Beer hid from her enemies in plain sight as a good Brandenberg hausfrau married to an autocratic, white-glove-test husband who required her to cultivate a bland and dutiful demeanor. Soon pregnant, Beer recalled, “In a matter of little more than a year, I had gone from being the most despised creature in the Third Reich to being one of its most valued citizens, a breeding Aryan housewife.” Vetter was sent to the front lines where he was captured by the Soviets and imprisoned in Siberia. In his absence, Beer delivered daughter Angela in 1944—without anesthesia, for fear of what truths she might reveal in a drug-induced state. Angela is the only Jew known to have been born in a Reich hospital.
When the war ended, one of Beer’s first acts was to reclaim her name, retrieving the Jewish identity card she’d hidden at great hazard in the pages of a book. She found work as a family law judge in eastern Germany and, when Vetter returned in 1947—weakened, restless and unemployed—their marriage quickly dissolved. Grete, his hausfrau, was now Judge Beer, and he deplored his daughter’s “Jewish blood.” He left them and returned to his first wife.
Anti-Jewish sentiments—which existed long before the Third Reich was a gleam in Hitler’s eye—were present in the religious stew of first-century Rome, which also produced its own curious crossover relationships. Probably the most famous is that between Poppaea Sabina and Nero. Officially, Poppaea was not Jewish. When she left her first husband to marry the emperor in 62 C.E. at age 32, she was a member of the Judaistic cult known as “God-fearers”—a movement whose followers recognized and worshipped the Jewish God and were permitted to mingle with synagogue worshippers but were not generally expected to become full Jews.
Though Poppaea never converted, that didn’t stop her from acting on behalf of her “fellow” Hebrews. Josephus, the Jewish historian, urged her to intervene with Nero on behalf of a group of Jewish priests imprisoned in Jerusalem, and she did. She could do little, however, to protect the Jews from her husband after he was blamed for Rome’s disastrous Great Fire of 64 C.E. and cast about for scapegoats. While charges that he “fiddled” while the city burned were false, Nero was responsible for the punitive “blazes” that followed. As the historian Tacitus wrote of the emperor’s Jewish-Christian victims, “Dressed in wild animal’s skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight.”
A pregnant Poppaea herself died a year later, either from a miscarriage or an angry kick from her husband, according to competing legends. Nero gave her a state funeral, then went on persecuting Jews.
The modern era has seen its share of Jew-haters—be they commanding armies or wielding pens—who have loved Jews. Among the many cultural icons are Henry Miller and his June, née Smerdt; Fritz Kreisler and his Harriet; Alma Mahler and her two or three Jewish husbands; and Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt. While the intensity of their bigotry is destined to be debated, few contest the anti-Semitism of a lesser literary light of the 20th century, horror writer Howard Phillips (“H.P.”) Lovecraft.
A neurasthenic Yankee blue-blood, Lovecraft lived until age 30 with his remote mother and austere aunts in a small Rhode Island town. When he met Sonia Greene at a 1922 writer’s conference, he had never kissed a woman. A Ukrainian Jew seven years his senior, Greene was a divorced single mother of charm, intelligence and independent means, blessed with what her friends called “Junoesque good looks.” A hatmaker, she was a Donna Karan of her day—a Jewish girl making good in the rag trade. For fun, she dabbled in writing, a hobby which led to her encounter with Lovecraft.