Anti-Semitism: Its Role in Germany

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Anti-Semitism is from two Greek words: anti, meaning against and semite meaning the descendent of Shem (Moe 3). Shem is popularly regarded as the oldest son of Noah and scholars believe that it is from him that European people descended. However, Semitic people, mainly Jews, were regarded as parasites who seek to dominate the world and take control over humanity (Walberg 1). This popular notion of Jews having an “alien and bad presence” came from the fact Jews, having no land to called their own, are scattered across the globe. Dispersed internationally; Jews are known as efficient businessmen, taking control of the market, banks and to some point the activity of media. The degree of the Jews’ success has sparked jealousy from native people and this has led to one controversy after one another. Scholars often describe sentiments against the Jews or Anti-Semitism as an essential tradition in Europe. Mostly depicted in the Era of the Roman Empire wherein Caesars are pursuing Jews and killing one after another. Probably the most famous would be Titus taking over Jerusalem which resulted in one million Jews perishing (Urbann 3).

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Anti-Semitism exploded in the 20th century wherein the acts of German angst against the Semites which eventually led millions of Jews to death and the so called “Holocaust” highlighted World War II in Europe. Surprisingly, it was a German agitator in the name of Wilhelm Marr that coined the term “Anti-Semitism” and used it to explain the following incidences all over Europe that show the Anti-Jewish campaign launched by numerous organizations and countries (Neumann 8). Half a century after the term “Anti-Semitism” was used, Germany has launched World War II and started to target and prosecute millions of Jews under the leadership of Adolph Hitler. From here on, Germany has been closely associated with Anti-Semitism and the latter has played an important role in the lives of the German people from before until today.

History – The Beginning of Anti-Semitism in Germany

In order to explain the importance of Anti-Semitism in the lives of the German people, it is essential to analyze its roots and beginnings in Germany. Earlier, it was said that Wilhelm Marr coined and first used the term Anti-Semitism in 1879 (Urbann 5 ). Unlike in any other European country, Jews living in Germany have attained the most successful assimilation that paved way for them to rise in the ladder of the business world and achieve significant recognition in the professions they are in. Importantly, the authoritarian regime in Germany paved for an undemocratic culture. This undemocratic culture helped the Jews in this period wherein the German authoritarian government did not revoke the Jewish emancipation. There were not any rules in which the Jewish emancipation of that time could be revoked. However, it does not imply that there are no harsh reactions to the growing influence of the Jews while the native German people were below them in terms of achievement and role in the society. According to Urbann (4), an increasingly vicious Anti-Semitic group was being born out of this situation. However, things would remain the same for years until one certain individual rose into power and made the issue of Jews part of his major plan during his regime. Adolph Hitler was the one who garnered the Anti-Semitic group and launched major plans to wipe them out. It was in his time that the infamous “Holocaust” has occurred and millions of Jews perished in the hands of the Nazi Army.

The rise of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party in German politics was the starting point of change with how the Jews were treated in Germany. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi has launched innumerable propaganda consisting of religious hatred, racial doctrines and the identification of Jewish people as greedy capitalists and members of communism that could bring harm to Germany (Rose 9). Coinciding with the psychological campaign brought by the harsh propaganda, was the Nazis’ move to gather and place all Jews living in Germany in encirclement camp and concentration camp that was built all around the country. This move has been possible and easy so far due to the special legislation passed in 1933 which officially excluded all Jewish citizens from the protection of German law. Concentration camps hold numerous Jewish prisoners and they are being persecuted systematically based on the theory and practice of eugenics. Eugenics refers to a study that became popular during the early 20th century that aimed to achieve social and biological evolution through selective human breeding (Rosenfeld, 10). Following this initial movement was a series of local and sporadic massacres that were carried out nationally under the name of the national Socialist party or Nazi on 1938.

The climax of the Anti-Semitic movements by the Nazis was shown during the course of invasion of Europe by Germany during World War II. The outbreak of World War II paved way for a dramatic increase in Anti-Semitic activities. After occupying several countries, the Nazi government established a puppet government and induced them to establish Anti-Semitic programs (U.S. Department of State, 10). These programs carry on one mission which was inspired by Hitler’s final solution to end the Jewish problem: a total annihilation of the Jewish race. This has sparked the merciless slaughter of the Jewish community which was known as the Holocaust. Roughly two thirds of the Jewish population in Europe (around 6 million) died due to massive starvation, gas poisoning, raw massacre and other forms of systematic execution that imprinted World War II grotesque (Urbann 3).

After the War, the results of the Anti-Semitic activities were used as the framework for the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 1948 United Nations General Assembly. After the partition of Germany, being West and East Germany, West Germany made some proper and legal payment towards the crimes and damages inflicted upon the Jewish people during the course of World War II (Grim 5). War trials were launched to prosecute war criminals mainly Nazi officials involved in concentration camps and in the massive killings that were brought upon the Jewish community. However, it was only West Germany that made such drastic actions since East Germany considered itself as the official heir of the Reich (Urbann 5). Anti-Semitism continues to live on even after the collapse of the Nazi government and the death of Adolph Hitler.

Anti-Semitism after World War II in Germany

Violence and of hostility towards the Jewish community emphasized that the spirit of Anti-Semitism continues to live on in post-war Germany. The carriers of the Anti-Semitics movements were the so-called Neo-Nazis. The new phase of Anti-Semitism which was often characterized by urban incidences such as vandalism, setting fire to synagogues and the desecration of Jewish graves occured from the 1960s up to late 1990s (Grim 4). The partition of Germany into West and East was also influential in shaping the Anti-Semitism movements after the collapse of Hitler and the Nazis. In East Germany, there are no traces of Anti-Semitics movement, however, the term “Anti-Zionism” grew and took center stage that used to belong to Anti-Semitic activities and propagandas. The fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of Communism and the integration of West and East Germany has brought mixed ideas regarding Anti-Semitism (Neumann 13).

In what is to be a new phase of “Anti-Semitism”, the term “Anti-Zionism” was a clear disguise. A clear disguise to hide the truth about the real view and expressions the Germans had towards Anti-Semitism. What drove the Germans into this is the negative image that was brought by the Holocaust, the incident that claimed millions of Jewish lives during World War II. The Germans, despite being associated closely with the genocide of Jewish lives, tended to move away from the issue of Holocaust. Using the term “Anti-Zionism”, Germans could continue their Anti-Semites movement without being associated with the Holocaust incident, which is regarded as one of the most gruesome war crimes ever committed (Rosenfeld 6). Using the term Anti-Zionism, hard core supporter of Anti-Semitism could freely address Israel, being the country of Jews, as the most evil country and implementing the idea that this race should vanish immediately. This situation only proves that Germans wanted to get rid and took responsibility for what has happened in the past. However, being Anti-Semitics is a tradition that could not be washed away instantly (Rosenfeld 15). The unification of Germany proved that the country has a new phase of thinking regarding Anti-Semitism. They are split. The other half holds a deep resentment towards the other and the other holds a different view that sparked controversies.

The Importance of the Holocaust in Anti-Semitism and Germany

The Holocaust, as mentioned earlier, is probably one of the worst crimes committed during a war. Being responsible and having a sense of guilt, Germans have tried to use the Holocaust as a significant tool in organizing themselves after World War II. Germans have developed their education system, giving a thorough emphasis on the importance of Holocaust in order to avert future disasters or events that could be in comparison with the latter (Urbann 5). Furthermore, the development of the educational system and the importance that it gives to the holocaust has paved way for new realizations such as the opposition of the ideas of racism, genocide, mass murdering, ethnic hatred, Anti-Semitism and ethnic cleansing. In doing so, the children were able to grasp two lessons at a time. One would be rediscovering the factors behind the Holocaust incident and two, the importance of establishing and determining harmonious social relationships with other ethnic races especially the Jews in order to avert future struggles and conflicts that could result into greater danger (Urbann 6).

However, scholars and writers have claimed that Holocaust education in Germany used cliché’s and stereotypes, preventing the students from seeing the real picture of the Holocaust and at the same time creating a different kind of image that in general, is in favor of the Germans (Heilbromer 8). For most part, education on the Holocaust has depicted that the incident itself was wrong; however, the system also portrays that the Germans themselves are also victims. This idea sprung from the experiences of Germans, prior to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, with the Jewish having control over major businesses and industries, while Germans are left to do hard labor for the Jewish. Going back, this situation paved way to the rise of national resentment that the Germans had towards the Jews and the events that followed it are known to all. Now,  the system of education is being used to re-write history by making it appear that the Germans are also victims of inequality in their own country and their actions are the manifestations of their resentments towards the maltreatment that they received. Though not new in itself, the trend of portraying the Germans is quickly gaining wide acceptance and slowly changing historical consciousness (Urbann 5).

Setting aside the theme of “rewriting history”, the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism brought multiple implications in the field of education, not only in Germany but also in other parts of the world. Just as it was mentioned, the Holocaust has ushered the idea of ethnic cleansing, racism genocide and the like into a new stage. In doing so, the emphasis on these things were doubled and the importance to avoid them was further strengthened especially after World War II when the issues of racial discrimination burgeoned in various parts of the world (Urbann 5).

Anti-Semitism towards Anti-Zionism

In the loss of Germany to the Allied Powers, the country was divided into two, the East and the West. The partition has given West and East Germany ample room to grow under different leaders and governments. Probably the most significant evidence of the differences between the two regarding the issue of Anti-Semitism would be the rise of Anti-Zionism (Urbann 6). It has been reported that there were few activities concerning Anti-Semitism and the Germans living in the east side display a congenial attitude towards the Jews. However, this was a slight mistake, since the movement called as Anti-Zionism was on the rise. Anti-Zionism simply avoided the term Semites or Semitism that is usually associated with the Holocaust. However, the content is still essentially the same. Instead of referring to Jews, Anti-Zionism now refers to the Israelis, a slight change in the name but the people that are being addressed are still the same. It also highlighted the “new” home of the Jews which is Israel. For most part, the changes that occured focused on the term or the name of the movement but the content referred to is one and the same (Rose 17). This kind of change highlighted the urgency of the German people to refrain from being identified as the perpetrators of World War II and instigators of the Holocaust that claimed millions of Jewish lives.

Another thing that is worth mentioning would be the close ties that Anti-Zionism has with the Islamic community and Arab countries around the world. The issue of territorial acquisition for the sake of providing the Jewish people with a place to call home, sparked countless and heated arguments between the Israelites and Palestinian people as well as with other Muslim people across the globe. Getting back on Germany, the issue of Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism is important due to the continuation of the Semitic movements for the German people (Heilbromer 5). Despite shying away from the Holocaust, the German people still holds their resentment towards the Jews. The fact that they adopted or took advantage of the rising Anti-Zionism movement and propaganda proves that Anti-Semitism is an important part of German culture and of its people’s lives. Furthermore, adopting Anti-Zionism is the only way that Germans could spread their belief and bring it internationally without reliving the damage that was brought by World War II and the Holocaust Incident. Additionally, Anti-Zionism is not only supported by Germans but also by people in other parts of the globe, such as Muslim communities which are considered as the number one supporters of the Anti-Zionism movement.


Anti-Semitism is a part of the German people’s life. As it was seen in the beginning, Anti-Semitism became the main theme of the Nazi ruled German government as well as of Hitler to launch a Second World War. Its primary purpose was to rally for people’s support before and during the course of the War and in doing so breeding resentment towards the Jews. Effectively, the Germans fought, knowing that they are going to battle a race that is surely an enemy of their kin. Unlike any typical war wherein various reasons exist in order to justify the course of actions, Germany before entering and during the onset of World War II has effectively set one goal in mind and that is to drive the Jewish population into annihilation.

After the War, despite having realized their mistakes, the Germans still hold the resentment they have towards the Jews. However, realizing how destructive it was to launch a full scale war and the implications it brings, the German people opted to choose a simpler and effective way of continuing the Anti-Semitism spirit inside of them and that is where Anti-Zionism entered. Furthermore, this course of action proves to be much more efficient since it is on the diplomatic level and things are now easy to refrain. Anti-Semitism will continue to live in one generation after another, unless someone in authority does something deliberate and effectual to arrest it.

Grim, William. “The Return of Anti-Semitism to Germany: It Never Really Left”. 16, August 2002 <>

Heilbromer, Oded. “German or Nazi Antisemitism”.

<> 13, November 2003

Moe, Laureen. “Anti-Semitism, What is it?” March 1983 <>

Neumann, Michael. “What Is Anti-Semitism?” in The Politics of

Anti-Semitism. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2003

Rose, Jacqueline.  “The Question of Zion”.Princeton University Press, 2005.

Rosenfeld, Alvin. “Progressive Jewish Though and the New Anti-Semitism”. American Jewish Committee, New York. December 2006.

Urbann, Susanne. “Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies”. Jewish Political Studies Review 16:3-4 (Fall 2004)

U.S. Department of State. Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism Report: Released by the Office of the Special Envoy Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. March 2008

Walberg, Eric. ”What is Anti-Semitism”. 31. December 2003.


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