To understand anti-Semitism, it is essential to differentiate it from anti-Judaism. Anti-Judaism is hatred of the Jewish religion as an ideology or worldview, while anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews as a nation. However, those who profess anti-Judaism turn out to be anti-Semitic since they start from the assumption that the Jewish religion has contaminated the nation that follows its precepts. In turn, anti-Semitism leads to anti-Judaism by relying on the premise that only a racially inferior nation could have created a religion known as the religion of Evil.
In ancient times, esoteric sects conceived the Jewish religion as the religion of the devil and saw the Jews as the agents in propagating this re-connection of sin. This worldview was the result of a dualistic belief, that is, of two creative powers of the universe: Good and Evil, identifying the Jews with Evil, which put them in the role of cosmic evil and saw them as instruments of the devil. However, the historical moment in which radical anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism intertwine for the first time is in the consolidation of the Pauline vision. For the apostle Paul, the revelation of the Torah is a temporary revelation, and those who continue on the path of the Torah after the coming of Christ are traitors. According to this reasoning, the Jews, by rejecting Christ as Messiah and by murdering him, became agents of Evil in the deicidal people.
Throughout the Middle Ages, this idea was developed and materialized by the Catholic Church. Of particular note are the canons adopted at the Lateran Council (1215) which confirmed the condemnation of Jews for perpetual servitude, forbade their integration into society in order to prevent the contamination of Christians, forced the use of signs of differentiation in their garments, the access of the Jews to the administrative positions and they completely excluded them from the agriculture and the corporations. These measures rooted in the population an age-old hatred based on a demonizing ideology that blamed the Jews and Judaism for the death of Christ.
The term anti-Semitism was created in the 19th century when religious theories accusing the Jews of deicide were out of date. At that moment, from a distorted reading of theories connected with social Darwinism, the motive to persecute the Jews began to anchor in biological assumptions. Thus for Hitler, there were three races: the “founders” or superiors, represented by the Germanic peoples, the “depositaries” by the Slav peoples, and the “destroyers” or inferiors, who had the paradigmatic example of the Jews. Obsessed with the ideal of racial purity, Hitler understood history as a permanent struggle between the different races, in which the superior race should use all the means necessary to maintain its purity. To this historical view was added the myth of the “world Jewish conspiracy”, which was widespread throughout Europe, which, among other fallacies, spread the idea of the economic power of the Jewish people and its media monopoly. The Jews were transformed into the scapegoat and guilty of all the evils through which it crossed Germany, making its elimination become a state imperative.
Many are unaware that the extermination camps were not in Germany but in Eastern Europe. This was aimed at the Germans ‘dirty work’ and allowed the long-standing, bitterly anti-Semitic Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, to actively collaborate with the Nazi ideal of total annihilation of the Jews. In the Polish cities of Jedwabne, Radzilow, Wasosz and Stawinski, for example, villagers murdered thousands of Ju-gods, without any imposition from the Germans. If any episode exemplifies the entrenched Polish anti-Semitism, it is the slaughter of Jews after the end of the war. The Kielce pogrom (1946), one among many, will remain in Polish history as one of the greatest acts of collective cowardice, in which 42 Holocaust survivors were murdered by their neighbors. Because? Afraid of having to give back to their Jewish owners,
* Anthropologist and researcher of the Hebrew Language, Jewish Literature and Culture Program of the University of São Paulo (USP)