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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsBetween the end of the First World War in 1918 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the European continent went through tremendous changes. During these interwar years, prosperity and hope existed alongside instability and strife, and democracy was constantly challenged, eventually losing out to separatism and Fascism. Many of the newly formed nation states, such as Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, and Latvia, had large minority populations. In Poland, for example, the various minority groups constituted approximately 30% of the population. These included roughly 3 million Jews, who comprised about 10% of the general populace. The heterogeneous nature of these nation states brought about instability and ethnic tensions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsThe first postwar years were marked by economic crises, but the remaining 1920s generally saw economic improvement and growth and were characterized by many technological advancements in the quality of life for the working and middle classes around Europe. Urbanization was flourishing and culture was blooming. The new democratic states allowed for the lower classes and minorities, including the Jews, to participate in the political sphere. Women could now vote in a growing number of countries. This prosperity came to a halt when the Great Depression struck the United States and then Europe in 1929. The 1930s were characterized by instability and volatility.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 secondsIn European politics, the various minority groups and opposing political voices led to multiple parties and unstable coalitions, which further polarized public opinion. The newly established power of the media was widely taken advantage of by political forces. The economic crisis alongside the political instability caused many to lose faith in the power of democracy, and radical movements, from both the political Left and Right, took advantage of the situation and protested vigorously against democracy and liberalism. They drew growing crowds. This trend followed the rise of Fascism in Italy under Mussolini. In Hungary, Spain, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria similar nationalist parties gained power. Many of these parties often utilized antisemitic ideology in their rhetoric and actions.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 secondsThese developments were accompanied by changes in the nature and the extent of antisemitism, reaching its culmination with Nazi antisemitism and the horrific events of the Holocaust. Before we turn to examine the formulation of Nazi ideology and the role of antisemitism in it, let’s first explore the place and form of antisemitism which became prominent during this time period, that of economic antisemitism.

Between two world wars

Between the end of the First World War in 1918 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the European continent went through tremendous changes. During these interwar years, prosperity and hope existed alongside instability and strife, and democracy was constantly challenged, eventually losing out to separatism and Fascism.

How did these massive changes affect the perceptions and treatment of the Jews?


References

  • Berghahn, Volker R., Europe in the Era of Two World Wars: From Militarism and Genocide to Civil Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

  • Brustein, William, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust (New York : Cambridge University Press, 2003).

  • Large, David Clay, Between Two Fires: Europe’s Path in the 1930s (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990).

  • Mendelsohn, Ezra, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

  • Miron, Guy, The Waning of Emancipation: Jewish History, Memory, and the Rise of Fascism in Germany, France, and Hungary (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011).

  • Overy, Richard, The Interwar Crisis, 1919-1939 (London: Routledge, 2016).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

Yad Vashem

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