What's with Glenn Beck's fascination with Nazis?

Fox News' Glenn Beck says liberal philanthropist George Soros was complicit in "sending Jews to the death camps" – even though Soros escaped the Holocaust as a young Jewish teenager.

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Book jacket for Glenn Beck's 2009 book "Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government."

The fight between Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros has escalated to the rhetorically nuclear stage.

How much worse can it get when one links the other to anti-Semitism and Nazism? And how much weirder can it get when the target of that charge escaped the Holocaust as a young Jewish teenager?

That, in essence, is what Beck is now saying about Soros, the controversial financier who’s long been the target of Beck’s ire. “Here’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to the death camps,” Beck said this week.

The story is a lot more complicated than that.

Soros was 13 when Nazi Germany invaded his native Hungary. In order to escape detection as a Jew, his family had him live with a Hungarian government official as the official’s Christian “godson.”

The basis of Beck’s charge is that young Soros had to accompany the official when the man was ordered to inventory Jewish property for confiscation – an episode likely to have remained obscure but for the fact that Soros himself mentioned it in interviews.

While he’s a supporter of Israel, Soros today is no Zionist. He’s been criticized for his support of “J Street,” the liberal Jewish lobbying group that (among other things) sees Jewish settlements in the occupied territories as an obstacle to peace in the region.

But even major Jewish figures and organizations say Beck has gone way over the line in his comments about Soros.

“For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say – inaccurately – that there's a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that's horrific,” said Abraham Foxman, director of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and a Holocaust survivor.

“While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros' views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable," said Foxman in a statement. "To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”

Commentary magazine, the neoconservative publication founded in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee, has long been critical of Soros. But on the publication’s website, executive editor Jonathan Tobin writes:

“Beck is in no position to pontificate about the conduct of Holocaust survivors and should refrain from even commenting about this subject…. Such topics really must be off-limits, even in the take-no-prisoners world of contemporary punditry.”

Tobin continues: “There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo. Instead of providing sharp insight into a shady character, all Beck has done is further muddy the waters and undermine his own credibility as a commentator.”

Like Soros, Beck is a complicated public figure. On-air, he can weep emotionally while at the same time (according to his critics) rhetorically targeting his opponents in ways that may inspire violence in unstable listeners.

As recently as last month, he was described by ADL’s Foxman as “a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.”

Yet Fox News officials in the past have had to explain and defend Beck’s comments invoking Nazis and the Holocaust – which he frequently does in blasting his ideological opponents. In July, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank tallied up Beck’s references: “202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels” – most of them directed at President Obama.

Nazism is a fact of history with an imagery that Beck seems to hold in deep fascination – a subject that no doubt will be pored over by grad students specializing in politics and the media, not to mention psychoanalysts.

The cover of his 2009 book "Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government" features Beck in a military uniform that looks suspiciously German.

Maybe he was just being ironic.

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