As a result of this lesson, students will:
Key Glossary Terms:
The following glossary terms are used in Lesson 4.
Reading: 3B “Brief History of Anti-Semitism” and 3C “Politics”
Collect and grade the homework assignment on “Brief History of Anti-Semitism” and “Politics” and return to students on the following day.
NOTE TO TEACHER: This essay discusses the origins of anti-Semitism. The essay makes it clear that those origins were superstitions and myths bred from ignorance. The teacher should attend to the possibility of students holding anti-Semitic prejudices or beliefs. If the written answers indicate such beliefs, it will be important to discuss the dangers of anti-Semitic prejudices with the students.
Answers to Questions on “Brief History of Anti-Semitism”
1. How did the Jews maintain a community after being scattered throughout Europe?
ANSWER: Despite differences in language, social position, dress and other cultural traits, Jews were united by continued reading of the Hebrew Bible; the use of Hebrew in religious services; common laws of behavior, worship and morality that derived from the Bible; and the practice of the same rituals and customs that their ancestors had followed.
2. How and why did the early Christians set themselves apart from other Jews?
ANSWER: The early Christians separated themselves from fellow Jews by their belief in Jesus as the messiah. They later dropped traditional dietary restrictions, the requirement of circumcision—the biblical “mark of the covenant” of Abraham—and the ritual laws of the Hebrew Bible.
3. How did some Christians view the Jews during the Middle Ages?
ANSWER: Because of superstitions and myths, many Christians saw Jews as mysterious, evil and foreign.
4. What were some of the differences between Christians and Jews during the Middle Ages?
prayed in Hebrew
|prayed in Latin|
refused to eat certain foods
|ate all foods|
Sabbath on Saturday
|Sabbath on Sunday|
5. How were Jews discriminated against during the Middle Ages?
ANSWER: Jews could not own land; they could not hold public office, join unions or guilds. They were, thus, excluded from many occupations.
6. What occupations were available to Jews as a result of this discrimination during the Middle Ages?
ANSWER: With so many occupations closed to them, Jews gravitated to the professions that were often closed to Christians such as banking and money-lending. Since Jews could not own land, some also became traveling merchants.
7. Why did Christians believe the Jews murdered Christian children?
ANSWER: This belief grew in part because of the stereotype of Jews as mysteriously evil foreigners and outsiders. From the fear of outsiders, came the willingness to believe horrible, false stories.
8. What were some of the gains made by Jews during the 19th century?
ANSWER: Jews were granted certain civil rights in the 19th century. These included the right to vote and participate in the social and economic life of the country in which they lived. Occupational restrictions were removed and Jews could live anywhere they wanted, at least in theory.
9. What were some of the characteristics racists claimed Jews inherited?
ANSWER: Racists argued that Jews inherited beliefs, customs and the propensity toward wandering, as well as the urge to kill Christian children. They also argued that Jews inherited business skills.
10. How did people react to the belief that Jews inherited “rootlessness”?
ANSWER: Many connected this idea with the Jews as foreigners and strangers. They also identified Jews as city-dwellers who therefore lacked roots in the soil. This was particularly marked as evil in a time when the overwhelming majority of the population was rural.
11. Is there any historical evidence to support the myths of Jews as devils and murderers?
Answers to Questions on “Politics”
1. What were some German reactions to the defeat in World War I?
ANSWER: Many Germans were bewildered because of their lack of accurate information during the war. They were confused and humiliated. Many also felt alienated and puzzled by the changes that had taken place so quickly; loss of the war was followed quickly by a complete change in government, inflation, street violence, etc.
2. What type of government did many German people prefer to the democratic
ANSWER: Some wanted to return to a monarchy. Others wanted just the opposite and advocated a Soviet or peoples’ government. More and more were drawn to support political parties that offered a strong leader, a militaristic and anti-Communist position.
3. How did some politicians use anti-Semitism after World War I?
ANSWER: Political groups that opposed the Republic conjured up myths of Jewish conspiracies to explain all Germany’s ills, from the lost war to inflation and a damaged national self-image. They also accused Jews of being allied with the Russian Communists and many revolutionary, international movement imaginable.
4. Compare the medieval view of the Jew as scapegoat with the view
political leaders like Hitler in the 20th century.
ANSWER: The medieval view saw Jews as evil and mysterious wanderers who frequently murdered Christian children for ritual purposes. To men like Hitler, the Jews had similar, inbred characteristics. While medieval anti-Semites blamed Jews for murders, the plague and poor economic conditions, their 20th century counterparts attacked Jews for being responsible for everything bad.
1. Why does the “logic” of racial anti-Semitism lead to extermination?
Suggestions for discussion:
Reading 4A, “Interviews with a German Jewish Father, 1925-1945” (20 minutes)
Before doing the interview, you may want to refer to the "Chronology" to understand what took place in 1935, 1938 and 1945.
1. Does the man in the interview see himself as German or Jewish?
Suggestions for discussion: Like most German Jews in the 1920s, this man emphasizes his Germanness. His identification with German culture takes precedence over his Jewish identity, which he says “is a matter of personal choice.” He traces his roots back to the 18th century in Germany. He mentions the honors his family received in fighting for Germany in two wars and the loyalty he and his family continue to offer to the German government.
2. What does the man mean when he says anti-Semitism is a “protest against poor economic conditions”?
Suggestions for discussion: Because of his faith in the reasonableness of Germans and the tolerance of German society, he believes that any expression of anti- Semitism must be an attempt to demonstrate discontent with the economic situation. Jews were blamed for the inflation after the war and later for the depression in 1929. When economic conditions became bad, Jews were the scapegoats.
3. Why does the man refuse to leave Germany in 1935?
Suggestions for discussion: The man wonders “how long can Hitler last?” Again counting on the good sense and honor of Germany, he is convinced that Germans will not allow anti-Semitic discrimination to continue. This is consistent with his view that anti-Semitism in Germany is a temporary reaction against economic conditions. Like so many German Jews, this man had complete faith in Germany’s cultural heritage of tolerance, reason and enlightenment.
4. Why do you think the man finds the events of 1935-38 so unbelievable?
Suggestions for discussion: Once again, he calls upon the tradition that produced Goethe, Bach and Beethoven. But after anti-Jewish legislation, arrests, beatings and harassment, he is unable to reconcile that tradition of the great thinkers and artists with specific contemporary events. Not only has violence occurred in the streets but books have been burned. He is baffled and can only conclude that his country has “gone berserk.”
5. What is the significance of the story of the guard at Auschwitz?
Suggestions for discussion: This true account of the philosopher SS man, who conducted discussions between transport arrivals, confounds the man in the interview. The names mentioned in the discussion are among the great cultural heroes of the German enlightenment tradition. They stand for tolerance, reason, sensitivity and humane ideals. These appear to be the direct opposite of what the Nazis represented and did. Yet, they are united in one man—in many such men, simultaneously killers and philosophers. Again, the man raises the questions of the contradictory coexistence of Goethe and concentration camps, Beethoven and gas chambers.
Discussion: Integration of the Readings for Lessons 3 and 4, “Brief History of Anti- Semitism,” “Politics,” “Interviews with a German Jewish Father” (15 minutes)
Based on the readings in this lesson, Jews were viewed differently by different people at different times. Discuss the following questions with students using the ideas of “insiders” and “outsiders” as a framework for discussion. The term “insider” refers to integration into non-Jewish society and culture, and “outsider” refers to exclusions from non-Jewish society and culture. Have students state evidence from the texts to support their answers.
1. How were Jews regarded by Christians throughout history—as “insiders” or “outsiders”?
Suggestions for discussion: The examples of the exclusion of Jews from Christian society in the “Brief History of Anti-Semitism” testify to the perception of Jews as “outsiders” throughout most of European history. For example, in the Middle Ages, Jews could not participate in the government, in many businesses and were even expelled from cities.
2. How were Jews viewed by Germans in the 1920s and 1930s—as “insiders” or “outsiders”?
Suggestions for discussion: The essay, “Politics,” shows that much of the medieval attitude toward Jews was continued in the Weimar Republic. Examples of the persistence of the myths of Jews as foreign enemies or evil influences stabbing Germany in the back identify Jews again as “outsiders” as far as many Germans were concerned. The example of Rathenau clearly demonstrates the different perceptions German Jews had of themselves. Rathenau considered himself a German patriot. Yet, many Germans saw him as a Jew and not as a German. Some of those people were responsible for his death.
3. How does the German Jew in the interview view himself—as “insider” or “outsider”?
Suggestions for discussion: In the interview, the German Jew places himself in a German tradition by tracing his family’s history back to the 18th century and considers himself a descendant of a patriotic family. His grandfather fought against the French in 1871; his father, brother and uncle all fought bravely in World War I. He, obviously, considers himself an “insider” in Germany.
A main idea to include in this discussion is that, while Jews may have viewed themselves as German in German society, other Germans still may have clung to the stereotypes discussed in the background material on anti-Semitism.
NOTE TO TEACHER: At the heart of each type of anti-Semitism is fear of and hostility toward those who seem different or who are perceived as outsiders. Stereotypes of Jews as devils or evil foreigners helped fuel anti-Semitism. Many historians argue that the source of anti-Jewish theory and practice was xenophobia, hatred of foreigners, which accompanied the growing, intense nationalism of the 19th and 20th centuries.
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