Two Millenia of Hatred and Suffering
Published on April 1, 2004 By Larry Kuperman In Europe
Recent articles and some posts here share the perspective that The Holocaust or Shoah was a single episode of anti-Semitism in Europe, an aberration if you will. History shows otherwise. The purpose of this post is to examine the history of anti-Semitism in Europe as a pattern of hateful and violent events, not a single episode.

If you know my writings, I always caution against the demonization of any people, Jew or Arab, European or non-European. I do not believe that the majority of any population is bad or evil, quite the contrary. But there are references today to Jews having made overmuch of their suffering. These same references site only the events of World War II. But even a cursory review of history or a single Google search will show that the pattern of persecution of Jews by the inhabitants of Europe span the millenia. I will not cite acts perpretrated by individuals or isolated acts, but only those that had the full support of the reigning governments.

The history of calling Jews "unjust" begins with no less a figure than Paul. Now this predates the existence of an organized Christain church, so might well be considered an internicine squabble, between those Jews that had accepted Christ and those who hadn't. But this begins a pattern of acrimony that is still with us.

By the year 380, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. It was no longer a matter of one Jewish sect differing from another, it was now two different religions. Bishop Ambrose opposed the granting of basic rights to Jews under the Empire and said "Whom do [the Jews] have to avenge the synagogue? Christ whom they have killed, whom they have denied? Or will God the Father avenge them, whom they do not acknowledge as Father since they do not acknowledge the Son?" The thrust was that a Christian (or pagan for that matter) could do what he would to a Jew without fear of divine retribution. Some Popes like Gregory I wanted to see Jews protected, with the ultimate goal of conversion. But it was not until Vatican II in the 1960's that the Church took this as an official position.

In 626 King Dagobert expels the Jews from France. In 694 the Jews of Spain must choose between slavery or conversion. Bands of warriors en route to the Crusades often stop to pillage Jewish settlements. 1180 sees King Philip Augustus of France imprison and ransom the entire Jewish population of France. 1235 German Jews are accused of Blood Libel at Fulda Germany. German Jews, fleeing the persecutions there, flock to Poland. In 1287 Edward the First imprisons and ransoms 3000 Jews. Not satisfied, in 1290 he expels the Jews from England. Jews are not allowed to return to England until the Cromwell era. The BBC summary appears at 1478 begins the Spanish Inquisition, with thousands of Jews tortured, murdered or forced to convert. Spain at one time was the home of great Jewish philosophers. The Inquisition in Spain does not officially end until 1808, almost 250 years after it began. Over 300,000 people were burned at the stake. See (WARNING: Contains pictures of brutality.)

European Jews had been forced to flee to the East. They found a temporary home in Poland, where Jewish thought flourished. It was, however, also in Poland that saw the famous walled ghettos, referring to the parts of the city where Jews were confined. The origin of the word ghetto is in the name of an island near Venice, where Jews were confined. It is amazing that the separation of Jews from the general populace was so pervalent that we had to coin a special word for it. 1447 sees King Casimir the Fourth restore all rights to Jews in Poland; 1454 he revokes the decree.

Then comes the Protestant Reformation. Marin Luther urges his followers "... to deal kindly with the Jews and to instruct them to come over to us." The anticipated Jewish conversion never comes and in 1544 he publishes About the Jews and Their Lies which states that his followers should "Set their synagogues on fire... Their homes should be likewise broken down... Their rabbis must be forbidden to teach under the threat of death." Not to be outdone, Pope Paul IV says in his Papal Bull of 1555 "It appears utterly absurd and impermissible that the Jews, whom God has condemned to eternal slavery for their guilt, should enjoy our Christian love."

European Jews were vilified by not only the church. Karl Marx said "What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money... Money is the jealous God of Israel, besides which no other god may exist... The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world", and went on to conclude "In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism."

By the 18th Century over 1 million Jews fled to the Russia of Catherine the Great. By and large, they were prohibited from living is cities and settled in rural areas. This is the beginning shtetl life. Jews lived in the village within the village. By the 1880's a new word has been coined to describe persecutions directed at Jews: Pogrom. Let me backtrack a moment and discuss Blood Libel, the accusation that sparked so many organized attacks.

In 1144, Jews in Norwich England were accused of ritual murder. The supposition was that the blood of Christian children was a necessary ingredient for Matzo, the unleavened bread eaten at Passover. Historically, when someone wants to persecute the Jews they accuse them of Blood Libel. There are many ironies here. The Laws of Kashruth (Kosher) require that all food be completely cleansed of blood. Moreover, the Communion Wafer has its origins in the Matzo that was eaten at the Last Supper. Regardless, with no proof offered or required, the leaders of the Jewish community at Norwich were murdered. Blood Libel rears it's ugly head at numerous times of history.

In 1881 the Catholic journal Civilta Cattolica began a series of articles alleging Blood Libel. These rumours spread throughout Europe, resulting in new waves of anti-semitism. In Russia, the pogroms began.

Meanwhile, in France, the trial of a Jewish Army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, had begun. Dreyfus was accused of espionage and unjustly convicted. Huge crowds gathered outside the courtroom to hurl anti-Semitic slogans. Based on evidence forged by a fellow French officer, Hubert Henry, Dreyfus was convicted and sentenced to Devil's Island. Even when the true traitor, Walsin Esterhazy, was found, Dreyfus was left to rot. Finally, thanks to the ceaseless campaign by Emile Zola and others, Dreyfus was exonerated. One of the correspondents that covered the trial of Dreyfus was Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian Jew. Based on the injustice that he saw in France and the reaction of the French populace in general, Hertzl became convinced that only in a Jewish homeland could the survival of the Jewish people be assured. He began the first Zionist Congress.

It would take a lot to convince the Jewish people to leave their homes in Europe to go to a far-off and unestablished Jewish state. That convincing came in the form of a new wave of pogroms in Russia. Thousands of Jews were killed and tens of thousands left homeless. The emigration began in earnest.

The climatic event in the history of European anti-Semitism was the Shoah or Holocaust. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of the European Jewish community died in the camps. Entire countries were cleared of the Juden. But even after that, European anti-Semitism continued. Stalin was a confirmed anti-Semite. Bear in mind that 3.2 million Jews lived in Russia prior to World War II. Those who escaped death during the German occupation, now suffered under Stalin. Jews were not allowed to leave Russia until the fall of Communism.

The Holocaust was aided and abetted by people in the occupied countries. Not all people by any means. People of good conscience opposed the Nazis. Oscar Schindler is a shining example. So too are the citizens of Denmark and the Netherlands. But in France, according to an official government report endorsed by President Jacques Chirac, the Vichy government played an active role in the rounding of Jews for the Nazi deathcamps. Civil servants compiled lists and French police arrested the Jews and turned them over to the Nazis. One fourth of the French Jewish population, 76000 French citizens, was exterminated. In 1995, Chirac said ``Yes, the criminal folly of the occupier was assisted by French people, by the French state.'' Mitterand, who was himself part of the Vichy government had denied that French had any responsibility.

Other governments also assisted the Nazis. The concentration camps were built in subject countries, notably Poland, because it was believed that the population would not object. Bear in mind that the English government, during the prewar years, blocked Jewish immigration to Palestine. They could not have foreseen the coming events, but still... It took the complicity of all of Europe to permit the Holocaust.

After World War II, there was a lull in European anti-Semitic activity that lasted until the 1960's. But there have been growing movements of Holocaust deniers in many countries. Anti-Semitism is unquestionably on the rise in Europe. A recent report by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia was suppressed. The report was prepared by the Berlin's Center for Research on Anti-Semitism (CRA) and is available on the Internet. The report cites connections between European anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and the anti-Israeli movement and concludes "In particular there is an attempt by the right-wing to compare Israeli policies with the crimes perpetrated against Jews throughout history in order to minimize or even deny the guilt and responsibility of their own nations."

The events cited in this (overly lengthy for which I apologize) post are historically accurate. I will cite my sources below. Instances of anti-Semitism are usually conducted by a minority of individuals, although endorsed by Church and State alike. They require, however, the tacit compliance of the majority in order to occur.


on Apr 02, 2004
interesting...and more than likely true as i have to really research this topic...but one interesting stat i came across by accident stated that nearly 1/3 of all french jews are considering leaving france entirely for more tolerant place to live....that being either the US or Israel...because of the alarming rise in anti-semetic behavior inside doesnt shock me....europe has always had a "selective outrage" mentality for quite a long time....just look at the bias against Isreal....criticise Israeli attacks on terrorist leaders but not the terrorist leaders for sending suicide bombers out to kill Israelis and innocent palestinians...go figure
on Apr 02, 2004
Nice overview of history Larry, but the recent data needs a bit more honesty.

The report by the Anti-Semitism Research Institute of Berlin's Technical University was not suppressed. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia refused to publish it in its initial version as they felt it was poorly written and based on poor information. The prime conclusion of the report was that almost all anti-Jewish behaviour in Europe stemed from muslims. The EUMC was particular unhappy with the verbal attacks on muslim youths within the report and felt ". . . That Muslims are also targets of racism and religious discrimination is acknowledged only as an aside. Mention of Muslim people should only be made if it were directly relevant to specific manifestations of anti-Semitism. Any generalisation should be strictly avoided." In particular the current language of the report was unacceptable as "The EUMC must be seen as bringing groups of people together, not as acting divisively." Finally the EUMC was unhappy that the report had a major problem distinguishing bewteen anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli politics. Listing anto Israeli politics comments as anti-seminism is a very big issue.

Not being happy with the language and writing of a report is very very different from not being happy about the conclusions.

The consclusions clearly show that Europe as a whole does not have an anti-semitism problem. There is however a problem between the muslim communities and Jewish communities which is strongly linked to the Palestinian problem.

Thanks for the history review,

on Apr 03, 2004
Solitair, thank you. I was REALLY afraid that I went WAY too long with this post.

Two counter-points. If I wanted to suppress a report while still being "politically correct" I might object to the language, a highly defensible position. Hypothetical

More importantly, I am of the opinion that clashes between Muslims and Jews are far more common in Europe than in the US. I will research that today (if time permits) and post my findings. Not to speculate too much, but I would hypothesize that the key difference would be the prevailing attitude of the surrounding populace.

Last point. What I set out to establish was that European anti-Semitism (proven by indisputable events, if someone kills you, they didn't like you) is not a recent trend, but based on 2 thousand years of history. In light of that, the causes for not publishing a report are a small point.
on Apr 03, 2004
Everything you say is true. Anti-semitism is part of Europe heritage. Dislike for Israel's policies, can be anti-semitism or it can be based on the present behavior of the Israeli government. Israelis, themselves compare the behavior of the Palestinians to the holocaust. Personally, I would like to see the situation in Israel settled so that Palestinians have their country, Israel has theirs and the suicide bombings and bulldozing of villages cease. European attitudes might be anti-semitic or they might be more neutral than American attitudes.
on Apr 03, 2004
Hey, Sherye! Thank you.

Israelis, themselves compare the behavior of the Palestinians to the holocaust.

I don't know of any Israelis that do that. Of course there are millions of Israelis and I can't speak for them all. But the Holocaust or Shoah has a special, and hopefully unique, meaning. Those sympathetic to Israel might make that comparison.
on Apr 04, 2004
You are welcome, Larry. I read or heard the comparison on the news, but it was the reaction to a suicide bombing. They must be horrible to witness. I feel terrible that Christians were the source of anti-semitism. In the early church, Jews persecuted Christians, but that was for a very short time and doesn't compare to the anti-semitism of Europe. I have never understood it. Christians owe Jews everything.
on Apr 06, 2004
I totally concede the point that objecting over other points could indeed be used as a method of supression. I don't believe this was the case here though. The list of corrections and alteration the EUMC asked for was fairly understandable. Their biggest complaint was the lack of a separation between anti-Israeli politics and anti-seminism. This was closely followed by their complaint that the whole tone of the report was anti-muslim.

Your second point about clashes between muslims and Jews being more common in Europe may indeed be true. Certainly in France and Germany there has been considerable antagonism between these minorities. Clashes between all societies and Jews is very low though. Looking at EUMC data shows that racist incidents against Jews are much lower than against Eastern Europeans, Africans, Muslims or Asians.

I think it's important to both accept that Europe has an awful history of anti-semitism while at the same time realising that present day Europe does not. The Berlin report suggested a biggr problem than there actually is, primarily because it failed to distinguish critism of the Israeli government from anti-semitism. By claiming to be suppressed it generated much more publicity than it warrented. It did however highlight a growing problem between muslims and jewish communities. NOT between Europeans and Jews. Indeed Europe has a much much bigger anti-muslim problem than anti-semitism problem. Numerous published reports from the EUMC show this, but for some reason no one seems to care as much as the single 'suppressed' Jewish report. Either way Europe needs to be aware of the problem and work towards alieviating any racist attitudes against muslims or jews.