Antisemitism during the Second Reich (1871-1918) and Antisemitism in Nazi Germany

Seminar Paper, 2000

13 Pages



It is clear: Nazi Antisemitism could not grow out of nowhere. It was not just something that came to Germany like a disease or an accident ("Betriebsunfall" - "industrial accident", as the Nazi time often was called in Germany in the first years after the Second World War). It had a prehistory, which lay in the time before it: the Weimar Republic, and the Kaiserreich. It is also necessary to point out, as trivial as this statement sounds, that the Holocaust happened during Nazi rule and not under the Kaiser. The Antisemitism during the Kaiserreich never escalated into anything like the Holocaust. The Holocaust was an absolute Novum in history.

This essay will try to examine the Antisemitism of the Second and the Third German Reich. It will deal with the question in which sense the latter can be traced back to the first, on a political and a social level. In order to do this, the essay is divided into three parts. The first deals with the Antisemitism of the time of the Kaiserreich, its novelty, its main protagonists, and its political and social impact. The second part will examine what of the Kaiserreich's Antisemitism influenced the rise of the Nazis and finally the Holocaust. The third part contains further remarks.


In 1873 Wilhelm Marr published his book "Der Sieg des Judentums über das Germanentum vom nichtkonfessionellen Standpunkt aus betrachtet" ("Jewry's Victory over Germandom, Seen from a Non-confessional Point of View"). This publication is often understood as the beginning of modern Antisemitism,1 although it was not the first time racial anti-Semitism appeared in contrast to Christian anti-Judaism. The term "race" to determine Jewry was already used in the time before 1848, but in a less programmatic and deterministic way. Already in 1853 Count Arthur de Gobineau had published his "Essai sur l'Inégalité des Races" ("Essay on the Inequality of the races"), an early classic on the supremacy of the Nordic- Aryan race.2

Marr probably was the first author to use the term "anti-Semitism".3 The fact that it was adopted in most of the publishings opposing Jewry after that indicates the perception that this Antisemitism was something new. It should not be confused with the traditional antijudaism which was based on religious dissimilarities. Religious tolerance was seen as an unattackable basic even by the antisemites.4

Marr's book obviously hit the "Zeitgeist" - in only six years it went through twelve editions.5 From the middle of the 1870s, antisemtic articles and pamphlets were published in growing numbers. They called the Jews guilty for problems of the time, the economic crisis following the prosperous time after the unification, their own uneasiness concerning the political and social tensions, as well as the lingering decline of religion and morale.6 Eugen Dühring connected Antisemitism with natural science. In his book "Die Judenfrage als Racen-, Sitten- und Kulturfrage" ("The Jewish Question as a Question of Race, Manner, and Culture"), published in 1881, he created the pseudo-scientific basis for the antisemitic movement saying that Jews belonged to another race. Because of that, Jews would always remain parasites and could not be converted through baptism, he argued. In Dühring's writings, Antisemitisem was made a natural science and was treated like biology.7 This development can be seen in the context of the secularisation. When there was no more theological reason to condemn the Jews, a racial reason was invented. Antisemitism became respectable in academic and intellectual circles through Heinrich von Treitschke. Treitschke, a liberal historian, in 1879 published an antisemitic article in his prestigious "Preussische Jahrbücher" in which he coined the infamous expression "Die Juden sind unser Unglück" ("The Jews are our misfortune"). He derived his demand for an immediate assimilation of all Jews from ethnic nationalism. In his opinion, assimilation of the Jews was, after the political unification of Germany, a step towards the internal unification and expression of mythical "Germanness".

Treitschke's view, although not as extreme as Marr's or Dühring's, helped not only to establish Antisemitism in well-educated circles, but can also be seen as an example of the position many liberals took concerning the Jews. The German liberal movement only temporarily had a successful revolution in 1848, but before and after that reforms were not achieved by demands from the population but granted from above.8 With the unification of Germany through Bismarck and the conservative Prussia, the German liberal movement faced a dilemma: their major goal was achieved by a system they had fought against. As a result of this tension, the liberal movement split up into two factions. One emphasized the national thought and thus supported Bismarck and the new state, the other, smaller faction stressed the liberal, constitutional thought.

As the most popular German composer of the time, Richard Wagner was, after Treitschke, the most prominent antisemitic propagandist. He published essays on the bad Jewish influence on German culture and denounced the "Judaization" of the modern art, calling for a "war of liberation". Yet he never jumped on the bandwagon of racial Antisemitism.9 Wagner's son-in- law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an admirer of German mythology, was more extreme: in 1899 he published the book "Die Grundlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts" ("The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century") where he demanded the "elimination" of the "Jewish infection".10 The first political organization of the antisemitic movement was founded by court-preacher Adolf Stoecker, who founded the "Christlich-Soziale Arbeiterpartei" (Christian Social Worker's Party") in 1878. Stoecker's party first was aimed at workers, from whom he wanted to take away the influence of the Socialists, and only carried an implicit Antisemitism. When the workers showed no interest, but middle-class people reacted to the Antisemitism, it became the main issue of the party. Stoecker's Antisemitism came from an antijudaistic background but also remained christian-influenced. Jews were only tolerated strangers.11 Stoecker's party soon was joined by other antisemitic parties (such as Marr's "Antisemitenliga"), most of which did not exist very long. While antisemitic literature was sold in large editions, parties remained small - at the peak of the parliamentary presence of big antisemitic parties in 1893, they had only 2.5% of the vote. Moreover, there was never one national antisemitic party, but there were regional parties fighting each other on a national level.12 The antisemitic parties managed only to bring seven anti-Jewish bills to the stage of plenary debate in twenty-seven years of parliamentary activity and did not reach any of their declared or undeclared goals before 1914. It is not an exaggeration to call the political organisation of anti-Semitism before the Second World War a "failure".13

The extraparliamentary anti-Semitism shows a different picture: as already mentioned above, books by Antisemitic Authors were often sold in large amounts of copies and widespread.

While the emancipation of Jews was legally manifested in the Reich's constitution, more and more organisations outside the political sphere enacted restrictions on the membership of Jews.14 As a paradox, Jewish equality, originally a goal of the liberal movement, was defended by a state that actually opposed most of the liberal thoughts. So political Antisemitism in the Kaiserreich was in a bad position. Politically it was not opposed to the system, but only to certain traits. It is irony of history that the German conservative national state, the Second Reich, had to collapse and democracy had to be established, to allow the Antisemites to gain power and influence.

Higher political spheres were also not free of Antisemitism, but they mostly refused to so out of political tactics. Wilhelm II was a friend and admirer of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and never made a secret of his aversion from Jews. But shortly before the First World War Wilhelm rejected radical antisemitic proposals as "childish" and a threat to Germany's status as a cultural nation.15 In letters written in his exile after the war, Wilhelm made antisemitic remarks and accused the Jews of having started the war. But Wilhelm refrained from making his Antisemitism known and ordered those letters not to be published.16 It is interesting to shift the focus from Germany to the Antisemitism in other European countries. The example mostly used in historiography is France, where there was an uprise of Antisemitism similar to that in Germany. The first influential propagandist of the racial theory was in fact French, Count Arthur de Gobineau, and also in the last decades of the nineteenth century antisemitic authors like Edouard Drumont gained big publicity. Drumont's two- volume work "La France Juive" ("Jewish France") denounced the Jews as parasites destroying the French nation and postulated a reversal of emacipation. It was sold 100,000 copies in the year of its publishing 1886 - a bestseller.17

Unlike Germany, France had a big scandal that made Antisemitism and the fight against it public: the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a officer in the French army with Jewish background, was falsely accused and convicted of espionage for Germany in 1894. His dismissal had clearly been affected by the antisemitic prejudices of the military court judging in his case, and with Emile Zola's famous article "J'accuse" ("I accuse"), published in 1898, large parts of society rallied behind the demand of justice for Dreyfus. The case was settled in 1906 with the defeat of antisemitic forces and the full rehabilitation of Alfred Dreyfus.18


Hitler, with the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), which he took over shortly after the First World War, he took over one of the antisemitic splinter parties of the late Imperial time: "Mother" of the NSDAP was the German Workers' Party (DAP), founded in Austria in 1904, that tried to win workers away from the socialists like Stoecker's Christian Socialists attempted fifteen years earlier. The German branch was founded only in 1919.19 Antisemitism soon became the core of the Nazi ideology.

The Nazi ideology was heavily based on the publishings of antisemitic authors of the Second Reich: Alfred Rosenberg's "Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts" ("Myth of the 20. Century"), the party's semi-official compendium of Nazi theory published in 1930, comprehensively quoted from the works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and other antisemitic publicists of the Kaiserreich.20 Hitler's own book "Mein Kampf", written in the time of his imprisonment after the failure of the attempted putsch of 1923, in its passages about the Jews also just seemed to be a verbose version of the writings of Rudolf Jung, an Austrian Nazi whose writings showed "the classical mixture of Treitschke, Dühring and Class" - a socialdarwinistic racism with an antisemitic climax.21 "Ideologically, Nazi-Antisemitism added nothing new to prewar variety."22

The fact that Nazi Antisemitism added nothing new to the prewar Antisemitism combined with the fact that the Nazis eventually gained power in Germany in 1933 could be taken as evidence for the assumption that Antisemitism among Germans grew with the Nazis. However, this assumption would be made too fast: looking at the behaviour of the Nazis themselves in the last years of the Weimar Republic shows a different picture. The reduction of the Nazis to their Antisemitism is not only wrong but dangerous.

The Nazis did not win the elections because of their Antisemitism, but in spite of their Antisemitism. Most of their voters did not vote for the NSDAP because of their promise to punish the Jews. They voted against the weakness of their democractic leaders, against the threat of Communism, and against the Versailles Treaty. They voted for a general world view ("Weltanschauung") that promised them to be worthy and important, that promised to bring great, old times back again. Nazi Antisemitism played a comparatively small role here, an emphasis lay on nationalism and anti-Marxism.23 "The Yes to Hitler was above all a No to Weimar."24

Hitler did not gain power only because of his electoral success. The Weimar Republic failed because of a number of reasons. The democracy never had time to establish itself and remained a stranger to most of its citizens. Democratic energies were lost in daily political struggles. The parties were not always willing to work together constructively, which does not only refer to the non-democratic parties on the extreme Left and Right, that always were strong, but also the Social Democrats, the biggest party until 1932, preferred to stay in opposition because it feared every partaking in the government would alienate voters and drive them into the arms of the communists.25 Finally, the world economic crisis, that struck Germany harder than most other countries, helped to create a climate in which most people were looking for an easy solution to their problems, and the de facto dissolution of democracy through "Präsidialkabinette" paved the way for the installation of dictatorship, what the Nazis carried out 1933 with the Enabling Act.26

The fact that the Nazis did not emphasize the antisemitic parts of their program, and they were core parts of the program, also suggests that maybe in the Weimar Republic not much of this societal Antisemitism was left. The Nazis, powerhungry, did not want to alienate possible voters.

It is not intended to say that Hitler fooled the German people about the Nazi anti-Semitism. In "Mein Kampf" and various Nazi publications and propaganda such as the party paper "Der Stürmer", anti-Semitic rhethorics were extremely employed and obvious for those who wanted to see them. But obviously Hitler thought it would promise more success to emphasize the other parts of the Nazi program that were more popular.

What about the Holocaust? To judge the impact of prewar Antisemitism on the Holocaust is hard and even more subject to speculation. When the deportations of Jews started in Germany, the German people already was de-sensitized through anti-Jewish measures taken earlier by the Nazis and through their propaganda. Whether this de-sensitization was already set in mode by earlier antisemitic propaganda, is not certain to say.

Hitler did not so much benefit from the societal Antisemitism when he came to power. The Antisemitism of the Kaiserreich can help to explain the way into Nazi rule and the Holocaust, but it cannot serve as one, let alone the only reason for it. The German Antisemitism did not manifest itself by the election of the Nazis, but by not opposing their anti-Jewish measures.


When I dug through the literature for this essay, there were two articles that I felt extended my view on the Holocaust more than others. Those were Jacob Katz' article "War der Holocaust vorhersehbar?" ("Was the Holocaust predictable?")27 and Shulamit Volkov's articles "Antisemitismus als kultureller Code" ("Antisemitism as a cultural Code").28 I do believe that this conclusion is only the beginning of my hopefully more independent thinking about the Holocaust, and I owe it to Volkov and Katz.

The question of continuity (emphasized by Shulamit Volkov) is not only a question of the continuity of ideology, but of political and social changes. Did the circumstances that allowed a certain kind of Antisemitism to grow still exist later? Were there other circumstances, similar or different? Can an ideology like Antisemitism survive major changes as war, collapse of an old political system, revolution, establishment of a new system? As I already said in the introduction, the Holocaust was an absolute Novum in the history of Jewish persecution. Nothing like it had ever happened before, so it is no wonder that the past- war reactions range from a desperate search for the reasons to sole presentations of the horrible facts. The occurrence of the Holocaust is to a certain beyond imagination and comprehension, but it nonetheless did happen, and there were reasons for that. But those reasons lie more in the combination of different conditions than in one trait of ideology. The Nazis were more than Antisemitism.


Bracher, Karl-Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism. New York, Washington: Praegers Publishers, 1976.

Cecil, Lamar: "Wilhelm II. Und die Juden" in: Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914, eds. Werner E. Mosse, Arnold Paucker. Tübingen: Mohr, 1976, pp. 313-347.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The Holocaust and the Historians. Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Funke, Manfred: "Republik im Untergang. Die Zerstörung des Parlamentarismus als Gesellschaft, eds. Karl Dietrich Bracher, Manfred Funke, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen. Düsseldorf: Droste, 1987, pp. 505-531.

Grab, Walter. Der Deutsche Weg der Judenemanzipation 1789-1938. München, Zürich: Piper, 1991.

Graml, Herrmann. Reichskristallnacht. Antisemitismus und Judenverfolgung im Dritten Reich. München: deutscher taschenbuch verlag, 1988.

Jochmann, Werner: "Struktur und Funktion des Deutschen Antisemitismus" in: Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914, eds. Werner E. Mosse, Arnold Paucker. Tübingen: Mohr, 1976, pp. 389-477.

Katz, Jacob. From Prejudice to Destruction. Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Katz, Jacob. Zwischen Messianismus und Zionismus. Zur jüdischen Sozialgeschichte. Frankfurt am Main: Jüdischer Verlag, 1993.

Kauders, Anthony. German Politics and the Jews. Düsseldorf and Nuremberg 1910-1933. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Krausnick, Helmut. "The Persecution of the Jews", in: Anatomy of theßState, eds. Martin Broszat, Helmut Krausnick. Frogmore: Paladin, 1973, pp. 17-139.

Levy, Richard S. The Downfall of the Anti-Semitic Politicial Parties in Imperial Germany.

New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1975.

Massing, Paul W. Rehearsal for Destruction. A Study of Political Anti-Semitism in Imperial Germany. New York: Harper&Brothers, 1949.

Mommsen, Hans. Die verspielte Freiheit. Der Weg der Republik von Weimar in den Untergang 1918 bis 1933. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin: Propyläen, 1990.

Mosse, George L. The Crisis of German Ideology. Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich. New York: Grosset&Dunlap, 1964.

Mosse, George L. Towards the Final Solution. A History of European Racism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Orlow, Dietrich. Weimar Prussia 1918-1925. The unlikely Rock of Democracy. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986.

Pulzer, Peter. The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Rürup, Reinhard: "Emanzipation und Krise. Zur Geschichte der "Judenfrage" in Deutschland vor 1890" in Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914, eds. Werner E. Mosse and Arnold Paucker, Tübingen: Mohr, 1976.

Traverso, Enzo. The Jews and Germany. From the 'Judeo-German Symbiosis' to the Memory of Auschwitz. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Volkov, Shulamit. "Antisemitismus als kultureller Code", in: Jüdisches Leben und Antisemitismus im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert. München: Beck, 1990, pp. 13-36.

Volkov, Shulamit. Die Juden in Deutschland 1780-1918. München: Oldenbourg Verlag, 1994.

Volkov, Shulamit. "The Written Matter and the Spoken Word" in Unanswered Questions:

Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews, ed. Francois Furet, Schocken Books, 1989, pp. 33-53.

Wistrich, Robert S. Antisemitism. The Longest Hatred. London: Thames Methuen, 1991.


Good work. Your essay is well balanced and well research, and your conclusions are strong. You show the distinctions between C19 and C20 antisemitism. You need to look more closely at the Final Solution itself and ask the question: was it a direct result of C19 antisemitism? your thesis can fit well into this question as well, and you can show the differences between C19 talk and C20 action. Would the road paved by the antisemitism born in the Kaiserreich inevitably have lead to the Holocaust? If not, what factors made it so? 75%


1 E.g. Herrmann Graml, Reichskristallnacht. Antisemitismus und Judenverfolgung im Dritten Reich (München, 1988), pp. 69f.

2 Reinhard Rürup, "Emanzipation und Krise. Zur Geschichte der "Judenfrage" in Deutschland vor 1890" in Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914 eds. Werner E. Mosse and Arnold Paucker (Tübingen, 1976), p. 39f. and Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti- Semitism in Germany and Austria (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), p. 47.

3 Pulzer, p. 47.

4 Jacob Katz, Zwischen Messianismus und Zionismus. Zur jüdischen Sozialgeschichte (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), p. 135.

5 Pulzer, p.47.

6 Katz, Messianismus p. 108.

7 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, pp. 70f.

8 Walter Grab, Der Deutsche Weg der Judenemanzipation 1789-1938 (München, Zürich, 1991), pp. 19ff..

9 Jacob Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction. Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933 (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), pp. 175ff.

10 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, pp. 75f. and p. 79.

11 Katz, Prejudice, pp. 262ff.

12 Werner Jochmann, "Struktur und Funktion des Deutschen Antisemitismus" in: Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914, eds. Werner E. Mosse, Arnold Paucker (Tübingen, 1976), p. 418.

13 Richard S. Levy, The Downfall of the Anti-Semitic Politicial Parties in Imperial Germany (New Haven, London, 1975), p.1.

14 Jochmann.

15 Shulamit Volkov, "The Written Matter and the Spoken Word" in Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews, ed. Francois Furet (Schocken Books, 1989), p. 49.

16 Lamar Cecil, "Wilhelm II. Und die Juden" in Juden im Wilhelministischen Deutschland 1890-1914, eds. Werner E. Mosse, Arnold Paucker (Tübingen, 1976), pp. 343f.

17 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, p. 40.

18 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, pp. 41f.

19 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, pp. 87ff.

20 Katz, Messianismus, pp. 127f.

21 Graml, Reichskristallnacht, pp. 91ff.

22 Katz, Prejudice, p. 315.

23 Karl-Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship. The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism (New York, Washington, 1976), p. 179.

24 Vorbereitung der Diktatur" in: Die Weimarer Republik 1918-1933. Politik, Wirtschaft, Manfred Funke, "Republik im Untergang. Die Zerstörung des Parlamentarismus als Vorbereitung der Diktatur" in: Die Weimarer Republik 1918-1933. Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, eds. Karl Dietrich Bracher, Manfred Funke, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (Düsseldorf, 1987), p.130.

25 Dietrich Orlow, Weimar Prussia 1918-1925. The unlikely Rock of Democracy (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1986), p. 7.

26 Hans Mommsen, Die verspielte Freiheit. Der Weg der Republik von Weimar in den Untergang 1918 bis 1933 (Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, 1990).

27 Katz, Messianismus, pp. 202-232.

28 Shulamit Volkov, "Antisemitismus als kultureller Code", in: Jüdisches Leben und Antisemitismus im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert (München, 1990), pp. 13-36.

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Malte Goebel (Author), 2000, Antisemitism during the Second Reich (1871-1918) and Antisemitism in Nazi Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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