Anti-Semitism and the Road to the Holocaust


Fall 2008

General Comments

•       The murder of European Jewry had its origins in the anti-Jewish policies that started in the early history of Church.

•       The Nazis could point to these policies as a justification for their own behavior.

•       All of which contributed to the road to extermination.

•       Combined with the prevailing racialist world view that found its way into science and medicine the Holocaust would become a foregone conclusion.


•       The objective is to look at the early Christian precedents and they role played in the tragedy we know as the Holocaust.

•       We should remember that Jews for centuries have been victims of Christian persecution.

•       We should ask, what was the purpose of those persecutions?

•       What were the aims of those who pressed for conversion?

Impact of those Persecutions

•       We should remember that Jews have been victims of horrible persecutions.

•       But why were they persecuted for in the first place?

•       How did Jews respond?

•       Where did they go?

The Hilberg Model

Starting at the Beginning

•       We should realize that the first anti-Jewish policy did not start with the Nazis.

•       Throughout Western history the persecutions came in three waves.

•       The first wave started nearly four centuries after Christ.

•       Beginning in the time of Constantine, when Christian Church got a leg up as the official religion in the Roman Empire.

The Early Role of the Catholic Church

•       The early Church fathers demanded adherence to the Church.

•       The goal of believers was to have unbelievers accept Church principles.

•       This was done through conversion.

•       The Church believed that Christianity was the only true religion.

•       The ONLY religion.

•       Jews would have to convert.

Jews and the Early Christians

•       Saw Christians as part of a Jewish sect.

•       Since the first Christians followed Jewish law.

•       But the early Christians just adopted some non-essential practices.

•       But problems emerged when the Christians did accepted some bizarre practices.

•       Like elevating Christ to Godhood.

The Jews and the Christian God

•       To the Jews there was only one God.

•       That God is invisible.

•       He is a jealous God.

•       And there could be no others.

•       He is no Christ and Christ is not Him.

•       From that time onward Christianity and Judaism were irreconcilable.

Christian Hopes of Jews Abandoning Judaism

•       Ever since antiquity and well into the Middle Ages, Jews did not abandon Judaism.

•       With escalating pressure the Church thought the Jews would see the error of their ways.

•       Soon the Church would use every means possible to have obstinate to convert.

•       The Church never permitted put on individual Jews.

•       But the clergy put pressure on the whole Jewish population.

The Official Policies of the Catholic Church

•       The first was to force Jews to convert.

•       The purpose was to rescue or to save non-believers.

•       It was thought that non-believers would experience the pits of hellfire.

•       It was the duty of believers everywhere from keeping that from happening.

•       The early Christians believed that they were the one, true religion.

How Did The Church Do It?

•      The standard method was to use patience and persistence.

•      Jews were not convinced and moved towards force.

•      The early Papacy did not permit pressure against individual Jews, instead, they used pressure on the Jewish community.

Impact on the Jews

•       If a Jew accept Christ, he lost his/her identity.

•       Abandoning Judaism was not an easy matter.

•       Individual Jews actively resisted attempted conversion regardless of the time period.

The Church’s Defensive Measures

•       To combat the Jews the Church adopted defensive measures against them.

•       Believing that the faithful need to be protected against the Jews.

•       How did it work?

•       Intermarriage was prohibited.

•       Discussion of religion was forbidden.

•       The Talmud was burned.

•       Jews were barred from public office.

The Need for Religious Purity

•       If if a Jew converted, there were grades of new Christians – Half New Christian, Quarter New Christian, One-Eighth New Christian.

•       In Spain certificates of “purity” were issued.

•       If conversion failed…the Church would take more drastic measures.

The Church Sees No Other Option

•       The Church feels that they have no other option.

•       To many, the Jews were too dangerous to have around.

•       Some, event he Protestant Martin Luther, felt that the Jews were blind.

•       The Church had invested to much over the last 1,200 years.

What Else Can Be Done?

•       Between 1100 to 1600 the Jews of England, France, Germany, Spain, Bohemia, and Italy were given the choice of expulsion and conversion.

•       Expulsion became the second Anti-Jewish policy in history.


•       The initial expulsions happened before the rise of nation-states.

•       With previous policies – conversion – expulsion was an indication of a failed policy.

•       King Philip Augustus of France expelled the Jews from France in 1182, gaining the support of the Church.

•       Edward I expelled the Jews from England in 1290.

•       Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

The Blood Libel

•       One of the main charges against the Jews was the “blood libel.”

•       The “blood libel” is an allegation that a particular group was involved in a form of human sacrifice.

•       Often involving children.

•       While many groups were charged with the “blood libel,” for the most part Jews were saddled with this canard.

The Allegations

•       The standard was that Jews killed Christian children.

•       Used their blood to make Passover matzohs.

•       Variations of this charge was around since the first century C.E.

•       And would continue into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Map of Expulsion of Jews in Regions of Europe

The Ghetto of Rome

•       One method of further control was the establishment of the ghetto.

•       Earlier Jews lived freely in Rome ever since antiquity.

•       But all of that changed by Pope Paul IV who introduced the Papal Bull – Cum nimis absurdum.

•       Which meant “Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal slavery ....“

•       This allowed the Church to openly restrict the Jews even further.

The Persecutions Continued

•       Jewish males had to wear a yellow hat.

•       Jewish women had to wear a yellow kerchief.

•       Sometimes they also had to wear a yellow badge as well.

•       Why yellow?

•       Yellow in the Middle Ages was considered a sign of worthlessness.

•       Jews were limited in where they could reside.

•       What they can do.

If That Was Not Enough

•       They had to attend a required sermon on the Jewish Shabbat.

•       Where they were attacked by the Church

•       The Jews were forbidden of owning real estate outside of the ghetto.

•       Practice medicine among Christians.

•       Employee Christian women of childbearing years as a maid

•       Higher education was prohibited.

•       Entry into the fields of law, pharmacy, notary, design, and painting was closed to Jews.

•       Jews could not rent property outside of Ghetto with the approval of the Cardinal Vicar.

Jews and Taxes within the Rome Ghetto

•       Besides the other discriminatory practices, the Jews had to pay taxes and other fees/fines.

•       The Jews had to pay a yearly stipend for the upkeep of the Catholic Church that maintained the Ghetto.

•       A yearly sum, 5,250 Lira, had to be paid to the Roman Catholic Church to finance the missionary work among the Jews in Rome.

•       Likewise, additional funds had to be provided for those Jews who had already converted.

The Background for Nazi Persecution

•       When the Church said that the Jews do not have the right to live among us.

•       The Nazis said the Jews have no right to live.

•       The medieval Church used forced conversions to drive Jews into exile.

•       The Nazis wanted to complete the process.

Elements that Aided Nazi Persecution

•       The Administration Process.

•       The Germans were more efficient than other persecutors.

•       The industrial component made this possible.

•       Especially during World War I.

•       It made the persecutors desensitized to the rouge violence of the period.

•       Two other issues dramatize the link between the Church and Nazi persecutions – the Yellow Star and ghettoizing the Jews.


Sample of Church and Nazi Persecutions

•       Prohibition of intermarriage and of sexual intercourse between Christians and Jews.

•       Jews and Christians not permitted to eat together.

•       Jews not permitted to employ Christian servants.

•       Jews not permitted on the streets during Passion Week.

•       Burning of the Talmud.

•       Marking of Jewish clothes with a distinctive badge.

•       Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor (Sept. 15, 1935)

•       Jews denied the right to dinning cars  (Dec. 30, 1939)

•       Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.

•       Decree baring Jews from the street on Nazi holidays.

•       Book burnings in Germany.

•       Decree of September 1,1941.

Raul Hilberg’s Position

•       He argued that when Hitler raised the “Jew” as a threat, many Germans were already programmed to accept that view.

•       When Hitler went further and proclaimed that the Jews should be punished, the German public would agree.

•       This is getting close to Goldhagen’s argument of “eliminationist Anti-Semitism.”

•       The key was Martin Luther.

Germans and Martin Luther

•            Many knew about his writings including The Jews and their Lies.

•            Here Luther outlined his case against the Jews.

•            They wanted to rule the world.

•            They were arch-criminals.

•            They were both a plague and a misfortune.

•            The seeds were sown for what would follow.


•      The Jews had developed a clear pattern to external persecution throughout history that have lasted for 2,000 years.

•      Often the term “Jews” refers to those who experienced the Diaspora, the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine, long before the creation of the modern state of Israel.

•      The Jews are a rebellious lot.

•      When the Jews of Palestine were revolting against the Romans, the Jews of Alexandria were doing the same.

•      How did Jews of the Diaspora respond to persecution?

How did Diaspora Jews Respond to Persecution Prior to the Holocaust?

•      Resistance

•      Alleviation

•      Evasion

•      Paralysis

•      Compliance

Examples of Historical Alleviation to Persecution

•      A Standard course was ransom, petitions, and protection payments.

•      In 1942, Bulgarian Jews petitioned the authorities not to be removed from their apartments.

•      In the Middle Ages, the Jews of Nurnberg paid 80,000 Guilders to stop a pogrom (Duke received 15,000 and his agent 4,000).

•      The same would happen in Slovakia and Hungary to stop the transports east.

•      Sometimes the victims, seeing no avenue of escape, complied with the wishes of the persecutors.

Other Forms of Alleviation

•      Rescue and Relief were other approaches to the same effort to end the persecutions.

•      Often this was lead by “Prominent” Jews.

•      They raised money from the outside to encourage immigration.

•      In the 1860s, German Jews raised money to protect and help Russian Jews.

•      Following the persecution, there would be Reconstruction to restore the damaged or destroyed Jewish community.

The Evasion Reaction

•      This was not as marked as alleviation.

•      Jews rarely fled in the wake of a pogrom.

•      Instead they lived through it.

•      They survived and this too shall pass.


•      This happens when there is no avenue of escape or all else fails.

•      Likewise, the persecutor finds strength from the inability of the victim to flee.

•      This happened to World Jewry between 1941-42, when the decisions were being made for the Final Solution.

•      The final action was compliance – best seen with the establishment of the Judenrat or Jewish Councils that worked with the Germans in the Ghettos.