Standard Oil Company is simply the spirit of monopoly, of cruelty, of annihilation of all competitors,” and one that “manifests itself in the scandalous enterprises of the Jews.”
“The Original Mr. Jacobs” concluded with warnings to readers not to vote for Jews, not to permit them to immigrate, not to sympathize with them and above all, not to trust them. Because, Timayenis insisted, “the Jew was not, is not, and never will be your friend.”
His timing was auspicious. Urbanization, immigration and industrialization were causing great upheaval and social disorder, and the Russian and Eastern European Jews arriving in record numbers provided convenient targets. To the extent that these newcomers clung to old-world customs and traditional religious practices, they seemed unassimilable, and Timayenis gave voice to such concerns.
Americans, of course, had always had access to demonic portraits of Jews Europeans had been producing for centuries: think Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin. And negative imagery also pervaded not only Christian sermons and treatises, but secular literature and textbooks. From the day the first Jews set foot in New Amsterdam, they had faced religious anti-Semitism, which criticized them for their teachings and beliefs, some real – like refusing to accept the divinity of Jesus Christ – and some bogus, like using the blood of gentile children to bake matzoh..
“Mr. Jacobs” was thus hardly America’s first anti-Semitic screed. But it was different from what had come before. Timayenis is remembered for popularizing racial anti-Semitism – the notion that Jews are a distinct race or ethnic group with predictable, abhorrent and intrinsic characteristics. He is also credited, if that is the word, with ushering in professional, anti-Jewish publishing with the creation of Minerva Press and its publication of three anti-Jewish works in rapid succession.
Most reviews of “Mr. Jacobs” were scathing. The New York Sun was first with a denunciation: “Scarcely a page is free from passages revealing so malignant a hatred of this much-persecuted race that the book may be said to have no value whatever,” it noted, noting that it was “capable of doing a great deal of harm and should be shunned by all decent and self-respecting men.”
Lincoln, Nebraska’s Capital City Courier found it an “entirely unjustified attack on the people of that race.” And the Indianapolis Journal derided its “prejudice, narrow-mindedness, illiberality and malice,” calling it “an appeal to the lowest traits of humanity.”
Members of New York’s Jewish community interceded with the Manhattan News Company, which had contracted to sell his book at its newsstands. It was an effective strategy. Only three or four hours after it went on sale, a company representative informed Timayenis that it was being removed.
“The Jews of the city had threatened through committees of bankers, merchants and societies to withdraw all of their business from the stands of his company in this city and in Newark,” Timayenis complained to the New York Press, which identified him only as a representative of Minerva Press, not as the book’s author.
He threatened to sue Manhattan News for $5,000, though the company was not liable, having reserved the right to withdraw objectionable material. He also claimed to have received threatening letters himself and to have refused a $25,000 offer to buy up all copies of the work. And he asked the public to come to his aid by purchasing it.
“The Jews claim this book is an attack on their nation. I deny the statement,” he asserted. “It is a history, and if it were an attack, by what right do the Jews claim exemption over other natives in this free country? They have entered into a conspiracy to ruin my business, and I intend to … ask for the indictment of a number of leading members of that nation.”
Another Jew who found “Mr. Jacobs” offensive was Herrmann the magician. Shortly after it was published, he stormed the Minerva offices and – according to Timayenis – offered $1,000 to see the author locked up. Hermann later denied this, but insisted that “any man who would write and publish such a scurrilous attack on the members of any religious faith ought to be punished. Timayenis is no good.”
For his part, the author claimed the boycott had actually boosted sales of Mr. Jacobs. At the end of the year, he boasted he had sold 200,000 copies, and that the book was in its 30th printing.
“The American Jew: An Exposé of His Career”
A scant four months after Mr. Jacobs appeared, Timayenis produced a sequel, “The American Jew: An Exposé of His Career.” It was to focus on the havoc Jews were supposedly wreaking at home in the U.S.
The book was also ostensibly an anonymous work, though by this time Timayenis’ authorship was known to some. It owed far less to Drumont than its predecessor, but was no less vicious. Timayenis predicted that a Jewish offensive would attempt to block its sale:
They will appoint committees to visit book-dealers, urging them not to handle the book; they will buy up and destroy all copies found exposed for sale; they will bribe, threaten, plead, and try in every possible way to interfere with its sale; they will circulate reports that the book has been “called in,” and will spread many other lies — lies that the Jew knows so well how to disseminate.
This work was a survey: of Jews on Wall Street, in the tobacco trade, in the oil industry, in politics and in journalism. It also included chapters on “the criminal Jew” and “the Jew lecher,” and chastised several famous American Jews without mentioning names, lest Timayenis be sued for libel.
He discerned no difference between newly arrived Eastern Europeans and their more established, more assimilated German-Jewish brethren. He juxtaposed a tour of the “ill-ventilated, pestilential and filthy” tenements of Manhattan’s Jewish ghetto with “the Jew at the summer hotel,” a thinly veiled reference to Joseph Seligman, a highly successful, German-born Jewish banker who had famously been turned away from the elegant Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York in 1877 because of his ethnicity.
He had nothing but opprobrium for “Jewish mashers,” who he accused of “ogling, with amazing effrontery, every woman who passes them by.” He excoriated Jews who had entered politics by “skillfully twisting and changing and Anglicizing their names” to disguise their origins. And he chronicled how “metropolitan journalism sickened and deteriorated with the injection of Semitic blood into its veins,” singling out Joseph Pulitzer’s “blighting influence” while being careful not to name him.
Citing no sources, he insisted that “Jews furnish a greater number of criminals than any other foreign element in the United States” – that is, five Jewish crooks per thousand, or five times the rate for gentiles.
He commissioned caricatures to illuminate the first page of each chapter, and for that task he approached an artist who happened to be Jewish. When the man refused, Timayenis reportedly confided that he had nothing against Jews per se, and that at some point he might even write a book “in praise of their virtues and achievements.”
“He did not hate the Jews,” the American Hebrew, a New York-based conservative Jewish weekly, confirmed. “All else having failed, he sought to make money out of blackguarding the Jews. Drumont succeeded; why not Timayenis? For money, he would have written and published a book filled to fulness with adulations eulogium of the entire Semitic race.”
The Memphis Appeal found “The American Jew” to be “a slander from the first page to the last and, as a piece of villainous sophistry, without parallel in literature.” Noting that Timayenis had now delivered two such tirades, the paper asserted that “it is both timely and imperative that there should be some protest.” It went on to deliver a full-throated defense of the Jewish people, citing Jewish philanthropy and Jewish contributions to American industry and commerce, and asking, “Where would America have been without the Jew?”
Similarly, a German-born Protestant named Johanna von Bohne who was incensed at Timayenis’ diatribes published a 30-page response. Although her essay also dealt in stereotypes, her thrust was unabashedly philo-Semitic, and she took special umbrage at the fact that the author had chosen to publish the works unsigned. “Anonymous letters or writings always originate in a desire to slander, blackmail and backbite,” she wrote, “and ought to be ostracized by every respectable member of society.”
In the book, Timayenis announced plans for a publication to be given over entirely to Jew-hatred. Subscriptions to The Anti-Semite would run a dollar a year. He was sure it would be welcomed because of the “widespread desire to check the diabolical methods of the Jews, these parasites of the human race” on the part of Americans. There is no evidence, however, that the monthly was ever produced.
After The American Jew appeared, Timayenis claimed to average six or seven death threats a day. One warned him to destroy the plates for “The American Jew” or his house would be bombed. Another was reprinted in the Times:
You are a doomed man if you go out of your house late in the evening. Two men have sworn to kill you before Christmas, but for God’s sake do not say anything about it to any one, for my own life is in danger if it became known that I wrote you this letter. I do this not to shield your life, you dog, but not to allow one dear to me to commit a crime.
The possibility the threats were made up cannot be discounted in view of Timayenis’s penchant for plagiarism and dishonesty. Regardless, they made for excellent propaganda. And he used them as a pretext to apply for a license to carry a gun.
“My life is made miserable,” he complained. “I have to employ men to guard me, and I’m obliged to go around armed to the teeth.” He wondered “why I should be hunted down like a dog simply because I wrote two books exposing these people. I don’t profess to be a friend of the Jews, but I do maintain that I wrote nothing but the truth.”
Arrest and Trial
If Timayenis thought his life was miserable after the publication of “The American Jew,” however, it took a turn for the worse in December, 1888, when he was arrested for forgery and embezzlement.
Tipped off when the bankruptcy of Minerva’s printer revealed unpaid debts by the publisher, Jimmy Dickson, Timayenis’s partner’s husband, hurried from Philadelphia for a look at Minerva’s financial records. Not only did they indicate that the printer had already been paid; that wasn’t the only anomaly. Royalties never received by George Hastings, author of two of the house’s publications, also appeared as paid in full. When Dickson discovered that Minerva’s bank account contained only $73, he realized that Timayenis, who had been spending freely on what the newspapers described as “gay living about town,” had been doing so at the Dicksons’ expense. Wasting no time, he had Timayenis arrested. Had not a friend supplied $500 bail, he would have been remanded to The Tombs, Lower Manhattan’s infamous jail.
Timayenis denied the charges. His arrest, however, dealt a blow to his reputation. Widespread coverage appeared under headlines like “The Crooked Professor” and “A Noted Man’s Downfall.” Ironically, several newspapers remarked that with his full black beard and mustache and “a nose of oppressive curvature,” he actually looked Jewish, noting that “his Hebraic appearance, in fact, subjected him to many jests.”
“Timayenis, although he denies it on every occasion, is said to have been born a Jew,” the New York Times agreed, “and his noted enmity against the people of his own race is occasioned simply by a desire for notoriety.” But there is no concrete evidence of any Jewish ancestry on Timayenis’ part, and although notoriety may have been his motive, money is a far sounder bet.
The day before the trial, Dickson and Hastings called at Police Headquarters to report Timayenis for threatening to shoot both of them in open court if he lost the case. They got his gun permit revoked. But there were no histrionics in court, as the judge dismissed the charges on a technicality. Timayenis then announced his intention to sue the New York Herald and the Boston Globe, both of which had reported on the case against him, for libel. The Globe then ran an obsequious article asserting that “great injustice was done Timayenis” by the publication of the charges.
That was one way of looking at things. The American Israelite gave voice to the other. “Much regret is felt that the scoundrel, Timayenis, has, by a legal quibble, escaped conviction,” it wrote. “However, his character has been sufficiently exposed at the preliminary hearing to convince the most prejudiced of his villainy.”
In June, 1889, Timayenis was back in legal hot water. George Hastings sued him for back royalties, including monies due him for work on The American Jew. It had been Hastings, he revealed, who had written the lion’s share of the work, together with two other ghostwriters. Perhaps most damning, he called Timayenis incapable of producing a complete, original work on his own. Even his translations of Drumont in “The Original Mr. Jacobs,”
Hastings asserted, had been so poor that someone had to be recruited to polish them.
Timayenis was ultimately appointed receiver of the assets of Minerva Press, which continued to put out new books. Among them was his final work of anti-Semitic bile, “Judas Iscariot: An Old Type in a New Form.”
“Since the publication of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’” he boasted at its start, “there has not appeared in the English language a book that created a sensation equal to that of ‘The Original Mr. Jacobs.’” The one described the black slave, the victim of the peculiar institution inherited from Colonial times; the other, the white slave, groaning under the iron heel of Jewish oppression.”
“Judas Iscariot” differed little from its predecessors. Timayenis blamed Jews themselves for anti-Semitism because of their “ignorance, superstition, intolerance and malice.” Furthermore, these traits were in their DNA. “They are not like Catholics, Protestants or any other people … who, aside from their religion, can be and actually are the citizens, the faithful children of their respective countries, nations, climes and tribes. It is not so with the Jew. He is Jew in race, nationality, language and religion, member of the same international conspiracy and a parasite upon the body of all nations.”
The book warned American Jews that expulsion would be their fate. Americans, he predicted, “will turn you out of their homes, in order that you may once more take the staff of the Wandering Jew and tramp over the pathways of your ancestors.” He suggested relegating them to a tract in New Mexico “similar to the reservations of our Indians.” He had thoughtfully selected that territory for their exile because of its ostensible resemblance to their native Palestine.
“Judas Iscariot” earned the opprobrium of Jews as far away as the author’s native Turkey. A Constantinople-based, Greek-language newspaper was fined $1,000 for praising it, and the local Jewish community denounced the writer and called for his imprisonment. But in the U.S., the book did not create the buzz of the earlier works. It was not even reviewed in the American press, a sure sign that Timayenis’s anti-Semitic crusade had run its course.
Minerva Press published a fourth book with anti-Semitic leanings, but it was not Timayenis’s work and it got even less attention. “Dr. Phillips: A Romance of Love and Passion,” was a novel by Julia Frankau, a self-hating British Jew who wrote under a pseudonym, about a morally degenerate London Jewish doctor with a Christian mistress who murdered his childless Jewish wife. Minerva put out its American edition with little fanfare, but the Jewish press took note. What it noticed most was the five-page New York Life advertisement in the book.
“Policy holders in the New York Life Insurance Co. are hereby informed that a portion of the money paid by them goes toward the maintenance of the infamous Minerva Publishing Co.,” The American Israelite announced, noting that the publisher “exists for the avowed purpose of driving the Jews out of the United States.” It urged readers to show the ad to the next New York Life agent who tried to sell them a policy.
Laying Down His Pen
“I know the Jews too well to fear their mutterings of their threats,” Timayenis wrote in Judas Iscariot. “I have undertaken a battle which I know I shall win, nor will I lay down my pen before victory is mine.” But lay it down he did, and immediately after the work was published. There was no sign of The Anti-Semite, the promised monthly, or of a new work, “Secrets of the Synagogue,” which he had announced early in 1890. He had milked Jew-hatred for what it was worth. It was time to move on, to new and more lucrative ventures. Some would be legitimate, and some scams.
In 1891, he inserted himself into litigation over the estate of a noted multimillionaire, demanding $3,000 for testimony against some of the claimants. The following year he was accused him of making false representations to elicit an offer to purchase Minerva Press stock. The case was ultimately decided in his favor, though one judge remarked that he didn’t think the man was telling the truth.
In 1898, Timayenis relocated to Boston, where his first order of business was to declare bankruptcy. He had no assets; just $84,000 in debt. By 1901, however, he was managing an apparently legitimate business there. His Mentor Cigarette Company was marketing smokes under several brands, one of which was “T. T. T.,” his own initials.
There were more financial shenanigans. In 1906, he contested the will of an uncle who had left his $21,000 estate to charities including a kindergarten for the blind and a home for aged women. He alleged that the man had not been of sound mind when he signed it. On another occasion, when he attempted to cash in 750 shares of the Mentor Company, a man named Charles S. Dennis obtained an injunction against him, claiming he owed him $1,700.
Among Timayenis’s creditors was none other than John D. Rockefeller, whom he still owed $1,000. But Rockefeller had concluded that he lacked character and principle and severed their relationship. Accordingly, Timayenis launched a broadside against the tycoon. He published two widely syndicated, tell-all articles in which he portrayed Rockefeller as a “taciturn, gloomy, secretive, sensitive and rigid” paranoid who “fears his friends, fears imaginary enemies, fears his associates, fears the world.”
After his wife died in an apparent suicide in 1909, Timayenis created the Eastern and Western Review, a magazine for Greek-Americans, and commented frequently in the press about affairs in his native Asia Minor, reliably siding with Greeks against Turks. But by 1917, ailing, he was admitted to the Tewksbury State Hospital. There the father of American anti-Semitic publishing died of arteriosclerosis and was buried in an unmarked grave.
His works, however, unfortunately lived on.
For the first half of the 20th century, Timayenis’ books were out of print. In the 1960s, however, an unapologetic racist named J. B. Stoner, Jr., founder of the far-right National States’ Rights Party, happened on a copy of “The Original Mr. Jacobs” and decided it was worth reprinting.
But Stoner took a few liberties with the text. For one thing, he changed its title. Apparently “Mr. Jacobs” didn’t strike him as a clear enough signal of the identity of the book’s villains, so he called his edition “The Original Mr. Jew” so nobody could miss its thrust. And he added a one-page introduction that read, in part:
The Jews are embarked upon a plan to conquer the world and to rule over all other races and nations. By understanding the evil and aggressive nature of the Jew, we White Christians can better protect ourselves … It is our duty to publish this book for the benefit of the White Aryan Race in America and throughout the world.
By 1980, “The Original Mr. Jew” was on the recommended reading list of the Ku Klux Klan, right up there with “Mein Kampf.” And in 1988, Revilo P. Oliver, another white nationalist, recommended the work to readers of Liberty Bell magazine, a right-wing publication known for reprinting the infamous 1903 Russian forgery, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”.
What has breathed new life into Timayenis’s works since then is the Internet. The worldwide web has enabled mass distribution of his books, and in this incarnation they are cost-free. It has unfortunately amplified the voices of hatemongers and enabled them to share information, locate one another, recruit new disciples and collaborate. The sad truth is that Timayenis’s anti-Semitic rants, hate speech by any modern definition, have acquired the potential to reach far more readers than the author in 1888, or Stoner in 1969, could have imagined.
Their free availability is not, in itself, indicative of malicious intent. For better or worse, they are historical works with legitimate uses as source material for scholars investigating social, political and intellectual trends of the past, even discredited ones. Timayenis’s treatises are downloadable on neutral sites like archive.org and hathitrust.org, which make all varieties of out-of-copyright material available to the public and have no political axe to grind.
This is no more objectionable than the local public library keeping such works on its shelves, though of course the web promises worldwide distribution. Unless one believes in censorship of hate speech, though, one can have no argument with this. Such expression, however odious and destructive, is protected speech, at least in the U.S., unless it veers into incitement to violence or criminal activity.
More disconcerting is the content of the alt-right websites that link to these works, quote them, praise them and pretend they are factual and somehow indicative of perennial truths relevant to today. These are the pages that insist that Jews are intent on controlling the world and that tout an imaginary, Armageddon-like struggle between them and the so-called Aryan race – canards with which Jews have contended for generations.
That recent perpetrators of violence against Jews and other minorities are inspired by such sites is well-documented. Frazier Glenn Miller, for example, a Klansman convicted in the shooting deaths of three people at a Jewish community center and retirement home in Kansas in 2014, was a frequent visitor to Stormfront – one of the sites that praises Timayenis’ so-called “facts” about Jews. John Timothy Earnest, who shot up a California synagogue in 2019, was also a devotee of hate sites; so was James W. von Brunn, who killed a guard at Washington, DC’s Holocaust Museum in 2009. The list goes on.
Not Much of an Anti-Semite
What has puzzled scholars about Timayenis is what motivated his attacks. Nothing known about his early years explains his enmity for Jews. And in New York, before the publication of “The Original Mr. Jacobs,” he even enjoyed a cordial relationship with a nationally famous Jewish client.
The answer, it would seem, is a banal one. If there was one constant in his career apart from a love of Greece, it was a struggle for money. None of his early jobs promised riches. Only when he happened on Drumont, whose book was setting sales records in France, could he envision real wealth: untold profits in translating, adapting and popularizing it in America.
The fact that his books were not his own work suggests that Timayenis’ anti-Semitism might not have been deeply felt. The brickbats he directed at Jews were not original and perhaps not even sincere. Despite his vile works, the only time he spoke out against Jews in personal terms was when they blocked his efforts to sell books. When he told the Jewish artist who refused to illustrate “The American Jew” that he had nothing against the man’s people, it may well have been the truth.
Finally, there is the fact that after “Judas Iscariot,” he never publicly addressed the subject again. Abandoning his disparagement of Jewish people as abruptly as he had taken it up is hardly behavior one would expect of a committed, lifelong anti-Semite. It seems more like that of an opportunist who, having earned what he could out of Jew-hatred, simply moved on to other pursuits.
“The only motive, the only mainspring, of the Jew’s action, has been money, money, nothing but money,” Timayenis wrote in “The American Jew.” Yet the guiding principle of his life was a quest for funds. “In art, the Jews have created nothing original,” he complained in “Mr. Jacobs.” Yet his literary career was one of shameless borrowing of others’ ideas and theft of their words. “The Jew never fails to betray his employer,” he wrote in that same work. Yet this is exactly what Timayenis did to Rockefeller, his business partners, his clients and others with whom he worked.
When he wrote in “Mr. Jacobs” that “hypocrisy and lying are the salient features in the Jew,” he might have been describing himself.
Those who discover Timayenis on alt-right websites will read nothing but praise. But not everyone is an admirer. Google also points to an unsigned, 2015 article from the National Herald, a New York-based Greek-American weekly, that tars him as “the enduring shame of the Greek people.” In a lengthy piece, the writer condemns him to “the rogue’s gallery of Greek criminals, scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells who made the United States their home.”
And if the article you are now finishing also enjoys a prolonged life on the Internet, it, too may be useful in offering readers a fact-based perspective on the man behind his screeds. They might be surprised to learn that the available evidence suggests that far from being a hero, he was rather a small man with few original thoughts and without honor, who shamelessly stole money and ideas from others. In short, a cheat, a liar, a plagiarizer, an opportunist and probably not even much of an anti-Semite.
_Scott D. Seligman is a writer of narrative nonfiction and biography, and the author of “The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots that Shook New York City,” coming this fall from Potomac Books. _