Why the Jews?
A brief history of anti-Semitism
Judaism is a religion that began with the historical figure Abraham around 1800 to 1600 B.C.E. in Mesopotamia (today the Middle East). Abraham worshiped one single God at a time when others worshiped many idols. Since early history, the Jews have been treated as outsiders by varied cultures. The ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires all played a role in the Diaspora, or dispersion, of the Jews. In ancient times, Jews were persecuted for their beliefs and participation in Judaism. Because the laws of Judaism demand a specific way of life, the ancient political powers saw this as a form of resistance against their influence and control over the Jews. These leaders did not like the fact that the Jews had their own codes, laws and practices.
The earliest recorded religious attacks on or massacres of Jews ("pogroms") happened in Alexandria, Egypt in the year 38. The Romans placed restrictions on the Jews because of their differences, and then isolated them within the city, eventually torturing and murdering them.
Over time, the Greek Empire replaced the Persian, and the Roman Empire replaced the Greek. During this time, Jews migrated to Europe, Asia, and Africa. As the weakening Roman Empire adopted Christianity, its leaders began targeting the Jews for persecution. The Christians falsely held the Jews accountable for the Roman execution of Jesus Christ. Thus, the early Christians used Jews as the scapegoat for the problems of the world. Church and civil leaders began to ban, separate, and exclude Jews from full participation in European society during the early medieval period.
From the 1000's to the 1200's, the Christians incited a series of Crusades in an attempt to "rid Jerusalem of infidels," or non-Christians. Although the Crusades also attempted to displace Muslims, the Crusaders' widespread attacks on Jews throughout Western Europe and Germany began to form the early roots of anti-Semitism.
Christians created and popularized many cruel and negative myths about Jews. Medieval Christians accused the Jews of stealing and murdering Christian children to make the Passover matzo with their blood (the blood libel), and of poisoning the "host" sacrament used in Christian communion rituals, among other baseless crimes.
Moreover, Christians blamed Jews for causing the bubonic plague epidemic, or "Black Death.” In reality, it was the flea-infested rats that spread the disease. In the mid-1300s there were more than 350 pogroms during which Christians attacked over 200 Jewish communities and killed as many as 16,000 Jews. These actions forced Jews to migrate into Eastern Europe, with many settling in Poland.
The Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1480 and lasted for over three hundred years, represents another period of terrible crimes against the Jews. The Catholic Church authorized the Spaniards and Portuguese to force Jews to accept the Christian faith under the threat of torture and death. They persecuted and murdered thousands of Jews who refused to accept the Christian faith and forced many others to leave their homes, putting them in concentration camp-like prisons.
During the Reformation, Jews were not any more accepted than in previous centuries. The Cossack rebellion in Poland, also known as 'the Deluge' of 1648-58, resulted in hundreds of thousands of Jewish deaths, more than the Crusades and the Black Death pogroms combined.
In response to the loss of World War I, many German politicians were looking for a scapegoat and chose German Jews. In 1934 under the Nazi regime, Jews in Germany were declared by law to be racially inferior to Aryans. Even though the Jews had proudly lived in Germany for at least a thousand years and had fought in World War I alongside their countrymen, the shameful anti-Semitic attitudes once again overpowered the light of reason and tolerance.