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From Egypt to Treblinka

By Gabriel Wilensky, author of the book, "Six Million
Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the
Road to the Holocaust."

These days Jews around the world not only celebrate their
liberation from the ancient Egyptian yoke, they also
celebrate Iom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date
was chosen to commemorate the revolt at  the Warsaw Ghetto,
an event in which -- just like in the past -- a handful of Jews
dared confront the all-powerful pharaoh. But the story of
our brothers in the ghetto did not have a happy ending:
neither did the Red Sea open so that the pursued could
escape, nor were their enemies  smitten by divine hand.
Instead, the few survivors from the hell that was the ghetto
ended their lives in the vortex of death that was Treblinka.

The Warsaw Ghetto was one of the many ghettos the Germans
established in various European cities. The ghettos were
created with the sole purpose of keeping the Jewish
population locked in to prevent them from having contact
with their Christian neighbors. The Germans forced hundreds
of thousands of Jews to live packed in these places that
would have normally held a tenth of the population. The Jews
from the ghetto, as well as those that still lived "free" in
other cities, were forced to sew a yellow Star of David on
their clothes so that the Christians could clearly identify
them. The draconian anti-Jewish laws the Germans promulgated
in 1935, followed by similar ones in Italy in 1938 and then
in France, Slovakia, Hungary and other countries, prevented
the Jews from having sexual contact with Christians, from
holding public office or academic positions, from working in
professions such as law or medicine as well as many other
restrictions, including loss of citizenship. These laws
constituted grave human rights violations and were the first
steps in a gradual process of dehumanization of the Jews
that made the subsequent genocide possible.

Where did the Germans get all these ideas? Which
Machiavellian functionary thought of this? When the Nazis
came to power in 1933 they discovered they did not need to
invent almost anything in their persecution of the Jews,
because the Catholic Church had invented practically
everything hundreds of years before. The yellow badge in the
garments, the prohibition to hold public office, the
prohibition to have Christian employees, the burning of the
Talmud, the prohibition of living next to Christians, the
prohibition from belonging to guilds or work in industry,
the ghettos, all these violations to basic human rights of
Jews that we associate with the legislation of the Nazi
tyranny was promulgated by the Catholic Church between 400
and 700 years before the Nazis. During almost two millennia
Christians learned that Christianity had replaced Judaism,
and that Jews were evil, bent on the destruction of
Christianity and that they were killers of Jesus.

We should not be very surprised then that when Hitler came
to power he found that the population -- like him -- already
deeply hated Jews. That hatred had been planted and
cultivated by Christianity since practically the beginning
of the Christian movement in the first century of the Common
Era. A verbal hatred that began as an intra-Jewish fraternal
fight, with time and the distancing of the Early Christians
from mainstream Judaism (as Christianity gained traction
among the pagan peoples of the Roman Empire) it transformed
itself in violent, visceral and irrational hatred. The
Christian movement accused Jews of killing Jesus and of
rejecting his messianic mission. As a consequence, the Early
Christians developed the concept of supersessionism in which
Judaism was relegated to second plane as Christianity was
replacing it. Christians believed at this time that God
considered Christians the "New Israel" and the new "Chosen
People". They began calling the Christian Bible the "New"
Testament" and the Hebrew Bible the "Old" Testament, once
again suggesting that the Jewish religion had become
superfluous. Despite oppression and hardship however, the
Jews did not disappear. That and that they refused to accept
Jesus as the Messiah led to an increase of Christian hatred
toward Jews. The Church Fathers, whose writings make up the
foundation of Christianity as we know it today, wrote things
comparable to the things the Nazis wrote about Jews. As St.
Ambrose, known as the "Bishop with the Golden Tongue" said
in 374 CE,

"The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are
lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers
of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a
sickness. The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and
for killing God there is no expiation possible, no
indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance,
and the Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated
the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them."[1]

Saint John Chrysostom, bishop of Antioch, was not that much
better just a few years later:

"Where Christ-killers gather, the cross is ridiculed, God
blasphemed, the father unacknowledged, the son insulted, the
grace of the Spirit rejected. . . . If the Jewish rites are
holy and venerable, our way of life must be false. But if
our way is true, as indeed it is, theirs is fraudulent. I am
not speaking of the Scriptures. Far from it! For they lead
one to Christ. I am speaking of their present impiety and

During the Middle Ages Christians began associating Jews
with the Devil. This association was a natural one to make
for a population already used to reading in the Gospels
things like "You belong to your father, the devil, and you
want to carry out your father's desire." Christian thinkers
asked themselves what kind of creature would reject the
Truth and kill God, and concluded that only an inhuman agent
of Satan could act that way. The descending spiral led the
Christian people of Europe, most of whom had never even seen
a Jew, to form a fantastic conception of them that had no
basis in reality.

The French Revolution brought about the Emancipation of the
Jews, who quickly left the ghettos and in large part
assimilated to the Christian population of the cities to
which they moved. The Enlightenment transformed the
Christian theological anti-Judaism into something modern,
secular and pseudo-scientific, sine qua non prerequisites
for a population that was rapidly adopting a modern
worldview detached from the yoke of their religion. It's in
this cultural surroundings that antisemitism was transformed
into something racial, and it's in the 19th and 20th
centuries that the old accusations of deicide, of poisoning
wells, of bringing about the Black Death, of killing
Christian boys to extract their blood to make matzah and
many other baseless accusations were transformed into modern
accusations in which Jews were blamed for Germany losing
WWI, of creating and fomenting revolutions, of modernism, of
Capitalism, of Communism, of inflation, of unemployment, and
many more.

The Nazis inherited this conception of the Jew. Hitler was
raised as a Catholic and imbibed the traditional anti-Jewish
teachings in Christianity, and he took maximum advantage of
them to promote his agenda. As he told two German Catholic
bishops in 1933:

"The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for
fifteen hundred years, put them into ghettos, etc., because
it recognized the Jews for what they were. . . . I am moving
back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long
tradition was implemented. . . . I recognize the
representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and
for the church and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a
great service for pushing them out of schools and public

                       Works Cited

1. Runes, Dagobert David, "The Jew and the Cross," p. 61. New
York: Philosophical Library, 1965

2. Quoted in Goldhagen, Daniel J., "Hitler's Willing
Executioners," p. 50. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996

3. "Akten deutscher Bischöfe," vol. 1, pp. 100-102.
Quoted in Friedländer, Saul, "Nazi Germany  and the
Jews," p. 47. New York: HarperCollins, 1997

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