Shoah and modern fiction

VIVES lecturer Ludo Timmerman organised a seminar about Shoah and modern fiction. Some of the students came from the Jewish community in Antwerp and gave their unique approach of what they called the Shoah. For our students and teachers working within this Erasmus project this contribution was an eye-opener. The book references are very useful for secondary schools.

The History of the Shoah

The roots of antisemitism

Deborah Kahan, VIVES student English department campus Torhout

Throughout the ages, the Jewish nation has been the object of endless and unrelenting persecution, torment, and torture. They were the victims of the first Crusade of 1096, they were expelled from England in 1290, from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1497. They suffered during countless instances of unwarranted cruelty, pogroms, and violent attacks. And more recently, during the Holocaust, they were stripped of every semblance of humanity by the Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.

Why has a tiny percentage of the human population called Jews, always been the centre of unreasonable hatred and mistreatment? In the words of Mark Twain, in his essay Concerning the Jews: “If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk…” What is the explanation for the deeply rooted loathing that has been directed at an unassuming and infinitesimal group of people for centuries?

The roots of anti-Semitism lie in the Catholic Church. Although the crucifixion of Jesus was carried out by the Roman procurator, Pilate, for years Christians were taught that the Jews were the ones who were responsible. These beliefs have preached contempt and have fostered an intense anger towards Jews. As a result, Jews were viewed as children of the devil.

In the second century, Justin Martyr accused the Jews of crucifying Jesus. The church fathers that followed him spread this belief. This is evidenced in the words of the Roman Emperor Constantine during a holiday feast: “ appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.” This statement reflects the deeply rooted feelings of negativity towards the Jews. The Catholic Church preached that G-d had left the Jews because of their treatment of Jesus, and that consequently the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews came about. It was these negative feelings towards Jews that would lead to future acts of anti-Semitism in the following years and centuries.

In the year 438, the Code of Theodosius II made Christianity the only accepted religion in the Roman Empire. A century later, the Justinian Code took away the rights of the Jews, and anti-Jewish regulations became widespread. In Spain, Jews were not allowed to host Catholics in their homes, or marry Christian women unless they first converted to Catholicism. Later, the Twelfth Council of Toledo established that Jews must be forcible converted to Roman Catholicism. Many Jews escaped, while many others succumbed and gave up their faith.
In the 13th century, a form of degrading imagery called Judensau was introduced. These images would later be rediscovered by the Nazis. These pictures showed Jews in unbecoming poses, often with unclean animals, or portrayed as devils. Many of these images centred on the idea of the Jew as the killer of Jesus.

The first known blood libel was recorded by the Greco-Egyptian author Apion, who claimed that Jews sacrificed Greeks in their temple. As a result of this blood libel, thousands of Jews were murdered in an attack in Alexandria in 38 CE. Another recorded blood libel was that of Socrates Scholasticus, who stated that a group of Jews tied a Christian child to a cross and killed him in a gesture that mocked the death of Jesus. In the 12th century, European Christians began once again to falsely accuse Jews of murdering Christian children and using their blood for religious Judensau rituals. These baseless accusations led to the kill ing of Jews who were said to be the murderers.
A direct line of progression can be drawn from the ideals of the Catholic Church to the beliefs introduced by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. The protestant reformer Martin Luther can be easily compared to Adolf Hitler. Both believed that Jews were part of a universe of daemons. In his writings, which were built on the foundation of Christian anti-Semitism set by the Catholic Church, Luther expressed this belief in bold terms: “Know, Christian, that next to the devil thou hast no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.” Luther stated that the Jews’ homes should be demolished, their synagogues set on fire, and freedoms taken away. These statements were embodied by Hitler’s actions. When the Nazis came to power, they revived the Luther’s writings, following his ideas and spreading his teachings.

In conclusion, the Catholic Church laid the groundwork for anti-Semitic acts against Jews. Adolf Hitler extended the legacy of Christian anti-Judaism and developed it further by arguing that Jews wanted world dominance (see contribution on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and also that they had to be annihilated because of their basic biological inferiority. It is difficult to comprehend how human beings can be capable of inflicting such horrific acts on other humans. The cruelty and ruthlessness that the Nazis showed during the Holocaust seems unfathomable. Yet when examined as a direct result of the seeds that were planted by the Catholic Church, it is clear that the Nazis did not even view the Jews as humans. It was this state of mind that allowed them to commit the unforgivable and carry out the mass murder of millions, and it was this same belief that allowed countless others to stand by and watch silently as these unforgivable acts took place.
Since time immemorial, Jews have been persecuted, yet they have always persevered. Through pogroms, expulsions, inquisitions, blood libels, and a holocaust, the Jewish nation has managed to keep their faith and hold onto their heritage, despite the odds. In the words of Mark Twain: “Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”



Solomon Zeitlin, Who crucified Jesus? Lucy S. Dawidiwicz, The War against the Jews Daniel M. Friedenberg, The Jews as chattel in Medieval Europe the full Wikipedia article on Antisemitism ( Mark Twain’s essay Concerning the Jews (

Antisemitism in 19th and 20th century Europe: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Ines Verhaeghe VIVES student

What are the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is one of many titles given to a text which describes a plan to achieve global domination by the Jews. Following its first public publication in 1903 in Russia, several investigations have repeatedly proved that the documents were in fact a hoax, a satire to pester the Jews and provoke anti-Semitism. Though they were proven to be false documents, some people continue to view them as factual, especially in parts of the world where anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, or anti-Zionism are widespread. They are frequently referred to and reprinted by anti-Semites and sometimes used as evidence of a Jewish conspiracy.
What is written in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
The Protocols is a conspiracy theory and take the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the Elders, describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, replacing the traditional social order by one based on mass manipulation. The document was widely circulated in the West in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the 1940s when it was very popular in Germany. This popularity was of course very much enhanced by Hitler’s Endlösung, the German Nazi-plan to destroy all the Jews in Germany and then the world. It was the perfect excuse the Nazis needed for their Final Solution. After the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, it still occurs in the literature of contemporary anti-Semitism groups.

The 24 chapters of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

1. The Basic Doctrine — “Right Lies in Might” 2. Economic War and Disorganization Leads to International Government 3. Methods of Conquest 4. The Destruction of Religion by Materialism 5. Despotism and Modern Progress 6. The Acquisition of Land and the Encouragement of Speculation 7. A Prophecy of a World-wide War 8. The Transitional Government 9. The All-embracing Propaganda 10. Abolition of the Constitution; Rise of the Autocracy 11. The Constitution of Autocracy and Universal Rul 12. The Kingdom of the Press and its Control 13. Turning Public Thought from Essentials to Non-Essentials 14. The Destruction of Religion as a Prelude to the Rise of the Jewish God 15. Utilization of Masonry; Heartless Suppression of Enemies 16. The Nullification of Education 17. The Fate of Lawyers and the Clergy 18. The Organization of Disorder 19. Mutual Understanding Between Rulers and People 20. The Financial Program of Destruction and Construction 21. Domestic Loans and Government Credit 22. The Beneficence of Jewish Rule 23. The Inculcation of Obedience 24. The Jewish Ruler

Origin of content

The text borrows or plagiarizes multiple sources such as texts by Maurice Joly and Hermann Goedsche. Elements of the text in the Protocols were plagiarized from the 1864 book by Joly, Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu (Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu). Hermann Goedsche’s 1868 novel, Biarritz, gave another idea that may have inspired the people behind the Protocols. In the chapter, “The Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the Council of Representatives of the Twelve Tribes of Israel”, Goedsche wrote about a meeting between members of a mysterious rabbinical group. The chapter describes how at midnight, the Devil appears before those who have gathered on behalf of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to plan a Jewish conspiracy.
Comparison between The Protocols and Maurice Joly’s Dialogue in Hell
Like the god Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms, and these arms will give their hands to all the different shades of opinion throughout the country. — Machiavelli, Dialogues, p. 141
These newspapers, like the Indian god Vishnu, will be possessed of hundreds of hands, each of which will be feeling the pulse of varying public opinion. — Protocols, p. 43

Antisemitism in Nazi Germany (Ilse Heylen, VIVES campus Torhout)

Origin of racial policy ideas

During his youth in Vienna, Austria, Adolf Hitler was exposed to antisemitic literature. Inspired by the antisemitic mayor Karl Lueger, Hitler developed his theories of racial struggle in Mein Kampf (1925). The publication date proves that Hitler’s fundamental antisemitic ideology goes back a long way further than World War II.
His ideas were based on a strong belief that the Aryan race was superior to all other ethnic groups and races. He stressed that Aryans had been responsible for all advances in civilisation and morality in world history and that Jews wanted to destroy it – Nazi actions during WW II prove the irony of the words civilisation and morality.
Antisemitic actions were legitimated by the idea that Germans were Aryans, a super human race, and therefore had the right to displace, eliminate and enslave inferiors. Jews were not the only minority group targeted. Poles, Slavic people, Russians, Ukrainians and Czechs were also ‘subhuman’ according to the Nazi race terminology as well as people with mental of physical disabilities and homosexuals. This set of policies against these minority groups culminated in what we know as the ‘Holocaust’.

Racial policies in the pre-war period

Although antisemitism affected different minority groups, Jews were seen as ‘the most inferior’ race. The economic depression of the 1930s offered an ideal climate for the Nazi Party to represent Jews as the source of various political, social, economic and ethical problems. Popular antisemitism was used by the Nazi Party to gain votes.
As a governing party from 1933 – 1938 with Hitler as the ‘Führer’, the Nazi Party started with an active persecution of Jews. The segregation was implemented in stages. First anti-Jewish boycotts, organised book burnings were ordered followed by a set of anti-Jewish laws. Then plans took root to isolate and eventually eliminate Jews in Germany completely. Later the construction of labour and concentrations camps began. In the years following many Jews were encouraged to leave the country and a lot of them did so.
In 1935 The Nuremberg laws were passed. These laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship. The ‘Reich Citizenship law’ stated that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens of their own country – they received the official title of ‘subjects of the state’. This law implied that Jews were deprived of basic citizen rights, e.g. the right to vote. The ‘Law for Protection of the German Blood and Honour’ prevented marriage between Jews and Germans.
From 1936 on government refused Jewish employees. German industries made their Jewish labourers redundant and their jobs were taken over by unemployed Germans. Jews were forbidden to join the Wehrmacht (army) and antisemitic propaganda started to appear in shops and restaurants.
In 1938 doctors were no longer allowed to treat Jewish patients. Jews were derived of all medical care as Jewish doctors were banned. Later that year a large letter ‘J’ was printed on Jewish passports and nearly all Jewish companies went bankrupt or had to sell out to the government.


On 9 November 1938 the Nazis destroyed synagogues and shop windows of Jewish-owned stores throughout the whole country. This day is remembered as ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘the night of the Broken Glass’ referring to the streets covered with the crystals of broken windows. By September 1939 more than 200,000 Jews had left Germany leaving their property behind.

Word War II – Shoah (Holocaust)

At the beginning of WW II, after the German invasion of Poland, the Nazi anti-Jewish policy escalated. Jewish activities were limited and Jews were gathered in ghettos (enclosed areas designed to isolate and control Jews). Polish and European Jews were sent to these ghettos were they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
In 1942 the governor of the General Government of occupied Poland refused to take in more Jews. He no longer accepted the mass deportations. The Nazi party started looking for ideas to answer the ‘Jewish Question’. At first a mass emigration of Jews was proposed. Different areas and countries were suggested but the whole idea was dismissed because they were impractical.
Nazi officials found the ultimate answer to the ‘Jewish Question’ in what they euphemistically called ‘the Final Solution’. The Nazi Party used this kind of language frequently to disguise the true nature and purpose of its actions, in this case the plan to destroy the Jewish people. Three killing centres, with no purpose other than mass murder, were established in Poland. Existing concentration camps were adjusted and installed with gas chambers to eliminate as many Jews as possible.
The term ‘Final Solution’ now refers to the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Eleven million Jews were targeted for extermination by the Nazis. Approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children were eventually killed during the Shoah, in other words, two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before WW II. This is seen by many as the culmination of generations of antisemitism in Europe


Sources Racial policy of Nazi Germany
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum on-line (