In the pamphlet Antisemite and Jew, French scholar Jean Paul Sartre tells the story of a student who chose to party rather than study. He never applied himself in class and simply expected achievement and self worth be given to him. When, looking at the results of the class’ exams, this student realized he had come in dead last with a failing grade. Rather than owning his failure and resolving to work harder this student loudly read the names of every student on the grade list he suspected to have been Jewish. “If it weren’t for these Hebrews getting in the way” he proudly and defiantly stated, “I would have been in the top of the class.”
It can be tempting to see Antisemitism simply as a mistaken opinion which we can combat simply by debating but it is fundamentally different from other kinds of opinion. It is a need in the soul of an Antisemite to attack others for their own weak character.
It is something of a cliche to say that antisemitism happens when people need someone to take the blame for their own failings but history demonstrates this again and again. After Germany’s defeat in World War One and the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty and the sudden shock of the Great Depression, Hitler was able to rally Germany by blaming the calamity on the Jews. Further into this study you will see how this was the case in Russia as well. In blaming the Jew for their own faults and shortcomings the Antisemite devalues the lives of others, they say “Rather than taking a hard look at myself, praying to God and changing my direction, I choose to blame and harm you instead.”
This becomes a self fulfilling cycle. As the Antisemite’s life goes downhill they blame the Jew, the lack of self improvement causes their lives to slide further, causing their Antisemitism to become more intense. After a period of time this explodes in threats and violence.
Facts no longer matter at that point. The Antisemite ceases to ask uncomfortable questions about themselves and instead begins constructing conspiracies to explain their failures. An Antisemite with a failcng business might blame Jewish financiers, despite never dealing with one as in their mind the banks and Capitalism becomes a vast Jewish plot. Or they may blame their workforce, seeing them as instruments of a communist plot, in their mind seeing Jews as plotters against the free market. The glaring contradictions will not matter, the Jew will be whatever the Antisemite needs them to be. Jews are depersonalized entirely, their actions are behind anything the Antisemite does not like. To quote Sartre again, “If the Jew did not exist, the Antisemite would need to invent them.”
While antisemites will often use myths and lies as a cover, when one digs beneath the surface you find something entirely irrational. In the end they will describe their reaction to Jews in terms of a physical sickness or revulsion. Accusations of the Jews being physically dirty, sexually corrupt or bestial in nature will be spoken with increasing eagerness.
Again we can see this played out historically. The Nazi Party blamed Jews for both capitalism and communism, manufacturing a Jewish conspiracy when the need emerged, but underneath the cacophony of contradicting lies was a single consistent message. Jews are emotionally and physically disgusting to the Antisemite.
In Joseph Goebbles (Hitler’s head of propaganda), major film production “The Eternal Jew”, Jews are portrayed as rats,
“Where rats appear, they bring ruin by destroying mankind’s goods and foodstuffs. In this way, they spread disease, plague, leprosy, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and so on. They are cunning, cowardly and cruel and are found mostly in large packs. Among the animals, they represent the rudiment of an insidious, underground destruction – just like the Jews among human beings.”
“The Jew is instinctively interested in everything abnormal and depraved.”
“Therein lies the dreadful danger, for even these ‘civilised’ Jews remain foreign bodies in the organism of their hosts, no matter how much their outward appearance may correspond to that of their hosts.”
This is not the language of theology or reason. It is simply the emotional foundation of cruel Antisemites, which is then justified using the facts they choose to use to construct elaborate lies.
Even though the Jews of Germany had been their for centuries and its great artists like Mahler and Einstein were Jewish, this kind of emotionally charged language was used to attack them effectively.