A thoughtful survey of the political and cultural conditions that fueled 20th-century Europe’s war on the Jews.
Both extending and revisiting the arguments advanced in Ideology of Death (1996), Weiss (History/CUNY) traces what he identifies as the five major sources of anti-Semitism in European history: Christian hostility to Jews, “obviously never the message of Christ”; commercial rivalry and jealousy, by which Jews were “assumed to be fit only for the lowest forms of commerce,” even as many of them developed strong mercantile and financial institutions; the identification of Jews with revolutionary and liberal movements; the rise of a pseudo-scientific ethnology that assigned Jews and other ethnic minorities a lower place on the European evolutionary ladder; and ethnic nationalism. All came to a head in the 1920s, Weiss writes, and different countries experienced anti-Semitism differently in the two subsequent decades: in Austria, for instance, anti-Semitism rooted firmly among and was spread by the college-educated young, who had had a strong dose of racist “anthropology”; in Poland, conversely, anti-Semitism was strongest among the lower middle class, which competed most heavily with urban Jews for jobs in a depressed economy. (Italy proved the great exception: “Jews mixed well with Italians,” Weiss writes, so well that “even the popes could not prevent it in Rome, though they tried.”) All those strains emerged in Germany, where different orders of society found different reasons to vent their hatred of Jews, authoring the near-total devastation of Europe in the process. Weiss concludes that most of these lines of thought have been largely extinguished, so that “the complex of events that caused the Holocaust cannot recur in Europe, and short of nuclear terror the numbers can never be duplicated.”
Nothing new here, but Weiss makes a useful overview of the rise—and, it is to be hoped, fall—of European race hatred.