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  • Anti-Semitism in Europe before the HolocaustAuthor(s): William I. Brustein and Ryan D. KingSource: International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique, Vol.25, No. 1, Religion and Politics. Religion et politique (Jan., 2004), pp. 35-53Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 11/08/2013 11:42

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  • International Political Science Review (2004), Vol 25, No. 1, 35-53

    IP S R | RI SP N.;.li.SX

    Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust


    ABSTRACT. It is commonly accepted that the years 1899-1939 represent a highpoint in anti-Semitism in western societies. What factors account for the wave of extraordinary anti-Semitism after 1899? Was the rise of anti- Semitism between 1899 and the Holocaust uneven? Did anti-Semitism vary in content and intensity across societies? Did Germans embrace anti- Semitism differently from French, Italian, Romanian, and British citizens? Data drawn from the annual volumes of the American Jewish Year Book are used to examine these questions systematically. Pooled time- series analyses suggest that variation in anti-Semitism over time and across countries was largely a function of economic conditions and Jewish immigration, and to a limited extent of the rise of leftist parties. Keywords: * Anti-Semitism * Europe * Holocaust * Prejudice

    Delegates from 32 countries met in the French resort town of Evian-les-Bains between 6July and 14July 1938 to discuss ways to helpJewish refugees fleeing the Nazi Third Reich. In the months following Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, Nazi persecution of Jews in the Third Reich reached horrifying dimensions. Nazi Germany had offered its Jews to the world. Many delegates attending the Evian Conference publicly professed their sympathies for the Jewish refugees. However, most countries, including the USA, Great Britain, and Australia, offered excuses for why they could not accept more refugees. The official delegates from Romania, Hungary, and Poland proposed that their countries also be relieved of theirJews. Only the representatives of the Dominican Republic, and later Costa Rica, agreed to increase their quotas. That the world seemed to turn its back on the German and Austrian Jewish refugees, not surprisingly, provided the Nazi regime's anti-Semitic campaign with a propaganda bonanza (Morse, 1968: 214; Weiss, 1996: 331; Friedlaender, 1997: 248-50; Marrus, 1985: 167-9).

    The failure of the delegates at the Evian Conference to aid European Jewry was not exceptional as an example of worldwide indifference to the fate of European Jews on the eve of the Holocaust. For in the aftermath of the Evian Conference,

    DOI: 10.1177/0192512104038166 ? 2004 International Political Science Association SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)

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  • 36 International Political Science Review 25 (1)

    indifference to the fate of Europe's Jews included the following: the unwillingness of Hungary and Czechoslovakia to give refuge to the expelled Sudetenland Jews; the American failure to pass the Wagner-Rogers Child Refugee Bill that would have admitted to the USA 20,000 Jewish refugee children from Europe and the us refusal to admit the 936 German-Jewish refugees aboard the ill-fated ship, the St. Louis; Great Britain's decision to close off Palestine to Jewish immigration; and the reneging on pledges made by Argentina and Brazil to Papal authorities to accept baptized Jews into their countries (Friedlaender, 1997: 265-6, 299-300; Mosse, 1985: 231; Marrus, 1985: 285-9).

    These examples of insensitivity toward persecuted EuropeanJews on the eve of the Holocaust raise a number of important questions regarding anti-Semitism. It is commonly accepted that the years 1899-1939 are a highpoint in anti-Semitism in western societies (Weinberg, 1986; Bernstein, 1996). What factors account for the wave of extraordinary anti-Semitism after 1899? Was the rise of anti-Semitism between 1899 and the Holocaust steady or uneven? Did popular anti-Semitism vary in content and intensity across societies? If so, why? Did ordinary Germans embrace anti-Semitism in a way that ordinary Americans, British, French, Polish, and Romanian citizens did not, as has been suggested in a number of recent works on German anti-Semitism (Goldhagen, 1996; Weiss, 1996)?' How does anti- Semitism differ from other forms of religious, racial, or ethnic prejudice?

    With one notable exception (Fein, 1979), scholars have given minimal attention to a systematic and empirically based national comparison of popular anti-Semitism before 1945.2 The scholarly literature on anti-Semitism typically involves an examination of anti-Semitism within a particular nation (Ascheim, 1981; Birnbaum, 1992; Butnaru, 1992; Byrnes, 1950; Canepa, 1989; Dinnerstein, 1994; Fischer-Galati, 1974; Fitch, 1992; Friedlaender, 1997; Goldhagen, 1996; Higham, 1988; Holmes, 1979; Iancu, 1978; Kershaw, 1983; Lebzelter, 1978; Mandle, 1968; Marrus, 1971; Marrus and Paxton, 1981; Massing, 1949; Michaelis, 1978; Mosse, 1970; Niewyk, 1980; Oldson, 1991; Pulzer, 1992; Sternhell, 1985; Vago, 1993; Volovici, 1991; Weiss, 1996; Wilson, 1982; Zuccotti, 1987) or a nonsystematic and nonempirical analysis of anti-Semitism across several countries (Almog, 1990; Bergmann, 1992; Ettinger, 1988; Grosser and Halperin, 1978; Katz, 1980; Langmuir, 1987; Lindemann, 1991, 1997; Marrus, 1982, 1985; Mosse, 1985; Weinberg, 1986; Wistrich, 1991).

    Though persecution ofJews has a history of at least two millennia, the late-19th and early-20th century witnessed a high-water mark in hatred against Jews, especially in western Christian societies (Pauley, 1992; Katz, 1980; Byrnes, 1950; Hirshfield, 1981; Lindemann, 1991, 1997; Marrus, 1985; Mosse, 1985; Weiss, 1996; Almog, 1990; Arendt, 1975). How have scholars tried to explain the rise of anti- Semitism in Europe after 1899 and the differences in the intensity of anti- Semitism among various European societies? A number of the popular explanations for the rise of anti-Semitism have analogs in the literature on ethnic prejudice. In particular, theories of modernization, relative deprivation, ethnic competition, and of scapegoating or frustration-aggression prevail as explanations of the rise of anti-Semitism.

    Much of the scholarly literature emphasizes the role of modernization to explain the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Accordingly, modernization embodied the emergence of liberalism and capitalism, which among other things, led to the political, social, and economic emancipation of Jews. Jewish social mobility and Jewish competition elicited fears among many non-Jews, reinforcing anti-Semitic

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  • BRUSTEIN/KING: Anti-Semitism in Europe 37

    attitudes. The underlying argument within the modernization thesis is that the losers (either social groups or nations) in the modernization process tend to harbor the strongest anti-Semitic beliefs (Lindemann, 1991, 1997; Fein, 1987; Almog, 1990; Strauss, 1993).3 Arendt (1975) provides an interesting variant to the modernization thesis. Modernization for Arendt included the transformation of the role of Jews in European societies. By the end of the 19th century, European states became less dependent on wealthyJewish financiers andJews experienced a new status characterized by a loss of real power while remaining holders of major wealth. For Arendt, the inconsistency between insignificant power and phenomenal wealth created within the general public the image ofJews as a despised parasitical social group. Arendt cites as evidence that the greatest periods of modern anti- Semitism coincided with decline in Jewish influence (1975: 4-5). While the modernization thesis seemingly provides a plausible explanation for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe after 1879, it fails to offer a convincing argument for temporal and spatial variation in anti-Semitism. For instance, the modernization thesis cannot explain why popular anti-Semitism in Europe climbed significantly during the 1880s and 1890s, but fell dramatically in Europe between 1900 and 1914 to rise again to new heights in the early 1920s and mid-to-late 1930s or why levels of popular anti-Semitism tended to be higher in Romania and Germany than in Great Britain and Italy.

    A popular explanation for the rise of anti-Semitism is the scapegoat theory. Proponents of the scapegoat theory posit thatJews constituted a minority group dispersed among many countries and served as convenient targets for the majority's problems (Katz, 1980: 247; Ettinger, 1988: 4-7; Fein, 1979: 84-98). Advocates of the scapegoat theory hold that in times of national crisis, people instinctively seek groups upon whom to assign blame for their misfortunes (Blalock, 1967; Marrus, 1982). European societies certainly experienced significant trauma after 1879, including major wars and a series of economic and social upheavals, and for many groups, Jews became the objects of their frustration and aggression (Andreski, 1963).4 But the scapegoat thesis fails to inform us why Jews rather than other minorities became scapegoats for national distress or why in certain societies where Jews were present, other groups served as scapegoats. For instance, in interwar Romania, persecution of Jews far exceeded the harass- ment that fell upon other Romanian minorities, including Germans, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Greeks, while in post-World War I Italy during a period of dramatic political and economic turmoil, Italian Jews remained untouched by events and anti-Semitism was relatively non-existent.

    Pierre Birnbaum (1992) offers a very different theory of the rise of anti- Semitism and of anti-Semitic variation among societies. Birnbaum attributes the rise of modern anti-Semitism to popular reaction against the strong state. Where a strong state is perceived as having imposed on society the emancipation of the Jews, anti-Semitism tends to be strong (for example, Germany and France). On the other hand, where the state is relatively weak and Jews obtained equal rights through society rather than the state, anti-Semitism tends to be muted (for example, the USA and Great Britain) (Birnbaum, 1992: 6-10, 227-8). But how would Birnbaum's theory explain temporal variation in popular anti-Semitism? For instance, most scholars distinguish between the periods of high popular anti- Semitism in France (1890s and 1930s) and the periods of low popular anti- Semitism (1904-30). It makes little sense to argue that the French state was significantly weaker between 1904 and 1930 than during the 1890s. Alternatively,

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  • 38 International Political Science Review 25 (1)

    how would Birnbaum make sense of the extraordinarily high levels of popular anti-Semitism in Romania-a country in which the state refused to grant the Jews civil rights until after World War I and then only after considerable pressure from the victorious nations at Versailles?

    An emphasis on the role of distinct political cultures as an explanation for national variation in anti-Semitism is implicit in two recent books on Germans and the Holocaust. Weiss (1996: viii), in accounting for the magnitude and breadth of modern German anti-Semitism, points to a "powerful culture of racism" existing in Germany. Goldhagen (1996) sees German anti-Semitism as a unique force throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. For Goldhagen (1996: 32, 54), anti-Semitism was an axiom of German culture which provided Germans with "a model of cultural coherence." In Germany, anti-Semitism embodied an "elimina- tionist" ideology interpreting Jewish influence as naturally destructive and advocating the irrevocable elimination of Jewish influence from society (Goldhagen, 1996: 48). Unfortunately, neither Weiss nor Goldhagen systematically examine non-German political cultures and non-German anti-Semitism. More- over, their distinct political-culture models fail to explain temporal variation in German anti-Semitism. Numerous scholars of German anti-Semitism have pointed to the ebb and flow of German anti-Semitism between 1814 and 1945.

    We suggest that theories of anti-Semitism that emphasize characteristics of the state, cultures, and modernization take us a long way in explaining anti-Semitism. However, these theories run into some trouble in terms of explaining temporal or spatial variation in anti-Semitism. The scapegoat theory clearly explains (theoretically) temporal variation, but is short of explaining whyJews are selected as opposed to other groups and places a great importance on economic conditions and less emphasis on, for example, political aspects of anti-Semitism. We seek to take extant research a step further by attempting to account for temporal and spatial variation in European anti-Semitism.

    From the perspective of this article what made anti-Semitism different from other forms of xenophobia or dislike of minorities is that Jew hatred is more multifaceted than other kinds of prejudice. White prejudice against blacks typically embraced a racial form of dislike, while persecution of Armenians and Greeks in Bulgaria usually revolved around economic fears, and antipathy toward Irish Catholics or Italian Catholics in the USA during the 19th century largely took a form of religious hatred. Popular anti-Semitism, by contrast, incorporated religious, economic, racial, and political prejudice. Consequently, Jews were disliked and feared for their religious beliefs and attitudes, their so-called racial characteristics, perceived economic behavior and power, and their assumed leadership or support of subversive political and social movements. That popular anti-Semitism embodied numerous forms may help explain whyJews rather than other minorities were frequent...


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