Antisemitism & the Holocaust
What is antisemitism?
Antisemitism is a type of discrimination against Jewish people. It was born in late 19th-century Europe when countries began lifting centuries-old, religiously-motivated restrictions on their Jewish citizens. A dilemma arose: how could Jewish people be included in society while also being allowed to keep their own customs? This dilemma became known as the “Jewish Question.” As traditional scapegoats who were now much more visible, it was all too easy to associate Jewish people with the darker side of late 19th-century living: the grime of mass production, the anonymity of big cities, and the might of industrial capitalism.
By the turn of the 20th century, the idea that nature was ruled by “the survival of the fittest” was being applied to humanity. Judaism was increasingly seen as something that existed in the blood – less a religion, more a “race.” Antisemitism became a political issue. When the National Socialist German Worker’s Party formed in Germany in 1919, they made it a central pillar of their program. In 1933, a cocktail of economic crises, hubris among political rivals, and lingering resentment at the ravages of the First World War created the conditions for them to come to power.
Why should we study the Holocaust?
We should study the Holocaust because it was a unique event. It was unique for two reasons: first, it was the only time in history that an entire people was sentenced to death in a continent-wide, government sponsored extermination program. Second, this program of extermination took place in Europe after the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement that began in the late 1600s and lasted two centuries. It gave birth to modern democracy, and to ideals like progress and tolerance. But it was followed by an event that contradicted everything it stood for. How that happened is still debated today. We should also study the Holocaust because it tells us something about what it means to be human, and because we still have so much to learn. Its uniqueness and the many unanswered questions around it are among the reasons that The Ninth Candle is working to make the Holocaust a bigger part of education in America.