Essay on The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith

Essay on The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith

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Anti-Semitism is the hatred and discrimination of those with a Jewish heritage. It is generally connected to the Holocaust, but the book by Helmut Walser Smith, The Butcher’s Tale shows the rise of anti-Semitism from a grassroots effect. Smith uses newspapers, court orders, and written accounts to write the history and growth of anti-Semitism in a small German town. The book focuses on how anti-Semitism was spread by fear mongering, the conflict between classes, and also the role of the government.

In March 11, 1900 in a German town called Konitz the severed body parts of a human were discovered. Almost immediately, the blame fell on the Jewish. As Smith points out, anti-Semitism had been on a steady decline, and the anti-Semitics were looking for ways to revitalize the movement. The murder was an opportunity for anti-Semitics revive their movement. After the identity of the body was discovered to be Ernst Winter, the Staatsburgerzeitung, an anti-Semitic newspaper, printed several articles focusing on Konitz. Using unverified accounts from people in the town, it claimed that the murder was a ritual murder that had been carried out by the Jewish. The use of fear mongering was affective because the paper was a Berlin based paper so distribution was wide, and news of the murder traveled far. A crucial facet of the rise of anti-Semitism was due to anti-Semitic newspapers taking stories such as the Ernst Winter murder and using them to promote their cause. One of Smith’s sources, the Preuβische Jahrbṻcher, had a printed article written by Heinrich von Treitschke who was an historian; in which one of his quotes was “The Jews are our misfortune.” His article was what later spurred the German population’s turn from liberalism a...


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...Wolf Israelski. The use of sources like the Staatsburgerzeitung gives a unique perspective because they were reporting as soon as these events happen. They offer the direct opinion of the public and were firsthand accounts.
In conclusion, aided by the newspapers that were able to deliver news across the country, the anti-Semitism movement grew. It was largely from a grass-root effect that gained momentum from small towns and spread across the nation. While the government did play a role, they for the most part only responded to what was happening instead of instigating it. The Butcher’s Tale is unique because it shows the bottom up of effect of anti-Semitism versus the later top-down affect that causes what is today known as the Holocaust.


Bibliography

Smith, Helmut Walser. The Butcher’s Tale. New York & London: Norton W.W. Norton & Company. 2002.


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