Antisemitism Through the Eras and Today

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Anti-Semitism is not only when people discriminate against and are hostile towards Jews, but also when Jews are racially attacked or falsely blamed for being secretly conspirators. It is also a culmination of Holocaust denial, justification, scapegoating, among many other things. After World War I, Jews were targeted to be the cause of Germany’s defeat and poor economic situation. From ‘Modern Racial Antisemitism’ to the ‘First World War to the Trial of Adolf Eichmann,’ one can observe the changed forms of antisemitism; while antisemitism was a form of racial hatred for Jews during the late 19th century, the image of conspiring Jews destroying the world led to their utter destruction during the Holocaust in the 20th century.

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Karl Marx’s book, On the Jewish Question, demonstrates how he critiques the Jewish Emancipation Movement and criticizes the studies of Bruno Bauer, a German philosopher. Bauer argues that Jews would be able to achieve political emancipation by giving up their religion as a secular state is required. According to the lecture notes, Bauer’s central argument was that the desire to preserve identity as a Jew is incompatible with the modern spirit and thus with the requirements of genuine emancipation. Marx argues that a “secular state” does not mean that the state has no religion, but that it has one. He believes that Bauer is unable to differentiate between political emancipation and human emancipation, as only human emancipation would require Jews to renounce their religion. He points out that Jews cannot possess human rights if they are in a state of constant perpetual segregation from others. Furthermore, Marx connects the religion Judaism with haggling and as a result, affirms his communist ideologies and hate for capitalism. This leads to his antisemitic feeling towards Jews within communism as he believes that if Jews left their money behind, it would resolve their issues. In the second half of the 19th century, race became a barrier that separated people. As one moved closer to the arctic circle, the race became purer and purer. Even if a Jew converted to another religion, their inherent race would always remain. This demonstrates how antisemitism was racially targeted towards Jews, and that racial hierarchies played a big role in how people were treated.

Around 1878, Adolf Stoecker, a German antisemite and Protestant theologian, found the Christain Social Party. In the text Our Demands on Modern Jewry, Stoecker harshly attacks Jews on racial terms and blames them for dominating the press and attacking Christianity. His text marked the start of the political antisemitic movement in Germany. Germans started to use Jews as scapegoats as they felt threatened by the large majority of the Jewish population. He mentions how “domination of the Semitic spirit over us signifies not only our spiritual but also our economic impoverishment.” He blames the Jewish majority to signify the religious minority of Christians in Germany as well as the poor economic situation. To Stoecker, an overpopulation of Jews would constitute “a real danger” for all Germans. He victimizes Jews into being evil conspirators plotting against Germans and puts forth his antisemitic racial attacks in this excerpt. In 1879, Wilhelm Marr wrote about how Germans and Jews were in a long, racial conflict in The Victory of Jewry over Germandum, and that Jews were winning due to their domination. Due to the Jewish emancipation, he states how the Jews began to control German industry, finance, and press, among many other sectors. He exaggerates the extent to which Jews are in control of Germans by stating, “I am resigned to enter into Jewish slavery, not to surrender or ask for quarter but only to die as peacefully as possible.” Marr already believes that Jews were at a big advantage considering they were supposedly already in control of Germans. He asserts that Jews have no mercy for the Germans and is submitting to the possibility that he could be a slave of a Jew in the future. Victimization of Germans began during this time and peaked post World War I as they blamed Jews for their downfall. Marr further states that the struggle between Jews and Germans would only be resolved if one defeats the other; in this case, if Jews defeated the Germans, it would be the end of the German people.

Another example of strong antisemitism was the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew in the French army who was falsely convicted of leaking military secrets to the Germans. He was targeted due to his Jewish background even though he was completely innocent and did not sell any secrets to the Germans. This demonstrates how people went so far as to convict Jews for illegality due to their strong hatred towards them. The open letter J’accuse by Zola was directed towards the President of France and it supported Dreyfus so that the case would be reopened. He talks about the lack of evidence in the ruling of Dreyfus and points out that this action was antisemitic. Soon, Dreyfus was identified as an innocent man. This proves that antisemitism spread through many parts of Europe, such as France. According to the lecture notes, Jews were known to be discriminated against due to their lack of conformity in society, their manipulative nature and power to conspire, their astonishing misdeeds, and their obsession with their own religion. They were known to be money launderers, murderers of God, selling military secrets to enemies, and performing the ritual slaughter of children. More false accusations against Jews were written in the Protocols of Elders of Zion excerpt, which is explained later in the essay. Overall, modern racial antisemitism served as a historical period where Jews were attacked based on their race and were slowly beginning to be framed as conspirators. Once World War I happened, antisemitism became more severe due to the Germans’ need to exterminate all Jews.

After Germany’s defeat during World War I, its economy fell apart, the German population declined, and many people became financially poor. Due to the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation spread across Germany as it had to pay reparations to all the countries it had destroyed. As a result of the poor condition post-war, there were two types of worldviews for Nazis. The functionalist position was that the Nazis did not originally plan to exterminate Jews; it just happened as the war progressed. The intentionalist position was that the Nazis planned to exterminate the Jews since the very beginning. There is sufficient evidence to disprove the functionalist position. After the Wannsee Conference, Nazis planned to murder Jews as well as used the transportation infrastructure to facilitate the extermination. Furthermore, Hitler’s main goal before reaching power was to destroy all Jews. According to the lecture notes, antisemitism rested on the belief that Jews were an “internationally organized political power that was playing a decisive role in the events of WWII.” The Germans thought that they had to exterminate all of the Jews before the Jews could do the same to Germans. As a result, Nazis went so far as ordering all Jews to wear the yellow Star of David in order to prevent them from camouflaging into the population. Their view of Jews being mass conspirators drove them to perform such antisemitic deeds. The Holocaust, or Shoah, was one of the most extreme antisemitic actions taken in history. It was broken down into three phases. The first phase of the Holocaust was to make Germany free of Jews, the second phase was to put them into concentration camps, and the third phase was to make the extermination more efficient by building killing centers, gas chambers, etc. This eliminationist view of Nazis was motivated by their belief that harmony and order would be brought back if all Jews were exterminated. This is direct example of anti-semitism where they took action to kill millions of innocent Jews due to their strong hatred towards them. Since Jews were blamed for the Germans’ defeat during World War I and framed for secretly controlling the world, they were wrongfully exterminated.

Germans followed the Protocols of Elders of Zion, a fabricated text that demonstrated the Jews’ plan to control the world, in order to justify their antisemitic actions. In this text, Jews are in an evil, secret organization that is on a quest to destroy all non-Jews and claim dominion of the entire world. They even threaten non-Jews by stating that “Anyone found with weapons in hand or who rejects [their] domination [would be] put mercilessly to death.” As a result, Hitler felt that mass extermination of Jews would be justified as a result of this false document. Not only did this text demonstrate how Jews would kill those who come in their way, but also proved how they supposedly controlled almost all aspects of society such as political parties, press, public opinion, and the economy. For example, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion also affirms that Jews would “call forth a universal economic crisis” and would “throw hordes of workers out into the streets.” Even in the Arab and Muslim worlds, these Protocols were widely known and believed to be true. The Nazis used the Protocols as a “valid” source to use Jews as scapegoats for Germany’s defeat during World War I, the decline of the German race, and the poor financial situation.

In the book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, the author Timothy Snyder offers a unique perspective on the Holocaust and Hitler’s antisemitic ideology to exerminate Jews. Snyder states that for Hitler, Jews were a universal enemy, not just an enemy for Germans. For most people, Hitler is known to be a totalitarian and a strong nationalist who believed in German superiority. However, Snyder believes that Hitler was a “racial anarchist” who did not believe in having any laws or ethics. Hitler’s strong antisemitic actions were consequences of his belief that Jews were responsible for causing disharmony for the world. In his examination of “Hitler’s World” and “Livingspace” during the German conquest, the most important element was Hitler’s strong motivation to bring back the harmony of the universe through complete elimination of Jews. This belief came from the panic of Germany’s poor economic situation post-war. As a result, Snyder states how the Holocaust took place due to “ecological panic” and adds in his opinion that “if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted, and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well.” He believes that most people would not be opposed to Hitler’s ideologies given similar circumstances, and does not confirm that today’s individuals would protect one another in the face of adversity. At the end of the book, Snyder demonstrates his concern for future catastrophes and how the world would deal with them given how the Holocaust took place. Since there were many food shortages and economic crises after the First World War, Snyder states that the Holocaust was a reaction to the poor situation of Germany. He warns that such a malevolent reaction may take place again, especially today in the midst of climate change and agricultural problems all over the world.

Much debate arose over Adolf Eichmann, a major Nazi organizer of the Holocaust, and his true intentions to carry out the extermination of millions of Jews. Adolf Eichmann was responsible for the deportation of Jews to extermination camps during World War I. After living under a fake identity, “Ricardo Klement” for many years in Argentina, he was eventually found guilty of war crimes in his trial and hanged in 1962. In her controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt, a philosopher who was present during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, argues how Eichmann was simply following the strict German regime when exterminating Jews rather than being a strong antisemitic. She states that many people like Eichmann “were neither perverted nor sadistic” and “that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” She claims that due to Eichmann’s “inability to think” when orders were given to him, he was able to perform mass exterminations of Jews without feeling any hatred towards them. This led to her conclusion that he was not an evil man, but instead a “banal” or thoughtless one. Clearly, Arendt was a functionalist as she believed that the mass murders were carried out by rule-abiding bureaucrats, rather than antisemitic individuals. She states that the Judenrate, or Jewish Councils, were involved with the Nazis, and justifies her claim by emphasizing that if the Jewish people did not have any leaders, then “the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and half and six million people.” This is highly controversial as she blames the large number of deaths on the ‘corrupt’ Jewish leadership, and believes that more Jews would have survived had there been no leaders. Overall, she portrays Eichmann as someone who was disengaged from his task of exterminating Jews, and puts blame on Jewish leadership for the large number of deaths.

In the book Eichmann before Jerusalem, the author Stangneth directly contradicts Arendt’s “banal” depiction of Adolf Eichmann. Stangneth states that during the trial, Arendt “fell into his trap: Eichmann in Jerusalem was little more than a mask.” He was a deceptive and manipulative Nazi who fooled Arendt and many others at the trial that he was a simple bureacrat following his orders. She claims that Arendt did not have sufficient evidence to make her conclusion about Eichmann, and as a result, describes his life before the trial in order to prove that he was a strong antisemitic. He spent about fifteen years hiding in Argentina after World War II, met with other Nazis, and did not show any remorse for the Holocaust. Eichmann believed that the extermination of the Jews was necessary in order to save Germany and he was proud to carry out his actions.Through the Sassen interviews, the interactions in Argentina between the journalist Wilhelm Sassen, small group of ex-Nazis, and Eichmann, Stangneth proves that Eichmann’s actions were intentional decisions and that he was a part of the Nazi regime. The meetings served as a way for Sassen and Eichmann to plan political overthrow and publish writings about how the Holocaust was false. However, once he was put on trial, Eichmann downplayed the significance of the Sassen interviews, and “his defense strategy essentially rested on his no longer being a Nationalist Socialist and having spent the last fifteen years as a blameless, unremarkable, and above all apolitical citizen.” Stangneth believes that his fake portrayal misled many individuals in court, including Arendt, and demonstrates that he was someone with ambitious and antisemitic motives, rather than a “banal” individual who followed bureacratic orders during the extermination.

According to Jean-Paule Sartre’s book Anti-Semite and Jew, “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” I completely agree with this depiction because if Jews did not exist, perhaps another group of people would have been targeted. Throughout various readings, one can gather strong antisemitic examples during the centuries. Racial hatred, Eliminationist antisemitism, Jewish scapegoating, and Holocaust justification all serve as strong depictions of antisemitism through the historical periods from ‘Modern Racial Antisemitism’ to the ‘First World War to the Trial of Adolf Eichmann.’ Though antisemitism started off as racial hatred during the end of the 19th century, it accumulated into a massive accusation of conspiring Jews during the early 20th century.

 Even today, decades after the Holocaust, antisemitism continues to surface through incidents such as the attack on Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. By encouraging education world-wide about the Holocaust and Jewish history, we can help prevent antisemitism and foster a friendly, diverse community with various cultures and ethnicities. It is important for one to look back at our history and learn from the mistakes our world has made in order to prevent the same issues to arise. 

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