While analyzing the scope of the terrible events of the German Holocaust, it is hard to believe that the social anti-Semitism could have progressed to such a stage within a couple of years. It is evident that it should have taken a longer period for the Germans to accept the relevant ideology and adopt the unjustified prejudices against the Jewish nation. Therefore, the question arises concerning the factors that determined such a rapid development of the anti-Semitic phenomenon in the course of the Second World War. Historians have contradictory views on the nature of the German anti-Semitism’s violence as well as on its roots.
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One of the common opinions supports the idea that it was the First World War that created a favorable environment for the cultivation of the anti-Semitic values. The defeat in this war prompted the German society to search for external forces guilty of their misfortunes. Under the relevant circumstances, the Jewish nation was an easy target for the government to shift the social attention from the flaws in the national policy to the external enemy. Therefore, the paper at hand is aimed at examining the role of the First World War in the development of anti-Semitism in Germany. In the framework of the relevant analysis, one makes an attempt to study the interconnection between the events of this war and the outrages of violence of the Holocaust.
On the one hand, the tragic events of the First World War were particularly significant for the Jewish population as they signified the outbreak of a large-scale anti-Semitism campaign. In fact, this war served to be the catalyst for the Second World War, and, consequently, the Holocaust, the most tragic events of the twentieth century. Today, it is hard to indicate the determinants of the unprecedented cruelty that took hold of society after the First World War. In the meantime, one might assume that there is a series of factors that can explain the interconnection between this war and the future catastrophe.
First and foremost, the First World War is important for understanding the development of anti-Semitism in German from a political standpoint. Thus, it was during this war that the German anti-Semitism underwent a crucial transformation. If previously it could have been regarded as a local phenomenon, in the course of the war, it turned into a national ideology. Therefore, it is logical to assume that as well as any other ideological changes, this shift was initiated by the government. The fact that the German right-wing party advanced the anti-Semitic racial ideology in the final part of the war seems to be undoubted. The party offered sustainable support for all the radical and nationalist movements that appeared during the war.
Nevertheless, it must be confessed that despite the fact that German politicians overtly announced the anti-Semitic appeal, they still did not treat the Jews as their principal enemies. In other words, Jewish people were only one object of the government’s attack contrary to the events that began in the mid-1930s. At that point, anti-Semitism was more of a formal character than of true violence.
On the one hand, one might suppose that the ideology was imposed from above. On the other hand, it is evident that at the most critical times in a country’s history, its politicians tend to provide support for those social groups that are dominant. As a result, the fact, that the German parties decided to fit the interests of anti-Semitic movements, means that social moods at that period had strong radical connotations.
In addition, it is critical to note that the Jewish population was the one that suffered most in the course of the First World War. The relevant phenomenon might be explained by the fact that the Jewish people fought for the armies of all the sides. They did their best to show their patriotic feelings for the country they defended, and the German Jews were not an exception. Whatever paradoxical it might seem, their patriotism did not only fail to assist them in further surviving but became one of the key reasons for their elimination.
Thus, shortly after the war, a large part of the German Jews was subject to being accused of disloyalty. After the First World War, the German General Staff carried out a census of all the Jewish soldiers that fought in the army in order to indicate the number of Jews who served on the front line. The gathered data was corrupted largely, and the public report announced that the majority of Jews balked their military duty. Despite the fact that it was further discovered that the data was distorted, at that point, the report accomplished its principal aim successfully – it caused the social distrust and hostility towards the Jewish population.
Therefore, one of the reasons why the First World War had a significant impact on the development of the negative attitude towards the Jews was connected with those nations that lost this war. In fact, it might be stated that the First World War was the first European experience of such a large-scale defeat that caused mass man casualties. Society required a reasonable justification for this sacrifice. As a result, the internal betrayal was employed in order to explain the failure.
The Germans and Austrians found it convenient to warrant their defeat in the First World War by the participation of the internal traitors that acted in accordance with foreign interests, in other words, in the interests of the Jews or communists. The German leadership had no other choice but to cultivate and spread this legend among the population. Otherwise, they would have been obliged to take personal responsibility and admit the fact that the defeat was the consequence of their unreasonable policy.
However, the violence towards the Jews would not be so severe in case it was initiated by the population of one country only. In other words, Hitler needed some external support in order to advance his Anti-Semitist campaign. The dictator would eagerly benefit from any negative image of Jews cultivated in other countries. From this standpoint, Eastern Europe assisted Hitler in reaching his aim. Thus, all the infrastructure of the Jews in Eastern Europe, including its social, cultural, religious and economic aspects was almost fully destroyed by the First World War. In addition, the cruel events of the war also radicalized the views of a large part of the Jewish youth in Eastern Europe – many of them accepted secularist and Marxists ideologies.
Another critical event that occurred in the course of the First World War and had a significant impact on the development of anti-Semitism was the Bolshevik revolution. On the one side, the new government made a lot of effort to destroy religion, and the practice of Judaism was not an exception (Shandler 10).
In such a manner, the Soviet Union supported the development of anti-Semitism ideology, to a certain extent. On the other side, the establishment of the Soviet Union, and the intention to spread communist dictatorship in Europe served to be a critical concern for the middle-class population of both Europe and the United States. The fact that a large part of the prominent communists was of Jewish origin gave the anti-Semites the grounds to associate Jewish people with the inculcation of the unattractive communists’ ideology around the world.
The anti-Semitism among the Polish population and the Lithuanian nationalists also became more and more violent before the Second World War. There is a lot of literature evidence of the simultaneous development of the anti-Semitic radicalism around the world. According to the contemporaries of the relevant period, the prejudiced attitude towards the Jews could be sensed in big and small European towns, in public organizations, and on the streets (Shandler 338).
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Furthermore, it might be assumed that the First World War’s outcomes created the generally hostile environment the inhabitants of which were looking for the object that could become the target of their aggression and disappointment. Such countries as Germany, Austria, and Hungary, experienced a powerful psychological pressure as they were blamed for triggering the war off. Moreover, the government of these countries had to pay considerable damages to the winners. All this increased the level of grumpiness and extremity within the political circles. As a result, the shift to the radical right views was regarded as the only way to give utterance to the common despair.
As a result, the First World War prompted the appearance of a series of negative stereotypes regarding the Jewish nation. The first myth that appeared right after the war and that partially served to explain its unsuccessful outcome resides in the idea that it was the Jews that began the war pursuing the aim to destroy Europe both politically and financially. The key idea of this myth implied the hidden intention of the Jewish nation to control the world. Moreover, a large percentage of the European population after the First World War would willingly believe in the myth that the Jewish benefited from the misery of the war, pursuing their own interests and enriching themselves (Kaplan 59). It was assumed that the Jewish used the money, gained from the war, to support the Bolshevik Revolution.
Another stereotype that could appear after the First World War was aimed to advance the image of a Jew as a betrayer. The Jewish people were assigned to have inborn coward nature and were said to be disloyal. This stereotype explained the military failure by the Jewish overall defect to the enemy. Furthermore, Jewish interests were believed to spread far beyond their own community.
Thus, it was assumed that it was foreign Jews that held the peace negotiations, and they initially perused the aim of dividing Germany and Hungary with the help of artificial borders. At the same time, the domestic Jews planned to enslave the Germans. The key idea of this stereotype resided in the fact the Jews established the constitutional democracy in order to enfeeble the political power of the Germans. It was believed that their final aim was to destroy the superiority of the Aryan blood (Kaplan 86).
In the meantime, it would be rash to assert that it was the First World War that marked the beginning of the activity aimed at the elimination of the Jewish population. The implications for the particular violence towards this nation might be found at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Thus, Eduard Silbermann recalls the Jewish community that existed in Bischberg. He notes that the Jewish were not severely oppressed in the territories that were controlled by the ecclesiastical jurisdictions contrary to the secular areas.
In the meantime, the life of Jewish was regulated by the Edict of the Jews established in 1813. Some of the Edict’s statements have strong connotations for the national segregation. For example, according to the Edict, the number of Jewish families living in the relevant territory had to be externally controlled: it could not increase, but it was recommended to decrease it in case the authorities would consider it to be excessive. Moreover, Jewish immigration and domicile were forbidden within the Kingdom (Richarz, Rosenfeld and Rosenfeld 82). As a result, one might conclude that although the First World War played a significant role in the development of anti-Semitism, the first signs of its appearance date back long before this war broke out.
The assumption that the Holocaust was an unexpected event that no one could ever predict is not exactly true. Whereas the major part of the world population would never foresee the scope of violence that would exist towards a particular nation, there still were numerous signs foreboding the future disaster. Thence, the memoirs of some Jews are full of relevant evidence.
Clara Geissmar, for instance, describes her life long before the terrible events as calm and peaceful. In the meantime, the woman notes that she had some inexplicable regrets about her son being a Jew. For a strange reason, Geissmar could feel he was about to suffer largely due to his nationality and religious belief (Richarz, Rosenfeld and Rosenfeld 161). Therefore, studying the recollection of the Jews that lived in the nineteenth century makes one think that anti-Semitic tendency was gradually developing through centuries and reached its peak in the course of the Second World War.
As a consequence, one might draw a conclusion that the events of the First World War played a critical role in the development of the anti-Semitic ideology in German society. Due to the defeat in the war, the Germans were obliged to search for an external enemy. As a result, the national government took advantage of the desperate social mood and created a series of myths assigning various negative characteristics to Jewish people.
The appalling image of the Jews gradually turned into a strong prejudice against the entire nation. In the meantime, it would be wrong to believe that it was the First World War that determined the development of this phenomenon. History shows that the anti-Semitism appeared long before the war, and it was not only Germany that supported its cultivation. Many European countries, whether intentionally or not, contributed to the spread of anti-Semitic ideas to a larger or smaller extent.
Kaplan, Marion. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany, New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
Richarz, Monika, Stella Rosenfeld, and Sidney Rosenfeld. Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1991. Print.
Shandler, Jeffrey. Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2002. Print.