Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsWe can see then that the restructuring of Europe in the aftermath of the war had a direct effect on the development of antisemitism. Jews were granted wider equality in many of the newly formed political structures, such as the German republic, Poland, the Soviet Union. However, the emergence of national entities in place of multinational and multi-ethnic empires once again forcefully exposed the Jews to questions of belonging and otherness. Beyond this, historians have noted a moral collapse, that was brought about by the war and that would also have a major impact on the growth and spread of antisemitism at this time.

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 secondsOf particular interest is Germany, a country in which Nazism would rise to become the dominant force, less than two decades later. We have already mentioned the degrading and harsh circumstances, under which Germany was forced to surrender at the end of the First World War. The newly established Weimar Republic, as the German government became known, was under constant threat, due to a growing economic crisis and the lack of an established democratic tradition. These elements and others had a far-reaching effect on German society, creating a fertile ground for the rise of fascism, racism and antisemitism. That Germany became the country that perpetrated the assault on the European Jews is in fact somewhat surprising.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsIf you had asked a European in 1910, what country would produce persecution of the Jews, twenty-five years later. Most Europeans would have probably said France or Russia. The situation for Jews in Germany in 1910, was, relatively speaking, favorable. Economic opportunities were broad and wide. There were some social restrictions that still prevailed - it was difficult for Jews to become university professors or diplomats or officers in the Prussian army, but for other walks of life, things were pretty open to Jews. And though there was a great deal of antisemitic agitation in the political and cultural spheres, no legislation restricting Jews was ever passed in imperial Germany. There was nothing prior to 1916, that was comparable to the Dreyfus Affair, for instance.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 secondsWhen does the turn take place? When do we begin to see a really, ever more radical antisemitism that ends in Nazism? Part of it has to do with the collapse of the resistance to things like racism and antisemitism. We know it very well from our time too. The problem is very often not the fact that there are radical antisemites in many societies, but that the ways in which the society can defend itself against these forces seem to be suddenly ineffective, and I think the First World War is an excellent example for such a case.

Skip to 3 minutes and 9 secondsThe war was bloody, difficult, much much longer than anyone expected, much less successful for Germany than the Germans expected, and it ended up with an absolute collapse and disaster for the Germans. They would experience a second collapse after the Second World War, which was much worse in many ways. But in comparison to their experience in the past, this was an absolute catastrophe, and under these circumstances, a lot of the defense against racial hatred and hatred against strangers, and those who don't belong, and those who can be blamed for the collapse and so on, became much more radical than it was before.

The impact on Germany

Prof. Peter Hayes, Prof. Shulamit Volkov

Of particular interest when dealing with the aftermath of the war is the case of Germany, a country in which Nazism would rise to become the dominant force, less than two decades later.

What effect did WWI have on the ability to “resist” antisemitism in the war’s aftermath?


References

  • Aschheim, Steven E., In Times of Crisis: Essays on European Culture, Germans, and Jews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001).

  • Chickering, Rodger, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

  • Hayes, Peter, Why?: Explaining the Holocaust (New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2017).

  • Sadler, Mark R. and George S. Vascik, The Stab-in-the-Back Myth and the Fall of the Weimar Republic: A History in Documents and Visual Sources (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).

  • Volkov, Shulamit, Germans, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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