Roots of Hate: Antisemitism in Europe before the Holocaust

By Leff, Lisa Moses | Shofar, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Roots of Hate: Antisemitism in Europe before the Holocaust


Leff, Lisa Moses, Shofar


Roots of Hate: Antisemitism in Europe before the Holocaust, by William I. Brusrein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 384 pp. $70.00.

In Roots of Hate, William I. Brustein offers a systematic comparison of antisemitism in five different European countries from 1870 to 1939. In so doing, he successfully disproves the erroneous claim that the German variety of this prejudice was of a radically different nature or depth than the varieties seen in other European countries, a claim made popular once again by Daniel J. Goldhagen in recent years. Attempting to discern popular attitudes is a difficult undertaking; to do so in five countries across seventy years in such a way that comparisons can be drawn in a systematic fashion is particularly challenging and valuable. It comes as no surprise, then, that Brustein's study is one of the few of its kind, alongside Helen Fein's oft-cited Accounting for Genocide: National Hatreds and Jewish Victimization during the Holocaust (New York, 1979).

Brustein's findings are based on a rich data source that includes both contemporary reports of anti-Jewish acts and legislation and a survey of articles mentioning Jews in major national newspapers in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Romania. These countries were selected, Brustein explains, as much for their similarities (all were politically independent and held elections in the period under consideration) as for their variation in terms of economic development, religious makeup, and political situation, as well as perceived level of popular antisemitism. Brustein's comparison proves fruitful. Far from static, antisemitic attitudes are shown to have become more pronounced in times of political and especially economic instability in all five countries. Geographic variation is also clear. Although popular antisemitism existed in all five contexts at critical moments, especially the 1930s, its intensity and its form varied greatly across societies, with Italy prior to 1936 exhibiting the lowest level of prejudice and interwar Germany and Romania exhibiting the highest levels.

As the book's title indicates, Brustein is concerned as much with accounting for the "roots" of popular antisemitism as with documenting its geographical and temporal variation. Brustein contends that antisemitism is "more multifaceted than other kinds of prejudice" and that this sets it apart from other forms of hatred or discrimination (p. 45). Incorporating four distinct strands-religious, racial, economic, and political-antisemitism after 1870 was popular precisely because it could be exploited by its proponents to explain many different kinds of social, economic, and political problems. …

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