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History Of Anti-Semitism

Adolf Hitler’s hatred of the Jews developed in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of Vienna before World War I.  Throughout Europe, anti-Semitism was an acceptable and popular political and social movement. As a young man Hitler was exposed to a vast amount of anti-Semitic literature, parties, and political figures, such as Vienna’s virulently anti-Semitic mayor. Karl Lueger.

Anti-Semitism was not a new phenomenon.  The anti-Semitism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries developed out of a long history in Europe of resentment of the Jews. Even the ancient Romans persecuted Jews who did not pay tribute to Roman deities. Modern European anti-Semitism had its roots in the medieval period, when the Catholic Church taught its followers that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The medieval and early modern churches, both Catholic and Protestant, held that Jews were outcasts because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. In practice, this led to social isolation, persecution, and often pogroms, violent organized riots, and other attacks on Jewish communities that left many dead.

Anti-Semitism took a new turn in the late nineteenth century. Historians argue that in the nineteenth century anti-Semitism developed an additional racial emphasis. Jews were rejected not only because they were not Christian, but also because they theoretically belonged to a distinct, corrupted race. Racial anti-Semitism supplemented Christian anti-Judaism in an era when the Christian churches were no longer as powerful as they had been, so that the idea of converting Jews became less important

To some extent, the new ideas about race developed out of Social Darwinism, a corruption of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Racial theorists held that Jews and German Aryans, and other peoples such as Slavs, were distinct races, rather than distinct religious, linguistic or ethnic groups. The idea would develop among many racial anti-Semites that the only way to deal with Jews was elimination through isolation, expulsion or murder. As we will see, Hitler pursued each of these policies in turn.

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