Jewish Reactions to the Holocaust: A Learned Behavior
When thinking of Jewish persecution, images of Nazi Germany, concentration camps, and the Holocaust are most likely to be conjured. Although these images do represent the attempted destruction of the Jews, persecution actually began thousands of years earlier. The Holocaust, or Final Solution, which was the destruction of European Jews by the Nazis, was the culmination of attempts by other groups to eradicate Jews from their society.1 Reacting in many different ways to persecution, the Jewish sect has undergone years of harsh treatment, climaxing during the Holocaust.
Jewish persecution did not begin in Europe with the onset of World War II; rather, anti-Semitism had existed for the past several thousand years. The rise and eventual domination of Christianity resulted in the persecution of the Jews starting in fourth-century Rome and lasting through the Middle Ages, when huge numbers of Jews were massacred during Christian crusades.2 Also, during the Middle Ages, the Christian Church attempted to convert Jews to Christianity. This policy was put into affect in order to ensure that "Christians were ‘protected’ from the ‘harmful’ consequences of intercourse with Jews by rigid laws against intermarriage, by prohibitions of discussions about religious issues, by laws against domicile in common abodes…by burning the Talmud and by barring Jews from public office."3
The second anti-Jewish policy in history is known as expulsion, or the attempt by European countries to force the emigration of Jews during the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. Jews were no longer being required to convert to Christianity because Christians then thought that "Jews could not be changed, that they could not be converted, that they could not be assimilated, that they were a finished product, inflexible in their ways, set in their notions, fixed in their beliefs."4 Thus Christians forced Jewish emigration in an attempt to rid their societies of Jewish influence. This expulsion policy was later adopted by the Nazis, and remained the goal of all anti-Jewish activity until 1941.5
Obviously not the first to initiate anti-Jewish policies, the German Nazis began the era of annihilation, or the attempt to kill all European Jews. Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist Party in Germany, excluded Jews from the protection of German law by allowing Jewish property to be seized and Jews to be sent to concentration camps where they underwent forced labor, torture, and execution.6 Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy continued with the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 "for the protection of German blood and German honor."7 These laws resulted in Jews losing rights of citizenship and marriage to Aryans, the requirement that Jews carry special identification cards and give their children specific Jewish names, and the framing of the definition of a "Jew" for legal purposes. Through the Nuremberg Laws, Hitler...