Anti-Semitism, or hostility or prejudice against Jews as an ethnic, religious or racial group, can be traced back to the biblical era with the crucifixion of Jesus and the backlash against the Jews as a result of Jesus’ death. This first instance set the tone for future events in which Jews were blamed for the economic and political downfall of countries, seen as being children of the devil, and frequently persecuted and driven from their homes as a result of the false implication of blood libel and societies using the Jews as scapegoats for their failures. While not as visibly widespread as other stereotypes against the Jews, the belief that Jews participate in ritual killings, known as both blood libel and ritual killings, has been historically impactful on the treatment of Jews for centuries. While there are scholars who distinguish between ritual murder, which is limited to the act of killing for ritualistic purposes, and blood libel, which is the murder and then subsequent use of blood, these two terms often are used interchangeably. Due to how deeply ingrained the ideas of blood libel are, it is challenging to remove the ideas and implications of blood libel from societies even today.
Along with the ideas of blood libel and ritual killings, much Anti-Semitism can be traced back to, and categorized into, various distinct stereotypes. These stereotypes, first explicitly outlined in Martin Luther’s On Jews and their Lies, include the Jews as being greedy, both for money and for power, prideful, as well as being children of the devil. Additionally, Luther cites the persecution of the Jews as being punishment for their flaws and pride, another stereotype that is further perpetuated in the Jews’ alleged responsibility for the failure of nations.
The Jews were not merely persecuted by state forces, such as the Nazi Party, during the Holocaust, but also were frequently persecuted and violently forced from their homes since the Black Death, which occurred in the mid-1300s throughout Europe, through the Holocaust. During the Black Death, Jews were often blamed for poisoning wells, and as a result, many towns and cities murdered many of their Jewish residents. These same regions that killed members of their Jewish communities during the fourteenth century had higher levels of Anti-Semitism during the 1920s through the Holocaust. This is further evidence that the persecution of the Jews was not limited a specific era, but can be traced throughout history and throughout Europe. Many of the communities who murdered the Jewish populations were dispersed throughout Europe and not just located in what would become Germany. While most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, Anti-Semitism and the extreme stereotypes against Jews can be traced back to the Biblical period. There are published accounts of blood libel being distributed as early as 1150 AD and the ideas of Anti-Semitism explicitly becoming increasingly widespread after the publication of On Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther.
The Origins of Blood Libel
As previously mentioned, blood libel is the accusation that the Jews used human sacrificial blood, most frequently Christian blood, during their religious festivals and practices. Many of the accusations revolved around the use of blood libel in preparation of Passover. The first known recorded accusation of blood libel came from the historian Posionius in 2 BCE. Posionius stated that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, discovered that every seven years the Jews would kidnap a Greek, and then kill and eat parts of him, in doing so demonstrating their undying hatred for the Greeks. This accusation by Posionius demonstrates two major accusations against the Jews, one that they took part in blood libel, and that they were responsible for the fall of nations, as demonstrated by the oath of hatred the Jews supposedly took every time they killed a Greek.
Along with Posionius’ original accusation, Thomas of Monmouth published the first medieval accusation against the Jews in 1150, in Norwich. In this account, William of Norwich, who was a young apprentice, was found dead. William himself does not have any historical significance outside of his death and the accusations that followed. While originally there were no conclusions drawn relating to his death, eventually Brother Thomas declared that he was murdered due to his faith. Further, some years later, a relative of William’s claimed that she saw him enter the house of a Jew, a short time before he was found dead, with another apprentice. After hearing this news, Brother Thomas insisted that William was killed in a ritual and then left in the woods. From there the story continues to provide “evidence” that a Jew was responsible for the murder of William. Thereafter, the story spread quickly of the murder of William of Norwich and the use of his blood in a Jewish ritual. As the story was passed from person to person it was embellished to include the requirement for Christian blood at Passover, further demonized the Jews in the eyes of the Christians.
These stories and accusations quickly became part of popular culture. In both the Canterbury Tales, written in the late fourteenth century, and “The Jews Daughter” , many aspects of these two stories are strikingly similar to each other, even when they were published almost 400 years apart. In both stories, a young Christian boy is walking through the area where the Jews supposedly reside, singing a hymn which results in the Jews resenting the boy. Then the boy is killed as part of the blood libel and buried near one of the Jew’s houses. However, after the mother of the boy hears the boy’s voice, he is dug up and found to be unharmed and results in the Jews converting. While both of these examples are works of literature, they are both reflections of cases of blood libel.
The published materials that were on the topic of blood libel and the Jews were not always accounts of the ritual killings, however in the nineteenth century, blood libel became a common focus for Anti-Semitic publications. Many works were published on the alleged causes of the Jews’ usage of ritual killings and various evaluations of their character. Sir Richard Burton, in his book, The Jews, the Gypsy and El Islam, creates an ethnographic description of Jews that further outlines and explains their alleged crimes and condemnations. These crimes include multiple accusations of blood libel and ritual murder against the Jews as well as accusations regarding bribery, thievery and other petty crimes. As time went on, the accusations of blood libel and ritual killings were adapted to the period in which they occurred. In the 18th and 19th century, the focus became less on the act and accusations, instead, apply pseudo-scientific research to determine the causes of blood libel and to attempt to determine why the Jews were the roots of so many societal problems.
The accusations of blood libel did not end with the beginning of the twentieth century or with World War II. In November 1960, Golda Mier protested the Knesset against a charge of blood libel that appeared in the Soviet Republic of Dagestan’s official newspaper. This accusation stated that Jews were using the blood of Moslem, which was the dominant ethnic group in Dagestan, children in their rituals. The perpetuation in societies across Europe of legends surrounding blood libel and the continuation of belief in blood libel have been incredibly difficult to end.
Nazi Propaganda: Themes and Functions
While published Anti-Semitism had been in existence since the biblical period, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that Anti-Semitic works were used heavily as propaganda. The best and most well-known example of Anti-Semitic propaganda is Nazi propaganda during World War II. This propaganda was first seen in the pseudo-scientific journals that promoted the ideas of eugenics and Social Darwinism. Both eugenics and Social Darwinism were based on the belief that one group was evolutionarily more advanced than other groups. Eugenics had been around since the late nineteenth century but became popular after World War I and gained even further popularity during World War II and the years leading up to it. Eugenics was a prevalent theme in Nazi propaganda. Among other things, the propaganda asserted that Jews’ physical attributes, such as their stereotypically larger nose, showed that they were evolutionally lesser than the Germans, who were part of the Aryan race. Most of the Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jews as a subhuman, alien race, or eine Üntermenschen, that stole from the host nation, overtook their economy and destroyed their culture. The primary function of Nazi and general Anti-Semitic propaganda was to create a zeitgeist of prejudice and violence against Jews in which public participation was considered normal.
The frequency and intensity of the propaganda against Jews were meant to create a sense of normalcy to see the Jews as lesser, inhuman and the cause of all misfortune for the Germans. As more propaganda was published, there was a shift from tolerating prejudice against Jews to tolerating violence against them. The use of propaganda made it so that ordinary German citizens, or the volk, were prepared to be Anti-Semites and conditioned to be used by the Nazis to carry out their Anti-Semitic aims through ethnic cleansing. The German volk became an integral theme of Nazi propaganda. The emphasis on the German volk combined Anti-Semitic views, further blaming the Jews for the volks’ economic and socio-political problems, with eugenics as it emphasized the belief that the Germans were the dominant race over all others . Another theme related to the German volk that the propaganda emphasized was the belief that the only way that the German volk could survive and return to power was if the Jews were removed from Germany or exterminated. This aspect of German propaganda became incredibly dangerous and was a definite driving force behind the Holocaust.
One example of propaganda posters, a common type of propaganda put out by Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Party, was the poster that is known as “Hinter den Feindmächten.” This propaganda poster displays a prevailing sentiment regarding the dehumanization of the Jews in Nazi Germany. The artist portrays the Jew with a stereotypical oversized and prominent nose, looking suspicious hiding behind the flags of the Allied powers demonstrating the belief that the Jews were responsible for German failure, internally and externally. Additionally, the poster combines many of the stereotypes about the Jews, using the physical characteristics of the Jew shown to indicate how evil and sinister he, and the Allied power, are. Additionally, as the Jew is hiding behind the flags of the Allied forces, this is part of the stereotype of Jews and their obsession with money and power. Before and during World War II, many right-wing organizations accused the Jews of profiteering rather than fighting on the front lines for the enemy nations.
Along with propaganda posters, another standard genre of propaganda were children’s books. This allowed a particular set of volkish values to infiltrate into normal society. One propaganda book was the book Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher written by Ernst Hiemer in 1940. In his book, Mr. Hiemer compared the Jews to various undesirable creatures, such as poisonous snake, a tapeworm, and bacteria. Each story within Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher was meant to serve as an example of why the Jews are subhuman and why they need to be killed, which was the closing of each story. Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, unlike much of the propaganda published in the 1940s through the end of World War II, was meant for children. The intention was to influence multiple generations to see Jews as inhuman and were indoctrinated to the Nazi Party’s belief that the Jews were responsible for the fall of Germany as a world power. Many short stories similar to those collected in Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher were also published in Anti-Semitic newspapers, such as Der Stümer, which was the most Anti-Semitic of the Nazi newspapers. One edition of the “Der Stümer”, the front-page heading read “The Jews are our Misfortune.” Der Stümer frequently included accusations of blood libel, conspiracy theories, and letters to the editors inciting violence against the Jews.
One of the most Anti-Semitic pieces of propaganda was the film Jud Süss. The film was based on the book of the same title written by Lion Feuchtwanger and published in 1925. While there were other propaganda films produced by Goebbels, “Jud Süss” was the most influential and Anti-Semitic of all the Anti-Semitic propaganda films. These propaganda films played a vital role in the indoctrination of Anti-Semitism, the bolstering of the idea of German superiority and the idea that Jews were not human. “Every anti-Semitic stereotype that had been conjured up to a mainstream artistic scale through volk ideology is present in Veit Harlan’s Jud Suss”. These films portrayed the German volk as the saviors and the Jews as inhuman creatures who were trying to destroy German society. In the film, Süss, the main character and the apparent villain of the story, rose to power through deception, exploitation, greed, and hatred of the Germans, all of the significant stereotypes that were heavily used throughout Nazi Propaganda, to destroy German society. In the film, it was made clear that Süss’s only function in life was to destroy the political and economic structure of German society. This film was created to scare the German people into believing that all Jews were like Süss, that they would rise to destroy their society.
A horror film, like the one the “Jud Süss” was produced to reflect, creates a villain that does not allow for any redeemable qualities and makes their only purpose of destroying the supposed hero and their society. Terra Films produced “Jud Süss” in the same style as a traditional horror film incite fear in those who watched it. “Jud Süss” uses every stereotype against the Jews to make it incredibly clear to the viewer that the Jews are to be considered enemies. The film additionally incorporated published stories that further demonstrated the evil intentions of the Jews. These stereotypes included their lustfulness, their revenge-driven goals, and their plot to destroy the German Volk. An additional point that the film made was the power that Süss held over two characters, Dorothea and Faber, demanding that Dorothea have sex with him so that Faber could be released, which demonstrates the sadistic nature of the Jews. While the sexual deviancy of the Jews was a common stereotype, the difference, in this case, was the use of the power dynamic between Süss and Dorothea was meant to further scare the German volk into being more accepting of violence against Jews. This film’s sole purpose was to convince the German Volk that all Jews were intent on the destruction of the German political and economic structures and that they should be feared.
From propaganda posters to children books for children, German propaganda focused on normalizing violence against the Jews and spreading the belief that the only way for the German Volk to survive was to remove Jews from their society by perpetuating the common stereotypes against the Jews, including accusations of blood libel.
Nazi Propaganda: Suggested Solutions
One of the most alarming aspects of Anti-Semitic propaganda was the suggestions the propaganda made regarding what should be done with the Jews. Much of the supposed evidence suggesting the expulsion of the Jews to save the German volk came from Protestant reformer Martin Luther in his book On the Jews and Their Lies, published in 1543. Luther references heavily the main stereotypes against the Jews, such as their greed and their supposed association with the devil, to enforce the idea that the Jews must be rejected from society. On the Jews and Their Lies serves as one of the leading foundational pieces of propaganda that encourages the expulsion of the Jews from German communities to preserve the German Volk. Adolf Hitler frequently used the idea that Jews as a race were undermining German strength in the struggle for power and survival and that the first offense that the Jews committed was claiming that, Jewry is a religion, not a race.”
In On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther explicitly outlines the steps that should be taken to remove Jews from German society. He first suggests that the Jews and their places of gathering, such as their schools and synagogues, then to refuse to allow them to live among the Germans and then to take away the Torah and Talmuds from them. The removal of religious texts was justified as Luther claimed that the Jews were the children of the Devil, not God, and that their use of the sacred texts was blasphemy. These steps continued until the final phase of removing the Jews from society to keep the German volk safe.
Luther, along with many other Germans, suggested that the Jews were not, and could never be German, which was one of the primary justifications for the mistreatment of the Jews. Throughout On the Jews and their Lies, there were many suggestions on how to make life difficult for the Jews. One of those suggestions was to stop protecting the Jews when traveling on highways because the Jews had no right to the land, and therefore no right to protection while on the land. This sentiment continued through to the 1940s and can be found in numerous examples of propaganda literature. For instance, in Kurt Hilmar Eitzen’s “Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte,” or Ten Nazi Anti-Semitic Arguments, Eitzen states that the Jews were not German. These arguments were written with the intention of being used by ordinary Germans, again lending to the belief that the goal of propaganda was to create a society of people, or the German Volk, that was Anti-Semitic, rather than have legislation in place to remove the Jews from society. “Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte” was written to be used in everyday conversation and touched on each of the major stereotypes against the Jews as well as other possible arguments people might make to those who were not fully indoctrinated into the Anti-Semitic society that the Nazi Party and Goebbels were attempting to create through propaganda. One of these arguments was that there were “decent Jews ” which was to be countered with a widespread sentiment among the Nazi party that even though there were possibly decent Jews, they were the exception. It was published that the Jews were only decent because they stole resources and money from the Germans, again connecting it back to the idea that the Jews were stealing from the Germans and that was the only reason for their success.
Another connection to the greed of the Jews and their supposed decency is found in On the Jews and their Lies. Luther states that the money that the Jews donate and give to help the government was stolen from the Germans through usury and that the Jews are using this money and the illusion of being charitable as a way to live in the Germanic states for free. By living on the land for free, the Jews are taking valuable resources, pay and opportunities from the Germans. An additional argument from “Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte” is the argument against the Jews having better prices than some of the German stores. The idea that “Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte,” and most propaganda related to economics, emphasized was that the Jews were able to have lower prices because they exploited employees and because the Jews have united to destroy the German economy through lowering process. The suggested solution to deal with the Jews in an economic sense was to boycott and sabotage any Jewish businesses. This suggested solution was implemented in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 that banned Jews from owning and operating businesses.
A significant portion of Anti-Semitic propaganda encouraged the elimination of the Jews and that the German volk must recognize this fact as well. The solutions put forth in German propaganda represented the belief that Jews, as a race, were responsible for the failure of the German state and the only way for the Germans to regain power was to remove Jews from society, events that would culminate into the Holocaust.
Stereotypes of the Jews: Greed
One of the most common stereotypes against the Jews revolves around greed, both for money and for power. In the previously mentioned propaganda poster, Hinter den Feindmächten, focused heavily on Jewish greed for power, which is why the Jews allied themselves with Germany’s enemies to further undermine German superiority. Much of the German propaganda was focused on spreading the belief that the Jews were not only responsible for the internal downfall of Germany itself, but also the Jews were responsible for the successes of the Allied powers.
The Nazis did not invent the stereotype of Jews being greedy. An account from 416 AD details a Jew that was baptized multiple times by different churches to gain the financial reward for converting, then once he received the award, would go to a different church to then be baptized again. According to the account, the cycle ended when the Jew went to a Roman Catholic church to be baptized. At the Roman Catholic church, however, each attempt at baptism failed as the water disappeared, demonstrating the power of God and the deception of the Jews. This account illustrates the greed of the Jews and their willingness to do anything to get money. Luther asserted in his book that the Jews, through the exploitation of the Germans, were more affluent as a people, than they were during the reign of David and Solomon. Luther consistently emphasized that this exploitation would continue if not stopped. One of the main reasons why greed became such a pervasive theme in Nazi propaganda was because, in the German Volk, there was a connection between wealth and worth in society. So Jewish greed was not only an attack on German’s livelihood but to the völkish culture itself.
In a great deal of Nazi propaganda, there was a great deal of focus on the Jew’s greed for power. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote about the Jews as being intermediaries, rather than working for themselves. This stereotype became a prominent theme of propaganda. While many societies view the classic story of rags to riches, the supposed rise of the Jews to political power through devious means became of a source of violence and prejudice. One of the best examples that encompass the greed of the Jews and willingness of the Jews to do whatever is necessary to gain power is the book and film, Jud Süss. Jud Süss is known as the most influential Anti-Semitic films of the era. The film focuses on the rise, and subsequent fall of Süss, the main character, and a Jew. Jud Süss, initially published as a book in 1925 by Lion Feuchtwanger, was one of the first primary pieces of evidence of the rise of Anti-Semitism in völkish art. Süss created a sense of paranoia and panic in the German volk because it caused the belief that any Jew could rise to power overnight and further dismantle the German state. In the movie, “the audience sees before their eyes this Jew who rises out of nowhere, disrupting the status quo and stealthily decaying the moral and social codes of the nation”. Jud Süss is just one example depicting the desire of the Jews to gain as much power as possible through any means necessary.
Another stereotype heavily associated with the greed of the Jews seen in Anti-Semitic propaganda was the parasitic nature of the Jews. A great deal of propaganda portrayed the Jews as being lazy and parasitic, only living off the work and resources of the Germans. In Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, many of the stories focused on the idea that the Jews were not human and “fed off the host nation, poisoned its culture, seized its economy and enslaved its workers and farmer”. The idea of the Jews exploiting the Germans is a prevalent theme and stereotype in Anti-Semitic propaganda. Randall Bytwerk, the author of the introduction to Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, stated that the Jews had been persecuted for generations by the Gentiles for their parasitic nature which led to their expulsion from many of villages and town in medieval Europe. In many of the stories within Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, as well many other Anti-Semitic works, the Jews were labeled as a lazy parasite that only exploited the people and robbed communities.
The publication of Anti-Semitic propaganda connected Jewish attributes of greed and exploitation to the destruction of German society. In the story of “Der Bandwurm”, the Jews are cited as the cause of rebellion and revolutions due to their malicious presence. Additionally, the Jews were accused in this story of corrupting the younger generations, undermining the morality of the German volk and taking over German industries to further undermine German society. Die Drohnen, another story teaching a very similar message, the Jews are compared to drone bees that only harm the Germans, taking from the Germans and making them poor. The stereotype that the Jews were responsible for the destruction of societies did not originate in the 1940s, as can be seen in Luther’s works. As early as the sixteenth century, Luther wrote that the Jews aimed to overcome the Gentiles, steal all their wealth and resources and destroy their homes. The best example of Jews trying to destroy German society comes from Adolf Hitler’s January 30th, 1939 speech where he said:
“If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the…victory of Jewry but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”
The belief that the Jews were responsible for the fall of German society, the power behind the Allied forces and other enemies of the Germans, and were greedy parasites were all common themes in Anti-Semitic propaganda. Theses stereotype had roots in both medieval society and the pseudo-science of eugenics that was later applied to much of German culture during the 1940s.
Stereotypes of the Jews: Children of the Devil
The final general stereotype is that Jews, as a race, are not children of God, but instead are children of the Devil. A significant portion of On Jews and their Lies focuses on the idea that the Jews were children of the Devil and were working to destroy the Christian faith through their perversion of scripture . Additionally, the Jews, according to Luther, used their hatred towards the Christians to strengthen their faith, which included their god who also gained strength through the exploitation of the Christians. The idea that the Jews had their god that was different from the Christian God was another common theme seen during the 1940s. The theme that the Jewish god was different than the Christian God was a prevalent theme in Jud Süss, with the Jewish god in the movie being an avenging god that sought to enact revenge against the German peoples and Christians. This was demonstrated in the film when one of the characters, Dorothea, prays to God and Süss interjects with the warning that his god, the Jewish god, was a revenge-driven god.
Luther further uses the idea of the Jews being the children of the Devil to perpetuate the stereotype that the Jews aimed to destroy German society and that they were not even human. While the Jews believed that they were descendants of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca, Luther strongly felt that the Jew was not human and should be regarded as worms. Luther supports this example by stating that the Jews praised God and exalted themselves as being the chosen people, separating themselves from the Christians which further alienated them and fueled Anti-Semitic propaganda. In his paper, Anti-Semitism in German Volk Culture,” Hank Levin, or Earlham University, argues that the Jews recognized the differences between their race and the native Germans, and even if the Jews were not evil, their actions still represented that of a minority who hated the majority for those apparent differences. According to the stories in Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, the Jews were aware of these differences and exploited them to get what they wanted. In the stories, the Jews would convince the German Volk that the Jews were innocent, harmless and are to be pitied so that the German’s would give them the same rights, making them as similar to German citizens as possible, so then the Jews could exploit the naïve Germans. Nazi propaganda heavily used the ideas of Jews exploiting the Germans as a way to create an atmosphere of paranoia in the German Volk as it portrayed the Jews as being wicked and deceitful people that would cover their deception with good deeds, false scripture, and conversion.
In general, Jews have been labeled as social and religious scapegoats. They were viewed as being the children of the Devil that were working to undermine the German volk through conversion and by spreading the lies of their false god, that also aimed to destroy the German Volk. The Jews, according to the Nazi propaganda and other Anti-Semitic works, such as the play “The Merchant of Venice” written by William Shakespeare, hated the Germans and Christians, only because they were Germans and Christians and through their false scripture and exploitation of the German volk would work to destroy different societies .
Generations of prejudice and violence perpetrated against the Jews have led them to become one of the most historically common scapegoats, and this prejudice is not limited to the era of Nazi Germany. All throughout history have Jews been segregated from society, being excluded from social groups, forced to deal with their places of worship being vandalized and being rejected from many public places that claimed they were for Christians only . In Robert K. Merton’s essay “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, he argues that “if the Jew is condemned for his educational or professional or scientific or economic success, then, understandably enough, many Jews will come to feel that these accomplishments must be minimized in simple self-defense” . Even with the end of World War II and the defeat of the Nazi party, there has been a resurgence of Anti-Semitic propaganda that has recently come out of European Neo-Nazi groups. The rise of these groups was brought on by the increase in immigration from Middle Eastern countries, which caused an increase in xenophobic actions, beliefs and in some countries, such as France, legislation and even the rise of political parties.
Anti-Semitism can be traced back to the New Testament and had evolved to such a deep hatred of the Jews throughout Europe that led to the Holocaust and current Anti-Semitic sentiments in the modern day.
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