New Testament's Anti-Semitism Not Holocaust Trigger: Historians Ponder Nazi Genocide

Article excerpt

A forum of Jewish and Christian historians agree that Europe's legacy of New Testament anti-Semitism was not enough to produce the Holocaust.

Generations of negative Christian attitudes toward Jews set the stage, they said, but the Nazi program to eliminate Jews was "unpredictable" and driven by statism, eugenics, racism and rivalry with Jews in the German middle class.

"Anti-Semitism is clearly in the Holocaust," Stephen Aschheim of Hebrew University in Jerusalem said, "but it is not a sufficient condition for it. If it was only anti-Semitism," he said, "you have to ask, why didn't [a genocide] happen before?"

He said the puzzle for historians is to figure out the many factors that gave rise to the Nazis' sudden "radical project" that was a "bio-eugenic, modern, racial experiment."

The historians used the word "continuity" to suggest that the Christian West is inescapably tied up with the Holocaust. But they emphasized that continuity does not prove "causality," or the specific events and mechanisms that conspired to kill 6 million Jews.

Mr. Aschheim spoke Wednesday at a symposium held by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He cautioned that his comments were not an apology for Christianity and emphasized how complex the study of Nazism can be.

The discussion by a four-member panel is part of a widening encounter between Christian and Jews on Holocaust subjects.

It is prompted partly by statements in recent years by Catholic and Protestant officials condemning anti-Semitism and taking some responsibility for the Jewish plight in wartime Europe. In turn, some Jewish leaders and scholars have argued that Christianity is too easily demonized for the Jewish tragedy.

Steven Katz, director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University, was not as quick to downgrade the role of Christian anti-Semitism in the Holocaust.

"There's a radical discontinuity between Christian anti-Semitism and the Nazi variety of anti-Semitism," said Mr. Katz. But he said that up to the point when the Nazi genocide program begun in 1941, the roots of early Christianity still played a role. …