Why the Jews? Why the Holocaust?

Minority populations are scapegoated for numerous surface reasons: “race,” religion, wealth and poverty to name a few. Prejudice rises to “scapegoating” and persecution levels generally when the society is undergoing more severe strain, such as plague, or economic distress. I will be discussing shortly the failed Parousia, the Second Coming of Jesus of the year 1000. The Black Plague is another example, both resulting in severe attacks on Jews, entire communities massacred by fire and sword.

In the West Jews are not the only group to suffer at such times. In fact between severe breakdowns, at least in the U.S. Native- and Afro-Americans are the most visible targets today providing the illusion that Jews are relatively “secure.” Muslims play a similar role in Europe today, although I never underestimate the dangers of inter-religious conflict, particularly in a period of general Islamic unrest in the Maghreb and the Middle East as today. But again, with the resurgence of the Right in Europe, Jewish leaders are clearly expressing alarm.

Why the Jews? To even ask the question already begins to provide the answer. “The Jews” have a special place in the religious heritage, the cultural evolution of Christendom. According to Christian scripture “the Jews” killed Jesus, we “killed” Christianity’s god. According Christian theology, from the Church Fathers to Luther and on, the crime is, not surprisingly, unforgivable: in the words of Augustine, quoting Paul and the gospels, “they bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.”

Add to this religious ideology of Jews as the “Christ-killer” people it is not a huge leap to appreciate why we were targeted at such times of stress described above, a ready and defenseless tiny minority, available to vent rage upon as needed.

And so, in addition to the scriptural condemnation, there is also a very long tradition of scapegoating “the Jews” in the Christian West. In fact a sort of “shorthand” for describing us emerged over the centuries which passed seamlessly across the religious-secular divide with the “Age of Reason,” the same “stereotypes” that make up the questionnaires in typical polls of antisemitism today: Jews are “rich,” own the banks and media, etc. There are still those who believe that, as “the Children of Satan,” Jews have horns, tail and an sulfuric odor. Even the most absurd stereotypes die hard.

This, then, is a brief background to Christianity’s scriptural and theological Jewish problem, the West’s cultural inheritance of Judeophobia and need for a scapegoat which unreflectively, but “scientifically” defines “the Jew” by “race, “biology even as “non-human (not a great leap from scriptural descriptions of “the Jew” as children of the devil) as Other, the constant and malevolent stranger.

And so Christianity’s original and traditional Jewish problem arrives, in the post-Enlightenment West, as the Jewish Problem, a problem needing a solution.

Which brings me back to my earlier “reply” that the solution to the “problem” is still an event for the future. The West’s, “ever more blatant and lethal approach to arriving at its Final Solution,” may have stalled with the Holocaust, but the final Final Solution is still a work in progress.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.