Origin and Meaning of the Term
The word antisemitism means prejudice against or hatred of Jews. The Holocaust, the state-sponsored persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945, is history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.
In 1879, German journalist Wilhelm Marr originated the term antisemitism, denoting the hatred of Jews, and also hatred of various liberal, cosmopolitan, and international political trends of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often associated with Jews. The trends under attack included equal civil rights, constitutional democracy, free trade, socialism, finance capitalism, and pacifism.
Antisemitism in History
The specific hatred of Jews, however, preceded the modern era and the coining of the term antisemitism. Among the most common manifestations of antisemitism throughout history were pogroms, violent riots launched against Jews and frequently encouraged by government authorities. Pogroms were often incited by blood libels—false rumors that Jews used the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes.
In the modern era, antisemites added a political dimension to their ideology of hatred. In the last third of the nineteenth century, antisemitic political parties were formed in Germany, France, and Austria. Publications such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion generated or provided support for fraudulent theories of an international Jewish conspiracy. A potent component of political antisemitism was nationalism, whose adherents often falsely denounced Jews as disloyal citizens.
The nineteenth century xenophobic “voelkisch movement” (folk or people’s movement)—made up of German philosophers, scholars, and artists who viewed the Jewish spirit as alien to Germandom—shaped a notion of the Jew as “non-German.” Theorists of racial anthropology provided pseudoscientific backing for this idea.
The Beginnings of Nazi Antisemitism
The Nazi Party, founded in 1919 and led by Adolf Hitler, gave political expression to theories of racism. In part, the Nazi Party gained popularity by disseminating anti-Jewish propaganda. Millions bought Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which called for the removal of Jews from Germany.