The impact of the Catastrophe on the number of Jews worldwide: in 1914, there were about 12 million; in 1939, that number had grown to 18 million; in 1945, it had been murdered back down to about 12 million. Jewish societies in Lusatia and Germania had been completely destroyed. Those in Gallia, eastern Alpinia, Latinia, and Hellenia had been severely damaged. Then, following the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Jewish societies which had lived in Muslim lands for centuries were forced to abandon everything and resettle in Israel.
Background: Enlightenment and emancipation
Diverse factors contributed to Jewish emancipation. One, philosophical, was the Enlightenment. That was the successful attempt by northern Olympian intellectuals to move their culture from its shattered Christian base onto an exuberant Olympian foundation. This move emphasized political equality by increasingly regarding Christianity as well as Judaism as insignificant. Now all that mattered was Olympianity.
A second factor favoring Jewish emancipation was political. Today’s Global Technological System got its start in yesterday’s Industrial Revolution. The rapid growth in means of power intensified competition between rival states. Keeping up and getting ahead had to be done by any means necessary. If that meant the emancipation of Jews, so be it.
Deterioration of status (1880-1930)
Diverse factors contributed to an unjustifiable but growing resentment of Jews which threatened their emancipation. To begin with, the economy of northern Olympia stagnated beginning around 1900. That made the knowledge, skills, and energy of Jews less important as aids in international competition.
Those virtues also made Jews frequent winners in competition with other participants in all social classes. The losers wrongly resented them.
War of 1914
Indifference and hostility toward Jews also grew as a result of the War of 1914. The unprecedented suffering and death which occurred in that war wrongly made human life seem cheap.
Growth of state propaganda
The growth of mass media of communication significantly increased the intensity and extensity of state propaganda. That made possible the rapid, universal, and incessant communication of anti-Jewish statements.
Official Roman Catholic hostility
The Roman Catholic Church continued and deepened its absurd historical animosity toward Jews. To begin with, traditional Catholic teaching ridiculously attributed guilt to all Jews for the murder of Jesus. Protestant Christians foolishly affirmed this teaching as well.
Catholic Christian leaders also resented Jews for working to remove their state subsidies as well as their role in state schools. Rather than seeing these efforts by Jews as consistent with Enlightenment principles, they chose to understand Jews as anti-Catholic.
Catholic Christian leaders rightly understood Jews as being significant contributors to an exuberant Olympian culture. These leaders understandably resented the fact that their broader cultural context was no longer Catholic. They wrongly resented Jews for that. Jews only excelled in a context no longer so actively hostile to them. Some Catholic leaders paradoxically busied themselves in strengthening that exuberant Olympian context.
Official Soviet hostility
Beginning in the 1920s, the Soviet state became officially anti-Jewish. Then there was the hatred of Jews in Olympia for their prominence in Soviet circles (before Stalin purged them) and among Communists elsewhere in Olympia.
Yet another reason for the lethal anti-Judaism which developed in Olympia between 1880 and 1930 was the growth of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinists energetically affirmed the false beliefs that human beings could be divided into races and that races could be ranked from superior and fit to survive all the way down to inferior and fit only for slavery and death. People affirming Social Darwinism included university professors and other cultural leaders who blindly identified Jews as an inferior race and placed them near the bottom of their racial hierarchies.
Lack of meaningful Jewish response
There are times when we, as individuals or as organized social groups, unavoidably fall victim to the hostility of other individuals or groups. There are times when this hostility is completely undeserved. We did nothing to justify it. It is simply absurd.
Whatever Jews, individually and together, did or didn’t do, in the past or present, there was absolutely no justification whatsoever for the increase in hostility toward them in Olympia between 1880 and 1930. There will never be any justification whatsoever for the Catastrophe which befell them.
The only question remaining is this: could Jews, individually and together, have done anything to respond more creatively to that growing hostility? Could they have responded more creatively to that lethal challenge and, by doing so, reduced the number of Jews suffering and dying because of it?
This question is especially important to ask of Jewish leaders. It’s important, as well, to ask of Christian leaders who were in a much better position to speak and act effectively.
Cantor says, “The tragedy of the Haskalah and Reform Judaism was that it had no way of countering the rise of new barbarism and ethnic cleansing in Central Europe from the 1920s onward. It could only suffer in silence as Jews were bloodied and then massacred by state terrorism.
“This breakdown was first graphically and prophetically signaled in Franz Kafka’s novels written in the 1920s” (Cantor, 265).
Cantor also questions why Jewish societies in states outside of Nazi control failed to make an effective—or at least quite public—effort to save Jews falling victim to it. Of course, those Jewish societies faced similar if less intense hatred. But he believes that, had they made the effort, “Jewish societies there could have saved millions of Holocaust victims, perhaps as many as a third of the approximately six million who died at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators…” (Cantor, 349).
(Today we continued our reflections on Norman Cantor’s The Sacred Chain: A History of the Jews [HarperCollins, 1994, pp. 265 and 306-49].)