The persecution of Jews has transcended centuries and it is widely observed that such persecution was never worse than that which was engineered by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. In the shadows of such a tragic and well-documented historical event however the preceding escalation of anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe is often denied attention despite the gravity of its contribution to the ensuing genocide. It was not, however, Germany alone that was legislating toward Jewish oppression during the interwar period the Jewish community in Poland was also increasingly ostracized.
Both countries were clearly politically moving toward suppressing Jewish communities socially, religiously and economically through different manifestations of similar legislation and policy prior to the German invasion of 1939. It is obvious that Germany was more aggressive in their systematic oppression of the Jews however, as Hagen raises, allowing the eventual outcome of Germany’s anti-Semitic politics during the 1930’s would lead us to minimize the significance of the anti-Semitism in interwar Poland and so we will consider the question without allowing the tragedy of the holocaust to bias our evaluation which suggests that Polish anti-Semitism may have been more passive overall however both countries exhibited clear similarities in their political pursuit of the Jews during this time.
The traditional Christian depiction of the Jews as the ‘enemy of Christ’ has long been the source of aggressive anti-Semitism throughout history and there is no doubt that this image of the Jews formed the ‘roots’ from which antisemitism in both Poland and Germany formed. Much of the problematic depiction of the Jews related to their role as the ‘murderers’ of Jesus caused by a very traditionally literal interpretation of the Bible which led many of those of Christian faith to deride them as evil ‘Christ Killers’ . Given that Poland was a country largely defined by the Catholic religion in the 1930s and Germany, particularly upon the rise of the Nazi’s in 1933, was predominantly Protestant it is not difficult to envisage how this may have affected the rise in Anti-Semitism in both countries respectively.
In Germany, the Treaty of Versailles had a devastating effect on the country. The treaty left the country accepting blame for the entire damages of the war which led to economic disarray given that the Germans were thus rendered responsible for paying reparations of around 132 billion marks which in turn led to hyperinflation . Immediately after the war German leadership literally attempted to transfer responsibility for the war onto a Jewish man which would come to reflect the attempts of Adolf Hitler to use the Jewish as a political scapegoat for the troubles of Germany.
Though Lindemann argues that it was in fact the Germans trust in Hitler as a political leader as opposed to actual anti-Semitic public opinion which led to an abundancy of anti-Semitic legislation , embitterment due to Versailles was easily manipulated by Hitler into resentment of the Jews. This aids clarification of the reasons why Germany was more aggressively anti-Semitic than Poland in the interwar period; whilst Poland was also coping with the economic effects of war their suffering was most certainly not on par with that of Germany.
Economic repression was perhaps the easiest route to take to oppress the Jewish communities and it is evident from the wide berth of legislation geared toward doing so by both countries that it was indeed at the forefront of the ruling governments of each’s agenda. Examples of early attempts at this include the introduction of ‘business marking’ in Poland in 1936 as well as the Nuremberg Law on Jewish properties in Germany. It is easy to draw a contrast between the anti-Semitic policies of the two countries on matters relating to property here; the Polish law was indirectly targeted at Jews as it was non-discriminate in that every business had to have the name of the owner marked on the building, Jewish or not, and though this led to anti-Semitic violence and boycotting it clearly exhibits the more passive approach of Poland regarding the repression of the Jews given that the German government were expressly discriminating against Jews whilst Poland took a more inadvertent approach.
Though the differences were apparent regarding economic repression through property related law, both German and Polish laws excluding Jews from certain professions were very similar, with both countries excluding Jews from both the medical and legal profession, in Poland through decrees by the Polish Medical Association and Polish Bar Association in 1937 followed by official state action in 1938, and in Germany with the 1933 Decrees concerning both Admission to the Legal Profession and Physicians’ Services with the National Health Service. Germany however, took efforts to quash the Jews economically to the extremes when the Decree for the Elimination of Jews from German Economic Life was issued on November the 12th of 1938, prohibiting economic activity of the community almost entirely. Once again, then, we may determine that Germany was the more aggressive country in enforcing anti-Semitic legislation, however Poland’s more passive approach cannot be overlooked as it still had a devastating effect on the Jews in Poland.
Poland- 1936 Business Marking, very similar to Nuremberg Law on Jewish Properties but much more passive. PMA and PBA exclude Jews from medical and legal profession in 1937, PBA measure backed by state action in 1938- comparable to 1933 German Law Concerning Admission to the Legal Profession and Decree Regarding Physicians' Services with the National Health Service/ 1936 banning of Jewish veterinarians/ teachers. December 1938 cancelling of state- contracts with Jewish owned firms, much more drastic than Polish attempts at repression
By the late 1940’s both Germany and Poland were moving to restrict the social and religious freedoms of both the German and Polish Jews in order to suppress Jewish culture. In both countries the practice of Kosher slaughtering was outlawed, in Germany this became a reality in 1934 with local government restrictions placed on the Jewish communities and in Poland in 1937 with the Kosher slaughtering Law, allowing the Polish government to greatly restrict supply of cattle to kosher slaughterers and in turn causing economic devastation for many . In terms of these regulations both countries were very similar in their approach to anti-Semitic policy.
Whilst both Poland and Germany were suppressing Jewish culture through religious constraint Germany was far more aggressive in restricting Jewish rights of a social nature. This is evident in the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor which prohibited Jewish people from having sexual relations with or marrying non-Jewish Germans. The Germans relied on informants to disclose these goings on to the government and Victor Klemperer words express the incredible effectiveness of such a regime ‘no word on the street is safe anymore. Everyone fears the next person may be an informer’ . This naturally led to segregation between those of German blood and the Jewish community with many ‘Aryan’ Germans ceasing involvement with members of the Jewish community to avoid persecution.
In the late 1930s both Germany and Poland made attempts to displace Jews and relocate them elsewhere. In September of 1935 the Reich Citizenship Law removed the Jews from Reich citizenship which forced many of the German Jews out as in 1937 Poland sent a commission to determine the feasibility of mass emigration of the Jews there. The commission however determined that only around 5000-7000 polish Jews could be re-settled there and given that the Polish Jew community numbered around 3 million it was deemed redundant and eventually scrapped. It is interesting to pay some consideration, though without the timeline of the period studied, the fact that in 1940 Germany also looked into sending the Jews to Madagascar, suggesting that it was not just Poland who found ‘inspiration and encouragement’ from the Nazis social policy’s relating to emigration but also the Nazis from interwar Poland even following the invasion in 1939.
In conclusion, though both countries anti-Semitism had a Christian basis and both countries were producing similar anti-Semitic legislation in some respects, particularly those laws regarding religious repression as well as exclusion of Jewish professionals from society, there were in fact key differences between the two regarding both the background for the anti-Semitism in each as well as clear differences between legislation effecting the situation of the Jews. The Treaty of Versailles deeply affected German anti-Semitism due to the incredibly harsh terms of the treaty and the general resentment which that bred amongst the German people, which Hitler built on and twisted in order to pursue his anti-Jewish agenda. It was this more extreme version of anti-Semitism in Germany that produced the harsher of the Nuremberg Laws which were more extreme than
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