Long before the Holocaust, dating back before the twentieth century, anti-Semitism began as an idea that Jews were to blame for Jesus’ crucifixion. Centuries later, the discrimination and hatred of Jews still remains. Author Mary McCarthy stated: “Anti-Semitism is a horrible disease from which nobody is immune, and it has a kind of evil fascination that makes an enlightened person draw near the source of infection”.8 The events that occurred in twentieth century Nazi Germany
were due to anti-Semitism because of its historical context, as well as the German people’s strong belief in it.
By definition, anti-Semitism is discrimination against or persecution of Jews because of their religious beliefs or race.6 Semites initially meant the descendents of Shem, which included both Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and Europe. Although it originally referred to Jews as well as other Semitic peoples, the term is now used to refer to mainly Judaism, or Jewish people as a group.4
Although it is believed that the Christians started anti-Semitism, it was not started by the Christian society. Instead, anti-Semitism was started by the Pagan society. When Pagans traveled to other lands, it was a custom to participate in others’ religious rituals and ceremonies. However, Jews did not allow other peoples to participate in their rituals, and this caused them to be seen as impolite and arrogant. At times, Jews claimed that their God was superior to all other regions, and they did not have the desire to convert other peoples to Judaism. This caused Pagans to become angry and to resent the Jews. Since the Jews rejected the Pagans’ gods and idols they were believed to be atheists, which the Pagans did not particularly like. Many Pagan leaders attempted to eliminate the Jews, but did not do as much “damage” as the Christians would later.4
It is believed that Christians first used anti-Semitism to distinguish Christianity and Judaism in the early centuries, but it ultimately turned into something much more than that. Ever since the early years, Jews were persecuted for many religious reasons. One of those reasons is that they rejected the worship of emperors or other “idols” or gods, which were very important and influential in the Roman and Greek era. Just like the Pagans, ancient Greeks and Romans considered them “alien” and arrogant for refusing to absorb other religions, including the rejection of Christianity when it began to appear and spread.4 To take action, the Roman army destroyed parts of Jerusalem, murdered millions of Jews, burned down their synagogues and homes, destroyed Torahs, as well as captured and enslaved thousands of Jews.6
Eventually, Roman emperors began to forbid the conversion to Judaism, and punished anyone who converted to Judaism. The Jews ultimately had to practice their religion secretly, or be killed for getting caught. Some Jews decided to commit suicide instead of being killed for not being able to legally practice their religion.4 Cannon II of the Quinisext Council stated: “Let no one in the priestly order nor any layman eat the unleavened bread of the Jews, nor have any familiar intercourse with them, nor summon them in illness, nor receive medicines from them, nor bathe with them; but if anyone shall take in hand to do so, if he is a cleric, let him be deposed, but if a layman, let him be cut off.”6
Although anti-Semitism was first referred to as persecution and began as a type of intolerance, it eventually turned into hatred and discrimination against the Jews. Since Judaism was the largest religious minority in Christian Europe, it was the main target for religiously motivated people who only had one purpose in mind: to convert as many as they could to their own religion. Christian churches began to teach its followers that Jews were indeed responsible for Jesus’ death and that they had the right to make Jews’ lives unhappy for them. Some even believed that Jews possessed magical powers.1 Since Christians were not allowed to lend money to other people, Jews took the opportunity to do it instead since their positions and occupations were restricted. As a result of this, they were hated because they were thought to be the lenders of “money for gain”.6 So, Jews were now becoming the scapegoats; the people to blame whenever something went wrong.
The European Crusades that took place in the middle Ages also dealt with anti-Semitism, and had a great effect on the Jews. The Crusades were military movements against Muslim control of Jerusalem and its Holy land and places. During the Crusades, the Crusaders attacked many Jewish communities. They had the choice of either converting to Christianity or dying; most Jews chose to die. Once again, it went back to the Jews being responsible for Jesus’ death. Some Crusaders believed that they should get revenge on the “injurers” or “murderers” of Christ.7
Although they began as a way for Christians to retrieve the “holy land”, the Crusades ultimately became a movement that eventually led to the murder, rape, rob, and misery of the Jews. “Crusades marked the first large-scale mob violence directed against Jews which became the pattern for the next hundreds of years”.7 They also led to the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe that would last for many centuries later.
After the emancipation of the Jews brought about by the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, now instead of being disliked for economic or religious reasons, Jews were now being discriminated for and considered as a race.6 In other words, anti-Semitism replaced the hatred of Judaism with the hatred of Jews as a group. The rise of nationalism played a great role in making this happen.1 Now, Jews were being separated from people and the society and were beginning to be seen as inferior to others. Even though the persecutions of Jews stopped, anti-Semitism continued to exist.
Anti-Semitism later led to pogroms that occurred throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, mainly in Russia and Eastern Europe. Pogroms were race riots aimed specifically at Jews. In Russia, Jews were blamed for the assassination of Alexander III. In 1881, thousands of Jews’ homes were destroyed, women were sexually assaulted, and many men, women, and children were murdered. Later, in the Russian revolutions, numerous Jewish villages were invaded and thousands of Jews were killed.10
In 1892, the German Conservative Party at the Tivoli Congress formally accepted Anti-Semitism, as well as the “practice” of it. Official anti-Semitic legislation was passed in many European countries, including Nazi Germany and Russia. Laws were passed against Jews, even if someone was not Jewish but had a grandparent that was. However, many people disagreed about whether anti-Semitism could become a “law” or even become official.10 Author Daniel Barenboim stated: “Anti-Semitism has no historical, political and certainly no philosophical origins. Anti-Semitism is a disease”.8 Many believed that anti-Semitism really had no purpose, just a mere blame of Jewish people for the hardships and problems in others’ lives.5
Even though anti-Semitism had already been around for many years, it increased in Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Hitler believed that the Jews, who he thought did not put enough into society and life, were threatening “Aryan” control. He stated that the “Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end satanically glaring at and spying on the unconscious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.”9 He began to think of ways in which he could eliminate them from German society, as well as try and get them out of Europe.1
Hitler blamed the Jews for many things, such as prostitution, pornography, poverty, unemployment and the loss of Germany in World War I. He argued that the Jews were taking over Germany, or trying to dominate the world, even though they were only a small percent of the population. He wanted to make life so bad for them so they would leave the country.9
Because of his speaking abilities, Hitler was able to captivate large crowds of people and followers. To take advantage of his speaking skills, Hitler frequently mentioned Jewish people in his speeches trying to convince the German people that they were horrific people.1The document “Nation and Race” from Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, which discussed the role of Aryans and Jewish people in society, was very important because it appealed to many.9Even though people did not take Mein Kampf seriously when Hitler first published it, “Nation and Race” was one of the catapults for Hitler’s popularity in Germany. After captivating a large percentage of people, Hitler would later introduce his “Final Solution” to get rid of the Jews, and would form the Nazi Party to help him accomplish it.1
Anti-Semitism eventually led to the persecution and segregation of Jews. The persecution and segregation of Jews was put into practice in many stages.3 To begin, Jews were not served in restaurants and were banned from public places. Afterward, Jewish doctors, lawyers, stores, or any Jewish public place were boycotted. A few days after, the “Law for Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” was passed, which expelled Jews from government jobs. They were also not allowed to serve in the military and Jewish students were expelled from schools in Germany. Ultimately, they were not allowed to travel internationally.10 Jews were segregated so they would be below “Aryans”, and people wanted them to be seen as the inferior race. Eventually, Anti-Jewish propaganda began to show up in Nazi-German shops and restaurants.10
In the mid 1930’s, the Nuremberg laws were passed which put many restrictions on Jewish people.6 The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor” did not allow Jews to marry an Aryan or any type of non-Jew. The “Reich Citizenship Law” stated that Jews were no longer German citizens, and could not become citizens in the future.10All of these laws were passed so that Jews could no longer have any citizen rights, mainly the right to vote, and to show other people that Jews could be “stripped” of their citizen rights.9 “In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, such as teachers and doctors, effectively preventing them from having any influence in education, politics, and industry. There was now nothing to stop the anti-Jewish actions that spread across the Nazi-German economy”.10
Eventually, with the help of the Nazi Party, anti-Semitism led to the “Night of Broken Glass”, which later led to the Holocaust. On November 9, 1938, violence against Jews “broke out” across Germany. Although it seemed unplanned, the violence occurred because of angry Germans due to the murder of a German official by a Jewish person. The Nazi party carefully planned the ‘pogroms” that were going to occur.11
As part of the pogroms, Germans were persuaded and convinced to ruin and destroy Jewish items; synagogues were burned, Jewish businesses were destroyed, Jewish people were killed, Torah schools were destroyed, Jewish books were destroyed, and Jewish public places were damaged. Some Jews were even shipped off to concentration camps that same day. The next day, many Jewish people were arrested. A number of Jewish people committed suicide because they were afraid.11 These pogroms were eventually called the “Night of Broken Glass”. This event was the beginning of the hatred that would lead to the “extermination” of millions of Jewish people.7
One day after the “Night of Broken Glass”, the horrific event called the Holocaust began. This was a turning point; now instead of just arresting, deporting, and suppressing Jews, people were now murdering them.11 Many Jews tried to escape, but other countries had strict immigration rules and did not want to accept many of them in. Many Jews were taken to ghettos or concentration camps (labor camps), while others tried to go into hiding. The only thing that Jews had left to do was wait to see what the Nazis would do with them.
During the Holocaust, Hitler came up with an answer to his “Final Solution”: to have mass murders of Jews, to starve them, and to gas them in gas chambers.1 Basically, to make their lives miserable and think of as many ways to kill them or get rid of them. Jews’ belongings were stolen, and the ones that were not useful were burned. No matter the age or gender, Jews were being “exterminated”.1
To some Jews, getting away from the Nazis was impossible.2 Nazis would go through cities “raiding” and looking for Jews to take to the concentration camps. They would then take them in very tightly packed transportation where many died before they ever got to the concentration camps. Many knew what was happening so they tried to escape by going into hiding. Sadly, many were caught and were sent of to the camps.7
Once at the camps, Jews were put through many harsh conditions. They had to sleep in small beds that were very close together and were made out of wood, were fed very little, and had to work many long and hard hours of labor each day. If they could not keep up with the work or the conditions, many Jews were killed or died of fatigue. In total, millions of Jews died and few survived. Why did all of this happen? Hitler was using anti-Semitism to convince the German people that Jews were inferior to them, and that it was okay for them to punish them and treat them like practically nothing.5
After peace was declared after World War II, the Jews were released from the concentration camps.11 Many did not have surviving family members and friends, and many were left alone without anybody to turn to. Having no life in Germany, many Jews decided to leave and find life elsewhere.7 This caused a great migration of Jews from Germany. After and before the Holocaust, many Jews wished to leave Germany, but many were not able to during it. From the years 1933 to 1939, approximately half of the Jewish population left Germany. During the Holocaust, about 150,000 refugees came to America, following the survivors a few years later. Relatives living in America, as well as agencies helped them come and begin a better life.3
Many believed that Anti-Semitism did have a lot to do with the events that occurred in Germany in the twentieth century. Many did consider the Jews to be the scapegoats of everything, and whenever something went wrong, they were blamed. Since the times in Germany were very hard during the twentieth century, people probably did not have anything else to turn to.1
After the Holocaust, many people that were involved in it were put on trial in the Nuremberg trials. Many claimed that they had no other choice but to participate in the murders of Jews.10 However, Germans were not punished for not killing Jews; some could even avoid it. So, this leads to the conclusion that Germans were not forced to participate in the Holocaust, but instead did it willingly because of their hatred of Jews. Author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen stated: “German’s cruelty towards Jews was voluntary, widespread, sustained, inventive, and gleeful. Such gratuitous cruelty could have been produced only by the people who approved of what they were doing”.5
Many argue that the events that happened in Nazi Germany occurred because the people who brought them about already had beliefs of what they were doing.5These beliefs had to do with historical context, dating back to the beginnings of anti-Semitism. The Germans did not have to follow Hitler but could have opposed his views and ideas, yet they chose to follow.5
Anti-Semitism did indeed lead to many of the Jewish-related events that occurred in twentieth century Nazi Germany. Hitler and the Nazi party used it in their power, causing Jews to become segregated, eventually leading to their migrations out of the country. Although it still exists today, anti-Semitism has not had the same results now as it did in the twentieth century.