Modern antisemitism

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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.


  • Why might Jews have been given more freedoms during the Enlightenment?
  • Why might these new ideas not have filtered through to Eastern Europe?
  • Why might many people have felt resentment towards successful Jews during the 19th century?
  • How might writers such as Wilhelm Marr have affected people’s behaviour towards Jews?

How did antisemitism develop?

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 had 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.


The growth of nation states in the nineteenth century developed the idea of nationalism where people identified within their own group or tribe. 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. They saw themselves as citizens of the countries in which the lived. However, many people felt insecure and some felt that the Jews were still outsiders. This led to resentment of those Jews who were successful.

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.