In July of 1938, delegates from thirty-two countries attended a meeting at the French town of Evian-les-Baines. The discussion they had was on how to aid the Jews who were fleeing the Nazi’s Third Reich as refugees. In March of 1938, the Nazi persecution of the Jews reached alarmingly horrifying proportionsi. Many of the attendees of the Evian-les-Baines meeting openly disclosed their sympathies they held of the Jews. However, most of the countries were not able to increase their quotas of taking in Jewish refugees into their lands. They came up with one excuse after another. Thus, the meeting was a failure in offering Jews aid. This demonstrates the open indifference the world held for the Jewish community on the eve of the Holocaustii, i.
Important questions arise in regards to the widespread anti-Semitism in Western society between the years 1899-1939. They are:
- Why was the West indifferent to the Jews being persecuted on the eve of the Holocaust?
- What prompted the extreme antiseministic attitude after 1899?
- Was the antisemitism rise even or uneven between 1899 and the Holocaust?
- Across societies, were there notable differences in antiseministic attitudes?
- Did ordinary Germans behave similarly to Jews as did ordinary Americans, the British and the French and Polish citizens?
- How do other forms of ethical and religious prejudices differ from antisemitism?
A national comparison of antiseministic attitudes before 1945 has not been recorded by scholars with a few exceptions.
It is a known fact that the Jews have been persecuted for two millennia. However, the late 19th and early 20th centuries observed the highest waves of persecution of the Jews amongst Eastern societies. The research scholars have attempted to describe the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe after the year 1899 in a number of ways. They have also tried to account for the differences in intensities in the antiseministic attitudes amongst countries. Ethnic prejudice has been held the main reason for antisemitism by most of the scholars. Other explanations for antiseministic expression are:
- modernization theories;
- relative deprivation
- competition between ethnicities;
- or frustration-aggression.
In Europe, especially, the role of modernization has been cited as explanation to the rise of anti-semitics. Why modernization? Modernization led to the emergence of capitalism and liberalism and, hence, of the emancipation of the Jews socially, politically, and economically. Competition from Jews thrust fear amongst non-Jews to a great extent and thus, was the rise of antisemitismiii.
Considering modernization theories, the losers or the defeated nations are those that would harbor the highest degrees of antiseministic attitudes. Arendt (1975)iv proposed a variation of the modernization theory that includes a change in the role the Jews played in European society. By the end of the 19th century, the Jews held a lot of wealth (but were less powerful) and the European societies now depended on the Jews for finances and loans.
According o Arendt, the possession of great amounts of wealth with inappropriate power and status projected the Jews as a parasitical social group. Arendt demonstrates the highest levels of antiseministic attitudes were practiced during times when Jewish influence declined the most. Although the modernization theory explains the rise of anti-Semitism post-1879 in a realistic, acceptable way, it cannot sufficiently explain the temporal and spatial differences in the practice of antisemitism. The modernization theory cannot explain fully well the rise of the antiseministic attitudes between the 1880s and1890s to how it fell drastically from 1900 to 1914, and how it rose again to prominence in the early 1920s to mid-1930s. It alone could not explain why Germany and Romania practiced higher levels of antisemitism compared to Britain or Italy.
Another famous explanation for the rise of antisemitism is the scapegoat theory. According to the scapegoat theorists, Jews were predominantly minority groups across several countries and represented the scapegoats for the country’s majority’s problems. Thus, the scapegoat theory proposes that during a national crisis, the nations’ majority groups seek out on whom to throw the blame for their misfortunes. European societies went through a number of social upheavals and crises after 1879 and the Jews served a target group for their bitterness and anger during these tough periods. However, the scapegoat theory cannot fully explain why the Jews and not other minorities were the target of the European countries; anger during difficult periods.
Pierre Birnbaum (1992)v offers a variant of the theory for anti Semitism rise and fall. According to Birnbaum, the antiseministic attitudes were an expression of hostility and that of strength of the state. A strong state would persecute the Jews more harshly such as Germany and France. On the other hand, in weaker states, the Jews obtained equal rights as in the cases of Great Britain and the United States. Birnbaum, however, could not explain the temporal variation in antiseministic attitudes. Periods of low and high antisemitism could not be differentiated by Birnbaum.
Spatial and Temporal Variations in Antisemitism
There are four strains of antiseministic attitudes that form the basis for the spur in antiseminism between the years 1899 and 1939. The four strains include the religious, political, economical, and social aspects. The four strains provide the antiSemitists with ample reason to wage war against the Jews and persecute them in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
According to the researchers, the rise in antisemitism was great in times when where Jews were considered as terrible social, political, religious, and economic threats .The emergence of the four antisemitic strains as well as the temporal and partial variations amongst counties in their treatments of Jews have for their basis four main factors. They are the:
- Decline in a nation’s economic well-being;
- High levels of immigration of eastern European Jews;
- The political Left gaining increased support; and
- Identification of rule of the political Left with Jews.
When a nation’s economic prosperity declines, then it leads to antiJewish feelings. This is because, in these countries, the Jews are considered and seen as possessing enormous wealth and thus, economically superior. In times when the nation is stable economically we should not expect to see such high levels of anti Semitism, on the other hand.
Another factor for increased levels of expression of anti Semitism is the higher immigration level of eastern European Jews. These Eastern European Jews had little resources and education and so competed with the native country’s majority for low-paying jobs.
Competition thus, led to animosity and higher levels of antiseministic attitudes. The influx of the Ashkenazi Jews from the Eastern Europe’s ghettos struck the Westerners as a different Jewish community with customs and rituals very strange. They were not like the Sephardic Jews who had existed in the West for many years. This spurred antiseministic attitudes in the European countries.
Also, after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, many European Christians related the Bolshevism with the Eastern Jewish immigrants. Since these impoverished Jews from Russia had fled persecution, they were thought as supporting the Left Parties. Also, there were numerous press releases that claimed that Jews were over–represented in the Communist Party. Bolshevism was not easily digested by the West who thought it shook the fundamentals of religious and social orderliness. AntiBolshevik attitudes led to the increase in antisemitism. Many of the Europeans associated the Jews as causing labor unrest and eager to seize power from them. Jews were also held responsible for the rise and spread of revolutionary socialism.
The literature available analyses the anti-Semitism within a particular nation. Otherwise, a nonemperical mode of analysis across many countries has been conducted. The authors provide a systematic, empirical, and comparative explanation of antisemitism and its variants before the Holocaust. According to the authors, the social, religious, political, and economic aspects of antisemitism have originated from the factors such as economic well being decline, immigration of Jews from the East, growth of support for the Lefts, and association of Jews with Leftist leadership in the years before the Holocaust.
Correspondingly, the authors say that the temporal and regional variations of anti Semitism are also due to Jewish immigration, support for the Leftists, and the GDP levels of a country.
When GDP declines in a country, the majority of the people there attribute their ill being to a minority racial group. Thus, with GDP declines in Europe, antisemitism grew in the decades before the Holocaust. Also, it was found that as Jewish immigration increased in a country, the levels of antisemitism also increased in those places. The authors, however, do not find any associations between antisemitism and Leftist support although they had suggest this to be one of the main factors for hatred toward Jews in Europe before the Holocaust.
The antiseministic attitudes also varied between countries. Upon analyses, it was found that Romania exhibited more violent types of antisemitism. In Germany and Italy, antiseministic attitudes were associated with dismissals of officers who were Jews from high posts and authoritative positions. In France and Great Britain, antisemitism was expressed as reactions from the media.
Thus, to a conclusion, the nature and number of antiseministic acts varied greatly between countries. There was also variation in these acts with respect to time. The variations are thought of as functions of Jewish immigration and the nation’s economic wellbeing.