WHERE DO JEWS COME FROM?
Jews are an ethnoreligious group and tribe from Eretz Israel (“the Land of Israel” in Hebrew). This is a fact that is easily proven by 4000+ years’ worth of archeology, ample historical record over the last 4 millennia, hundreds of genetic studies in the last several decades, and Jewish culture that dates back thousands of years. The fact that this has even become debatable is absurd; the origins of the Jewish People are even reflected in our language. For instance, the original meaning of the word “diaspora” is “the dispersion of the Jewish People beyond the Land of Israel.” The word “tribe” was first used in reference to the Jewish People. In most languages, such as Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and more, the word “Jew” directly translates to “a person from Judea” (the word Judea, of course, coming from the Kingdom of Judah, which split off from the United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel in 930 BCE. Until 136 CE, when the Romans changed the name of the land to “Syria Palestina,” the region that is now Israel-Palestine was known as Judea).
The Torah, the Bible, and the Quran all refer to Jews as the People (or Children) of Israel.
Jews spread to just about every corner of the earth primarily due to numerous campaigns of ethnic cleansing at the hands of a series of empires, such as the Babylonian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab caliphates, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (the Crusaders). In other words, the majority of Jews that ended up in Europe or somewhere in Southwest Asia, for example, arrived there unwillingly.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, there were about 9 million Jews in the world. About one million of them lived in Southwest Asia and North Africa; only around 3.5 million remained in Europe. Over half of the Israeli Jewish population is descended from Southwest Asian and North African Jews. Telling Jews whose families never once stepped foot in Europe to “go back to Europe” is absolutely absurd and offensive.
“GO BACK TO…”
The phrase “go back to where you came from” is a racist and xenophobic expression first popularised by the Ku Klux Klan, though its origins date at least all the way back to the late 1700s. It became increasingly common in the aftermath of World War I and was hurled as an insult targeting Black folks, Asian folks, Latine and Hispanic folks, and Jews, among other minority groups.
The United States federal government considers the phrase “go back to where you came from” to be discriminatory in nature. More specifically, it considers it to be a xenophobic expression, as it targets people based on their nation (or perceived nation) of origin.
It’s not only absurd to tell Jews whose families never set foot in Europe to “go back to Europe,” but it’s also extremely offensive to tell Jews whose families did live in Europe to “go back to Europe.” Why?
Well, it’s like telling Jews to go back to the countries that abused us for over 1000 years.
After the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in the year 313 CE, the situation for Jews in Europe quickly became intolerable. The Romans, needing a scapegoat for the crucifixion of Jesus (because how could they blame themselves?), turned to Jews, charging them with the conspiracy theory of deicide. From then on, Jews became the convenient scapegoat, a pattern of antisemitism that continues to this day.
The church immediately passed numerous edicts targeting the Jewish population, and Jews were periodically attacked in riots and massacres. In the 5th century, the situation for Jews worsened further, with more repressive laws passed and the destruction of synagogues all throughout the Roman Empire.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, subsequent kingdoms and territories passed their own oppressive antisemitic laws and measures. Jews were banned from participating in most professions, so many turned to moneylending, as working with money was considered impure and as such was forbidden to Christians (at various times, however, Jews were also forbidden from moneylending, leaving them with no recourses to survive). In the 1200s, Jews in Europe were forced to wear distinguishing clothing, including the pointed hat that is now associated with witches.
Jews were also banned from residing in many places, expelled from many places, and confined to ghettos, all of which I will discuss in the next slides.
The earliest use of the word “ghetto” dates back to the 1500s, when it was utilised in reference to the small part of Venice where Jews were restricted to live, which segregated Jews from the non-Jewish population. Over the years, virtually every major European city had a Jewish ghetto.
Jews were confined to ghettos because they were seen as foreign outsiders (from — you guessed it! — Palestine), no matter how long their ancestors had resided in Europe.
The conditions in ghettos varied drastically. Sometimes, when the Jewish community at any given place was doing well, they were relatively affluent. Oftentimes, though, Jews lived in tremendous poverty and abysmal conditions, legally kept apart from the rest of the population.
Ghettos were usually separated from the outside world with walls, which often protected the Jews inside from pogroms (anti-Jewish massacres). Jewish historian Robert Bonfil argued that ghettos served as a middle ground between “acceptance” and murder and/or expulsion. The Jewish communities inside the ghettos generally operated using their own legal system and institutions, as Jews were not considered citizens in Europe. It wasn’t until the 19th century that ghettos in Europe were slowly dismantled (of course, this didn’t last long: by 1939, the Nazis began establishing ghettos throughout occupied Europe. These ghettos acted as a first stop on the way to concentration and extermination camps).
Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic, racial, and/or religious groups from a region with the goal to make that region ethnically homogenous.
Over the past two millennia, Jews have been expelled from nearly every corner of Europe, including France, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Russia. These expulsions were accompanied by massacres and prompted by blood libels (the conspiracy that Jews kill Christian or non-Jewish children for ritual purposes) or other conspiracies, such as the conspiracy that Jews caused the Black Death.
In Nazi-occupied Europe, the Nazi genocide of Jews was accompanied by acts of ethnic cleansing, from Greece to the Netherlands and everywhere in between.
Perhaps the most well-known act of Jewish ethnic cleansing in Europe is the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497, respectively, which decimated the once flourishing Sephardic communities of the Iberian peninsula.
The last ethnic cleansing of Jews in Europe took place just 54 years ago, when most of the remaining Jews of Poland were stripped of their citizenship and forced to flee in 1968.
Over the past two millennia, the Jews of Europe were systemically massacred; sometimes, these massacres, also known as pogroms, reached genocidal levels. For example, between 1917-1923, during the Russian Civil War, between 50,000-200,000 Jews were murdered in the former Russian Empire. These massacres were often sponsored or spurred on by the local governments and were incredibly brutal in nature, including body mutilation, sexual assault, various forms of public humiliation, and more.
Some of the worst antisemitic massacres in Europe took place during the Crusades, as crusaders traveled en route to Palestine and encountered the various Jewish communities scattered throughout Europe. The first recorded Crusader pogrom is the 1096 Mainz pogrom, when at least 600 Jews were killed. Most significantly, the Jewish communities of Central Europe (i.e. Ashkenazi Jews) were completely decimated during this period, prompting many survivors to flee to the then more tolerant Eastern Europe.
Pogroms were almost always prompted by blood libels. Other conspiracies, such as the conspiracy that Jews caused the Black Death, also led to the mass murder of Jews. For example, in response to the Black Death conspiracy, 2000 Jews were burnt alive on February 14, 1349 in Strasbourg. By 1351, 210 Jewish communities in Europe had been completely exterminated.
The last government-sponsored pogrom in Europe took place in Kielce, Poland, in 1946. However, antisemitic massacres in Europe are hardly a thing of the past. For instance, 7 people were killed when an Islamist (which is not the same thing as Muslim!) terrorist attacked a Jewish school in France in 2012.
In just 6 short years, the Nazis and their collaborators wiped out nearly 64% of Europe’s Jewish population. In countries such as Poland and Lithuania, over 90% of Jews were murdered.
But the end of the Holocaust and World War II in 1945 hardly ended the plight of the Jews in Europe. Virtually every country in the world — including the United States and Palestine under the British, at the behest of the Arab Higher Committee — banned Jewish refugees. As such, some 250,000 Jewish survivors were held in Displaced Persons camps. These camps were often just repurposed concentration camps that the Allies turned into refugee camps, such as Bergen-Belsen.
When Jewish survivors tried to return to their old homes, particularly in Eastern Europe, they were brutally killed by their former neighbors. Between the end of WWII in 1945 and the end of 1946, Poles murdered about 2000 Jewish Holocaust survivors.
The first post-Holocaust pogrom took place in Krakow in August of 1945. Pogroms then spread to 11 other Polish cities and to cities in Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia. The most notable post-Holocaust pogrom is the Kielce pogrom in 1946, when 42 Jewish Holocaust refugees were massacred as the result of another blood libel. A survivor stated: “I would like to mention that as a former prisoner of concentration camps I had not gone through an experience like this. I have seen very little sadism and bestiality of this scale.”
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