The Jews in Europe

by Susi Brieger
Modern History Stage 6, Preliminary Course: – Case Study

‘Enlightenment to Holocaust’ – The Jews in Europe, is designed ‘to provide students with opportunities to further develop relevant investigative and research skills that are the core of the historical inquiry process.’(Modern History Stage 6 Syllabus, NSW Board of Studies, July 2004)

‘Enlightenment to Holocaust’

is suggested as a teacher developed case study from List A: Europe. While the case study stands alone, a second case study, from List B: 6. The Origins of the Arab Israeli Conflict 1880s-1947 would be a good complementary topic. The case study provides background knowledge and understanding for the following options in the HSC course: Part II: Option C: National Studies, Germany 1918-1939; Part III: Option 14: Golda Meir 1898-1978; Option 19: Leni Riefenstahl 1902-2003; Option 21: Albert Speer 1905-1981; Option B: Conflict in Europe 1935-1945; The Arab Israeli Conflict 1948-1996.


The Enlightenment, the French Revolution, industrialisation and new liberal ideologies led to the progressive emancipation of Western European Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Congress of Vienna introduced a period of reaction against liberalism and some anti Jewish disabilities were restored. The forces of change gave rise to new form of political, social and economic antisemitism. The emergence of Nationalism and the pan-German and pan-Slav enthusiasms with their antisemitic elements awakened fears about the future of Jews in Europe. The Pale of Settlement exemplified the restrictions on Russian Jews. After the pogroms of 1881, Russian Jews turned to revolutionary movements, to mass migration and to Zionism. In the last decades of the nineteenth century a new antisemitism, a pseudo scientific theory based on supposed racial characteristics blamed Jews for all the problems of modern life. This perception caused ideological-religious and then racial antisemitism to arise. The economic crash of 1929 led to deep disillusionment with Western civilisation and the values of the Enlightenment. The 1930’s brought a rapid deterioration in the circumstances of the Jews. By the mid 1930’s, discrimination had evolved into violent persecution. The world stage was set for the Holocaust.

Summary of Content:

1. The 18th Century Enlightenment –dual face; French Revolution, legal emancipation of Jews; The Jewish response: Moses Mendelssohn; 1815 The Congress of Vienna, reaction against Liberalism, impact on Jews; industrialisation as a force for change, progressive emancipation of Jews in Western Europe, reactions.

  • “The Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century was characterised by the belief that human reason could be used to combat ignorance, superstition and tyranny and to build a better world. Voltaire and the “Philosophes” on the one hand, favoured toleration for Jews, on the other, expressed hostility towards Judaism. The ideals of the Enlightenment paved the way for the liberal forces of the French Revolution.
  • Inspired by the European Enlightenment, many Jews were encouraged to study secular subjects, to learn the European languages whilst maintaining their knowledge of Hebrew and to try to assimilate into European society. Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) led the movement to represent Judaism as a rational faith that is open to modernity and change; tried to improve the legal situation of Jews and the relationship between Jews and Christians.
  • French Revolution 1789, vestiges of feudalism was eradicated; absolute monarchy was shattered, the principle of equality before the law and citizenship regardless of religion was enshrined. Decree of 1791 granted legal emancipation to Jews. Napoleon summoned assembly of Jewish notables; ghetto walls fell. Social and political changes: in accepting allegiance to the nation state, French Jews agreed to regard themselves purely as a religious group. Contradictory impact on Jewish life: possibility of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity versus legal and political acceptance as Jews.
  • The Congress of Vienna 1815 aimed to reconstruct the map of Europe after Napoleon. Religious hostility to Jews merged with the opposition to Napoleon and to areas of his influence. A period of reaction against Liberalism ensued. While in France and Holland, Jews kept their freedom; in other European countries anti-Jewish disabilities were partly restored.
  • Industrialisation led to a revolution in the means of production, transportation and technology; a rising middle class without reference to religion. Jews in Western Europe became involved in the industrial age; many became successful entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers, and scientists. The forces of change that led the struggle towards Jewish emancipation, also gave rise to a new form of social and economic antisemitism. This was grafted on to the anti-Judaism based on Christian theology. To gain entry to areas that remained closed to them, many Jews chose to go through conversion to Christianity (families of Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx). In England, Lionel Rothschild was elected to the House of Commons in 1847. It took eleven years and five re-elections before the ‘Jewish Disabilities Act’ allowed him to take the oath without reference to Christianity.
  • Anti-Jewish feeling persisted in Germany where many remained unreconciled to the egalitarian spirit of the age and to the rising middle class; resented the Germanised Jews and tried to prevent their social acceptance. The Pan Nationalism that emerged after German unification in 1870 reinforced these hostilities. The importance placed on the German language and culture paved the way for the complete assimilation of many German Jews. The difficult struggle for complete acceptance in Germany awakened some doubts about the future of Jews in Europe and eventually led to immigration to America and to Zionism. Nevertheless, acculturation remained the ultimate hope of the majority of German Jews. This hope was dashed by the Holocaust.
  • By the end of the nineteenth century, as a result of the forces unleashed by the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, Jews in Western Europe were granted legal equality. The last two countries to grant Jews citizenship were Switzerland (1874) and Spain (1918).

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i)Students use the Internet to build an understanding of the Enlightenment and its “dual face” with regard to the Jewish population.
(ii) Students examine the life and work of Moses Mendelssohn and evaluate his role in relation to the Jews of Germany.
(iii) Using a variety of sources, students investigate how life changed for Jews following the French Revolution. How did the
Jews deal with the dilemma of emancipation? What were some of the effects of Industrialisation on the traditional Jewish world?
(iv)The Congress of Vienna: small group research and report to class- students discuss what the outcomes of this and later events of the nineteenth century reveal about attitudes to Jews in Europe.
(v) In groups, using appropriate documents and evaluating their usefulness, students examine the negative stereotypes of Jews in aspects of Christian theology. (See document references)

Refer outcomes: P1.1, P1.2, P2.1, P3.1, P3.2, P3.3, P3.4, P4.1, P4.2

2. Jews in Eastern Europe, The Pale of Settlement, the Jews of Russia caught between liberalism and reaction, the pogroms of 1881, westward migration.

  • The Napoleonic Enlightenment and the other movements, which emancipated the Jews of Western Europe, did not extend to Eastern Europe where most Jews (about five million, or 40% of the Jewish population worldwide) lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The nineteenth century also saw the emergence of an emotional Slav nationalism that invoked the idealised Russian folk past and spurned the liberal, democratic concepts in Western Europe.
  • Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Jews of Russia were caught up in the wider struggle between liberalism and reaction and the erratic policies of the autocratic czars. For most of the period from 1791 to 1915, Jews were confined to the Pale of Settlement. The Pale consisted of twenty-five provinces that included Ukraine, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Crimea and part of Poland (which had been partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772). After 1881, Jews were expelled from Moscow and St Petersburg and forced into the Pale. At the same time, under the May Laws of 1882, they were also expelled from parts of rural areas within the Pale and forced to live only in shtetls (Jewish villages) and in the ghettos of the larger towns.
  • A series of pogroms from 1881-1883 together with a set of ‘temporary regulations’ called the May Laws acted as the catalyst for the westward migration of Jews from the Pale of Settlement. Some chose America, many moved to Western and Central Europe, others were attracted to Palestine.
  • The Pale of Settlement was abolished in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i)Map and Document Study: students gain an overview of the Pale of Settlement. What does this illustrate about Jewish life during this period? (Document: The Jewish Chronicle: Outrages Upon Jews in Russia, May 6, 1881)
(ii) Film Study: Students view the film “Fiddler on the Roof”. How reliable would such sources be in adding to students’ understanding of the impact of the pogroms on shtetl life?

Refer outcomes: P1.2, P2.1, P3.2, P3.3, P3.4, P4.1

3. Nationalism and new ideologies of the nineteenth century; sources of modern antisemitism; Zionist Movement.

  • Nationalism in the Nineteenth century was a powerful force; Jews were depicted as an alien group based on the commonly accepted myth that Jews were Christ killers and deserved punishment for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
  • The German composer, Richard Wagner, was one of the first to reinject racism into antisemitism. The theme that the Germans were the descendants of a mythical Aryan Super Race was glorified in his operatic works. Nietzche, the German philosopher, also elevated the German past in a distorted interpretation of the Super Man motif” These ideas were captured by Nazi ideology.
  • In 1879, the German writer William Marr introduced the term antisemitism. The term appeared to emanate from two related sources, racism and nationalism.
  • The second half of nineteenth century saw a growing belief in “scientific” racism: a view of Jews as a morally and ethically inferior, alien race.
  • The Rothschild family of bankers served as a stereotype accusing Jews of initiating capitalism – hostility grew as a reaction to the harsh social and economic conditions of modern industrial society.
  • Many Jews were drawn into socialist and revolutionary movements. Karl Marx and his emphasis on Jewish economic interest played off the medieval image of Jewish money lending and played into both charges of Jewish dominance through international capitalism and charges of Jewish dominance of international Bolshevism (later communism).
  • Traditional stereotypes were supplemented by accusations of an international Jewish conspiracy to undermine the safe Christian world- ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ a forgery, which alleged a massive Jewish international conspiracy to seize power all over the globe, to start wars and depressions. The Protocols purported to be minutes of part of the 1897 international meeting of Jewish leaders, known as the First World Zionist Congress chaired by Theodor Herzl. First published in Russia in 1903, it was not until 1921 that a London Times reporter uncovered that the story described in the Protocols was a direct plagiarism of two obscure fictional works. The damage could not be erased.
  • To the stereotype of the Jew as a financial manipulator was added the popular medieval belief that Jews carried out ritual murder. In 1911-13, an allegation of ritual murder, the Beilis Case, surfaced in Kiev, Russia.
  • The Dreyfus Affair in France illustrated that emancipation and assimilation did not lessen the plight of Europe’s Jews. In 1894, a French military officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was charged with selling state secrets to Germany. Dreyfus was convicted on the basis of false evidence and incarcerated on Devil’s Island. Though the Dreyfus Affair concluded with the exoneration of Dreyfus (1906) and the seeming victory of pro-Jewish forces over antisemitism, it highlighted divisions within French society.
  • Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist, was shocked into action by the antisemitism he witnessed while covering the Dreyfus trial. In 1896, he published The Jewish State, in which he argued that the creation of a Jewish state was the best solution to the Jewish question. In November 1917, in the Balfour Declaration, the British government announced its intention to facilitate the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i) Students develop definitions of the concepts: Capitalism, Communism, Liberalism, Nationalism, Racism, and Socialism (teacher facilitated, dictagloss technique). How do these concepts relate to European Jews during this period?
(ii) Empathy exercise: individual students or small groups given one of the following to research and develop a creative presentation to class: Alfred Dreyfus, Mendel Beilis, Theodor Herzl.
(iii) Modern antisemitism. Students develop understanding of modern antisemitism using a variety of sources. Students will be expected to evaluate sources for their usefulness and reliability: a) document Study (select from references); b) excursion to the Sydney Jewish Museum, level 2, “Antisemitism”; c) Readings (see references)

Refer outcomes: P1.1, P2.1, P3.2, P3.3, P3.5, P4.1, P4.2

4. Preludes to the Holocaust

The 1920’s were a decade of hope; attempts to ensure stability and peace ended with the economic crash of 1929. This not only caused the collapse of world economy, it also led to a deep disillusionment with Western civilisation and the values of the Enlightenment. The 1930’s were characterised by extreme ideologies, rise of totalitarian regimes, dictatorships persecution of minorities and civil wars. In central and Eastern Europe, the 1930’s brought a rapid deterioration in the circumstances of the Jews. By the mid 1930’s discrimination had evolved into violent persecution. Pogroms and massacres raged through Poland; in Rumania race laws were enacted in 1938. Similar developments were taking place in Hungary, Austria and throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Even Fascist Italy, which did not have an antisemitic tradition, adopted Nazi racist principles while in France anti-Jewish propaganda was out of control. Germany exemplified the worst persecution of the Jews. The world stage was set for the Holocaust.

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i) Brief teacher overview of the early twentieth century with a focus on the impending Holocaust of European Jewry.

Assessment: Students will be required to prepare a written investigative report of 1500 words using information from a variety of sources. The Report should be presented orally to the class.

Students will be required to work in pairs. A planning guide should be submitted one week prior to the presentation of the Report. Topic: Case Study. Investigate the forces that impacted on the lives of the Jewish population from the eighteenth century Enlightenment to the early twentieth century in one country: France, Germany, Russia or Poland.

Refer outcomes: P1.1, P1.2, P2.1, P3.2, P3.5, P4.1, P4.2, P4.3


Enlightenment – “dual face”
Jewish Emancipation –citizenship –
Social Integration- “out of the ghetto” – rebellion against modernity or adaptation
Nationalism – nation states- Jews “outsiders”
Industrialisation – Urbanisation, Jews enter Western World
Racism, scientific racism, social Darwinism
Jew hatred – stereotypes, “the scapegoat”
Zionist Movements
Modern Antisemitism


ASSIMILATION – Abandoning Jewish ties – conversions, intermarriage.
ACCULTURATION – To become German, (or.) remain Jewish – language, identity
TRADITIONAL JEWISH CULTURE- Not accepting the challenges of the modern world –fearing that it would result in assimilation.
RADICALISM –Joining socialist movements– SOCIALISM, seeking classless society; COMMUNISM
ZIONISM – Establishment of Jewish State
EMIGRATION – Finding a new home –Western and Central Europe, America, Palestine
Resource List: Teachers and Students

Internet Resources

‘The Enlightenment’, P.Brians
Accessed 6/04/2005

The French Enlightenment, P.Halsall
Accessed 13/04/2005

The Rage of Reason, D.Postel,
Accessed 5/04/2005

‘Introduction to Judaism – Basic Concepts’ from L. Trepp, A History of the Jewish Experience,
Accessed 5/04/2005

‘Antisemitism: A historical Survey’, Mark Weitzman, Museum of Tolerance ONLINE
Accessed 13/04/2005

“Jewish Emancipation” J.Chastain
Accessed 16/04/2005 (if not found search for J.Chastain Jewish Emancipation)

“Antisemitisms up to 1914,Why the Jews?”
Accessed 5/04/2005 (if not found, search for “Jewish Enlightenment to Holocaust” Find under “lec3”)

The Jewish Virtual Library series
Accessed 15/04/2005:
The Haskalah’, Shira Schoenberg
A Hoax of Hate’ Jewish Virtual Library
‘Alfred Dreyfus and “The Affair”’
‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, Jewish Virtual Library
Accessed 17/04/2005:
Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: From the Lands of the Czars – Escape from the Pogroms.
The Virtual Jewish History Tour – Russia and the Former Soviet Union The Pale of Settlement;
Russia; Poland; France; Germany

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Israel/Jewish Studies, Modern History

‘Australian Memories of the Holocaust’

HSC course notes, Jewish educators’ site Academy BJE, NSW Board of Jewish Education

Readings From:
Ed Barnavi Eli A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People, Hutchinson London 1992
Comay J. The Diaspora Story, The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora Tel Aviv 1981
Pasachoff N & Littman R.J. Jewish History in 100 Nutshells, Jason Aronson Inc.1995

“Fiddler on the Roof”

Anti-Semitic Legends translated and/or edited by D.L. Ashliman Jewish Virtual Library,

Accessed 15/04/2005

Medieval Anti-Jewism and The Jews and their Lies an excerpt from Martin Luther’s pamphlet
Accessed 16/04/2005

Jewish Ritual Murder -refutation by Pope Gregory X 1271 and Pope Innocent IV 1247
Accessed 16/04/2005

A Quo Primum His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV Encyclical on Judaism in Poland June 14,1751

Accessed 16/04/2005

A Catholic Timeline of Events Relating to Jews, Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust From the 3rd Century to the Beginning of the Third Millennium Prepared by Jerry Darring
Accessed 16/04/2005

Medieval Sourcebook: Professions of Faith Extracted from Jews on Baptism
Accessed 16.04.2005

Modern History Source Book: The Jewish Chronicle: Outrages Upon Jews in Russia, May 6, 1881.

Accessed 26/04/2005

Modern History Source Book: Mark Twain, Concerning the Jews, Harper’s Magazine, March 1898.
Accessed 26/04/2005

Newspaper Article
BBC News World Edition ‘A Dark Lie Through the Ages” by Hugh Levinsom BBC Radio 4 Producer of Blood Libel 23/1/2004
Accessed 16/04/2005

Teacher References
Johnson P. A History of the Jews Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1987 Part Five
Wistrich Robert S. ‘Antisemitism and the Jews’ in Hitler and the Holocaust pp3-27, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2001

This article first appeared in Teaching History, Journal of the History Teachers’ Association, June 2005.

© Susi Brieger 2006.