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Persecution of Jews has occurred on numerous occasions and at widely different geographical locations. As well as being a major component in Jewish history, it has significantly impacted the general history and social development of the countries and societies in which the persecuted Jews lived.
In the Middle Ages Antisemitism in Europe was religious. Though not part of Roman Catholic dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, have held the Jewish people collectively responsible for killing Jesus, a practice originated by Melito of Sardis. As stated in the Boston College Guide to Passion Plays, "Over the course of time, Christians began to accept... that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews present at Jesus Christ's death and the Jewish people collectively and for all time, have committed the sin of deicide, or God-killing. For 1900 years of Christian-Jewish history, the charge of deicide has led to hatred, violence against and murder of Jews in Europe and America."
During the High Middle Ages in Europe there was full-scale persecution in many places, with blood libels, expulsions, forced conversions and massacres. An underlying source of prejudice against Jews in Europe was religious. Jews were frequently massacred and exiled from various European countries. The persecution hit its first peak during the Crusades. In the First Crusade (1096) flourishing communities on the Rhine and the Danube were utterly destroyed; see German Crusade, 1096. In the Second Crusade (1147) the Jews in France were subject to frequent massacres. The Jews were also subjected to attacks by the Shepherds' Crusades of 1251 and 1320. The Crusades were followed by expulsions, including in, 1290, the banishing of all English Jews; in 1396, 100,000 Jews were expelled from France; and, in 1421 thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of the expelled Jews fled to Poland.
As the Black Death epidemics devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating more than a half of the population, Jews were taken as scapegoats. Rumors spread that they caused the disease by deliberately poisoning wells. Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed by violence. Although the Pope Clement VI tried to protect them by the July 6, 1348 papal bull and another 1348 bull, several months later, 900 Jews were burnt alive in Strasbourg, where the plague hadn't yet affected the city.
Jews in India faced no persecution from Hindus from the time they migrated to India, but they were subjugated by Christian missionaries during the Goa Inquisition from the year 1552. Portuguese invaders in the South India committed massive atrocities on South Indian Jewry in the 17th Century .
In the Papal States, which existed until 1870, Jews were required to live only in specified neighborhoods called ghettos. Until the 1840s, they were required to regularly attend sermons urging their conversion to Christianity. Only Jews were taxed to support state boarding schools for Jewish converts to Christianity. It was illegal to convert from Christianity to Judaism. Sometimes Jews were baptized involuntarily, and, even when such baptisms were illegal, forced to practice the Christian religion. In many such cases the state separated them from their families. See Edgardo Mortara for an account of one of the most widely publicized instances of acrimony between Catholics and Jews in the Papal States in the second half of the 19th century.
In the 19th and (before the end of the second World War) 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good anti-Semitism" and "bad anti-Semitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc. Many Catholic bishops wrote articles criticizing Jews on such grounds, and, when accused of promoting hatred of Jews, would remind people that they condemned the "bad" kind of anti-Semitism. A detailed account is found in historian David Kertzer's book The Popes Against the Jews.
Muslim and Arab antisemitism
According to Mark R. Cohen, during the rise of Islam, the first encounters between Muslims and Jews resulted in persecution when Muhammad expelled or killed the Jewish tribes of Medina. He adds that this encounter was an exception rather than a rule.
Traditionally Jews living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religion and to administor their internal affairs but subject to certain conditions. They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to Muslims. Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims. Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The most degrading one was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic.
In Moorish Spain, ibn Hazm and Abu Ishaq focused their anti-Jewish writings on the latter allegation. This was also the chief motivation behind the 1066 Granada massacre, when "[m]ore than 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, fell in one day", and in Fez in 1033, when 6,000 Jews were killed. There were further massacres in Fez in 1276 and 1465.
Other mass murders of Jews in Arab lands occurred in Morocco in the 8th century, where whole communities were wiped out by Muslim ruler Idris I; North Africa in the 12th century, where the Almohads either forcibly converted or decimated several communities; Libya in 1785, where Ali Burzi Pasha murdered hundreds of Jews; Algiers, where Jews were massacred in 1805, 1815 and 1830 and Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300,000 Jews were murdered between 1864 and 1880.
The Damascus affair occurred in 1840, when an Italian monk and his servant disappeared in Damascus. Immediately following, a charge of ritual murder was brought against a large number of Jews in the city. All were found guilty. The consuls of England, France and Germany as well as Ottoman authorities, Christians, Muslims and Jews all played a great role in this affair. Following the Damascus affair, Pogroms spread through the Middle East and North Africa. Pogroms occurred in: Aleppo (1850, 1875), Damascus (1840, 1848, 1890), Beirut (1862, 1874), Dayr al-Qamar (1847), Jerusalem (1847), Cairo (1844, 1890, 1901–02), Mansura (1877), Alexandria (1870, 1882, 1901–07), Port Said (1903, 1908), Damanhur (1871, 1873, 1877, 1891), Istanbul (1870, 1874), Buyukdere (1864), Kuzguncuk (1866), Eyub (1868), Edirne (1872), Izmir (1872, 1874). There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828. There was another massacre in Barfurush in 1867.
In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue, and destroyed the Torah scrolls. Known as the Allahdad incident. It was only by forcible conversion that a massacre was averted.
In 1941, following Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup, riots known as the Farhud broke out in Baghdad in which approximately 180 Jews were killed and about 240 were wounded, 586 Jewish-owned businesses were looted and 99 Jewish houses were destroyed.
During the Holocaust, the Middle East was in turmoil. Britain prohibited Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine. In Cairo the Jewish Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) assassinated Lord Moyne in 1944 fighting as part of its campaign against British closure of Palestine to Jewish immigration, complicating British-Arab-Jewish relations. While the Allies and the Axis were fighting for the oil-rich region, the Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husayni staged a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq and organized the Farhud pogrom which marked the turning point for about 150,000 Iraqi Jews who, following this event and the hostilities generated by the war with Israel in 1948, were targeted for violence, persecution, boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion in 1951. The coup failed and the mufti fled to Berlin, where he actively supported Hitler. In Egypt, with a Jewish population of about 75,000, young Anwar Sadat was imprisoned for conspiring with the Nazis and promised them that "no British soldier would leave Egypt alive" (see Military history of Egypt during World War II) leaving the Jews of that region defenseless. In the French Vichy territories of Algeria and Syria plans drawn up for the liquidation of their Jewish populations were the Axis powers to triumph.
The tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict were also a factor in the rise of animosity to Jews all over the Middle East, as hundreds of thousands of Jews fled as refugees, the main waves being soon after the 1948 and 1956 wars. In reaction to the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Egyptian government expelled almost 25,000 Egyptian Jews and confiscated their property, and sent approximately 1,000 more Jews to prisons and detention camps. The population of Jewish communities of Muslim Middle East and North Africa was reduced from about 900,000 in 1948 to less than 8,000 today.
Prior to WWII, Germany was not only in an economic crisis but also a political struggle between various political parties. The struggle between these parties often played out in open brawls on the streets of cities. Two of these parties dominated the struggle: the Nazi party and the Communist party. The 13 leaders of the German Communist party were all Jewish. The German people were even more afraid of communism infecting their country than western democracies were and communism became synonymous with Judaism. The Nazi leadership had a largely Christian background (people such as Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Höß were Roman Catholic apostates), and a large majority of the German population were Christian. Some Christians blamed Jews for the murder of Jesus, deicide. The combination of communism, deicide, racism, and the many other problems Jewish people were made the scapegoat for, aligned the Nazis and many non-Nazi Germans against the Jews in a deadly way. A key proponent of such antisemitism was the propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer who operated internationally through the notorious Welt-Dienst (World-Service) media operation based in Erfurt, Germany.
Persecution of Jews reached its most destructive form in the policies of Nazi Germany, which made the destruction of the Jews a priority, culminating in the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust from 1941 to 1945., Originally, the Nazis used death squads, the Einsatzgruppen, to conduct massive open-air killings of Jews in territory they conquered. By 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to implement the Final Solution, the genocide of the Jews of Europe, and to increase the pace of the Holocaust by establishing extermination camps specifically to kill Jews. This was an industrial method of genocide. Millions of Jews who had been confined to diseased and massively overcrowded Ghettos were transported (often by train) to "Death-camps" where some were herded into a specific location (often a gas chamber), then either gassed or shot. Afterwards, their bodies were often searched for any valuable or useful materials, such as gold fillings or hair, and their remains were then buried in mass graves or burned. Others were interned in the camps where they were given little food and disease was common. Escapes from the camps were few, but not unknown. The few Auschwitz escapes that succeeded were made possible by the Polish underground inside the camp and local people outside. In 1940, the Auschwitz commandant reported that "the local population is fanatically Polish and … prepared to take any action against the hated SS camp personnel. Every prisoner who managed to escape can count on help the moment he reaches the wall of a first Polish farmstead."
In Russia and the Soviet Union
For much of the 19th century, Imperial Russia, which included much of Poland, contained the world's largest Jewish population. From Alexander III's reign until the end of Tsarist rule in Russia, many Jews were often restricted to the Jewish Pale of Settlement, and banned from many jobs and locations. They were subject to racist laws, like the May Laws, and were targeted in hundreds of violent anti-Jewish riots, called pogroms, that had unofficial state support. It was during this period that a hoax document alleging a global Jewish conspiracy, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", was created.
Even though many of the Old Bolsheviks were ethnically Jewish, they sought to uproot Judaism and Zionism and established the Yevsektsiya to achieve this goal. By the end of the 1940s the Communist leadership of the former USSR had liquidated almost all Jewish organizations, with the exception of a few token synagogues. These synagogues were then placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informants.
The campaign of 1948-1953 against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans," the alleged "Doctors' plot," the rise of "Zionology" and subsequent activities of official organizations such as the Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public were officially carried out under the banner of "anti-Zionism,", and by the mid-1950s the state persecution of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West and domestically.
- Persecution of Muslims
- Persecution of Christians
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- Why the Jews? - Black Death
- See Stéphane Barry and Norbert Gualde, La plus grande épidémie de l'histoire ("The greatest epidemics in history"), in L'Histoire magazine, n°310, June 2006, p.47 (French)
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