Explain the status and position of European Jews at the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Centuries Essay
For many years Jews had been treated differently throughout the world and predominantly in Europe. Their religion encountered many obstacles. Since biblical times they were made international scapegoats because of their alleged killing of Christ. Throughout this time Jews were persecuted in many regions. The worst prejudices and persecution throughout this time was found in Russia. Jews, also persecuted throughout Europe were soon seen as a different, ‘inferior’ race and not just a religion. This made Jewish life even harder because you cannot change race. This is based on the anti-semitic ideas produced by Wilhelm Marr. Jews finally turned to Zionism after a controversial book, ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ was published claiming Jews wanted to take over the world. Jews were also outraged by the contentious Alfred Dreyfus case.
France was the first country to give Jews full citizenship. After the French revolution the notion of liberty, equality and fraternity offered Jews a relatively normal life in France, where they were assimilated into French society. A Rabbi at the time was pleased to state, “Fortunately in France today everyone is considered French”. Although Jews were assimilated and emancipated in France by the late 19th century the Alfred Dreyfus case proved that the French assimilation of Jews was only skin deep. People still had underlying suspicions about the Jews. The Dreyfus case increased tension in France because of people’s suspicious attitudes. French attitudes towards Jews soon became divided; the government, army and conservative anti- semites opposed those believing in liberty, equality and fraternity. Also affecting the Jews status and position were the many Russian Jews immigrating into France. These Jews were peasants and lowered the status of French Jews. Gobineau declared a racial hierarchy whereby Jews fell to the bottom and Aryans were prestigiously top. The French Jews weren’t used to such discrimination so many turned to Zionism, allowing Jews to flee persecution and live happily united in a homeland.
Wilhelm Marr’s unearthing of anti-Semitism spread through Germany. Germans believed, even before his book, ‘The Triumph of Jewry over Germanism’ was published that Jews were capable of all things evil because of what they believed and not because of who they were. The Dreyfus case and Gobineau’s actions increased German Jews support for Zionism. This quickly reversed, through elections of anti-Semitic MPs and Jewish violence. Jews were soon seen as a race therefore unable to change their ways and inclinations. In 1881 a petition with 250 000 signatures was submitted to Bismarck, the Chancellor by the Berlin Movement, protesting severe restrictions for Jews in Germany; although no action was taken the Chancellor sympathised with the petition. The German media were generally anti-semitic and took every chance to isolate Jews and stir hatred. By 1920, even after the controversial Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion had been proved totally untrue Germany was still extremely hostile towards the Jews.
The book was extremely popular in Germany along with the rest of the world. It became an international best seller. Although many German Jews were successful they were successful through acts as seen unacceptable to Christians such as Usury. Most anti-semites were educated and lived in the large cities. This shows the Jews were envied and the educated Germans were reluctant to allow them to share their wealth and were prejudiced against the now named, Jewish race. Germany was extremely philosophical within their anti-semitism. They used many different ways to substantiate their persecution rather than outright persecution as seen in Russia.
The Russian government policy of anti-semitism provided the worst Jewish discrimination in the world at this time. The government sponsored Jewish persecution including violent pogroms whereby Jews were attacked and their houses, businesses and livelihoods were sabotaged and ruined. 5 million Jews in Russia were extremely poor. They were disregarded by many Russians as peasants. Russia wanted to reduce the Jewish population as quickly and drastically as possible. Many Jews fled Russia as the pogroms worsened and caused one of the major emigrations in Jewish history. 650 laws were introduced restricting Jews within Russia. Jews were forced to live in a separate part of Russia called the Pale of Settlement. They were forced to live there under strict legislation including a law which bound them to the area, as they weren’t allowed to stay overnight outside the area. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was Russian and influenced Russia greatly. The Russian Jews constructed their own language, Yiddish. Although things were awful for the Jews in Russia, by the time of the revolution in 1917 key improvements were surfacing.
The long history of persecution of the Jews prevails throughout these times. Their minority status throughout the world along with their past history proved they were easy targets as international scapegoats. On reflection the Jewish lack of support allowed them to be seen as inferior and eventually as a race, not religion. This made them even more vulnerable because there was no way out. They were pushed into a corner throughout Europe and it was becoming increasingly difficult to free them from their mass persecution. Jews realised that the assimilation they had endured was only skin deep and they understood that Zionism was their only escape route; this is why so many people turned to it. World War One saw the Balfour Declaration support Zionism and the Jews receive some positive attention. Therefore in conclusion the position of Jews in Europe during this time was unacceptable and inhumane. The racial prejudices and inequalities were seen throughout Europe, predominantly in Russia and became more serious towards the latter stages of the time. The Jews faced persecution and even when they sought their own freedom and rights away from the anti-semites they were denied. Furthermore no matter what attempt the Jews made they were always rejected.