Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondThe shapeshifting nature of antisemitism reached its most lethal manifestation in the 20th century with the horrific events of the Holocaust. As we have seen throughout this week's lesson, the genocide antisemitism of the Second World War years emerged from the ideologies and movements of the 19th century, and was greatly influenced by the effects and changes brought about, mainly, by the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Social Darwinism and racial notions of world hierarchy were used, particularly in Germany, to explain the devastating results of the Great War, the economic crises that followed, and the perceived weakness of democracy. The scapegoating of the Jews of old now reached an unprecedented ideological form in the Nazi worldview.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsDeveloped by Adolf Hitler and other leaders of the Nazi Party, the Jews held a central position in Nazi ideology, standing as the racial antithesis to the Aryan race - a constant threat which could take contradictory forms; one which would have to be annihilated for the Aryans and the world at large to reach full Redemption. Culminating in the mass murder of six million Jews, the acts committed because of this antisemitism became a force that would greatly affect the world in the postwar years. With the horrific actions of the Holocaust, noble ideals of modernity and other moral values collapsed, and basic notions of humanity were shaken to the core. The Holocaust revealed, in a clear and painful manner,

Skip to 1 minute and 33 secondsthe deep abyss of human cruelty: the dark places individuals and societies can reach and the destructiveness of murderous ideologies. The few but - major in any moral sense - acts of compassion could not light the dark and bitter days that overcame Europe. It is no surprise that this traumatic event challenged some fundamental notions of the world as we know it today and has had a far-reaching impact on a variety of aspects of our lives as they were shaped since 1945. The development of international law, the rise of philosophical and literary doctrines, art, cinema and architecture, as well as the culture of memory - were all influenced by this seminal event.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 secondsIt even questioned humanity's commitment to the ultimate commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The self-reflection that was demanded of the world following the Holocaust brought about major changes in the way bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance were addressed and confronted, especially in the West. It is because of these changes and the horrific outcomes of the Holocaust that many expected antisemitism to become significantly reduced if not completely eliminated in the post Holocaust era. Looking back at the years following the Holocaust and at the contemporary world today, one can ask whether these expectations proved to be correct. Many people thought that the scandal of the Holocaust was so great that we would never see antisemitism enter the public sphere in a lethal way.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 secondsI was a good friend of Elie Wiesel over 40 years - alav ha-shalom. When I last met with Elie, he was very downcast because he said he was wrong. I said, "Ellie, what were you wrong about?" He said, "I was wrong when I predicted that we would not see antisemitism again, given what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust." So, as a result of recent events, we have to say, unfortunately, not only was Elie not quite right in thinking about the reappearance of antisemitism in a big way. Virtually everyone was wrong. I've been studying the Holocaust for decades, teaching about it, writing about it, lecturing about it. I never expected to become a scholar of post Holocaust antisemitism.

Skip to 4 minutes and 11 secondsI have become focused on that because the need is real and even in some ways - without becoming melodramatic about it - urgent. Antisemitism is back in a global way. In certain places, it's already taken the lives of Jews. It certainly threatens the lives of Jews in many many different countries. We need to understand its sources. We need to understand its agents - who's behind it. We need to understand the ideologies that drive it. The more time we can spend, looking hard at this phenomenon that almost none of us expected, the better we're going to be.

The persistence of antisemitism

Prof. Alvin H. Rosenfeld

The self-reflection that was demanded of the world following the Holocaust brought about major changes in the way bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance were addressed and confronted, especially in the West. It is because of these changes and the horrific outcomes of the Holocaust that many expected antisemitism to become significantly reduced if not completely eliminated in the post-Holocaust era. Looking back at the years following the Holocaust and at the contemporary world today, one can ask whether these expectations proved to be correct.

What happened to antisemitism in the decades following the Holocaust?


References

  • Rosenfeld, Alvin H., The End of the Holocaust (Boomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

  • Rosenfeld, Alvin H., Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives (Boomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

  • Rosenfeld, Alvin H., Deciphering the New Antisemitism(Boomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

  • Transcript from an interview with Elie Wiesel. Interviewer is Professor Georg Klein, Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 7 Mar 2018.

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

Yad Vashem

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