Why Did Anti-Semitism Develop Between 1900 and 1941? Essay
Anti-Semitism has been around since Jesus’ time. When Christianity was formed, most Jews refused to become Christians. The early Christians believed, therefore, that when the Jews rejected Jesus, they were, in fact, rejecting God. From this, the early Christians hated the Jews.
One of the reasons they came up with was that they believed that the Jews sacrificed their children to Satan. This was said by St. John Chrysostom (c. 345-407 AD). Another belief was that they thought that a synagogue was a meeting place for the assassins of Christ and that it was a curse. St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-74 AD) said:
“It would be right to keep Jews, because of their crime, in slavery. Princes may take away everything owned by the Jews.”
Jews were also blamed for natural disasters, for poisoning wells and drinking the blood of Christian children. Martin Luther wrote a book called “Of Jews and Their Lies”. He said:
“First, their synagogues should be set on fire. Secondly, their homes should be broken down. Thirdly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach anyone.”
However, none of the sources actually say what the Jews had done to deserve such hatred. And it wasn’t just the odd person; most people in the same country would have felt this way. Here is a list of the important countries in World War 2, and their views on Jewish people, just before the war.
In Britain, Anti-Semitism was not that deeply-rooted compared to other countries; there had not been a large amount of Jews in Britain until the 1870s. Jewish people were believed to work for little money, which forced English workers to have fewer wages. Jews were also made to pay higher rents, as well, which put up the prices on everyone else’s rent. One of the possible underlying reasons of the Aliens Act of 1905 may have been anti-Semitism, which then reduced the Jewish immigration by 40%. However, there is really no evidence that there was any specifically anti-Semitic hatred in Britain at that time.
On the other hand, though, small fascist groups formed in the early 1920s, some with openly anti-Semitic views, but support was small. After 1933, British people fed a lot of sympathy for the German Jews, but this was not recognised by the government, which still did not allow mass immigration to Britain, it’s colonies, or to Palestine, where they had previously supported the “Jewish Homeland” – this was called the “Balfour Declaration”. By 1939, there were 30,000 Jews living in Britain.
France was much different from Britain, and their situation was a great deal worse. There were 800,000 Jews living in France, compared to the 30,000 that Britain had. As there were a greater number of them, they had a higher profile than most people, which led to more dislike. Up to 1939, 16 Jews were government ministers, but despite 9,600 Jews dying for France in World War 1, prejudice continued. Fascist groups were stronger in France, than Britain, and when the war came, many Frenchmen admired Hitler’s message, and longed to join the Germans, instead of fight against them.
The most famous example of French anti-Semitism, up to 1939, was the “Dreyfus Case” of 1894. Captain Dreyfus, a French army officer, was put on trial accused for selling military secrets to the Germans. In the book “J’Accuse!”, written by Emile Zola, which exposed the unfairness of Dreyfus’ trial and that it was clear that his “jewishness” was on trial and the charges were lies.
Italy was a lot like Britain, in which it did not have a tradition of hatred towards the Jews, and it’s Jewish population was only about 60,000. Although Italy had a Fascist government, Mussolini himself was not anti-Semitic. He didn’t think they were infecting Italian racial purity, so they weren’t treated any different than any other group at that time. Nevertheless, when Italy joined Hitler in 1936, Mussolini began to pass anti-Jewish measures, due to pressure from Hitler. But these weren’t popular, unlike Germany. Several numbers of Italians were prepared to help the Jews, and it was only after 1943, when Hitler put Italy under direct German rule, that Italian Jews began to be sent to death-camps in Poland.
Germany, on the other hand, was a lot different that Britain, France and Italy. For over a thousand years, there had been a Jewish community in Germany, and there were over 500,000 living there in 1933, yet they still faced prejudice and hatred. And this was strengthened by Germany’s defeat in World War 1. Even though 12,000 German Jews died in it, they were a convenient scapegoat to blame. Jews were also associated with the overthrow of the Kaiser, the German surrender, the Communist attempt to seize power in 1919, the economic chaos and the new democracy. Jews in this new democracy where particularly hated, and many were assassinated in the early 1920s, such as Walther Rathenau (1922) and Matthias Erzberger, who had signed the Armistice.
After the 1929 economic collapse, Hitler’s Brownshirts turned German cities into battle grounds in their struggle against the Communists, especially Jews. Once Hitler came to power, all of his party’s hatred could be expressed in anti-Jewish laws, and he had the support of the law on his side. Thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps, and Jews everywhere were harassed. German propaganda emphasised that Jews were a threat to Germany, and laws banned Jews from most proffesions and from marrying an Aryan – “a perfect race”. Around half of the Jews left, most leaving everything behind, and virtually all who stayed were put into ghettoes during the war, and then eventually into death camps.
Before Hitler became ruler of Germany, Russia was the worst anti-Semitic country in Europe. Jews were hated and despised by all classes, from peasants to aristocracy and the government. For centuries, they had been forced to live in ghettos and not allowed to do most jobs, or travel freely. They would sometimes be attacked by the Cossacks – the Tsar’s “Police Force” or “Pogroms”. Pogrom in from the Russian word “Pogromit”, meaning to attack, and they were extremely violent, causing destruction of property and loss of life. Millions of Jews emigrated if they could; over 2 million went to the USA alone.
However, there were many revolutionary groups against the Tsar’s rule. Many Jews were prominent in these groups, but this just gave Jew haters another reason to hate them.
After the Revolution in 1917, many Jews thought life would improve, due to the Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia (which gave equal rights to all minorities). They no longer had to live in ghettos, but they did so in peril, because attitudes of hundreds of years could not be broken down easily. In 1928, the Soviet government set up a Jewish homeland in Birobidjan (near China), but due to the region being marsh and remote, the plan failed. Thousands of Jews wanted to leave for Palestine, but were seen as wishing to abandon the Socialist experiment in favour of capitalist society. Thousands of Jews (like every other group in Russia) suffered from the mass terror of Stalin’s reign in the late 1930’s.
Each country I have discussed has had different views on Jewish people, some more different than others. France, Britain and Italy didn’t have strong hatred of the Jews, although some individuals did. Germany and Russia, on the other hand, did have strong hatred for the Jews, and showed it.
The Christian view has changed in some countries, but not in others. Places like Russia and Germany, where there were a lot of Jews, there was a lot of hatred towards them, but places like Britain and Italy, there weren’t a lot of Jews, so their view would have changed because they don’t know much about them.