display | more...

In the last decades of the nineteenth century the "science of race" could look to many adherents across Europe among the educated classes. The rise of modern racial antisemitism owes tribute to the new credence afforded racial theories of history (and thus politics), which became the basis for political and intellectual movements in most European countries around this time. That this theory proliferated broadly does not mean it was universally accepted or that its effect was the same on every political scene that it touched – rather, the ideology of race became a weapon that could be adapted by skilful politicians to meet their opponents, especially opponents seen to represent encroaching modernity. Different political and socio-economic conditions could lead to very different outcomes – Germany became the first state in world history whose practice and dogma was racism, whereas Hungarian Jewry was intertwined with the state and never suffered anything but cultural antisemitism. In the face of the historical fact that in Germany antisemitism culminated in the Final Solution it seems difficult to maintain that the similarities between different manifestations of European antisemitism were more important than the differences. This is not to ascribe to the Germans any "national character" or Sonderweg, but merely to acknowledge that in radically different countries antisemitism naturally has radically different manifestations. This can be seen to considerably less dramatic effect in the other countries of Europe, but there were certainly considerable differences in the manifestations of antisemitism in the rest, although general trends – crucially concerning economic crisis and modernisation – can be perceived.

Albert S. Lindemann has formulated a meta-narrative to explain the rise of antisemitism in Europe at this time, which he explains in terms of "the Rise of the Jews". This involves the material wealth and social status of Jews increasing in an unprecedented way, and is "an important prerequisite for the emergence of modern antisemitism".1 He says that the different form the rise of the Jews takes in different countries determines the character of antisemitism in that country. This meta-narrative is a useful heuristic for considering both types of antisemitism described by Shlomo Bergman – that which is traditional and rooted in "the mores of the community", and that which is espoused from a "centre of propaganda" by intellectuals.2 The first type was prevalent throughout all of Europe for most of its history and rested primarily on the myth of the blood libel and that the Jews were collectively guilty of the murder of Christ. Because, unlike modern antisemitism, this was not an ideology as such, but "merely" a prejudice, it could be latent for long periods.3 It would only surface when people were afflicted by woes and needed a scapegoat to blame, and the newly "risen" Jews provided an excellent target for this. One similarity between almost all of the countries under discussion is that Jews were regarded as an alien element which was super-European in character and committed to the good of their own kind rather than the culturally-dominant race of the country they inhabited. Thus in countries where Jews attained positions of power and wealth, they were seen as usurping these from the nation and no doubt using them for their own pernicious ends. Antisemitism would emerge when the rest of the population perceived evidence of this, such as with the Panama Scandal in France or the Gründungsschwindel in Austria and Germany in 1873.4 The collapse of many Jewish banks in the latter case also seemed to remove the perception of "specialness" of the Jewish people in financial matters – and hence the necessity to "tolerate" them.5

That the "otherness" of the Jewish people is a factor is proved when Hungary is considered. In Hungary the rise of the Jews was more spectacular than in almost any other country, and Budapest sported 200,000 Jewish citizens out of a total of 732,000.6 But many proved themselves willing to magyarize and make contributions to Hungarian culture, and were accepted. The influx of poorer Jews into Hungary in the 1870s, who refused to assimilate, did not meet such general acceptance and were seen as a burden on society. Hungarian Jewry was thus allowed a relatively peaceful existence because antisemitism in the country was based on culture rather than race, and there was always hope of further assimilation. To a racial antisemite it is irrelevant whether a Jew is assimilated or not, because his basic "otherness" – the blood in his veins – can never be changed. This sort of racial antisemitism became a political movement in Austria and Germany, especially in the pan-German ideology which was eventually espoused by Hitler. This proved much more dangerous for the Jewish people because of its vulgar and uncompromising character.

That Austrian antisemitism was not wholly economic in character is proved by the fact that the while the proletariat are the class most effected by the vagaries of the business cycle, the Social Democrats were the least antisemitic party.7 Antisemitism here had two main constituencies – conservatives to whom the ‘Red Scare’ and the ‘Jewish Question’ where one and the same, and the growing pan-German movement represented by the Austrian NSDAP. Karl Lueger allied himself with reactionary elements to turn his guns against his most immediate political threat, the rising Social Democrats. The growth of mass politics had a clear role to play here, for even the Social Democrats – which garnered 75% of the Jewish vote – engaged in moderate antisemitism. It seems unlikely that any mass party in Austria at the time could have avoided the temptations of antisemitism, because the ‘Jewish Question’ was a prominent public issue. Vienna had seen a tremendous influx of Jews, from 6,000 in 1860 to 40,000 by 1870 and finally 175,000 in 1910.8 Antisemitism in Vienna rose in response to the role of the Jews in the city’s economy – they were primarily "bourgeois, petty bourgeois and white-collar"9 in a city that was mostly proletarian. Although the SDs criticised Jews qua capitalists they thought that they would eventually be forced to assimilate because Zionism was a form of reactionary nationalism, which would disappear when the petty bourgeoisie slipped down into the mire of the proletariat as Marx had predicted.

This identification of Jew with socialist was common to Russia and France. What was different about French antisemitism was that it never developed a trans-national character – reactionary antisemites in France were concerned with maintaining the integrity of their own nation, whereas the pan-Germans in Austria and Germany had revisionist aims to redraw the map of Central Europe. Antisemitic pan-Germanism was founded by Georg von Schoenerer, who regarded antisemitism "as the mainstay of our national ideology".10 The pan-Germans, who organised themselves as an international movement dedicated to Anschluss, saw in the Jews a dangerous super-national element who were subverting the German Reich for their own ends. They had successfully "jewified" German society and were responsible for its greed and corruption. In Austria, the pan-Germans openly attacked their own state – which they identified with Jewry – and swore allegiance to Bismarck’s Reich. Schoenerer failed and was eventually thrown in prison because his movement failed to achieve respectability and was seen for what it was – vulgar "beer-hall politics". Despite the important distinction of Schoenerer’s trans-national program, some aspects of his antisemitism did resonate in France. One was his opposition to industrialisation and modernity, and the other his opposition to the state.

Lindemann describes the political situation in France as consisting of "two large, opposing clusters".11 One of these was liberal, pro-Republic and modern, and the other Catholic and anti-modern. Many French nationalists saw Catholicism as an essential component of French national identity, and therefore opposed Jews on religious grounds. They also identified them with the Republic because they were seen as a modernising force, and were blamed for such programs as the one to secularise French education. Meanwhile, the left roundly condemned this antisemitism as reactionary and brutal, as epitomised by pogrom-ridden Russia. Eliminationist antisemitism never found a respectable constituency in France, and Drumont was widely condemned for his use of violent language in La Libra Parole. French Jews were encouraged to assimilate because there was little tolerance of cultural pluralism in France, and many Jews did indeed abandon their traditional beliefs. Organised propaganda against the Jews continued to portray them as an alien and cosmopolitan element that was opposed to French national interests, however. The crucial factor in political antisemitism in France was the collapse of conservative (Royalist, Bonapartist and Boulangist) politics at the fin-de-siécle, and the consequent search for a new slogan which eventually led to the invention of "France for the French". Mass politics was here playing a part, for antisemitism was a useful tool for appealing to the masses who believed the Jew could be "simultaneously foreigner, international financier, anarchist and socialist".12 It took local socio-economic factors that didn’t oppose the Jews to the Gentiles or the socialists to point out this was obfuscating discourse to overcome political antisemitism, which was by no means victorious in France.

If similarities can be detected in the countries so far discussed, Nazi Germany stands as a horrific aberration. This was the only nation-state for whose leaders antisemitism formed the mainstay of their national ideology, who held the ideology of race to be the key to all world history and hence its future. An ideology is something which explains to its adherents every event in the world, and racism was for the Nazis such a thing. Adolf Hitler wove all previous strands of racialist thought together and used antisemitism as its linchpin. The ultimate enemy of the Nazi regime was the Jew and his Marxist ideology, and no "purification" of the German race was worthwhile so long as it still stood the risk of being subverted again by the Jews. Nazi antisemitism was therefore not a reactive response to poor social or economic conditions, but a proactive force which spurred people to action against the Jews.13 In this respect the policy of the Nazi government was radically different from anything else in Europe, but explaining from whence this rigour came is a contentious and politically-charged issue. Goldhagen argues that German society was and always had been antisemitic to the core, but he has come under fire for offering an essentially mono-causal and circular (the Holocaust happened because Germans were antisemitic, Germans were antisemitic because the Holocaust happened) explanation.14 Some credence should however be given to his idea of the "national conversation", which from 1933 the Nazis came to completely control through their policy of Gleichschaltung and control of the media. This was thoroughly antisemitic and no doubt greatly influenced people exposed to it during their formative years.

It can be argued that the seemingly arbitrary and petty nature of the decrees issued to strip rights away from the Jews represented opportunism on the part of officials and bureaucrats, but this misses the point. The fact these decrees were allowed at all – going much further than the stripping away of the Jews' post-Emancipation rights – fit in with the overall plan of the Nazi hierarchy, which was to make life for the Jews within the Reich intolerable. Nowhere else was this program pursued with as much rigour or conclusiveness as in Nazi Germany. The sudden emergence of antisemitism as the dominant political theme in Germany in the 1930s appears bizarre, because prior to 1914 no-one in Germany had espoused eliminationist antisemitism and the antisemitic political parties had met with little success.15 The personal role of Adolf Hitler in formulating his ideology and then putting it into practice must no doubt be acknowledged, and Hitler describes how antisemitism became the central tenet of his worldview while he was in Vienna.16 The participation of mob elements in the pogroms and curtailing of civil liberties of Jews in Nazi Germany should also be acknowledged, as must opportunism – it is far too simplistic to simply see Nazi policy as a manifestation of the German "national character". It is much more useful to examine the nature of Germany’s totalitarian government – different in kind to anything else in Europe at the time – and see in this the explanation for the remarkable success of German antisemitic propaganda and the unique nature of the action taken to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ here.

The final state to be considered is Russia, which was also itself fundamentally different to the countries to the West in political and socio-economic makeup. The Tsarist government, while viewing the Jewish nation within its borders as unassimable and an alien threat, would never have allowed a mass political movement to arise as happened in the West. It instinctively distrusted any centre of authority other than itself and Russian political parties, such as were allowed to develop in legal form after 1905, never reached the sophistication of the Western European parties. Hence antisemitism here was essentially an intellectual movement, espoused by Slavophiles who saw the tricky and cunning Jewish nation as undermining and deceiving the humble Slavic peasant. Even more pernicious for the government was the attraction of international socialism to young Jews who were rejecting the Yiddish traditions of their forefathers. The government took action to stop the growth of socialism and came to associate the Jews with it, as well as with an international conspiracy rearing its head in the West. Tsar Nicholas II blamed the Jews not only for his defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 – 05, but even for the Revolution of 1905: surely "his" people would not have revolted against him without being encouraged? The rise of the Jews in the West, such as Hungary, did little to make him feel better.17 But, unwilling to antagonise the people against the Jews for fear of unleashing the violence believed to lay simmering below the surface of Russian society, the government’s policy was disjointed and sometimes contradictory. Unable to harness the resources of a modern state with a strong economy, the Tsarist government could do little about the perceived perniciousness of the Jews.

The general trend that can be seen lying in all strands of modern antisemitism is a reaction to modernisation. In countries such as Austria where the Jews were predominantly bourgeoisie, they were particularly at risk as capitalism developed. Enemies of the idea of a modern, secular nation-state identified the Jews with it and attacked them for shoring it up through service in the liberal professions or as bankers loaning money to the state. But the intensity of antisemitism varied both in terms of political rhetoric and actual action, mainly because until Hitler no "sincerely" antisemitic politician was in a position to do the damage he wanted to. Lueger, the antisemitic mayor of Vienna, needed Jewish capital and his time in office was actual a sort of golden age for Viennese Jews. Opportunism and a response to economic conditions could lead to bouts of antisemitism by conservative politicians who no longer recognised the society they lived in as legitimate or by socialists trying to appeal to a broad mass of voters. Mass politics, another modern phenomena, was ultimately what made antisemitism necessary for some failing political movements – they could find no other issue on which to unify the nation.

1.Albert S. Lindemann, The Jew Accused (1991), p. 11
2. S. Wilson, Ideology and Experience: antisemitism in France at the time of the Dreyfus affair (1980)
3. Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), ch 1., passim
4. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1956), pp. 4 - 5
5. Oxaal, Pollak, Botz (eds.), Jews, Antisemitism and Culture in Vienna (1987)
6. Lindemann, op. cit.
7. Oxaal et. al., op. cit.
8. Lindemann, op. cit.
9. Oxall, et. al., op. cit., p. 38
10. Arendt, op. cit., p. 44
11. Lindemann, op. cit., p. 90
12. Nancy Fitch, 'Mass culture, mass politics and modern anti-semitism' in American Historical Review, 1992
13. M. Burleigh and W. Wippermann, The Racial State, Germany 1933 – 1945 (1992)
14. Hans Ulrich-Wehler, 'The Goldhagen Controversy' in German History, 1997
15. Richard J. Evans, 'Anti-semitism ,ordinary Germans and the longest hatred' in Rereading German History (1988)
16. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, chs. 2 - 3
17. Albert S. Lindemann, Esau's tears, modern antisemites and the rise of the Jews

Complete bibliography

Albert S. Lindemann, The Jew Accused (1991)
S. Wilson, Ideology and Experience: antisemitism in France at the time of the Dreyfus affair (1980)
Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996)
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1956)
Oxaal, Pollak, Botz (eds.), Jews, Antisemitism and Culture in Vienna (1987)
Albert S. Lindemann, Esau's tears, modern antisemites and the rise of the Jews
M. Burleigh and W. Wippermann, The Racial State, Germany 1933 – 1945 (1992)
Hans Ulrich-Wehler, 'The Goldhagen Controversy' in German History, 1997
Richard J. Evans, 'Anti-semitism ,ordinary Germans and the longest hatred' in Rereading German History (1988)
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
Nancy Fitch, 'Mass culture, mass politics and modern anti-semitism' in American Historical Review, 1992