Was Germany anti-Semitic before the war

Anti-Semitism after 1945

After the Holocaust, anti-Semitism by no means disappeared from European societies. As "anti-Semitism after Auschwitz" it still contains facets of the "classic" hostility towards Jews. As a secondary anti-Semitism, it reacts to the genocide of the Jews, with its denial, with a defense against memories and guilt or an argumentative perpetrator-victim reversal. In the course of the decades, not only in Germany, it has become an “anti-Semitism without Jews”, which has hardly any reference to the Jewish population in the country itself and which serves anti-Semitic conspiracy ideologies.

post war period

Anti-Semitism remained virulent in the German population after the Second World War. In the immediate post-war years, the majority of Germans reacted with an intellectual flight from responsibility: The crimes committed were belittled, the guilt for them shifted on to the dead Nazi greats and offset against their own suffering during the war. The shock of the defeat, the discovery of the extent of the Nazi crimes and the presence of the Allied occupying powers initially led to caution and largely to avoid open anti-Jewish opinions. In the decade after 1945, anti-Semitic attitudes paired with envy for care hit particularly the Jewish refugees and survivors who remained in Germany and were part of the debates about financial compensation and “reparation”.

Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic

After the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, anti-Semitism emerged in public mainly in the form of anti-Jewish abuse and threats from the population and individual politicians. More than thirty percent of the West German population shared anti-Jewish attitudes in the early 1950s. Anti-Semitism reached far into the bourgeois political camp and remained a determining part of their worldview for the parties and organizations that were founded on the extreme right. It was characteristic of the early post-war years that public issues relating to National Socialism or Jews repeatedly led to violent clashes. After the reintegration of victims of National Socialism into political and public life and the “compensation” of the victims, a political phase of the past of largely silent about the Nazi past followed in the mid-1950s. The federal government was more concerned with the successful connection to the USA and the West. The anti-Semitic incidents, which have been increasing since 1957, were only exceeded at the turn of the year 1959/60 by a nationwide wave of smear with well over 600 cases, which, however, also led to a public mobilization against anti-Semitism and 'the old days'.

In 1949 the German Democratic Republic (GDR) emerged from the Soviet occupation zone, which saw itself as a competitor to the Federal Republic and itself as a socialist-anti-fascist state modeled on the Soviet Union. In her, anti-Semitism was officially overcome. Nonetheless, anti-Semitic attitudes remained in the GDR population.

From now on, the Cold War determined national and international politics, which led to a shift in emphasis on political issues in both German states away from dealing with the recent past.

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, a new variant of hostility towards Jews emerged, Israel-related anti-Semitism. In the Soviet Union and in other countries of the socialist "Eastern Bloc" this form of anti-Zionism was superimposed with traditional anti-Jewish motifs and stereotypes. Under the rule of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (1879 - 1953) they combined with conspiracy thinking, the enemy image “cosmopolitanism” and the world of thought of the East-West conflict. When the hope for a socialist Israel was not fulfilled and the Soviet Jews publicly expressed their sympathy for the new Jewish state, Jewish politicians and their sympathizers began to be excluded from political life in the Soviet Union. Other socialist states followed this line in the early 1950s. These Stalinist anti-Zionism campaigns and staged show trials did not directly affect Jews as 'Jews'. Due to the mentioned Jewish origin of the accused, however, the impression arose that the Jewish minority was fundamentally unreliable in relation to the socialist system, which increased mistrust. With the death of Stalin in 1953 and the subsequent de-Stalinization, the GDR leadership no longer pursued the anti-Zionist campaign that had already started. In the time after that, the Jewish communities remained under surveillance by the State Security Service.

The Six Day War of 1967 and its aftermath changed the attitude towards Israel in both West and East in a clearly negative way in parts of the population. In terms of foreign policy, the GDR leadership switched to the anti-Zionist course of the majority of the other Eastern Bloc countries. Attitudes in the West German state were ambivalent. While the federal government officially represented an Israel-friendly agenda, large parts of the new social protest movements showed solidarity with the anti-colonial liberation movements of the so-called Third World and with Palestinian nationalism. They denounced the Jewish state, sometimes with harsh Nazi comparisons, as an occupying and military power. Some actors on the radical left reacted with a sometimes militant turn towards anti-Zionism, which repeatedly conveyed anti-Semitic images and motifs. As part of the student protest movement in West Germany, the members of the post-war generation also campaigned for an end to social silence and for an explanation of the Nazi past.

1970s and 1980s

In the early 1970s, anti-Semitism and coming to terms with the past were overshadowed by the terrorism of the Red Army Faction (RAF). This only changed towards the end of the decade with the increasing emergence of militant and terrorist neo-Nazi organizations, which was followed by disputes about the causes of right-wing extremism. In addition to right-wing extremist acts of violence, right-wing parties and an intellectual “New Right” appeared since the late 1970s, promoting anti-Semitism and advocating a relativization of the Nazi past. The broadcast of the American TV series "Holocaust - History of the White Family" in 1979 gave the German public an important impetus for a broad discussion of the mass murder of European Jews. The dispute over the "migration and foreigner policy", which was riddled with racist prejudices in Germany during these years, led to an increase in right-wing extremist violence and an increase in anti-Semitic crimes. In addition, German media reacted to the 1982 Lebanon War with anti-Israeli statements, and a critical attitude towards Israel increasingly gained supporters. The great public historical-political debates and scandals of the 1980s made it clear to what extent the questions of how to deal appropriately with Nazi history and the memory of the Holocaust determined this decade. Opinion polls at that time came to the result that around 15 percent of the West German population shared anti-Semitic attitudes. Open anti-Semitism has been taboo in public since the late 1980s at the latest. With a time lag after National Socialism, the willingness to recognize the German guilt for its crimes also grew. Denial of the Holocaust was made a legal punishment in 1985 (Section 130 of the Criminal Code).

Anti-Semitism since the end of the Cold War

In the changes in anti-Semitism after 1990 we can again observe shifts in terms of the causes and the underlying motives of anti-Semitic thought and action.

Against the background of nationalistic moods in the wake of German reunification and numerous, serious attacks and assaults against migrants and Germans known as 'foreigners', a right-wing extremist scene emerged, especially in the east of the republic at the beginning of the 1990s, whose worldview is clear heard of radical anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish statements came and still come from “normal” citizens and politicians from the “middle of society”, but they are often hidden or camouflaged with language. The ongoing confrontation with the Nazi past repeatedly brought anti-Semitic positions to the fore, which led to public scandals.

In addition to the national causes, there have been international areas of conflict since 1991, which arose as a result of the global political changes after the end of the East-West conflict. In the wake of the escalation of the Middle East conflict and the wars in the Arab region, many European countries experienced anti-Semitic attacks, a flood of insulting letters to Jewish institutions and extremely emotional debates about anti-Semitism. On the occasion of the spread of Islamized anti-Semitism in Europe, observers spoke of a “new anti-Semitism”. The often one-dimensional reception of the Middle East conflict led to public statements that were critical of Israel and even anti-Semitic in the subsequent phases. Currently, a distorted, negative image of the Jewish state dominates, which often conveys anti-Jewish motives. In almost all political camps, the term Zionism is now used as a linguistic code for "the Jews" and Judaism. In connection with the challenge of Islamist terrorism and problems of globalization as well as in the course of financial crises and tensions in migration societies, we continue to encounter traditional anti-Semitic prejudices and argumentation patterns. Thanks to the new possibilities of global communication, they are widely used and internationally well received.