Germans and Jews After WWI
Germans and Jews After World War I
In World War I, more than 12,000 Jews lost their lives fighting for Germany (Flannery, 43). They were a large part of the culture there, and had intermingled as much as they were able to. However, despite the way they were involved in so much of what was taking place in the country, they were also never really accepted. After WWI, Germany's official position on Jews changed. Much of that took place because the German leaders did not want to take any blame for the problems that had caused them to lose out in the war. Because they wanted to make sure the people saw them in a good light, and they did not want to admit past mistakes, they looked for scapegoats. One of the main groups for that scapegoating was the Jewish people. Even though many of them had fought bravely in the war and a significant number of them had died in the process of trying to protect and defend Germany, they were made to sound as though they were traitors so the German government could look better to the people (Anti-Semitism).
By making the Jews appear traitorous, the government could address "why" it lost the war. At that time in history, fact-checking information was not nearly as easily done as it is today, so there was little the people could do other than believe what was told to them. Those who did not believe this information generally stayed quiet, because they did not want to end up on the wrong side of the government. That could cause them serious problems, and as the Nazis began to rise to power there were even more concerns that had to be addressed based on what people could or could not say, and how much loyalty they had to have to their government in order to be generally safe from harm from that same government (Anti-Semitism). Traitors were not dealt with kindly, and the German government had shown that even those who were not traitors could be said to be -- and that the majority of the people would believe it. That gave people trying to defend themselves very little on which to go.
Because there were already so many negative stereotypes surrounding the Jews in Germany at that time, the masses generally believed the information that the Jews had become traitors and caused Germany to lose the war (Newyk, 28). The government told the people that these traitors were working for foreign interests, and that they had access to information that could be used against Germany (Anti-Semitism). That made every Jewish person a suspect, regardless of what the people had thought about the person before the war took place. Jews who had been able to walk freely among their fellow Germans suddenly felt uncomfortable doing so, and the attitude of anti-Semitism became much stronger than it was in the past. That is not to say that everything was perfect before the war started, as Jews were still being marginalized by much of German society, but there is a difference between keeping someone marginalized and outright being against them or mistrusting them based on something they are believed to have done to their country and fellow men.
The deliberate dissemination of misinformation by the German government only contributed to feelings that many people already had about the Jews, but there were also people who had not formed an opinion yet. Some of these people were swayed toward a mistrust of Jews, as well, because they were concerned that the Jewish people really were attempting to harm Germany by allowing foreign governments and militaries to gain access to information that would put Germany and its people at risk (Anti-Semitism). Even with no evidence that this was the case, and with actual evidence to the contrary, the German government managed to convince the majority of non-Jewish people living in Germany that Jews were bad, and that they should not be accepted as anything approaching equals. Once that was done, it was much easier for the Jews to continue to be mistreated and marginalized, because most people felt that there was a reason to do that, and...
The Bolshevik Revolution also played a significant part in the way Germans felt about Jewish people (Anti-Semitism. While that Revolution took place in Russia and the Soviet Union became established, there were experiments with communism much closer to home. Hungary and Bavaria dabbled in communistic ideals, even though the experiments were short-lived. That was enough to scare people all over Europe, and even in America. Because revolutionary regimes had communists of Jewish descent, Germany felt that Jewish people were "naturally attracted" to communistic ideals (Smith, 58). That was not the case, but it was certainly an idea that Germany took and ran with when it came to what the Jews were "capable of" and what they might or might not be plotting from their homes and businesses in Germany. It does not take much to convince people that one group is dangerous, or that group may be planning something with which most people would not agree.
Even simple thoughts, carefully planted, are often enough to make people suspicious of others who had been their neighbors and friends. Jews were already seen as "different." Those differences were not something that could be completely ignored. Then, Germany lost the war and it was easy to blame the Jews and their differences. Being able to allegedly tie them to communism only added more fuel to the fire when it came to getting the German people nervous and mistrusting of the Jews. While not every German who was not Jewish felt that way, a significant number of Germans believed that the Jewish people could not be trusted, and that they were interested in taking over Germany and turning it into a communist country. All direct evidence to the contrary, the German government managed to convince its citizens that Jewish people were communists, and that they could not be trusted because they were plotting against Germany (Falk, 29).
There was a lot of anger and despair in Germany during that time, as well. The country was blamed for starting the war, and because Germany lost a war it allegedly started, it had to pay restitution to the countries that were victorious (Flannery, 74). Politics were thrown into turmoil, and the radical right was able to find a way to exploit that -- by blaming things on the Jews. The government was relatively subtle, though, at least at first. It was not realistic to simply stand up and say that everything was the fault of the Jewish people. The German population was not so quick to believe that, without any kind of evidence of that being the case. However, there were already issues that were taking place, and these issues could be added to in such a way that the German people would turn against the Jews naturally. The government, at that point, only had to steer the masses in the direction it wanted them to take, and did not need to plant further information. The proverbial ball was already rolling. Rumors were started, and the German people took those and ran with them.
Before long, the Jewish people in Germany were seen as being the cause of all the significant problems that Germany was encountering at that time. That allowed for the rise of Nazi Germany and the persecution and annihilation of so many Jewish people (Hitler, 128). Even before that happened, though, there were a number of thoughts as to how the Jews could be stopped (even though they actually had not done anything wrong). Once the German government had convinced the people that the Jews were the problem, changing their opinion of that was not realistic, nor was it desired. An excellent scapegoat for nearly any and all problems the German people would face had been created. It had been done so easily and effortlessly that the German people did not realize the information was not factual, and the Jewish people did not know how they could defend themselves when the allegations against them and their way of life were not even accurate.
There were many stereotypes that were started by the German government after WWI, in order to continue to marginalize the Jewish people. Naturally, there had been previous stereotypes, because Jews were not treated equally, even before the war began. These opinions and beliefs were reinforced after the war ended, but they were also added to in order to increase the dislike for the Jewish people who lived in Germany at that time. The "behavior" of the Jewish people was what was often called into question by the German government. Something that would seem entirely normal when done by anyone else was…
Anti-Semitism in History: World War 1. United States Holocaust Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 2014. Print. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007166
While Anti-Semitism is nothing new in society, this article spells out clearly what was taking place in Germany after WWI and how that shaped the beliefs of the Germany people when it came to their feelings about Jews in their country.
Elon, Amos. The Pity of It All: A History of Jews in Germany, 1743 -- 1933. New York, 2002. Print.
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