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Explaining antisemitism

MenInTights

not a plastic bag
I saw a preview for a new movie tonight: 'Aftermath' Dares to Unearth Terrible Secrets of Poland's Lost Jews
On July 10, 1941, half the residents of Jedwabne, a Polish village 85 miles northeast of Warsaw, murdered the other half. The mob, led by the mayor, were Catholics; their 1,600 victims were Jewish, slaughtered over several nightmarish hours with bats, knives, rifles and other improvised weapons. Those who survived the massacre were then rounded up in a barn donated by a local farmer, which was then set ablaze. A plaque erected at the site blamed Nazis for the massacre, but, in fact, Nazis had only authorized it. Locals walked by the plaque for half a century, knowing the truth, but saying nothing.
It reminds me of another movie I saw a few years ago called The Roundup which was about France capturing Jews and sending them to Germany. I've heard other stories about other European countries during the war also such as Brittan allowing Jews to be put on trains.

So, I say all this to ask if someone can explain European antisemitism? Not why YOU hate the jews but why have the jews been hated so much historically in Europe? Is it perverted Christianity? Is it a trait of habit the Jews have? Being an American, I honestly cannot fathom why anyone would hate the Jews. The thing that's so strange to me is I see Jews here and question why my English heritage would look at them with such scorn.

I understand hatred of Muslims or Chinese for example(I have no hate for these I merely understand it). But I look at a Jewish person and he talks like me, dresses like me, has similar morals, etc. Often I can't even discern if someone is Jewish or not. I just have no clue what my European counterparts see in the Jewish race that they can be bigoted about.

Obviously, I'm not talking about all or even most Europeans. Perhaps a better question would be what was it about the Jewish people that made some in your great grandparents generation so bigoted against them?
 
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Sim

Registered Member
I saw a preview for a new movie tonight: 'Aftermath' Dares to Unearth Terrible Secrets of Poland's Lost Jews
It reminds me of another movie I saw a few years ago called The Roundup which was about France capturing Jews and sending them to Germany. I've heard other stories about other European countries during the war also such as Brittan allowing Jews to be put on trains.

So, I say all this to ask if someone can explain European antisemitism? Not why YOU hate the jews but why have the jews been hated so much historically in Europe? Is it perverted Christianity? Is it a trait of habit the Jews have? Being an American, I honestly cannot fathom why anyone would hate the Jews. The thing that's so strange to me is I see Jews here and question why my English heritage would look at them with such scorn.

I understand hatred of Muslims or Chinese for example(I have no hate for these I merely understand it). But I look at a Jewish person and he talks like me, dresses like me, has similar morals, etc. Often I can't even discern if someone is Jewish or not. I just have no clue what my European counterparts see in the Jewish race that they can be bigoted about.

Obviously, I'm not talking about all or even most Europeans. Perhaps a better question would be what was it about the Jewish people that made some in your great grandparents generation so bigoted against them?
That's a very interesting question, MIT. Probably there is a no simple answer, but I'll try:

A major reason was probably Christian anti-Semitism: "The Jews killed Jesus". Actually, you find many verses in the NT that can easily interpreted that way, i.e.:

Quote:
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
—John 8:44

I even read from a Christian anti-Semite (an older man who's still alive) who claimed the Jewish God is not the same as the Christian God, but some "desert demon" -- quoting that verse where allegedly Jesus said Jehova is the devil himself.

Or look at the Acts:

Quote:
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.”
—Acts 7:51-52

There is a lot more in the letters. For example:

Quote:
“For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
—1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

So basically, "the Jews" committed the worst crime possible someone who's a pre-enlightened Christian: They murdered God's son. A worse sin or crime cannot be imagined, right?

This type of Christian anti-Semitism was probably the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in less developed and Catholic regions, such as Poland in WW2.

Another major reason was probably envy: Before the industrial revolution, when a majority was still illiterate, most Jews were capable of reading and writing, because their religion required that. So they got many prominent and well paid jobs common Europeans could only dream of. Jews were more successful on average than the European peasants and bondsmen.

Jews were also isolated from the Christian majority and discriminated: When you weren't Christian, you weren't allowed to join a guild to become a craftsman, you were not part of the feudalism where landlords owned their bondsmen but also were obliged to entertain them; the only profession still left for Jews was that of traders, free businessmen and later bankers. Soon, many became rather wealthy because of that, despite the legal discrimination against them.

Also, Jews used to live in their own quarters and enclaves, apart from the Christians, partly because they were discriminated, but also because they had a tendency to stick to themselves -- either as a reaction on the discrimination, or also because of the commandments of their religion. Traditional Jews did not allow their children to marry non-Jews, so they maintained their identity over centuries.

Also, you have to consider that Jews too were more traditional before the Age of Enlightenment, at least until the mid 18th century, and took their religion and idea of being chosen by God more seriously than most do today -- and likewise, Christianity was very dominant in Europe then too, and more backwards. There was a very obvious cultural difference between Jews and Christians at that time, and a very visible at that.

Now keep in mind we're talking about pre-enlightened times, when many people still believed in witchcraft or evil spirits; then add the "Jesus murderers" idea with it and add their apparent wealth, and you get an idea how that mix created all kinds of prejudices and hatred.


On top of that "traditional" anti-Semitism, there rose a new kind of anti-Semitism in the 19th century: The biologist and racist kind.

It was the time when biology rose as a field of science, biologists started classifying all the different species, Darwin wrote his book on evolution and so on. Among intellectuals at that time, it seemed very rational and progressive to make the grave mistake of applying findings in nature on the behavior of man:

While Darwin only made descriptive claims ("that's how it is in nature"), they made the mistake of turning this into a normative claim ("that's how it's supposed to be"). The idea of Social Darwinism rose, which basically says man should ignore morals and instead order the own society along the laws of nature.

Soon it was concluded that different human races are on different levels of evolution, like the idea that "Africans are halfway apes". There were many racist myths about the prehistoric origin of the white race, the "Aryans", which came from India, were purified in the evolutionary struggle in icy regions which made sure only the strongest and most intelligent would survive, until they populated Europe. That Europe was the technological pinnacle and powerhouse of the world was just another proof for the superiority of the white race.

Another idea was applying the rules of animal breeding on humans: The more you make sure only the best individuals procreate, and as long as you keep the race clean, you get the best results. That was the idea of "racial hygiene".

Jews accordingly became targets of this intellectual racist anti-Semitism: They were considered bastards, have intermixed with all kinds of different peoples over the centuries, and they don't even have a home, but allegedly live like parasites on the "national bodies" of other peoples. They're a foreign body, that interrupts and disturbs cultural and racial homogeneity of the European peoples and refuse to be absorbed.

And this "parasite" accusation even won more speed when people looked at the wealth and good positions in society many Jews had, or allegedly had.

In Germany pre-WW2, it was a mix of all of these different kinds of anti-Semitism. There was one more specific reason: After WW1, the old tyrannic monarchists claimed the war had only been lost because leftists and Jews had fought against the fatherland at home: "A dagger stab from behind". Jews were naturally often liberal or even leftist at that time, because they hoped for fewer discrimination, so they supported liberal and democratic parties. For the German right, "the Jews" played a similar role after WW1 like the hippies played for American right-wingers after Vietnam.

On the other side, not few far-leftists identified "the Jews" with capitalism, because Jews were overrepresented in banks and businesses (see their history on those fields above). All the bad sides of capitalism were horrible for them, and Jews personified all of that in particular.


So you can see it's really a mix of different kinds of anti-Semitism, which often influenced and fueled each other. Some of these ideas were not limited to Europe, but appeared in America too; though there, African Americans were the minority that suffered most because of it.

Does that make sense?
 
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MenInTights

not a plastic bag
wow Sim that was amazing! Thanks for putting the time into that. It really cleared a question I've had for a long time. Something that is so obvious that I've never considered is the idea that they were strangers in a strange land. We don't have that level of nationalism here. We all speak the same language and Americans are constantly moving. That's a really hard concept for Americans. I understand much better. I really appreciate that.
 

Sim

Registered Member
wow Sim that was amazing! Thanks for putting the time into that. It really cleared a question I've had for a long time. Something that is so obvious that I've never considered is the idea that they were strangers in a strange land. We don't have that level of nationalism here. We all speak the same language and Americans are constantly moving. That's a really hard concept for Americans. I understand much better. I really appreciate that.
Glad I could help!

And it's true, American nationalism has always been a "nationalism of values" (everybody who embraces the American values can become American), while in many European countries, there was rather an ethnic and/or cultural nationalism (like in Germany, where many people still have trouble accepting immigrants as Germans who don't have German blood).

On the other side, reality in America didn't really reach the ideal either... at least not for non-whites. Sure, you had English, Irish, Germans, Italians and so on living side by side, but there was and without doubt still is some resentment against racial minorities. Until blacks got equal rights, it took several hundred years in America, and the native Americans were slaughtered by the white settlers for a long time.

Maybe it's unfortunately just part of the human nature to single out a group that's somehow different. It's the Jews one day, and when they have properly integrated, it's the blacks, then some other group. People apparently need scapegoats.

So maybe Jews were in many European countries the same thing for the majority that were natives and blacks in America ... in the end, it probably boils down to the same thing.
 

MenInTights

not a plastic bag
Glad I could help!

And it's true, American nationalism has always been a "nationalism of values" (everybody who embraces the American values can become American), while in many European countries, there was rather an ethnic and/or cultural nationalism (like in Germany, where many people still have trouble accepting immigrants as Germans who don't have German blood).

On the other side, reality in America didn't really reach the ideal either... at least not for non-whites. Sure, you had English, Irish, Germans, Italians and so on living side by side, but there was and without doubt still is some resentment against racial minorities. Until blacks got equal rights, it took several hundred years in America, and the native Americans were slaughtered by the white settlers for a long time.

Maybe it's unfortunately just part of the human nature to single out a group that's somehow different. It's the Jews one day, and when they have properly integrated, it's the blacks, then some other group. People apparently need scapegoats.

So maybe Jews were in many European countries the same thing for the majority that were natives and blacks in America ... in the end, it probably boils down to the same thing.
Yeah I think you're right. I can understand racism against Blacks(not racist, don't approve in any way) but its a lot harder with the Jew. To Americans its really all about skin color. Its more complex to the Europeans.
 
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