These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries

Tim Flight - June 16, 2019

Antisemitism is once again rearing its ugly head in the modern world. Across Europe, swastikas are being spray-painted on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries are being vandalised, and Jewish people are living in fear of harassment. In 2017, France saw a 74% increase in reported antisemitic incidents, and the Labour Party in the UK has spectacularly failed to tackle antisemitism amongst its members, leading 7 prominent MPs to quit in protest. In December 2018, a report by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that things are getting much, much worse for Jewish people across its member states.

And all this, whilst the Holocaust, one of the most horrific and black-hearted atrocities in the whole of history, is still a living memory for many people. But ask any Jewish person, and they’ll tell you the Holocaust and these disturbing recent trends are nothing new: antisemitism has been a problem for thousands of years. In this list, we’ll look at the history of antisemitism before the Holocaust. Though by no means exhaustive, look out for the shift from religious intolerance to baffling racial science and conspiracy theories as we progress from the first century BC to 1921.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
Cicero, one of many Roman writers with horribly antisemitic views, Rome, 1st century BC. Wikimedia Commons

20. Jewish refusal to worship Roman gods saw them ostracised and condemned by many classical writers

Hatred of Jews predates even Christianity (much, much more on which later). Jewish people migrated to Rome hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and by the start of Caesar Augustus’s reign in 27 BC there were 7, 000 Jews living in Rome itself. At the time, observing the Roman religion of Jupiter, Minerva, and Venus was a matter of patriotic duty. So when Jewish immigrants refused to comply, and insisted on keeping up their ancient traditions of worshipping a single deity whose chosen people they were and observing the Sabbath, they became enemies of the state.

Some of the earliest and most influential antisemitic writings came from the Roman lawyer and orator, Cicero (106-43 BC). His writings combined religious and cultural bigotry, which still lie behind today’s antisemitism. In Pro Flacco, he described Jewish customs as ‘at variance with the splendour of this empire and the dignity of our name and the institutions of our ancestors’, complaining of ‘the odium of Jewish gold’ and their insularity. Cicero’s polemics cast the Jews as a barbarous, alien people, and their influence rocketed when rebellions broke out a century later in the province of Judea (Israel) against Roman rule.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
A model of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Haaretz

19. Christian Anti-Semitism seems to have begun after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD

Christianity, lest we forget, came from Judaism, and Jesus was himself a Jew. But it is interesting to note that, according to scholars, serious friction between two faiths which saw the same man as, variously, a heretic and the Son of God did not erupt straight after Jesus was crucified in c.33 AD. Instead, it took the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD during the Roman-Jewish Wars to forge a great, and still sometimes-irresolvable, schism. To both Jews and Christians, this seemed an instance of Divine Justice, but who had offended God?

Naturally, rabbis blamed the Temple’s fall on Christians worshipping a false prophet. The Christians in turn amplified the role of the Jews in the death of Christ, whose crucifixion had previously been blamed largely upon the Romans. Now, Gospel passages such as Matthew 27:25 placed the blame squarely on the older faith: when Pontius Pilate asked the Jews if they were sure they wanted Christ executed, they replied, ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children’. For the early Christians, Jewish culpability was evidenced by their exile their homeland, and antisemitism thenceforth became an important part of Christianity.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
The Conversion of St Augustine by Bennozzo Gozzoli, Italy, c.1464-65, depicts a prominent antisemite. Wikimedia Commons

18. Soon the Christian Church had a Liturgy which explicitly told worshippers that the Jews were guilty of deicide

The Church Fathers are full of anti-Jewish sentiment. In c.155-160 AD, Justin Martyr wrote that the Torah (Judaic law) was imposed on the Jews as a punishment by God: ‘the custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians.’ Other Church Fathers picked up on Justin Martyr’s desire to cast the Jews as an alien, condemned race, like John Chrysostom, who described synagogues as ‘worse than a brothel… the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts’.

The influential St Augustine went further in his antisemitism: ‘how hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them [the Jews] with your two-edged sword!’ Such antisemitic thought directly informed the Christian Liturgy, which informed ordinary people that the Jews were guilty of deicide, the enemies of God and all Christians, and thus to be reviled. The readings for Good Friday (the day Christ was crucified), in particular, focused on Jewish responsibility for the Crucifixion and the role of Judas (commonly depicted as a monstrous Jew in medieval art) in betraying Jesus.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
Toledo, where legislation was passed against the Jews in 694. Wikimedia Commons

17. In 694 AD, the King of Visigothic Spain announced measures to confiscate Jewish property and seize their children

Perhaps out of fear of the repercussions from mistreating them so cruelly, the Jewish people have long been associated with conspiracy theories. In 694 AD, a period of tolerance for Jews in Visigothic Spain was ended by the antisemitic King Egica (c.610-c.703), who claimed that he had heard of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow his kingdom involving Iberian Jews and their brethren in North Africa. Farcically, this plot involved a pact with their Islamic overlords, under whose control they actually suffered horribly at times. To defeat the conspiracy, Egica called the 17th Council of Toledo on November, 9, 694.

His complaints had widespread repercussions. Egica banned Judaism, confiscated Jewish property for himself, and enslaved all the Jews in Iberia. Egica also seized all Jewish children and forced them to be baptised. This was all a power-play, for Egica feared Muslim invasion and needed to ensure that he had full control over his subjects in preparation. He achieved this through ensuring unified religious observance (and the free money certainly didn’t hurt), but as has so often been the case in history, the Jewish people were the ones to suffer. 18 years later, Iberia fell to Moorish invaders anyway.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
Ruined fortress at the site of the Battle of Khayber in 628. WikiShia

16. Meanwhile, the Early Medieval Islamic world was also a tough place for Jewish people to live

Jewish people have historically suffered in the Islamic world, too. The problem with the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – is that they not only overlap in their scriptures but geographically, and Jerusalem is claimed as the holy city by all three. The Koran records the Battle of Khayber, in which Mohammed (like Christ, seen as a heretic by Jewish people) decimated a Jewish army in 628. Recent centuries have seen a rise in Islamic antisemitism, but in the Early Medieval period, Islamic countries were generally more tolerant of Jews than Christian nations. Things weren’t all that great outside Christendom, nonetheless.

Jewish people had to put up with more restrictions than others, including paying higher taxes, wearing badges to distinguish them, and not being allowed to bear arms. In certain places, Jews couldn’t bear witness against Islamic people in court. Periodic antisemitic violence also broke out when, as in Egica’s Spain, it suited the ruling powers, accompanied by propaganda characterising Jews as traitors and sworn-enemies of Islam. When the Almoravid Dynasty came to Southern Iberia, it persecuted Jews and Christians alike and encouraged racist mob-violence. In fact, things got so bad under the Almoravids that many Jews fled to Christian countries.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
The First Crusade is discussed at the Council of Clermont, depicted by Jean Colcombe, Troyes, 15th century. Wikimedia Commons

15. During the First Crusade of 1096, Jewish towns in Europe were destroyed

The Crusades were holy wars launched by Christian Europe to take back the Holy Land from Muslim rule. They represent one of the most brutal, racist periods of history, and yet Crusader outfits and ephemera are still popular today: work that one out. Anyway, knights of the First Crusade of 1096 razed Jewish communities to the ground and slaughtered Jewish people indiscriminately. In 1099, Jerusalem itself was under siege, and once it fell, the Jewish inhabitants sought sanctuary in a synagogue. Frankish knights simply set it alight, killing them all, according to the chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi.

Back in Europe, plenty of people who couldn’t afford a trip to the Holy Land still wanted in on the antisemitic fun. The People’s Crusade of 1096 saw the wholesale massacre of Jewish communities across Europe, most notably in the Rhineland region of Germany. The region’s affluent Jewish community was unprepared for the racist violence inflicted upon them. At Mainz alone, c.1, 000 Jews were slain in the streets. Although Jews were officially targeted for being the enemies of Christianity, many knights were actually in debt to Jewish moneylenders, giving an extra financial fillip to the holy devastation.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
This depiction of the martyrdom of Simon of Trent shows a blood-libel, Nuremberg, 1493. Wikimedia Commons

14. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews in Europe were accused of drinking the blood of Christian children

As the hated enemies of God and Christ-killers, Christians believed the Jews to be capable of a ludicrous litany of crimes and atrocities. One of the silliest was the blood-libel, the ritual execution of Christian children sometimes involving blood-drinking in demonic imitation of the Eucharist. The earliest example of this claim came from Norwich, UK, where a young boy named William was found murdered in the woods. Naturally, the city’s Jewish community was blamed, and it was decided that Jews crucified him as a human sacrifice. Surprisingly, however, there were no mob-rule repercussions in the aftermath.

A century later, another alleged blood-libel took place in England, but this time the accused Jews paid the price for their faith. At Lincoln, when a 9-year-old boy named Hugh was found dead at the bottom of a well, Jews were blamed. Under savage torture, one of them ‘confessed’ to crucifying Hugh in blasphemous imitation of Christ’s death. Mob-rule prevailed on this occasion, and 90 Jews were taken to the Tower of London, with 19 eventually executed to the delight of the country’s Christian population. You’ll struggle to find anyone today who believes any of these ludicrous accusations.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
The current building known as Clifford’s Tower in York, UK, replaced the earlier, wooden structure burnt to the ground during an antisemitic riot in 1190. Great Castles

13. 11 Anti-Semitic riots in England in 1190 led to 150 Jews in York committing mass suicide rather than face an angry mob

Tensions between Jews and Christians in England increased in the 12th century in the aftermath of the William of Norwich case (above). Much of this came down to the simple fact that many Christians owed money to Jewish lenders – medieval Catholics were forbidden from usury (money-lending) by religious law, whereas Jews were not, and hence made up the vast proportion of lenders in Europe. Resentment at the interest due on loans combined with antisemitic propaganda and the Church’s teachings on their sinfulness to put Jews at serious risk from not only their debtors but society at large.

To make things worse, in 1189 the great Crusader Richard the Lionheart was crowned King of England, and a false rumour spread that he had ordered the massacre of his Jewish subjects. The Jews of York were given sanctuary at York Castle, but when they locked themselves in a tower out of fear of the bloodthirsty mob surrounding it, the castle’s garrison sought that very antisemitic rabble’s help in getting the tower back. Things inevitably got out of hand, and most of the terrified Jews committed suicide when the wooden tower was set ablaze, rather than face their foes.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
A carved Judensau known to Martin Luther at Wittenberg Cathedral, Germany. Times of Israel

12. In the early 13th century, Judensau began to be depicted on German churches

When you hear the word ‘folk-art’, you probably think of cute ceramics and naive wood-carvings sold by ageing hippies. But folk-art of the past could take many horrible forms, none more so than the German tradition of the Judensau (‘Jew’s Sow’). Seizing on the Jewish prohibition about eating pork (Leviticus 11:2-8), the Judensau depicted Jewish people in obscene contact with a pig, either copulating with it or sucking its teats (or both, as in the depiction above). These offensive images were displayed outside of churches, cathedrals, and even ghettoes, to let the Jews know how much they were despised.

The pig had a dual meaning in the original Judensau images. As well as being horribly offensive to Jews, mingling accusations of bestiality with an unclean animal, medieval Christianity saw pigs as beasts of Satan. For when Jesus banished demons out of a possessed man, they instantly possessed a herd of swine, which promptly jumped off a cliff (Mark 5:1-20). The Judensau returned after several hundred years with the rise of the Nazis and their antisemitic propaganda in the 1920s, and the porcine insult morphed into the modern idiom of a pig equating to a dirty individual.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
We shouldn’t let the twee image of modern Röttingen let us forget the horrors of the massacre of 1298. Toubiz

11. In 1298, 120, 000 German Jews died during the Rintfleisch Massacres

Just over 200 years after the People’s Crusade slaughtered thousands of innocent Jews in the Rhineland, another wave of persecution arrived to Germany’s Jewish population. Jewish people in the Franconia region had historically enjoyed protection from German rulers, but the eruption of civil strife between two rival powers led to a state of lawlessness, which allowed the barely-contained antisemitic feelings of ordinary people to boil over unabated. Vicious Christians rose up after hearing talk of the Jews of Röttingen stealing a communion wafer (the body of Christ miraculously transformed during the Eucharist) and defiling it out of anti-Christian sentiment.

The charge was as ludicrous as it sounds. But to a medieval Christian taught antisemitism in church and surrounded by Judensau illustrations, it was exactly the sort of thing one would expect the murderers of Christ to do. Led by an enigmatic leader named Rintfleisch (‘beef’, suggesting he was a butcher by trade), a mob travelled to Röttingen, rounded up its 21 resident Jews, and burned them alive on April, 20, 1298. The mob then travelled throughout Bavaria, slaying in total 120, 000 men, women, and children in 146 communities. Rintfleisch claimed God authorised him to exterminate the Jews.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
The Dance Macabre from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493. History Today

10. The Black Death was blamed on Jews poisoning the wells

In 1347, Genoese galleys made port in Sicily. This wasn’t an unusual event, except that it’s credited with spreading the Black Death to Europe, a truly horrific plague that killed around 25 million people. People everywhere suddenly broke out in great lumps oozing blood and pus, struggled to breathe, vomited blood, and quickly died. It spread across mainland Europe like wildfire, reaching the UK in 1348 and Scandinavia in 1349. In an age when people looked for God’s hand in everything, many saw the Black Death as a punishment sent to punish mankind’s sins.

Other people had another theory: you’ve guessed it, the Jews did it. In 1348, a group of Jews from Geneva confessed (under imprisonment and torture, naturally) to having poisoned the wells across Europe. But at least they got a ‘trial’: in France, Spain, Switzerland and, of course, Germany, many mobs simply donned weapons and attacked Jewish ghettoes, killing everyone they could catch. Along with general antisemitism, however, it is possible that people blamed the Jews because they seemed immune to the Black Death. Some historians believe that being ostracised in ghettoes meant that many Jewish communities were effectively quarantined.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
he constant movement of Jewish people to and from places that would tolerate them led to the tradition of the Wandering Jew, here depicted on Judgement Day by Gustave Doré, Paris, 1856. Mosaic Magazine

9. Whole Jewish communities were banished from countries throughout the Middle Ages

In England, the Jews were not blamed for the Black Death for the simple reason that there weren’t any left. King Edward I issued his Edict of Expulsion in 1290, banishing all the Jews from England. He’d been busily persecuting them for over a decade because the crown was in debt to Jewish moneylenders (and executing Jewish ‘criminals’ was an easy way to curry favour with his people), and expelling them meant he could steal their property, too. But England was only one of many European countries to expel its entire Jewish community on numerous occasions.

France expelled and recalled its Jewish population on numerous occasions. King Philip the Fair expelled them in 1306 because he needed money to fight the Flemish, which he raised by confiscating Jewish property. Sadly, many of the Jews expelled by Philip had only come to France after being banished from England in 1290. Philip’s successor recalled them 9 years later because the Christians who took over the money-lending industry recovered debts with intolerable cruelty. Many individual cities as well as countries followed suit, either when debts to Jewish moneylenders soared too high or antisemitic feeling couldn’t be contained.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
Judenplatz, Vienna, the centre of Jewish life in the city until the atrocities of 1421. Fathomaway

8. In 1421, over 200 Jews were burned at the stake in Vienna

The beautiful facade of the city of Vienna belies some really troubling history. For centuries, Jewish life in Vienna flowered around Judenplatz (‘Jewish Square’) in the city’s Innere Stadt district, with an important synagogue, school, hospital, and bath house. Notwithstanding the odd persecution (sadly par for the course, as we have seen), the Viennese Jews were left relatively unmolested until Archduke Albert V came along. He first taxed them heavily to fund his part in the Hussite Wars, then blamed them for collaborating with the enemy after a sound defeat. Slanderous accusations of host-desecration gave him ammunition for the inevitable.

In May 1420, Albert set about the Vienna Gesera (‘persecutions’). He arrested the wealthy Jews and sent the poor down the Danube on rudderless vessels. He also stole their property, tricked children into eating non-kosher foods, tortured, and executed them. Albert suffered another humiliating defeat in war, and returned to Vienna to take his anger out on the Jews still imprisoned. He tried to force the remainder to convert through torture, causing a mass suicide. Infuriated at this disobedience, Albert then rounded-up the 200-plus survivors and burned them alive on the outskirts of the city for the aforesaid ‘crimes’.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
The title page of Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, from the First Folio, London, 1600. Shakespeare Documented

7. Shakespeare’s theatre was a hotbed of anti-Jewish feeling

Although Jews remained exiled from England during the Elizabethan Period, the country was still rampantly antisemitic: the English author John Foxe complained of the ‘heinous abominations, insatiable butcheries, treasons, frenzies, and madness’ of Jewish people in 1577. The Elizabethan theatre capitalised on the public’s antisemitism by producing some truly odious plays. The dramatist Christopher Marlowe, capable of producing touching pastoral poems and odes, wrote a tragedy called The Jew of Malta (1589) about a treacherous and mass-murdering Jewish usurer named Barabas who meddles in a Christian-Islamic conflict and is boiled alive at the poem’s triumphant climax.

Shakespeare’s contribution to antisemitic drama, The Merchant of Venice, is more problematic. The titular merchant, Shylock, is a Jewish usurer, and debate still rages amongst Shakespeare scholars about the Bard’s view of Jews, for Shylock has some sympathetic moments. Shylock says that he hates Christians because they hate him: could this be Shakespeare offering a rather modern view of the treatment of Jews? Either way, the inclusion of a Jewish bad-guy was a guarantee of big audiences, especially after the execution of a converted Jew for plotting against the popular Queen Elizabeth’s life shortly before Shakespeare wrote the play.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
Portrait of Maksym Zalizniak, who encouraged the slaughter of Jews at Uman, Ukraine, 18th century. Wikimedia Commons

6. In 1768 Jews were slaughtered by the Cossacks at the Massacre of Uman

In the 18th century, Jews living in the Kingdom of Poland found themselves targeted during Cossack rebellions against Polish rule in what is now the Ukraine. Poverty and resentment at the high-handed rule of the Polish nobility led many Cossacks to form haidamakas, rag-tag armies of soldiers, peasants, and impoverished nobility, who waged guerrilla warfare on their overlords in a series of bloody campaigns. Haidamakas also hated the Jews who prospered in the tolerant Kingdom of Poland for the usual antisemitic reasons: the Church’s teachings about Jewish deicide, and their association with usury and wealth.

In the Koliivshchyna Rebellion of 1768, the haidamakas were led by Maksym Zalizniak (c.1740s-sometime after 1768). Zalizniak was brutal even for a haidamaka commander, and openly encouraged the killings of Jews and Polish nobility alike. A large band of both groups hid in the city of Uman for safety, but were forced to defend themselves against Zalizniak’s forces. Despite outnumbering the Cossacks, the combined Polish and Jewish defence force was defeated after 3 days of siege. When the Jews tried to find sanctuary in Uman’s synagogues, the haidamaka flattened the buildings with cannon-fire, killing thousands of people.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
A Rabbi preparing his defence after being accused of murdering a Christian and his Muslim servant in Damascus, 1840, depicted by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Germany, 1859. Wikimedia Commons

5. The Damascus Affair saw Islamic rulers court Christian diplomats by condemning the city’s Jewish population for another blood-libel

Historic antisemitism in the Islamic world spilled over in Syria in 1840, with a little nudge from some Christians. That year in Damascus a Capuchin monk, Thomas, and his Muslim servant, Ibrahim, disappeared for good. The Capuchin order spread rumours that the city’s Jews were responsible, and the French Consul, Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, won support from the Islamic governor of Syria, who wished to form a relationship with France, to launch an investigation. Investigators refused requests to send away the bones they found in a Jewish-quarter sewer for scientific examination: they simply had to belong to Thomas and Ibrahim!

In true medieval fashion, they arrested a Jew at random and tortured him until he confessed a blood-libel had taken place and incriminated prominent members of the Jewish community. 13 people were arrested, and 4 died under torture. The remainder were released after the governor’s superior, Mohammed Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, bowed to international pressure and launched an investigation. Unfortunately, by this time, the Damascus synagogue had been pillaged and its scrolls of the Law burned, and news of the ‘proven’ blood-libel led to widespread violence against Jews in the Arab world over the coming decades.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
A 19th-century depiction of Louis de Bonald from France. New York Public Library

4. The association of Jews with the financial world and accompanying conspiracy theories began with Louis de Bonald

Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise, viscount de Bonald (1754-1840) was a prominent counter-revolutionary and political philosopher. De Bonald was an enemy of Napoleon Bonaparte, and amongst his many dislikes of the Emperor’s policies was his extension of equality to all Frenchmen, including Jews. A strident Roman Catholic, de Bonald hated Jews so much that he risked his life by speaking against their new-found rights during Napoleon’s rule. In 1806, he wrote an article entitled Sur les Juifs (‘on the Jews’), which argued that the Jews were violently-immoral parasites against whom good Frenchmen needed to be protected. Make them wear special badges, he thundered.

Most disturbingly of all, de Bonald invented several facets of today’s antisemitism. He stressed their racial differences to ‘normal’ people, criticised their financial dealings, and also claimed that they fostered plans to take over the world through ‘Jewish financial feudalism’. Sound familiar? Furthermore, he advocated keeping Jewish people entirely separate from the rest of society, because ‘the Jews cannot and never will be – no matter what is said – citizens under Christianity, unless they become Christians’. De Bonald held several influential offices after Napoleon’s downfall, and his antisemitic thought can be traced through most subsequent anti-Jewish literature and thought.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
‘Jewish Virtues According to Gall’s [inventor of phrenology, a branch of racial science] Methods’, cover of La Libre Parole, a French publication, December 23, 1893. Medium

3. European ‘science’ in the 19th century cast Jews as racially inferior and evil, paving the way for the Holocaust

De Bonald’s preposterous claims about physical racial differences between Jews and other races received scientific backing later in the 19th century. Racial science at the time shifted attention away from the perceived errors in Jewish religious practices and their guilt of deicide to genetic characteristics. This preposterous ‘scientific’ school of thought taught that ‘Semitic’ people would never be able to assimilate with Aryan and Indo-European societies because of their hereditary nature, which made them lazy, greedy, gifted in finance, and insular. This meant that Jews were a threat to Western Civilisation itself through intermarriage and interracial sexual intercourse.

The lack of scientific basis for any of the above (Jews aren’t even a race, they’re an ethno-religious group) meant that any Tom, Dick, or Harry could publish on the topic: all you needed was a thoroughly racist outlook. Thus Wilhelm Marr, a political agitator with no scientific training, published a popular book, Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum (‘the victory of the Jewish spirit over the German spirit’) in 1879, which actually coined the term ‘antisemitism’. Does any of this ring a bell? That’s because outdated racial science formed the basis for Nazi eugenics and eventual genocide.

These Facts Prove Antisemitism has Been a Problem for Centuries
A Russian edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion from 1911, with ludicrous occult symbols to increase its shock value. Wikimedia Commons

2. In the early 20th century, the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion ‘revealed’ a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, and is still a foundational text for today’s antisemites

In 1903, the Russian newspaper Znamya secured an exclusive serial of great importance. It revealed a terrible conspiracy for world domination from a group responsible for some troubling recent events: the Jews. Purporting to be the minutes from a meeting of Jewish leaders, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion revealed that the Jews planned to take over the world through manipulating the economy and media and starting religious conflicts. In fact, Protocols is known to be a messy hodge-podge of Maurice Joly’s 1864 satire Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu and Hermann Goedsche’s novel, Biarritz, from 1868.

But plenty of people believed in its authenticity, and a shocking number still do today. The pamphlet spread throughout Europe after the Russian Revolution in 1917 with anti-Bolshevik immigrants who blamed the fall of Tsar Nicholas on Jews (see below). In 1920, The Dearborn Independent, Henry Ford’s newspaper, ran a series of articles based upon Protocols, earning praise from Adolf Hitler himself. Indeed, Protocols served Hitler as a how-to manual for his attempt to exterminate the Jews altogether. Incredibly, this known forgery has also recently been endorsed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hamas, and Saudi Arabia.

1. Between 100, 000 and 150, 000 Jews were massacred during the White Terror in Russia, 1918-21

Antisemitism in Russia was at fever pitch after the publication of Protocols, and when the Tsar was toppled by communist revolutionaries in 1917, the blame fell squarely on the ‘Jewish authors’ of the conspiracy for world domination. It didn’t help matters that the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, had a Jewish father, or that Leon Trotsky was Jewish. Though Bolshevik ideology was militantly atheist and anti-religion, the racial science of the preceding century seemed to prove to their opponents that these men were evil agitators because of their ‘race’. Thus an antisemitic storm was further whipped up, with appalling consequences.

The Bolshevik regime had to defend itself against the White Army, who fought to reinstate the old Tsarist regime, between 1917 and 1921. When possible, the White Army focused its campaign of terror and violence upon Jewish people, whom they unjustly blamed for the Russian Revolution. Under the leadership of Anton Denikin, the White Army massacred 100-150, 000 Jews across Southern Russia and Ukraine in just 4 years. Many Jewish people chose to flee Russia altogether and resettle in Europe, where things seemed somewhat safer. These appalling figures were soon to be eclipsed by the Holocaust.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Miriamne Ara Krummel, Tison Pugh. Jews of Medieval England. London: Edward Goldston, 1939.

“Anti-Semitism in Europe akin to 1930s: Jewish leader.” The Daily Telegraph, March 24, 2015.

Baskin, Judith Reesa, and Kenneth Seeskin, eds. The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Berger, David, ed. History and Hate: The Dimensions of Anti-Semitism. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1986.

Berger, David. Persecution, Polemic, and Dialogue: Essays in Jewish-Christian Relations. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010.

Chrisafis, Angelique, “‘Spreading like poison’: flurry of antisemitic acts alarms France”, The Guardian, February 12th 2019.

Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Anti-Semitism. Stroud: The History Press, 2009.

Keel, Terence. Divine Variations: How Christian Thought Became Racial Science. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.

Myers, David N. Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Phillips, Gervase. “Antisemitism: how the origins of history’s oldest hatred still hold sway today.” The Conversation

Philpot, Robert. “Unprecedented EU poll finds 90% of European Jews feel anti-Semitism increasing.” The Times of Israel, December 10, 2018

Schama, Simon. Belonging: The Story of the Jews, 1492-1900. London: Vintage, 2017.

Stow, Kenneth R. Alienated Minority: The Jews of Medieval Latin Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Utterback, Kristine T., ed. Jews in Medieval Christendom: ‘Slay them Not’. Leiden: Brill, 2013.