Within weeks of coming to power, the Nazis launched the reign of terror that would culminate in the Final Solution. At every step, their crimes against the Jews were described as self-defense. "The Jews of the whole world are trying to destroy Germany," screamed government posters as the Nazis unleashed a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. "German people, defend yourselves!" In every issue of Der Stürmer, the Nazi newspaper published for more than 20 years by Hitler's ally Julius Streicher, a Page 1 banner proclaimed: "The Jews are Our Misfortune!"
Down through the millennia, this has been the model for the most virulent, violent anti-Semitism. Jews were depicted, facts and logic to the contrary notwithstanding, as victimizers. Then they were victimized with astonishing ferocity and inhumanity.
In her magisterial history of the 14th century, A Distant Mirror, Barbara W. Tuchman describes how readily the outbreak of the Black Death was blamed on the Jews -- and with what murderous results:
"On charges that they were poisoning the wells, with intent 'to kill and destroy the whole of Christendom and have lordship over all the world,' the lynchings began in the spring of 1348 on the heels of the first plague deaths. The first attacks occurred in Narbonne and Carcassonne, where Jews were dragged from their houses and thrown into bonfires…. The charges drew a picture of an international Jewish conspiracy emanating from Spain, with messengers from Toledo carrying poison in little packets [and] rabbinical instructions for sprinkling the poison in wells and springs."
The Jews' defenders, including Pope Clement VI, pointed out that these were demented lies -- Jews were dying of the plague like everyone else, and the plague raged even in places where no Jews lived. Yet so powerful was the fury against them, and so avid the hunger to believe them guilty of every bad thing, that thousands were slaughtered or dispossessed.
Anti-Semitism is mankind's oldest hatred, irrational, obsessive, and seemingly indestructible. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist whose childhood was spent in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, recalls being instructed "practically on a daily basis that Jews were evil, the sworn enemies of Muslims whose only goal was to destroy Islam." She grew up hearing Jews blamed for everything from AIDS to war; "if we ever wanted to know peace and stability," she was taught, "we would have to destroy them before they would wipe us out."
The Jew-haters always see themselves as victims, and their victimhood becomes their license to persecute. It is a phenomenon as old as the pharaohs and as contemporary as Al-Qaeda. Hitler took it to an unprecedented scale. But while Hitler died in 1945, genocidal Jew-hatred lives on.