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: “..it 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism) Mark Twain’s essay Concerning the Jews (http://ohr.edu/judaism/concern/concerna.htm)