Jews were forbidden to enter trades or professions or own land. Frequently they had to wear a badge or a distinguishing garment such as a distinctive hat. They had to live in ghettos, which were sections of a town or city where Jews were segregated from the general population, and which they were forbidden to leave on pain of death. They were subjected to inordinate taxation, denigrating legislation, inquisition, censorship, forced baptism, compulsory attendance at church, frequent property confiscation and even expulsion.
The French Revolution and the emancipation of French Jews in 1791 seemed to promise a fresh beginning. But the liberalism of capitalist society in the nineteenth century prompted a backlash against the Jews. Conservatives denounced them as the “grave diggers of Christian society”; peasants and artisans, threatened by the growth of industry, feared them as “capitalist exploiters and rapacious financiers”. The new, pseudo-scientific doctrine of racial antisemitism drew on all these stereotypes and formulated a view of history as the struggle for racial supremacy between Jews and “Aryans”.
From here it was a short step to the paranoid belief in a Jewish world conspiracy which aimed to undermine societies, overthrow governments and seize power throughout the world. This was the claim of a document forged by a Russian secret policeman at the end of the 19th century and published between 1903 and 1905 as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Adolf Hitler found the Protocols “enormously instructive”. They served both as a primer for Nazi politics and as (false) documentary ‘proof’ of a Jewish world conspiracy. Two years after the Nazis came to power the Protocols became required reading in German schools.
Jews have never raised the “Jewish Questions”. It was left to non-Jews to invent a “Jewish Problem” and offer “solutions” to extinguish Jewish life. They manifested themselves in conversion, explusion and annihilation. The renowned Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg explains the trend in the three successive goals of anti-Jewish policies in history:
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