Is Fidel Castro Jewish ?
Before I started my research into Cuban Communism and more particularly Che Guevara: I had not even the slightest inkling that there was even a suggestion in some quarters that Fidel Castro was of jewish origin. Nor would I have credited such an argument which seemed not only improbable but absurd as Castro had done nothing; as far as I knew, to have warranted such a suggestion.
Now although I am not yet satisfied there is a strong enough case to argue it cogently; as what we have is speculative and hearsay although from those who knew Castro in his youth (ergo of evidential value to make a decent case but not enough to prove it), I thought it prudent to lay before my readership some of the tantalizing reasons we have to suggest that Fidel Castro (and therefore his brother Raul Castro as well) is of jewish origin.
A largely ignored problem; because it is of only minor interest to most biographers, with Fidel Castro's life story is that we know very little about the origins of his father's parents or about his mother in general. This is for two reasons:
A) Castro's mother was a working class woman; Lina Ruz Gonzalez, and as such her family left little to no written records of their existence.
B) Castro has; since he has come to power in Cuba, actively suppressed all our sources of knowledge regarding his parents life and lineage.
Now the traditional explanation of this oddity is the fact that Castro was born a bastard and as such is particularly sensitive about his ancestry because it is the symbol of his rejection from Cuban society and as such he has suppressed knowledge of it to protect his injured pride. (1) Now there are three things that are lacking in this explanation.
Firstly Fidel's father; Angel Castro, did in fact marry his mother; Lina, but after Castro was born and as such although a born a bastard Castro is no longer one. Although one might suggest that the bastardy still remains a stigma: Fidel would be little different to the many children who are born to Catholic mothers before they are married and who then subsequently marry. There is no evidence; as far as I am aware, that there is a mass suppression of origins among bastards and indeed in Cuba the culture of Machismo undoubtedly caused many a bastard child to be born. (2)
Secondly Fidel is a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist to whom the bourgeoisie conventions such as bastardy are supposed to mean nothing as they are derived from 'bourgeoisie religious teaching' which acts as Marx's famous 'opium of the masses'. We know Marxists in organised parties and groups; such as Fidel's, of this time tended to perform periodic self-criticism of their actions so that they could alter future actions to be more revolutionary and radical in keeping with the tactics of the organised revolutionary cadre that was enunciated by Lenin in the work that made his name: 'What is to be done?'
We know that Fidel performed such self-criticism while he was in the Sierra Maestra; as Che Guevara notes as much, (3) and as his habits haven't altered much since then there is little reason to suspect that he does not still perform this revolutionary self-criticism as derived from Lenin's thought. (4) As such therefore it seems very improbable that Fidel would have kept to such a bourgeoisie convention especially as he has long been an atheist and an active opponent of any form of Christianity that does not serve the Cuban state.
Thirdly the explanation of ongoing injured pride due to his social status as a bastard is not presented with evidence: it is simply used as a convenient reason to ignore a thorny issue. This is not to suggest a conspiracy to suppress the ancestry of Castro on the part of historians and biographers, but rather that they have viewed it; as a minor detail, to be far too much trouble than it is worth to look into. As it is quite plausible to suggest that Castro would close the Cuban archives to any author who does not comply with his wishes to keep his origins shrouded in a cloak of mystery and speculation. (5)
In spite of this we do know some basic details as to Castro's father's origins and his mother's as well. Angel Castro; Fidel's father, was a former soldier; from the village of Ancara near the town of Ludo in Galicia in northern-western Spain, who settled in Cuba after fighting for the Spanish Empire against Cuban independence. (6)
After the war Angel stayed on in Cuba eventually becoming a landowner and local celebrity due to his innovation of hiring large numbers of Afro-Cuban workers (more than he needed) to cut his sugar cane and then; once they had become proficient in it, offering them to his neighbours; particularly the Cuban-American Sugar Company and the United Fruit Company, for a fee. (7) Thus Angel grew rich as well as; due to his Spanish origins, an established element of Cuban high society and while he was married to his first wife; Maria Argota, for whom he seems to have had little real affection and then started to have an affair with Fidel's mother Lina who was a servant girl at the time. (8)
Lina Ruz Gonzalez is where; as above stated, the trail goes cold: she is usually described as 'Cuban' which is meant to suggest that she was a native of Cuba, (9) but this is a misleading description precisely because she was; to be a sure a naturalized Cuban, but at the same time she was of Spanish origin and of whose family appear to have never married with the local Cubans. (10)
Unfortunately we know precious little about Fidel's paternal grandparents; as there appears to be few written records of them, but we know next to nothing about Lina other than that she was a working class Cuban woman of; as far as we know, pure Spanish origin. We may reasonably presume that she was Catholic, but that is about as far as we can go without looking to Fidel's own words on his ancestry.
That Lina may well have been of jewish origin is suggested by some comments that Fidel made in 1941 at the elite Jesuit school of Dolores that he attended. As Symmes puts it:
'He was never an ideological fascist, Cubenas said, and was definitely not an anti-Semite. Fidel had explained at the time that he could not be 'with' the fascists because they were against the Jews, and he could not be against the Jews for the simple reason that he was one. He volunteered that he was descended, through his grandmother, from Jews. Fidel was Catholic, not Jewish, and Cuban, not European, but he told anyone who would listen that the Jews were his own people.' (11)
Now biographers have been quick to write off this as Fidel in high spirits, (12) but I am not so sure given that there are two points which suggest to me that Fidel might actually be telling the truth about his origins in light of how little we actually know about Lina Ruz Gonzalez in particular.
Firstly at the time Fidel made his claim about being jewish: it was the worst possible time to do so as he existed in an environment that was itself very hostile to jews and their influence. His Jesuit teachers were supportive of the Axis (13) and in all likelihood were also opposed to jewish influence as well given that this was common in the Roman Catholic Church at this time.
As such it is possible to try and cast this as youthful identification with the jews as a 'persecuted minority', but this is problematic because in doing so we have to ignore the fact that Castro rather admired the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the government of Juan Peron at this time. (14) Further to this we know that Castro wasn't a socialist or inclined towards it at this time: he certainly did not read Marx or become a Marxist till the late 1940s. (15)
As such to cast it as youthful identification with the 'underdog' is to portray Fidel's motivations only in the light of his later conversion to Marxism and (the usual) attempts to proletarianise his youth. Thus we cannot agree with those who argue that such an identification was a passing fancy or a fit of youthful pique, because it relies on a priori reasoning.
Indeed in a hostile environment there is little reason for Fidel to specifically declare himself a jew as an act of defiance: he may as well have declared himself an atheist, a homosexual, a devil-worshiper and so forth if he wished to do that. As he did none of these then it is impossible to suggest that Fidel was 'acting up' and that therefore we have to take his comments far more seriously than most of Fidel's biographers would like to.
To me the comments on Fidel's part seem more like the reaction of a teenager to his having studied the writings of those opposed to jews with an admiring eye only to then find out; probably from his mother, that she was herself jewish through his grandmother which would therefore make Fidel jewish as well. To which Fidel reacts by then taking this heritage on board wholesale and openly proclaiming to the world that he was jewish: only to settle down again and begin the intellectual drift towards a political ideology; which he found in Peronism and then Marxism, that would allow him to be both of jewish ancestry and nationalistic. (16)
Secondly Fidel's mention of his being jewish through his grandmother is quite significant and it is reasonable to suggest that the significance of this statement has been missed by Fidel's biographers precisely because they know little of Judaism or jewish culture. Very simply put: Judaism and jewish culture assign jewishness matrilineally and as such for Castro to mention that it is through his grandmother (and therefore presumably his mother Lina) that he is jewish suggests a knowledge of jews that is unusual considering the fact that it is not the kind of thing you would expect a young teenager to know unless someone had explained it to him.
Therefore we have Castro using a piece of logic that few people his age should know let alone be able to comprehend the significance of: it is possible that Castro picked this piece of knowledge up on his own but again this seems unlikely as to do so he would have had to read specialised work on the subject to confirm that was actually how jewishness was assigned as opposed to the more common patrilineal system (which fitted more with Cuban; and Fidel's own, Machismo).
One of the better attempts to explain this claim of jewishness has been made by Szulic who claims that Castro was called a 'jew' by his classmates because he was a bastard and that was Cuban slang for being an unbaptised bastard. (17) However this is unlikely firstly because I can find no evidence or reference to such usage and secondly the Real Academia Española gives the Cuban slang usage of the term 'bastard' as the Spanish one: Cabrón. (18)
Thus I can see no reason for the claim that Szulic makes nor any evidential underpinning for it. It seems to just be an invented argument on Castro's part in response to Szulic's question about Castro's statement of his jewishness: I ascribe it to this as I can think of no other logical reason that Szulic would have come out with it given that he does not give a reference to where the assertion comes from.
Therefore we have to take Castro's claim from 1941 that he is a jew quite seriously as he has no reason to make it other than the fact that he; or believed himself to be, jewish at the time that he made it. As such we have to conclude that there is a good case; albeit a speculative one, that Fidel Castro is in fact of jewish origin and would halakhically be considered jewish.
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