Before the Holocaust in 1938, Julius Streicher published Der Giftpilz — an anti-Semitic children's book that tells children how they could recognize a Jew.

"One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose," Streicher wrote. "The Jewish nose is bent at its point. It looks like the number six."

A Calgary woman's essay this week exploring that historical legacy and the personal relationship between Jewish women and their noses appeared this week in Swerve, a weekly arts and entertainment magazine published by the Calgary Herald.

In the process, Naomi Lewis has touched off a firestorm of controversy.

  • Listen to Naomi Lewis's interview on the Calgary Eyeopener and her reaction to the backlash her essay sparked by clicking on the audio player below.

In A Bridge Too Far: The story of my big Jewish nose, 38-year-old Lewis writes about her experience getting a nose job at age 14. She also shares the experiences and complicated relationships between others in her life and their noses. 

She interviewed her mother, aunt, father and two cosmetic surgeons in the hope of presenting different perspectives on why some Jewish women feel compelled to get nose jobs.

"It's something that I've thought about quite a bit since it happened and I regretted it," Lewis told CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener.

"The more that I thought about it, the more it seemed related to a sort of internalized racism, a kind of after-effect of intergenerational trauma. I have a lot of Holocaust survivors in my family and I think that the cultural phenomena whereby Jewish women have more nose jobs than anyone else, historically, I think is related to that kind of persecution and a kind of internalized self-loathing."

In response to the essay, Calgary Rabbi Shaul Osadchey wrote an op-ed piece blasting it as a "defamatory, borderline anti-Semitic, and anti-multiculturalism article."

Osadchey said the article perpetuates offensive stereotypes that "lead to prejudice and discrimination on an individual level, which in term ultimately leads towards the gas chamber and the path of genocide."

Not meant to further stereotypes, author says

Lewis says she never anticipated the essay would draw such reaction.

She says the point of her essay was to explore the factors that had driven her and other Jewish women to get nose jobs.

"[The] Jewish nose has a history, and that was my point," she said. "According to eugenics theories, the Jewish nose was literally supposedly misshapen and enormous and somehow linked to personality traits of avarice and cunning. That was my point — certainly not to propagate those stereotypes but to point them out."

Lewis says she understands there may be particular sensitivity in the Jewish community at the moment in light of anti-Semitic incidents taking place around the world. 

"I was hoping to approach the story without saying what I just said but rather letting the reader come to their own conclusions by presenting different takes on why this phenomena occurs and particularly why this occurred in my own life," Lewis said. 

"I am disappointed that [Osadchey] didn't try harder to understand what I was saying and that he attacked me so viciously and so publicly."