A Short History of Anti-Semitism in Germany

A

Short History of Anti-Semitism in Germany

The Second World War has left an unmistakable
impression on the whole of Europe that will never be forgotten. Whether
visible to the naked eye, or hidden in the consciousness of its people,
the war has scarred Europe indelibly. Historically, the
foremost recognizable perpetration against Europeans was Adolf Hitlerís

"Final Solution to the Jewish question". This sophisticated
operation of systematic mass execution was calculated, organized, and carried
out with such horrifying efficiency that only a madman could have been
responsible for such an act, and Hitler was indeed mad. However,

Anti-Semitism had been long a part of German history, and this religious
intolerance had its roots firmly planted long before the rise of the Third

Reich. Although the sheer magnitude of the loss of life during the
holocaust is simply impossible to grasp, these horrors were the culmination
of generations of anti-Semitism, brought to the boiling point by the decision
of one power-crazed man.

Dating back several centuries, anti-Semitism
was prevalent throughout Germany barring rare instances where communities
were tolerant religiously or socially of Jewish inhabitants. However,
the belief that Jews were selfish, manipulative, ignorant heretics bound
only for hell was still a popular one, even in communities such as these.

The Catholic Church only enforced these views, and German Jews had difficulties
seeking equality. "To Christians, the Jews were an obdurate people
who had refused to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, and who not
only still persisted in that error but were burdened with the guilt of
deicide..." (Craig, 127) By the arrival of the reformation, anti-Semitism
was commonplace among Germans and even justified by the Catholic Church.

Jews during this era perhaps saw the coming of a new idealism with Martin

Luther, or at least believed that mass split from the Catholic Church would
at least increase tolerance to their people. However this was only
a myth, for Luther saw the reformation to be a perfect opportunity for

German Jews to renounce their religion and join the newly sprung Christian
assemblage. Lutherís plan didnít quite come to fruition as Jews found
this to be just another attempt to destroy their religious autonomy under
the facade of a new and better idealism. Lutherís ignorance and self-righteous
fanaticism was soon revealed, as he would eventually write "..We know about
their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we cannot tolerate them"(Craig,

128) Therefore, The Reformation did nothing for the Jews except create
another organized faction that officially detested them.

These hatreds became the demonic roots
imbedded in Germany, and were inescapably destined to touch even the most
divine of the countryís richly gifted artists. Centuries later, one of

Germanyís most respected and admired composers would emerge from the same
soil-Richard Wagner. The composer openly voiced his dislike of the

Jewish people, and according to Gordon Craig, " (Wagner) prided himself
on his services to the anti-Semitic cause"(139). Even Hermann Levi, a Jewish
conductor who after a performance of "Parsifal", was apparently presented
by Wagner with the notion that he take a baptismal.

By the 20th century, anti-Semitism was
sprouting in Germany in a much more violent fashion, as right wing popularity
would reach a fevered pitch. Jewish scientist, philosopher, politician
and businessman Walther Rathenau served Germany in World War I as a supplier
and administrator of raw war materials. After the war, Rathenau sought
out to change some of stipulations of the Versailles Treaty. His goal was
to gain the help of western powers in hopes of forming a stronger, more
unified Germany. His savvy as a political mind soon gained him a
job as Germanyís Foreign Minister. Rathenauís unpopularity among

German patriots followed him throughout his political Career, and this
appointment would soon have drastic consequences. After serving only
four months as Germanyís Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau was assassinated.

This event was a prelude to the politically
radical events to come, and also made evident that being Jewish in Germany
was "more than a handicap or social embarrassment; it was a danger and,
not impossibly, a sentence to death"(Craig 143).

Centuries of anti-Semitic sentiment and
action were propagated in the land that is now Germany. However,
the actions of historyís most recognizable demon would result in the extermination
of millions of lives. These people were not war criminals, spies,
military prisoners, or resistance fighters; they were simply people who
had been struggling for generations to acquire religious freedom and autonomy.

The 20th centuryís most heinous offense would be perpetrated against a
people who, like Walther Rathenau, were murdered because they were guilty
of being Jewish.

Source: "The Germans" by Gordon

C. Craig, Meridian