Have We Reached 1930’s Germany? A Historian Weighs In

We’re living through unprecedented times in America. In my lifetime, I hoped I would never see the vitriol and antisemitic that my Jewish ancestors went through. I felt confident that “never again” really meant never again. Jews would never go through the persecution of the past. The truth and goodness of the Jewish people I knew, of Israel as a country was so crystal clear, that the way the world has turned upside down only becomes all the more confusing.

But maybe it shouldn’t. As Jews, we know better than possibly any other minority how easy it is to be persecuted. We’re like chameleons — and not in a good way. When it’s the far right looking, we’re a minority that has to go. When it’s the far left, we represent white supremacy. When you speak to college kids these days — as a recent article really did report — the “anti-Israel” encampments are protesting racism and the environment on top of everything else. Somehow, the Jews in this conflict are to blame for that too. In the past, we were blamed for Germany’s economy. The accusations are never crazy enough.

Joshua M. Karlip is an Associate Professor of Jewish History and the Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg Chair of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, and spoke about the similarities and differences of this time in America for Jews with how things were in the early 1900s in Germany and the Soviet Union.

As we approach Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — it’s important to honor what the Jews went through then, to notice the similarities, the differences and hope to educate anyone who is confused about what’s really going on here in an attempt to really make never again a reality.

In Germany, the racial antisemitism started all the way back in the 1870s. It was a backlash to Jewish success, which is the way the story usually goes. Jews were successfully integrating into German society, the German economy and German culture, Professor Karlip explains. They did everything they were told to do. If they wanted to be citizens, they had to assimilate. Then, that assimilation was used against them and they were criticized for taking jobs away from other Germans. 

While at the time, it was hard to get a large amount of public support, this paved the way for Hitler’s rise. 50 years later, Hitler came to power on that very ideology and it became mainstream. We all know where things went from there. 

Scarily enough, the Palestinians saw this movement and designed their entire profile around it. 50 years ago, after the ‘67 war, the Palestinians realized they weren’t really getting anywhere with the far right. During the Holocaust, the Palestinians were actually aligned with the Germans. Then, starting in the 1960s, but really in the early ‘70s, the Palestinians “rebranded themselves as a liberationist, leftist, Marxist movement,” Karlip says. “This rebranding makes them the darling child of the left.”

While initially the left was the far left, over time, it’s become mainstream and is now the liberal center. “It’s no longer the fringe left anymore,” he says.

The gaslighting toward Jews is as fierce as ever as well. The “educated” youth of America, who have been actually educated with propaganda are the ones chanting antisemitic lies and saying Jews are the ones who are trying to stifle their free speech. The reality is that Qatar and other oil-rich gulf states have donated millions of dollars “buying up entire middle eastern departments at many American Universities over the last number of decades to the point that you now have a monolithic perspective that’s anti-Israel,” Professor Karlip says.

In terms of history repeating itself, Dr. Karlip says things never really repeat themselves exactly, despite many key similarities. He explains that what we’re seeing now is more of a continuation of something that never really left. He describes the post-war period as a lull and now, we’re seeing how amorphous antisemitism is, how Jews keep getting charged with everything in its opposite and the tools we use to defend ourselves end up getting turned against us. 

We see this in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Many Jews turned to the revolutionary movement at this time. While some bought into the ideology, many others joined because it was the only place they could survive. “In an intensely antisemitic Czarist Russia, the only way the Jews could possibly gain equality would be to overthrow the system and create a system where everyone would be equal,” Dr. Karlip says. “The more the Czar persecuted the Jews and accused them of being disloyal, the more joined the revolutionary movement.” 

After that, Jews were accused of being Judeo-Bolsheviks and the very movement that was supposed to protect them became one that killed them. At least 100,000 Jews were murdered, probably a lot more between 1917 and 1921 in Ukraine, Dr. Karlip explains, and he actually says that this was really a trial run for the Holocaust. He says it also explains why so many eastern European nationalities joined the final solution in such large numbers. 

Today, we can see similarities in the way we stood up for the Black community after the murder of George Floyd. We didn’t do it to protect ourselves, we did it because we believed in the cause, but we marched side-by-side with the Black community in solidarity. Dr. Karlip says Teaneck was one location that turned out in large numbers. All Orthodox synagogues were marching with Black Lives Matter. Now, Jews are completely turned against over there — protesters are saying that all Jews are white and are oppressing the Palestinians, or people of color.

We all want to know what’s going to happen next. Dr. Karlip says we really can’t see what will happen to America in six months. We don’t know what will happen post-election and right now, luckily, the government and police are on our side. 

The real fear will come when the police and/or the government feel they don’t have to protect the Jews as much anymore, Dr. Karlip says. 

One final point to remember, is that the antisemitic lies and blood libel were spreading well before Israel even stepped one foot inside Gaza. “Antisemitism was elicited by the images that Hamas spread throughout the world on social media in live time while it was perpetrating its atrocities,” he says. “This was a call to all the violent antisemites in the whole world. They tasted blood and it catalyzed them as well as lull the people in the middle. It terrifies the Jews, outrages the righteous people, anesthetizes the masses in the middle and whets the appetite of the sadistic antisemites. Once those images got out there, that’s when the euphoria came. It was before Israel fired a shot.”

It’s safe to say that “never again” and Holocaust education are more important than ever. As we remember what our ancestors went through, we owe it to them to not back down, to stay strong and to fight. This time, we can change the ending.

If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.



Sort by

  • Avatar photo Ploni Almoni says on May 13, 2024

    You wrote, “In Germany, the racial antisemitism started all the way back in the 1870s.”

    Wikipedia gives many examples going back almost a thousand years in their article “Timeline of Antisemitism” available at this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_antisemitism

    A few examples:
    One of the first known persecutions of Jews in Germany: Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor expels Jews from Mainz.

    The First Crusade. Count Emicho, decides to attack the Jewish communities in the Rhineland. His followers attack the synagogue at Speyer and kills all the defenders. 800 are killed in Worms. Another 1,200 Jews commit suicide in Mainz to escape his attempt forced conversion, and 600 are massacred in Mainz on 27 May. All in all, 5,000 Jews were murdered.

    A pogrom against the Jews of Frankfurt: 180 Jews are killed

    11 Jews are tortured to death following a blood libel in Kitzingen Germany.

    I could give more, but my point is made. Jew-hatred in Germany long treated the 1870s.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on May 13, 2024

      Thanks for your comment. What Professor Karlip was saying was racial antisemitism began in the 1870’s. There were other forms before that.


Contact formLeave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

Anxious About Antisemitism? Try This

Yom HaZikaron: 24 Shiva Houses in 7 Months

Previous post

“As A Jew” Jews, The Seder's Wicked Son

Next post

I Went To Bear Witness At The Camps; Poland Was Disgustingly Beautiful

We’ll Schlep To You

In Your
Inbox Weekly