Modern antisemitism

A French antisemitic caricature portraying Jews taking over the world. The caricature represents the Rothschild Jewish banking family
© 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

The development of science and technology during the period we now know as the Enlightenment challenged previously held views and attitudes. These new ideas brought with them a greater tolerance and sensitivity towards others. Jews were given more rights and freedoms during this period.

The French Revolution in 1789 was a break from past ideas and the 40,000 Jews of France were granted rights. As the French conquered much of Europe, the idea of giving rights to Jews spread. However, these modern ideas did not filter through to the powers governing Eastern Europe and therefore had little impact on the Jewish communities there.

During the 17th and 18th centuries scientists tried to organise their knowledge of the natural world. Explorers from Europe discovered very different groups of peoples and cultures around the world. However, by the 19th century race theorists began to misuse the ideas developed by these explorers and apply them to human beings.

Having been previously been excluded from mainstream European life for centuries, during the 19th century Jews began to be allowed to take part in modern society. However, many people felt insecure and some felt that the Jews were still outsiders. This led to resentment of those Jews who were successful.

In 1879 a German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, first used the term ‘antisemite’ to describe people who hated Jews. He argued that everything that was wrong in Europe was wrong because of the Jews.

By the end of the 19th century, an increase in anti-Jewish feeling was evident in France and Germany. Anti-Jewish riots in Russia and Poland also led to a great westwards migration of Jews from those countries.


This section charts the course and development of Jewish persecution from the anti-Judaism in the 15th century through to the advent of antisemitism during the 19th century.