History of Jews before WWII -Han




Hi everyone,

After a struggling week with all kinds of schedule changes, I am excited to officially dive into my independent research project. This week is rather fruitful for me as I finally followed my original plan and went through numerous scholar articles and consensus. As I mentioned in last week, in order to gain a larger picture of Jews’ background, I will spend about three weeks to learn the history of Jews, including their migrations, their integration into the local population and the anti-Semitism wave in Europe prior to the second World War. As I dig into some article and scholar materials provided by the Israeli Consulate General in Shanghai, I found there are several events rather important to Jews in Europe, and I will mainly discuss some of the major events in this week’s blog.


The history of Jews moving into Europe could be traced back to the era of Roman Empire around 3 B.C. And there were five main groups of Jewish Immigration: Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Karaite Jews. Ashkenazi Jews is a group of Jewish populations who immigrated to what is now Northeastern France and Germany. Sephardic Jews are those who lived in Spain or Portugal. Mizrahi Jews are the Jews who lived in Middle East, central Asia and the Caucasus. Yemenite Jews is the group of Jews who were living in Yemen prior to immigrating to Ottoman Palestine and Israel. And lastly, Karaite were the group of Jews who used to live in Egypt, Iraq, and Crimea. Roughly around 6 million Jews were resided in Europe before 20th century, comprised about 7 percent of European population at that time.


Although there were a huge amount of Jewish people living in Europe before World War II, their rights have not always been granted. Before 1791, Jews were subject to a wide range of restrictions throughout most of European history. Since the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, Europeans required Jews and Muslims to wear special clothing, such as the Judenhut (the Jewish hat) and the yellow badge for Jews, in order to distinguish them from Christians. The practice of their religions was also controlled. And they had to swear special pledges (laws which prescribe certain practices intended to humiliate the Jew) in order to live in Europe. Jews do not have the right to vote, and some nations officially proscribed their entrance, such as Norway, Sweden and Spain in the late 15th century. Hence, the first event I found rather significant is the Emancipation of Jews in France as the emancipation of Jews represents the removal of all legal discrimination against Jews and the granting of the equal right to Jews. In September 1791, the National Assembly of France granted rights of citizenship to Jews who took a loyalty oath. France was the first country promoting the emancipation movement. Later, many countries followed France, issued similar Act with France. For instance, Jews were later emancipated in Greece (1830), Great Britain (1858), Italy (1870), Germany (1871), and Norway (1891). Although civil equality for Jews was thus guaranteed by law, European Jewry remained beset by antisemitism and social discrimination.


However, even with the emancipation of Jews, anti-Semitism’s sentiments were still widespread in the continent of Europe. In the beginning of the 20th century, a new wave of antisemitism had started to emerge in Europe. The racial antisemitism was developed as part of the development of the nationalism, which emphasized on the non-European origin and culture of the Jews. The new wave of anti-Semitism sentiment was beyond redemption even if they converted to Christianity. And this antisemitism waves emphasized hatred of the Jews as a race and not only the Jewish religion. It was especially true in the Weimar Republic as numerous Jewish luminaries had been murdered. One of the most infamous example is the death of Walter Rathenau. Walter Rathenau was one of the most prominent Jewish political figures in the Weimar Republic and he was assassinated by right-wing extremists. Rathenau became foreign minister of the Weimar Republic in 1922. As a Jew, he was hated by right-wing groups particularly because of his compromise to the Treaty of Versailles and his policy of establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. For months prior to his assassination, Rathenau had received death threats, many of them fulminating against his Jewish inheritance. His murder is indicative of the right-wing anti-Semitic campaign blaming Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I.


Another incidence highlighted the widespread antisemitism sentiment in Europe. In March 9, 1936, the notorious Przytyk pogrom occurred in central Poland. Three Jews are killed and more than sixty wounded the Przytyk riot. In the days following this incidence, the riots blowout to neighboring towns. Before the riot is ended, almost 80 Jews are killed and over 200 wounded. Following this program, violence against Jews is widespread throughout central Poland from 1935 to 1937. Anti-Jewish pogroms take place, for example, in Czestochowa, Lublin, and Grodno. Hence, before Hitler came to power, the antisemitism had already built its foundation across the European continent.


So, to conclude this week’s work, I started to review the Jewish social status in Europe in the earliest period of time as well as the anti-Semitism wave in Europe. As I said in the first paragraph, I believe early stage of Jewish history in Europe is pivotal to my research since it has a direct connection with why Jewish came to Shanghai. Moreover, we also have to have the knowledge of Jewish demography in Europe so that we can gain a background information about the living condition for Jews in Europe in order to understand the Jewish’s life in prior to World War II in European continent. I contacted the Israeli Consulate General in Shanghai, asking for the consensus in prewar Europe. And the cultural department of the Consulate General in Shanghai agreed that they would give some advices and scholar materials to support me. With the consensus provided by Israeli Consulate General in Shanghai, a clear picture of Jewish demography starts to emerge in my mind. I will present this part of research next week. Thank you!



See you guy.

Cover Picture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_emancipation#/media/File:Napoleon_stellt_den_israelitischen_Kult_wieder_her,_30._Mai_1806.jpg

2 thoughts on “History of Jews before WWII -Han

  1. aswilt

    This is well written and full of insight into the historical topic you’re delving into. The dates and bits of info are also extremely helpful in piecing together a timeline, so that’s great! Keep up the good work!

  2. emmalefebvre

    I love the active role you are taking in your research of this subject matter. Not only are you reading articles, etc, but you are also reaching out to government officials and such to add another layer of depth to this project. I admire your vision and keep up the great work!


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