During the last third of the nineteenth century, there emerged among various thinkers a perception of Jews based on race, resulting, in part, from technological progress and scientific advances in the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, genetics and evolution. This perception emerged within a broader racial worldview based on notions of inequality of races and the superiority of the white race over other races. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, German philosophers, including Johann Fichte (1762–1814) and Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), espoused ideas of German superiority and nationalism which set the tone and direction of German anti-Semitism. By the third quarter of nineteenth century, traditional blood accusations leveled against Jews merged with new pseudo-scientific theories of Charles Darwin (Darwinism); Herbert Spencer (Social Darwinism) and Frederic Nietzsche (will to power; death of God; master-slave mentality; herd instinct; ascendancy of a master race, (herrenrasse) and a superman (ubermensch), existence of subhuman life forms (untermenschen)). The term “anti-Semitism” was first coined by German writer, journalist, and anti-Semite, Wilhelm Marr in 1867. The word “Semite” actually describes all Arabs, but as used in this term applies only to Jews.
In 1878, Adolf Stoecker, a court chaplain, founded the anti-Semitic German Christian Social Party which advocated that Jews be strongly encouraged to convert to Christianity. In 1880, petitions signed by some 250,000 German citizens demanded that Jews be banned from attending public schools and universities and from holding public office. In 1881, pogroms broke out across Russia following the assassination of Czar Alexander II for which Jews were wrongfully blamed.
In 1879 and 1880, Heinrich von Treitschke, an influential German nationalist historian, published a series of articles that drew attention to what would become a fateful phrase: Die Juden sind unser Ungluck (“The Jews are our misfortune.”) Eventually, that phrase would become the preferred slogan on banners at Nazi Party rallies. In 1881, Eugen Karl Duhring published, Die Jundenfrage als Rassen-Sitten,und Kulturfrage (“The Jewish Question as a Racial, Moral, and Cultural Problem.”) Between 1881 and 1884, pogroms swept across Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia.
German philosopher and poet Frederic Nietzsche greatly influenced Hitler’s worldview (weltanschauung). So too did English biologist and sociologist Herbert Spencer, whose theory of Social Darwinism, adapted Darwin’s theory of evolution and postulated that humans were not one race, but several different races biologically driven to struggle against one another for living space (lebensraum) to ensure survival of the fittest. Only races with superior qualities could win this struggle characterized by force and warfare. For anti-Semites, Jews were a lower and racially defective life form, albeit immensely powerful and dangerous. In 1883, Sir Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics” to encompass the notion of positive modification of natural selection through selective breeding of humans. On April 20, 1889, Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria.
Also fueling the rise of anti-Semitism was the nineteenth century German xenophobic völkische movement (“peoples’ movement”) — an expression of romantic German nationalism. The movement was made up of philosophers, scholars and artists, including opera composer Richard Wagner who viewed Jews as non-German and an obstacle to the fulfillment of Germany’s rightful destiny. Nazi ideologues, influenced by the völkische movement, envisioned a new Germany firmly grounded in destiny, ultra nationalism/ patriotism and racial purity, which would catapult the Vaterland (“fatherland”) to its deserved place on the world stage and reverse the national humiliation of Germany’s defeat in WWI and the onerous terms of the Versailles Treaty. During the Third Reich, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles (literally, “Germany, Germany above all”), the first stanza of the national anthem, would assume ominous connotation, particularly when German troops without provocation marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, beginning its second worldwide war of conquest within 20 years. Citizens of this new Germany would be members of the Aryan master race, genetically healthy, socially useful and politically reliable. And because Jews represented everything diametrically opposed to this vision of a new Germany, their elimination was essential.
The Catholic Press
As modern anti-Semitism began to take shape in the latter third of the nineteenth century the Church was a major player. In Pope Pius IX’s war on Modernism, no weapon was more effective than the Catholic press, which at the time consisted of hundreds of newspapers, journals and other periodicals throughout Europe. To these publications, Pius gave the task of combating the forces of liberalism. And because Jews supported these forces, the Catholic press focused heavily on Jews, characterizing them, for example, as evil conspirators doing the devil’s work and warning of a rising Jewish peril.
The Edgardo Mortara forced baptism case demonstrated the power of the secular/popular press to shape public opinion against the Church. To counter this influence, Pius IX ordered the Catholic press to redouble its efforts to promote church positions. One influential Catholic periodical, regarded as the unofficial voice of the papacy, was the biweekly Jesuit newspaper, La Civiltà Cattolica, founded in 1850. In December 1880, La Civiltà Cattolica kicked off an anti-Jewish campaign with a series of thirty- six articles. Perpetuating traditional myths against Jews, the articles purported to explain why recent pogroms had occurred in Germany. In one article, the author wrote that it was because Jews were obligated to hate non-Jews that Christians despised them. European society, therefore, had to be protected, and so, “governments would be well advised to introduce special laws for a “race” that was so exceptionally and profoundly perverse. These special laws, the author asserted, would actually benefit Jews, for only by restoring restrictions on them (removed by emancipation) would violence against them be prevented. Another article attempted to prove that ritual murder was an integral part of the ritual for Purim rather than the one for Passover, concluding: “It is in vain that Jews seek to slough off the weight of argument against them: the mystery has become known to all.”
All thirty-six articles were written by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Giuseppe di Santo Stefano, one of the founders of Civiltà Cattolica. Certain themes were repeated continuously, for example, 1) Jews had always benefited from the kindness of the Church, especially the kindness of popes; 2) Jews had lived happily in ghettos and, therefore, Christians were able to live peaceably, protected from them; 3) forbidding Jews to own real property or to practice certain occupations in the Papal States actually benefited them because such restrictions not only prevented Jews from becoming wealthy, but also prevented them from being too despised; and 4) history had shown if this foreign Jewish “race” was left too free, it immediately became the persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, thief, and devastator of the countries where it lived. Accordingly, special laws were required to keep them in their appropriate place and to protect society from the hostility they harbor against all human society not belonging to their “race.” Far from persecuting Jews, such restrictive legislation served to prevent Jews from persecuting Christians.
Another founding editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr.Giuseppe Oreglia SJ wrote in an article:
“The Jews, eternal insolent children, obstinate, dirty, thieves, liars, ignoramuses, pests and the scourge of those near and far…managed to lay their hands on…all public wealth…and virtually alone they took control not only of all the money…but of the law itself in those countries where they have been allowed to hold public offices…(yet they complain) at the first shout by anyone who dares raise his voice against this barbarian invasion by an enemy ‘race,’ hostile to Christianity and to society in general.”
The most influential Catholic publication was the Vatican daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. In 1892, with anti-Semitism gaining ascendancy throughout Europe, L’Osservatore Romano devoted a series of articles to the “Jewish question.” One article argued that because recent pogroms in Russia had stirred up so much sympathy for Jews, it proved that the pogroms could only have been “engineered by the Jews themselves.” This is an example of “blaming the victim” for the victim’s plight. The author wrote: “We would not stray far from the truth if we said that the rather heavy-handed blow that the Muscovite Empire has aimed at the children of Judah has played into the hands of Judaism, for it has engendered compassion for the Jews, against whom the Christian and civil world has, for good reason, begun to rebel.” Similarly, the article’s author contended that French, Russian, and Austrian anti-Semitic movements were actually the work of cosmopolitan Judaism.
In indicting Pius IX for using the Catholic Press to shape public opinion against Jews, David I. Kertzer, author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and The Popes against the Jews: The Vatican Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, wrote:
“What, after all, were the major tenets of this modern anti-Semitic movement if not such warnings as these: Jews are trying to take over the world; Jews have already spread their voracious tentacles around the nerve centers of Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland and Italy; Jews are rapacious and merciless, seeking at all costs to get their hands on all the world’s gold, having no concern for the number of Christians they ruin; Jews are unpatriotic, a foreign body ever threatening the well-being of the people among whom they live; special laws are needed to protect society, restricting the Jews’ rights and isolating them. Every single one of these elements of modern anti-Semitism was not only embraced by the Church but actively promulgated by official and unofficial Church organs.”
As other major institutions were coming to terms with liberal trends transforming Europe, the traditionalist Holy See, through the Catholic Press and other means, was strenuously resisting them.
The Dreyfus Affair
In 1894, during a wave of anti-Semitism in France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the French army, was charged with passing military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Convicted of treason on false evidence, imprisoned on Devil’s Island at hard labor, Dreyfus was eventually exonerated, but a segment of the French populace refused to believe him innocent. The campaign that led to his wrongful conviction was largely driven by French anti-Semites who denounced Dreyfus for his “perfidious Jewishness.” The Order of Assumptionist Fathers spearheaded the campaign, making Dreyfus’ conviction a special mission of its daily newspaper, La Croix. Owen Chadwick, author of A History of the Popes: 1830-1914, characterizes the La Croix’s anti-Dreyfus campaign as: “The most powerful and extreme journalism ever conducted by an otherworldly religious order during the history of Christendom.”
In an L’Osservatore Romano article defending French mobs protesting reversal of Dreyfus’ conviction, the author wrote: “The Jewish race, the deicide people, wanderer throughout the world, brings with it everywhere the pestiferous breath of treason.”
By the early twentieth century, most Catholic journalists were using the word anti-Semitism with approbation. For example, the Vienna correspondent for La Civiltà Cattolica, wrote in 1922:
“In its original form, anti-Semitism is nothing but the absolutely necessary and natural reaction to the Jews’ arrogance… Catholic anti-Semitism — while never going beyond the limits of moral law — adopts all necessary means to emancipate the Christian people from the abuse they suffer from their sworn enemy.”
In 1899, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, a book by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, published in Germany, contended that human history was a battle between Jews and Aryans. Also in 1899, Action Francaise (“French Action”), an anti-Semitic group, was founded in France. In 1903 in Poland, the party platform of the nationalist and anti-Semitic Narodowa Demokracja (“National Democratic Party”) was written, advocating in favor of pogroms and the forced emigration of Jews out of Poland. Between 1903 and 1906, a second wave of pogroms swept Poland and the Ukraine.
Anti-Judaism Spawns Nazi Anti-Semitism
The term “anti-Semitism,” purported to explain why Jews should be reviled as defined by race. Adopting an extreme version of anti-Semitism, Nazi propaganda depicted Jews not only as an inferior race but as a demonic one, whose threat could only be eradicated by complete elimination from the Greater Third Reich, envisioned to encompass all of Europe including Great Britain. Admittedly, Nazi racist ideology differed from previous anti-Jewish tradition, but Hitler needed to build on that tradition in order for his virulent brand of racism to gain popular acceptance. Anti-Judaism (based on religion), not only spawned anti-Semitism (based on race), but spawned Nazi anti-Semitism. It should be noted, however, that the Holy See disputes the premise that anti-Judaism spawned anti-Semitism. In its official response to the Holocaust during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews (“We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” published in 1998), the Holy See asserts, “The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity…”