Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Anti-Semitism (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021)

A (AtoZ Challenge 2021)

At the turn of the 20th century, the majority of European Jews were integrating into their respective national communities. Unprecedented numbers of them enrolled and fought for their nations on the battlefields of the Great War. They mainly were not discriminated against – then things started to change.

Jewish patriotism had always been a cause of distrust towards them, especially in times of war. Jews belonged to an international community. They had been present in many different nations, not only in Europe but increasingly everywhere in the world. In case of a conflict, nations wondered whether their Jews were going to fight for them or if they would instead gang up with Jews from other nations, including their enemies. 

But in the course of the long 19th century, something changed. Many Jewish communities, especially in Western Europe, melted into their national culture. At the opening of the 1900s, many Jews felt to belong equally to their Jews community and their national community.

The younger generation, in particular, lived this duality. Most of them felt that their national affiliation didn’t conflict at all with their Jewish community. When WWI broke out, many of these young Jews (it’s estimated about one million) enrolled for their respective nations, eager to show their patriotism.

Jewish Soldiers in the German Army Radio Unit, 1915
Jewish Soldiers in the German Army Radio Unit, 1915

The experience of war

Like their compatriots, Jews celebrated the outbreak of war as a meaningful chance for national renewal. Young people from all countries joined the war effort believing this would create a new world – their new world. Jews had – if anything – one more reason to do so: they could reshape their own existence inside their nation.

Evidence of Anti-Semitism, or anti-Semitic insults, in the trenches are very rare. Jews were normally integrated into their country’s force, as soldiers lived in close quarters and fought together. Some Jews escalated on the military ranks – though sometimes they may have found resistance from their generals. 
But mostly, the first phases of the war were indeed an occasion of creating a common experience. 
It wasn’t in the trenches that things started to change.

Anti-Semitism (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021) Young people joined #WWI believing this would create a new world – their new world. Jews had one more reason to do so: they could reshape their own existence inside their nation #Jews… Share on X

The German Case

The Great War - Anti-Semitism - Young people from all countries joined WWI believing this would create a new world – their new world. Jews had – if anything – one more reason to do so: they could reshape their own existence inside their nation.

Germany planned to attack France, defeat her quickly, then turned on the Eastern front against Russian. In theory, it could be done. 
But on the Flanders battlefields, they came to a stalemate. The war that was supposed to be over in a few months dragged on for years. 
On her part, Germany could truthfully say that no enemy had ever touched the nation’s ground. Propaganda storytelling presented this as the foreshadow of victory. Soldiers fighting in the trenches in ever more dire conditions certainly believed in that victory. 

It was on the home front that things were getting tricky. 
All the resources – including food – were directed to the war effort. This slowly turned circumstances inland ever more difficult. When a terrible winter between 1916 and 1917 hit, people started to starve and die for the cold. 
How could the situation be so bad if Germany was winning the war? 
Since the reasons for war were untouchable, people – the government and the media, first of all – started to look for a different cause to their misery. It must be the Jews. Who else could work against Germany from inside? They must be conspiring with the enemy to defeat Germany, as well as hoarding resources they took away from the populations. 

The legend of the ‘stab in the back‘ started to form together with rising anti-Semitism, though it was only in the inter-war years, during the Weimar Republic, that things eventually precipitated. 


Holocaust Encyclopedia – Anti-Semitism in HIstory: World War I
International Encyclopedia of the First World War – Antisemitism
Tablet – The Jews Who Stabbed Germany in the Back
Moment – How the First World War Changed Jewish History
My Jewish Learning – World War I and the Jews

LIVING THE TWENTIES by Sarah Zama - The Great War created a new world. This is that world.


  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 01:14

    This really gives fascinating background on how anti-Semitism played out at the time. It’s always been there, but it really changed after WWI. Let us hope someday that our world becomes kinder and more open. Marg

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2021 at 08:30

      There’s a lot to learn from this lesson. Shame that we seem to be quite deaf to what history tries to teach us.

  • Linda Curry
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 04:19

    This is very interesting. I saw Jewish German war graves in northern France and wondered why attitudes changed so rapidly after the war.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2021 at 08:31

      The situation of German Jews was quite particular. But then, the situation of Germany was in itself quite particular.

  • Yamini MacLean
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 04:24

    Hari OM
    That was very interesting… and of course, it is dismaying that this attitude still prevails… YAM xx

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 12:15

    It is so strange to see how much things changed in a couple of decades. I’ll be looking forward to more posts!
    I’m happy you are joining A to Z again! 🙂

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2021 at 15:40

      Very true. The Great War truly changed the world in a matter of a few years, while people were busy looking elsewhere.
      I wonder whether this is what’s happenign to us.

  • Iain Kelly
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 12:20

    The most disappointing thing about this is that it still goes on to this day, and recently seems to be on the rise again, because we seem to be incapable of learning anything, and of being accepting and learning to all live together peacefully. Great post.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2021 at 15:41

      True, eh? Sometimes, watching the news, I wonder: I thought we were living in 2021…

  • Eli@JustADad
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 13:20

    War brings out an ugly side to humanity, not only on the front lines but back home also. I love the opportunity to learn from those who know more than me, as you do, and you are also an excellent writer. I’m glad I found you through the A to Z Challenge!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2021 at 15:44

      Awww, Eli. Thanks so much for your kind words.
      True, war bring out the words of human beings – but also the best, I believe. Unfortnately, the worst is concentrate and we feel the whole hit at a time. Good comes slowly, and sometimes gets unnoticed.

  • Martha Reynolds
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 18:59

    Oh, Sara – good for you for choosing such an important theme. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2021 at 07:46

      I’ve been meaning to do it for a few years now, and always thought I was not ready.
      Well, I’m still not ready, I think. Its such a vast topic. But I’m happy I finally talked myself into trying. LOL:

  • Deborah Weber
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 19:01

    What an informative well-researched post. It’s heartbreaking humans seem so insistent on perpetuating separation consciousness and playing us-against-them games. If only we would learn from the tragedies we’ve created in the past.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2021 at 07:48

      I’m trying to suspect the us-versus-them psychology is so strong (I suppose it’s a survival strategy?) that we’ll nevere be able to overcome it. I can only explain not learning from something horrible like the two world wars with this.

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 19:15

    Just as now, the younger generation wanted only to see the world come together as one only to be devastated by reality. You’ve opened your AtoZChallenge on a strong note, Sarah.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 23:09

    It’s very telling that there was less anti-Semitism (at least on the surface) and more willingness to assimilate to the host culture in countries where Jews had legal emancipation, like France and Germany. In places without legal emancipation, like Poland and Russia, it was a lot more severe, and people were more likely to remain apart from Gentile society.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2021 at 07:50

      True, true. And it makes sense, don’t you think? If the ‘other’ becomes like ‘us’, there won’t be any ‘them’ and ‘us’ after a while.

  • Sascha Darlington
    Posted April 1, 2021 at 23:47

    Excellent and enlightening post. I had presumed anti-Semitism had always been strong in Europe. Amazing how a single person given power can persuade a population.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2021 at 07:51

      I’d say that anti-Semitism has always existed in Europe. But there were moments where it wasn’t stong.

  • Pradeep
    Posted April 2, 2021 at 08:16

    Thank you for dropping by my blog and reading my posts, and for the comments.
    I like history because it gives a lot of clarity to the present.
    Thanks for sharing such a lot of information about Jews. They are in India too, especially in Mumbai.
    Down south, in the state of Kerala, there is a “Jewish town” and synagogue, which I love visiting.
    A great post to start the series with.
    Take care.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2021 at 08:39

      I totally agree with you. History does give a lot of clarity to the present. If only we were better at listening!
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Arlee Bird
    Posted April 3, 2021 at 00:04

    Things like the anti-Semitism makes one wonder what the heck people were thinking. But it’s been around for centuries and continues to our time. Sad how things like this go.

    You gave an excellent coverage of the subject.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2021 at 20:16

      True. It looks like we are incapable of learning any lesson.

  • Susanna J. Sturgis
    Posted April 3, 2021 at 05:37

    This is so interesting. Thank you! My knowledge of WWI is mostly about British and French involvement in the Middle East, but that includes the events leading up to the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government supported the idea of a Jewish home in Palestine. That was a reaction to the violent antisemitism (pogroms) in Russia. I look forward to following your AtoZ!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2021 at 20:22

      I hdn’t really look into the war in the Middle East (I’ve rather followed a more global look), but it would be interesting to know more.
      Mybe in the future…

      Thanks for stoppingby 🙂

  • Birgit
    Posted April 3, 2021 at 06:15

    It’s so sad that German Jews fought for their country during WW1 only to be brutally persecuted in WW2. The anti-semitism was everywhere and, sadly, still exists.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2021 at 20:30

      It’s very true. German Jews’ history is truly tragic.

  • msjadeli
    Posted April 3, 2021 at 21:21

    Am just now getting started on your A2Z. The link in the A2Z list was followed but where I went wouldn’t let me open your post. I just saw your WP link in a comment and used that instead. It took me to my “feed” which allowed me to follow “the rest of the post” and it opened right up. Just an FYI, as others might have that difficulty getting here as well.

    I appreciate learning how this anti-Semitism grew in Germany.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 6, 2021 at 07:52

      Hi there! Thanks so much for persisting 🙂
      I tried the list link, but it seems to work on my end.

  • Shari Elder
    Posted April 4, 2021 at 21:10

    Interesting post. Its fascinating to see how Jews integrated, and yet it didn’t stop the growth and strength of anti-semitism.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 6, 2021 at 07:53

      Yes. It’s kind of scary how the human brain works.

  • Davida Chazan
    Posted April 8, 2021 at 16:37

    Assimilation worked against Jews in Europe, since they thought that they might not be persecuted. My mother-in-law’s father and his brother and sisters were named Leopold, Fredrick, Josephine and Inge – not very Jewish names. That didn’t stop some of them from dying in Auschwitz, and the others having to flee for their lives.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2021 at 08:45

      Thanks so much for your comment. I never thought that te filing of integration factored into the tragedy of German Jews. But it makes a lot of sense, when we think about it.

Leave a comment

Captcha loading...