The Return of the Well-Tailored Proto-Nazi

“The Chess Players”
Frederich August Moritz Retzsch, 1831

The Return of the Well-Tailored Proto-Nazi

This is about my return encounter with the dapper gentleman who first surfaced last May, when I gave a talk at California’s Claremont School of Theology, based on a chapter from my book, A Good Look at Evil.

Gentle Reader, may I give you some advice in this Non-Advice Column?  Don’t write a book about evil!  Not if you want a quiet, harmonious life.  The title alone alerts the powers of darkness.  They will come calling.

We go to California periodically for an experimental treatment available only at the Loma Linda Neuropathic Therapy Center.  It’s the sole treatment I’ve found that appears to be doing me some good.

Jerry has given several talks at the Claremont School of Theology, on the subfield of theology that he founded, Theology Without Walls.  The talk I gave there last May bore the title, “Evil Is Not Banal.”  In my talk, I disputed the claim of the “banality of evil,” a claim popularized by the political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

The attendees had been few last May, but they listened intelligently and asked good questions.  With one exception.  A dapper gentleman of middle years, wearing something subdued but in the best of taste, whose gestures were modulated, contained and precise, raised his hand.  He had not come to ask a question.  Nor did he say anything remotely related to my talk.  He had come to my talk to present a multi-point justification for the Holocaust.  Not, mind you, a denial.  A justification!

Among the millions whose annihilation he had come, in his own words, to “explain,” was of course this speaker.  I.  He had come to explain why it was okay to murder me.

I try not to get into a fight unless it has my name on it.  But there was no mistaking this one – or my name’s not Abigail L. Rosenthal.

Holy cow!  Speak of the devil! 

What do I do, Lord?

The instruction that came floating down to me was as plain as my name.

Don’t engage.


So that’s what I did.  In absolute terms that I don’t recall ever having used prior to that incident.  Accordingly, the rest of the Q & A went back on track and resumed its normal academic tone.

Anyway, that was back in May.  Now, in July, Jerry was to participate in a Trialogue on Theology Without Walls along with two accomplished young theologians from CST.  The event was notably well attended.  Every seat was filled around and behind the long conference table.

And lo!  There he was again, looking as dapper and civilized as ever, in his well-cut summer outfit, greeting the other attendees left and right, almost like a co-host.

I had been listed as a co-participant, which meant that at some point I would be expected to say something.  The man’s quite-at-ease demeanor disconcerted me.  If I did say something, would he then feel free to attack me?   Not being the speaker this time, I could not easily summon the one-pointed focus from which flowed the tactical skill I had shown last time.  Meanwhile, he looked like a man who was feeling fit and feisty.

As for me, I was scared.  Instinctively I wanted to say, “I pass,” with a demure little smile, when it came my turn to speak.  I wanted to hunker down, to lie low.  Not to give him a target.  But then I thought, oh gee:

doesn’t that leave the adversary

in possession of the field?

There are techniques I learned riding the New York subway.  If there was a guy sitting across from me, with knees apart and one thing on his mind, I would focus on mentally pushing him back into his own skin and his own subway seat.  Don’t ask me to explain it, but it worked more often than not.  You use what you can.

I decided to scan my adversary’s energy field insofar as I could, intuitively.  Holy cow!  He was all over me, from my head to my toes!  As far as I could sense his mode of being present, he had come to the conference with me on the brain, with Jews on the brain, and he was in attack mode.

Okay, I thought, I was right to be scared.  Now let’s try, mentally, to push him back, the way I did on the New York subway, to get him off me and back to his seat at the other end of the conference table.

Push, push, push.

I made all the mental efforts of which I was capable.  But it was no use.  I couldn’t budge him.  He was really dug in.

Hmn.  If I can’t do it, with all my will and mental focus, maybe God can do it for me?  I decided to ask God to lift the dapper guy’s energy off me and put it back in his well-tailored body, where he was seated, at the far end of the table.

Waddya know!  That did work!  A large, cooling distance opened between him and me.  At the same time, the participant seated on my left put a thermos of coffee on the table, to the right of her arm.  Listing just a little to my left, I could place my face behind the thermos, out of the Holocaust-justifier’s line of sight.

By the time I was called on to join the discussion, I could speak about how I had discovered that I was essentially Jewish (hint: in a good way) – without any spirit of defensiveness or inhibition.  My words and my attitude gave the adversary no openings.

After the discussion, Jerry and I had dinner with a lovely couple, who added one more detail to this story.  One member of the couple had been attentively watching the man who justified the Holocaust.  It seems that the man came with a pen and pad and, as the discussion went forward, he was scribbling furiously.  Until suddenly his pen ran out of ink and he could scribble no more.

He seemed extremely disconcerted and frustrated by this, as if some project for which his scribbled notes furnished the needed fuel had been unaccountably thwarted.

And some folks say

there ain’t a God.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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4 Responses to The Return of the Well-Tailored Proto-Nazi

  1. Brian Hennessy says:

    Great post, Abigail! My favorite non-advice yet 👏 Brian

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Johan Herrenberg says:

    Great story. A pity, though, that this vile individual is all but stalking you. There is a God, oh yes, but His adversary is alive and well, too.

    • Abigail says:

      That’s for sure! Thanks much, Johan, for seeing the menace of the situation. Most people won’t admit that there is anything to see here.

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