Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology

By Salwen, Sarah | Shofar, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology


Salwen, Sarah, Shofar


Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology, edited by Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. 352 pp. $24.95.

Antisemitic Myths, an anthology of approximately 90 documents intended to "illustrate the character and evolution of those antisemitic myths that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust and continue to threaten Jews today" (p. vii), vividly demonstrates the peculiar persistence of intolerance, hatred, and persecution of Jews throughout history. By compiling these documents in one volume, historians Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer fiU a surprising void in the existing literature and provide a helpful resource for teaching about stories, stereotypes, and Ues about Jews that have incited both fear and violence. Despite providing this important service, the book suffers from several shortcomings stemming from a lack of transparency regarding document selection criteria, context described in explanatory essays, and provenance of the texts.

Antisemitic Myths is divided into three sections according to chronology of the documents. Part I presents examples of traditional Christian anti-Judaism from the medieval and early modern periods. The first text, from 386-87 A.D., is an excerpt of a speech by St. John Chrysostom warning Christians against Judaizing (or attending Jewish services and practicing Jewish rituals) by demonizing jews as killers of Christ and comparing them to animals. Other documents contain examples of accusations of ritual murder, host desecration, and responsibility for spreading the Black Plague by poisoning water sources. This section also includes texts concerning the expulsion of Jews from Spain, torture of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, and Portuguese persecution of Jews and Marranos, as well as passages from Martin Luther's treatise On the Jews and Their Lies.

Part II addresses "modern" antisemitism, from the Enlightenment and emancipation of Jews in Europe to the rise of Social Darwinism and racialist thinking to the frightening relationship between nationalism and antisemitism. It begins with excerpts from Voltaire, who opposed all organized religion and expressed particulat hostility toward Judaism. Other texts representative of modern antisemitic themes include an excerpt from Karl Marx's essay "The Jewish Question," in which Marx characterizes Judaism as a religion of usury that worships money; selections from Edouard Drumont's antisemitic newspaper La libre parole concerning the Dreyfus Affair; and an excerpt from Richard Wagner's essay "Judaism in Music," which exemplifies Volkish antisemitism, claiming that Jews debased German music and were incapable of being artists. These writers' language is so vitriolic and their assertions so extreme that they seem almost inconceivable, notwithstanding the gravity of the impact of their words. In addition, this section includes accounts of pogroms in Tsarist Russia and selections from The Protocols of the Learned Elders ofZion and Henry Ford's The International Jew that iUustrate belief in a world-wide Jewish conspiracy. It concludes with chapters on German antisemitism, Adolf Hitler's worldview, Nazi racial theory, Nazi propaganda, and the Holocaust, including accounts by survivors and victims, as weU as Nuremberg court testimony by perpetrators.

Part III concerns "contemporary" antisemitism (after 1945). It begins with two somewhat incongruous chapters on how and to what extent Catholic and Protestant churches have acknowledged and repudiated their antisemitic pasts. These are followed by texts illustrating state-sponsored Soviet antisemitism and the persistence of popular antisemitism in Russia; neo-Nazism in Germany; and American neo-Nazism, from which its German counterpart draws significant inspiration. …

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