Jewish parasite

German propaganda antisemitic poster, written in polish language. Says: "JEWS-LOUSE SPOTTED-TYPHUS", hanged out on polish streets in 1942, German-occupied Poland

The "Jewish parasite" is an antisemitic stereotype that dates back to the time of the Enlightenment. It is based on the idea that the Jews of the diaspora are incapable of forming their own states and would therefore parasitically attack and exploit states and peoples - which are biologically imagined as organisms or "peoples bodies". The stereotype is often associated with the accusation of usury and the separation of "creative", i.e. productive, and "raffling", non-productive (financial) capital (see "High Finance"). The stereotype is closely linked to the conspiracy theory of a "world Jewry". In the period of National Socialism, it served to legitimize the persecution of Jews up to the Holocaust.

Some representatives of Zionism also took up the motif in a changed orientation. They regarded a "parasitic" way of life in other cultures as an inevitable consequence of the diaspora and contrasted it with the establishment of a Jewish state as an ideal.

From Enlightenment to "Vormärz"

Herder. Portrait of Gerhard von Kügelgen (1806)

The earliest evidence of the idea of a "Jewish parasite" can be found in the 18th century. Precursors could be found, as suspected by the German-Israeli historian Alexander Bein, in the medieval notion of the "usurious Jew" who would suck the blood out of the people and the ritual murder legend according to which Jews would use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. In addition - for instance in Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings - the idea can be proven that Jews are only guests in Europe, that Christians are their hosts, from which later the idea of the host people afflicted by parasites developed.[1] The French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) explicitly denied the Jews the ability to achieve their own cultural achievements and to achieve lasting statehood: as evidence he cited the construction of the first temple, for which Solomon with Hiram of Tyre had had to engage craftsmen from Lebanon, and the double exile (first the Babylonian Exile after 597 BC and then the Diaspora after the expulsion by the Romans in 135 AD). The entire Torah would have been parasitically borrowed from ancient Oriental sources.[2][3]

The German theologian and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), an important representative of Weimar Classicism, wrote in the third part of his ideas on the philosophy of the history of mankind in 1791:

"The people of God, to whom heaven itself once gave its fatherland, has been a parasitic plant on the tribes of other nations for millennia, almost since its creation; a race of clever negotiators almost all over the world who, despite all oppression, long nowhere for their own honour and home, nowhere for a fatherland".

— Johann Gottfried Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit. Dritter Teil. Zwölftes Buch. III. Hebräer

A very similar passage can also be found in the fourth part.[4] Since Herder, an outstanding expert of the Old Testament and ancient Judaism, is considered a philosopher of the Enlightenment,[5] the interpretation of these passages is controversial: According to the anti-Semitism researcher Léon Poliakov, Herder "anticipated the statements of the racists of future generations".[6] The German literary scholar Klaus L. Berghahn believes that Herder's sympathy was only for ancient Judaism: On the other hand he had, opposed the Jews their presence.[7] The Polish Germanist Emil Adler, on the other hand, considers it possible - also in view of the positive remarks on Judaism a few pages before or after - that Herder only wanted to set an "apologetic counterweight": Also in other places of the ideas he had contrasted critical enlightenment formulations with conservative Orthodox thoughts and therefore weakened them in order not to endanger his position as General Superintendent of the Lutheran Church in Weimar.[8] The Germanist Arndt Kremer points out that such language images in the 18th century were "not yet per se instrumentalized for anti-Semitic purposes". He contrasts them with Herder's argumentation that the alleged misdemeanours of Judaism could be explained by the anti-Jewish legislation of his time, which he described as "barbaric": "No völkisch anti-Semite of later times would argue like this".[9]

In 1804, the reviewer of an anti-Jewish work by the German Enlightenment writer Friedrich Buchholz (1768-1843) picked up on the metaphor of the Jew in the Neue allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek as "a parasitic plant that incessantly clings to a noble bush, nourishes itself from the juice".[10] In 1834, the metaphor was directed against Jewish emancipation in an article in the journal Der Canonische Wächter: The Jews would be “a true plague of the peoples parasitically surround them”.[11] In his polemic against Jewish emancipation, the Protestant pastor Robert Haas expressed which parasitic plant was concretely meant by this in his polemic:[12]

"According to this the Jews are a true mistletoe plant on the tree of the state, and only to the extent that it ensures that every impurity is swept away from it and every usurious plant is removed, will the tree thrive more gloriously and bear fruit rich in blessings".

— Robert Haas

Left Anti-Semitism in the 19th Century

Fourier. Lithograph by Charles Baugniet (1848)

The idea of social parasitism - in the figurative sense - has long been present in socialism. It was adopted from the physiocracy of the 18th century, which called urban merchants and manufactory owners "class stérile" in contrast to the supposedly only productive farmers.[13] The French early socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837), for example, described the majority of all servants, women and children as "domestic parasites", to whom he added the "social parasites", namely merchants and sailors. To these "anti-productive" populations Fourier also counted the Jews.[14] In his 1846 work Les Juifs, rois de l'époque : histoire de la féodalité financière, his pupil Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885) defined "the despised name of the Jew" as "any money dealer, any unproductive parasite who lives from the substance and work of others. For me, Jews, usurers, and money dealers are synonyms".[15][16]

The early socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) pointed to Fourier's anti-Semitism and charged him with further stereotypes. He therefore accused the Jews of crucifying Jesus Christ, of founding the Roman Catholic Church which was rejected by Proudhon, of striving for world domination and of being a "human race" that could not be assimilated. He relied here on the philosopher of religion Ernest Renan (1823-1893), who held the view that the Hebrew language was incapable of abstract conceptualization and therefore of metaphysics. All in all, Proudhon saw the Jews as symbols of capitalism, which he criticized. He wrote in 1860:

"The Jew remains a Jew, a parasite race, enemy of work, who indulges in all the customs of anarchic and lying trade, stock exchange speculation and profiteering. All trade is in the hands of the Jews; rather than the kings or the emperors, they are the sovereigns of the time".

— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Sa vie et sa pensée, 1809–1849.

From this he concluded in 1847 that the Jews would either have to be expelled to Asia or destroyed.[17]

The French socialist Albert Regnard (1836-1903) saw parallels in 1890 between the antinomies of the capitalist and the proletarian on the one hand and the Jew and the Aryan on the other.[18] The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) called the Jews "an exploitative sect, a people of leeches, a single-eating parasite" in 1871.[19] They were commanded either by Karl Marx or by the Rothschilds, who equally despised by Bakunin. According to the political scientist Klaus von Beyme, this shows that Bakunin's anti-Semitism was not racially motivated, but anti-capitalistic.[20]

While the British Chartist movement in general supported the Jewish demand for equality, the situation was different in terms of its economic role. Jews were denounced by Chartists as parasites and embodiments of exploitation, who would join forces with other enemies of the working class.[21]

Right-wing anti-Semitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries

In the right-wing political spectrum, the stereotype of the "Jewish parasite" was much more widespread than in the rest of the political spectrum. The political right-wing used the stereotype with a racist rather than an anti-capitalist thrust, although both motives were present. Each time it had the function of dressing ones own anti-Semitic suspicions in a scientific and therefore apparently objective concept. The German-language journalist Osman Bey wrote in 1873 in his conspiracy-theoretical work The Conquest of the World by the Jews that Jews were "largely unproductive parasites".[22] When more and more Jews fled from Eastern Europe to Germany and Austria in the 1880s, the depiction of the Jewish parasite and disease vector became the topos of anti-Semitic literature.[23] In 1881, in his social Darwinian work Bau und Leben des sozialen Körpers, the German national economist Albert Schäffle unfolded the concept of the "social parasite", who took advantage of the labor and wealth of his "host" without contributing anything to it himself. As a particularly dangerous part of this social parasitism, he described the "proliferating" Jews as active in the credit System.[24] The meaning of the metaphor changed with the idea of a "peoples body", into which the Jewish parasite penetrated in order to harm him. If originally meanings from botany were added to it (as with Herder), it was increasingly associated with zoology or infectiology: Now one had to imagine leeches, lice, viruses or even vampires under "Jewish parasites", which would have to be fought ruthlessly.[25][26]

Adolf Stoecker. Photography (ca. 1890)

The domestic chaplain Adolf Stoecker (1835-1909) - founder of the Christian Social Workers' Party – wanted, in a 1880 debate in the Prussian House of Representatives only to grant the Jews a "parasitic existence" in Christian Europe and compared it with "leeches". In the following period he even considered a racial struggle and the use of force.[27][28]

The German national economist Eugen Dühring (1833-1921) wrote in his 1881 work, Die Judenfrage als Racen-, Sitten- und Culturfrage (The Jewish Question as a Question of Races, Morals and Culture) that Jewish parasites would feel particularly at home in an "already corrupted peoples body". The power of this "inner Carthago" would have to break the modern populous. In the posthumously published 6th edition of 1930, he pointed out this statement even further and called for a war against the Jews:


"It is to be estimated, however, that the right of war, especially of a war against the anti-Aryan, even anti-human attacks of foreign parasites, must be different from that of peace".

Theodor Lessing referred to a statement by Dühring according to which Nordic people were obliged "to exterminate the parasitic races, as we exterminate threatening poisonous snakes and wild predators."[29] The librarian and folk song researcher Otto Böckel (1859-1923), who sat in the Reichstag for the German Reform Party from 1887 to 1903, publicly stigmatized Jewish traders as "Jewish parasites" who had "eaten themselves into the German being".[30]

In a similar way, the German Orientalist Paul de Lagarde (1827-1891) called in 1887 for a "surgical intervention" to remove the "mass of pus" that would have accumulated in Europe as a result of the infestation with Jewish parasites: "Trichinae and bacilli are not negotiated with, nor are trichinae and bacilli educated, they are destroyed as quickly and thoroughly as possible". Whether Lagarde was thinking of a physical extermination of the Jews is controversial in research. In Alexander Bein's view, however, these are all still biologistic comparisons and metaphors: Lagarde had not yet spoken out in favour of the extermination of the Jews, he had spoken out in pictorial language for the expropriation of the Jews.[31][32][33] Such natural metaphors were also used in the nineteenth century without anti-Semitic intentions, as for example by the ancient historian Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), who described the ancient Jews as the "ferment of decomposition", that the formation of larger state entities beyond ethnic boundaries have allowed.[34] The Austrian political scientist Michael Ley, on the other hand, assumes that Lagarde strived for the annihilation of Jews; for him, it was in the sense of a redemption anti-Semitism "a necessary step on the way of salvation of the German people".[35]

Oswald Spengler (undated photography)

According to Bein, the change from metaphor to a real-naturalistic understanding of these terms did not take place until the 20th century, when the German cultural philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), for example, used natural terms such as "growth", "withering" or "decay" to describe states, peoples and cultures in his main work The Decline of the West. He described Judaism as a "decomposing element" which had a destructive effect "wherever it intervenes". Jews were incapable of adapting to Western civilization and constituted a foreign body in Europe.[36][37] The repeated use of the term host people with reference to the nations in which Jews live suggests the idea that they are parasites, although Spengler himself dido not use the term.[38] The journalist Theodor Fritsch (1852-1933), in his Handbuch der Judenfrage (Handbook of the Jewish Question), first published in 1907, painted the stereotype of the "Jewish parasite", who would endanger the life of his "host people" if he was not expelled.[39] By insinuating that the alleged parasitic Jew was Mimicry in a further biologistic metaphor, he contributed to the fact that the hatred of the Jews was subsequently and also precisely directed against assimilated Jews.[40]

Artur Dinter. Photography by Christian Beitz (before 1935)

A variant of anti-Semitic parasitology was offered by the völkisch writer Artur Dinter, who in 1917 developed the so-called impregnation theory in his novel Die Sünde gegen das Blut (The Sin Against the Blood), according to which Jews were also "pests on the German body of the people", meaning non-Jewish women who had once been pregnant by a Jew were no longer able to "give birth to children of their own race", even with a non-Jewish partner.[41] This theory was later taken up and further developed by the Nazis and played an important role in the discussions that preceded the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws.[42]

The stereotype was also disseminated in other countries. In France, for example, the journalist Édouard Drumont (1844-1917) claimed in his conspiracy-theoretical work La France Juive, published in 1886, that the "Jewish parasite" spread infectious diseases among the Aryan, "noble races" against which he himself was immune, since "the chronic plague [him] inherent in him protected him from any acute infection".[43] Unlike those Jews were not capable of creative achievements. Therefore they could survive only as parasites, namely as bankers and usurers who would weaken the French more and more. Drumont proposed an aryanization of Jewish property as the solution.[44]

In 1937, the anti-Semitic writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1864-1961), in his Bagatelles pour un massacre, published in Germany in 1938 under the title Die Judenverschwörung in Frankreich (The Jewish Conspiracy in France), took up the accusations of the early Socialists and denounced "the Jew" as "the most intransigent, most voracious, most corrosive parasite". He expanded the metaphor by equating it with a cuckoo, a breeding parasite that does not build its own nests, but hatches its young from other birds, raises them, and lets their young die.[45][46]

The stereotype was also widespread in the Russian Empire and served to justify acts of violence against Jews. During the expulsion of the Jews from Moscow in 1891, Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, a close advisor to Tsar Alexander III, to an English guest, declared:

"The Jew is a parasite. Remove him from the living organism in and on which he lives, and place this parasite on a rock - and he will die".

— Konstantin Pobedonostsev, 1891[47]

Around 1900, the journalist Pavel Alexandrovich Krushevan (1860-1909), a member of the Black Hundreds, regularly riotted against the Jews in the magazine Bessarabetz, calling them "bloodsuckers, fraudsters, parasites and exploiters of the Christian population". Against this background, an unsolved murder case, which he described as a Jewish ritual murder, led to a pogrom in Chișinău in March 1903, in which about 46 Jews were killed.[48]

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