As part of a speaker’s series called “A History of Anti-Semitism” for the traveling Anne Frank exhibit hosted at Dent Middle School, Dr. Frederica Kaufman Clementi, presented a comprehensive narrative of Jewish oppression in order to understand how Germany arrived at the Holocaust. The assistant professor of Jewish Studies at the University of South Carolina led a discussion about the treatment of Jews in Europe as far back as the 1400s.
According to Clementi, much of the backlash toward Jews originated with the Christian fervor that swept the whole of Europe centuries before. The Church of Rome was the antithesis of Judaism and Jewish people. There was a distrust of the Jewish presence because of the Christian perspective that Jews were the ones who killed Jesus and would not accept him as Messiah.
As such, Clementi explained, Jews were treated differently. This included wearing distinctive badges, hats or other apparel (often yellow in color), paying special taxes, remitting the debt of Christians, being forcibly converted and being confined to ghettos.
This type of discrimination was readily repeated during the Nazi occupation.
“The Nazi Germans brought it to perfection,” she said.
The Holocaust was nothing new, but rather an extreme form of racial hatred that lead to the genocide of millions of people, Clementi said.
Clementi also reminded the audience that Germany was suffering an post-World War I economic crisis. Old empires began to die out, and a rise in new ideologies like right-wing fascism and left-wing communism took hold. All of this coalesced to bring about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
What is most important to understand about the Holocaust, according to Clementi, is that it is important to understand why this part of history must be taught again and again. For Clementi, it maintains ethical awareness in society.
“It’s very easy to identify with the victims,” she said.
Clementi reminded the audience that those who supported the Nazis did not start out evil.
“The Nazis were not aliens from another planet,” she said. “They were good fathers, good mothers, neighbors, that did it.”
More importantly, she said, it’s better for people to grasp that if one human is capable of committing the type of atrocities like those during the Holocaust, then all people have the ability to engage in similar behavior.
“We must learn not to hate,” Clementi said.