Essay on Jews and Society: Social Anti-Semitism

Essay on Jews and Society: Social Anti-Semitism

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In Hanna Arendt’s “Jews and Society”, she argues that the existence of anti-Semitism in Germany, prior to the rise of Hitler and after the defeat in World War I, was not solely the result of political pressure exerted by the Nazi party and its accomplices; but instead the result of a social construction of what it meant to be Jewish. This social anti-Semitism was present long before Hitler came into power and instituted his radical and merciless ideas about dealing with Jews in Europe. The difference between what Arendt saw as harmless social discrimination and the mass extermination of a cultural group was the involvement of politics in mediating these cultural biases. As a result of the division in Germany between Jews and non-Jew Germans, Arendt’s figures of the “Pariah and “Parvenu” were a reaction to the way of thinking that confused Jewish individualism with preconceived connotations. Although stereotypes are still present in every society, to Arendt they are harmless without political interference. Terror and unforeseen events occur when political discrimination, or political anti-Semitism in this case, interfere to achieve a defined goal. Nazi Germany is a prime example where “natural” combined with “political” anti-Semitism escalated the problem to the point where the Holocaust became possible.

Even before Hitler came into power in 1933, there was a tension in Germany that distinguished Germans and Jews disregarding their citizenship. There were perceived characteristics, both physically and mentally, that defined it meant to be Jewish. According to the Arendt, German society judged any Jew to have certain mannerism, thought, malice and behavior that were different, and to an extent inferior, to their own. Arendt ex...


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...s, beliefs and tendencies toward social structure. Personally, Arendt claims that this reality of being different than “real” Germans never “made [her] feel inferior, [and] that was just how it was”(PHA, 8). She explains that members in her family and to an extent Jews in general felt the same manner. However, an inferiority complex was developed among Jews, and especially in Arendt’s case as a result of being the “other”. This conclusion is based on the division that she makes within her “own” people by classifying them into two groups: Pariahs and Parvenus. Connecting to her expressed beliefs, she was also discriminating the Jews into another determined and preconceived group. This shows that not only were Nazis able to put stereotypes on Jews; they were also doing the same to themselves which was, according to Arendt, a natural consequence of society living.


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