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The Holocaust

What was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the greatest tragedy of Jewish History. Between 1941
and 1945 nearly six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their
allies. The word Holocaust means completely burnt offering and refers
to the animal sacrifices which Jews made in the Temple in Jerusalem. It
was believed that the Holocaust was the ultimate sacrifice that could be
made. Almost all of it was consumed by fire and went to God.
Many Jews today prefer to describe this genocide (a systematic attempt by
society to kill or destroy a whole ethnic group) as the Shoah which means
whirlwind. Shoah is a word used in the Tenakh to describe widespread
1. Explain the meaning of the words; Holocaust, Shoah and Genocide.
2. Why do you think Jews prefer to use the term Shoah to describe
this tragic event in their history?
Throughout history Jews have faced racial prejudice and discrimination, known as
antisemitism. In some countries Jews were welcomed, and they enjoyed long
periods of peace with their neighbours. In Europe societies where the population
was primarily Christian, Jews found themselves increasingly isolated as outsiders.
Jews do not share the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and many
Christians considered this refusal to accept Jesus divinity (that he was God) as
arrogant. For centuries the Church taught that Jews were responsible for Jesus
death, not recognizing, as most historians do today, that the Roman government
executed Jesus because officials viewed him as a political threat to their rule.
Added to religious conflicts were economic ones. Rulers placed restrictions on
Jews, barring them form holding certain jobs and from owning land. At the same
time, since the early Church did not permit usury (lending of money), Jews came to
fill the vital (but unpopular) role of moneylenders for the Christian majority.

The Holocaust
Their synagogues should be set on firefor the honour of Christianity their
homes should be destroyed their rabbis forbidden to preach under the threat of
death Let us drive them from the country for all time. If this advice does not
suit, then find a better one that we may be rid of this devilish burden the Jews.
Martin Luther, German church reformer and founder of the Lutheran Church, 1543

In more desperate time, Jews became scapegoats for many problems people
suffered. For example, they were blamed for causing the Black Death, the plague
that killed thousands of people throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. In
Spain in the 1400s, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, leave the country,
or be executed. In Russia and Poland in the late 1800s the government organized
or did not prevent violent attacks on Jewish neighbourhoods, called pogroms, in
which mobs murdered Jews and looted their homes and places of business.
As ideas of political equality and freedom spread in Western Europe during the
1800s, Jews became almost equal citizens under the law. At the same time,
however, new forms of anti-Semitism emerged. European leaders who wanted to
establish colonies in Africa and Asia argues that whites were superior to other
races and therefore had to speak and take over the weaker and less civilised
races. Some writers applied this argument to Jews, too, mistakenly defining Jews
as a race of people called Semities who shared common blood and physical
In the 19th Century, scientists began trying to determine racial superiority by examining physical
features. Though misguided, Hitler later used such science to demonstrate the superiority to
the Aryan race.

The Holocaust
This kind of racial anti-Semitism meant that Jews remained Jews by race even if
they converted to Christianity.
Some politicians began using the idea of racial superiority in their campaigns as a
way to get votes. Karl Leuger (1844-1920) was one such politician. Leuger was a
hero to a young man named Adolf Hitler. Hitlers ideas, including his views of
Jews, were shaped during the years he lived in Vienna, where he studied Leugers
tactics and the anti-Semitic newspapers and pamphlets that multiplied during
Luegers long rule.
3. What does the word Anti-Semitism mean?
4. Give examples of how the Jews have been discriminated against during
their history?
5. How did the early Christian church contribute towards anti-Semitism?
6. What type of job did Jews take up which Christians would not?
7. Give two examples of how the Jews were treated in Europe.
8. What is a pogrom?
9. How did the idea of classing Jews as Semites come about?
10. Who was Karl Leuger and what affect did he have on Adolf Hitler?

Many political parties promoted anti-Semitism. This campaign poster for Austrias
Christian Socialists depicts a caricatured Jew in the form of a snake. It reads, Vote
Christian Socialist, Save Austria.