Anti-Semitism is the oldest form of bigotry and racism. It is certainly nothing new, and has followed Jews wherever they migrated to during the entire period of the Diaspora. Bias against Jews has always been a blight on civilizations wherever they have migrated to and prospered. Anti-Semitism is the most illogical, irrational phenomenon imaginable!
Throughout the 19th Century, and up to the end of World War I, Jews enjoyed a unique existence in Germany. Everywhere else in Europe, Jews were subjected to severe discrimination, anti-Jewish sentiments and pogroms. Nineteenth-century pogroms in Russia were famous! Death and destruction were commonly inflicted upon helpless innocent Jews. The least provocation was all that was required to cause riots, mob violence and mass murder of Jews, not only in Russia, but other European nations as well.
However anti-Semitism was at an all time low in Germany during this period. Jews had come into their own, in the fields of engineering, medicine, banking, business, and general academia. The German people knew and understood the benefits they reaped as a result of Jewish accomplishments. Jewish manufacturers hired non-Jewish labor. Jewish businessmen created wealth that benefited non-Jewish workers and their families.
Jews were prominent in the trades as well. Trade Guilds in Germany benefited from the numerous skilled machinists, metal fabricators, millwrights, foundry workers and other skilled members of the Trade Community, who happened to be Jewish. In 1914, the number of Jewish Tradesmen, possessing Meisterbriefs, or established “Trade Master” credentials, rivaled those of the Catholic or Lutheran communities. Jewish artisans were known for their skills in the design and manufacture of high-quality goods.
The defeat of the German Empire in 1918 and the subsequent collapse of the Hohenzollern Monarchy brought an end to Jewish prosperity and dominance in many fields of endeavor. The Kaiser and his government had welcomed Jews as essential human resources. Even in the German Armed Forces, recognition of the importance of Jewish service members was recognized. Accordingly, there existed two distinct oaths of enlistment. There were sufficient numbers of Jewish men serving in the Army and Navy, that a Jewish version of the oath of allegiance to the Kaiser and Empire was deemed appropriate.
The oath that Jewish recruits took was not designed to offend or discriminate. Quite the contrary, it recognized the difference between Jews and Christians, and served to unify the armed forces for a common purpose, that being the defense of the German Empire. Over a hundred thousand Jewish men served their nation in World War I. That was more than 20% of all German Jews extant.
They fought on every front, served on vessels at sea, and fought the air battles over France. Some even earned the Pour le’Merite, the highest medal Germany could bestow upon her heroes. Jews most certainly did not, as the Nazis were quick to claim, “stab Germany in the back” during World War I. The vast majority of Jews were Germans first and Jews second.
This is not to say that anti-Semitism had been eradicated during the period of the German Empire (1871-1918). Anti-Semitism abounded in university clubs and organizations, as well as political parties that existed during that time. The Catholic Church served to perpetuate anti-Semitism even in Germany, where the Catholic population was second only to the Lutherans. At the inception of the German Empire in 1871, Pius IX was the Pope extant. Among his many anti-Protestant “Bulls” and decrees, Pius IX also issued strong anti-Jewish sentiments and decrees. He declared the Jews as “Christ Killers,” and openly opined that Jews had no place in “Christian” lands. He advocated expelling Jews from Europe.
His successor was Leo XIII, who declared Jews “enemies of all Christians,” further declared that the Jews were the “source of all evil.” Leo continued to issue strong anti-Semitic statements, which were most certainly taken to heart by his millions of followers. He advocated renewing the Inquisition during his reign.
There existed in Germany, secret organizations that advocated various and sundry issues. One of the secret groups was the Thule Society. Thulists were heavy into the occult, and anti-Semitism. The Thule Society provided many of the ideas later developed and refined by the National Socialists. Nazi ideology borrowed heavily from the Thule Society.
Jews in other countries in Europe did not benefit from a benevolent Monarch, as they did in Germany. Most everywhere else in Europe, Jews were forced to live in ghettos. They were restricted from farming, owning farmland, and not allowed to participate in the trades reserved for Christians. Consequently, they were forced into work that was considered demeaning to Christians. The medical profession was actually looked down on for centuries in most European countries. Jews were allowed to become doctors for this reason. Other trades included barbering, as barbers were required to participate in the preparation of the dead for burial, this profession was considered fit for Jews. The operation of undertaking parlors, tanneries, and pawn brokerages was considered beneath the dignity of Christians, but okay for Jews. There were many other trades and professions that were relegated to the Jews, depending on what country set the rules.