Judaism and Anti-Semitism

On November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass"—the Nazis unleashed violence throughout the Reich. Mobs looted and burned Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. They murdered about 100 Jews; and the Nazis sent 30,000 men to concentration camps, where hundreds died. Kristallnacht marked a turn to the large-scale terror and violence of the Holocaust.

Germans pass window of a Jewish-owned business destroyed during Kristallnacht.

USHMM, courtesy National Archives, photo no. 86838

European Jews

Judaism is one of the world's oldest religions. Its fundamental belief is that one God created the universe. Christianity is rooted in Jewish belief and shares its scriptures, known as the Old Testament.

For 2,000 years, Jews lived in Europe, where 9.5 million had homes before World War II. In some areas, Jews lived separately; in others, they assimilated into local communities.

This map of pre-war Europe shows the location of Jewish populations.

Members of the Hermans and Meyer families gather in Germany, 1928. Only Henrietta and Sol Meyer survived the Holocaust by emigrating to the U.S. in 1939.

USHMM, courtesy Kurt & Jill Berg Pauli

The sanctuary of the synagogue in Buttenwiesen, Germany, decorated with evergreens for the winter season, between 1925 and 1938.

USHMM, courtesy Steven Frank

From Anti-Semitism to Genocide

For centuries, Christian writers falsely branded "the Jew" as a threat to society and killer of Christ. Social and religious differences made Jews a target of persecution. Governments used anti-Semitism as a means of deflecting anger from themselves.

Nazi anti-Semitism went further. It labeled Jews inferior and demanded their complete destruction. By war's end, nearly two-thirds of Europe's Jews were dead.

Members of a Jewish soccer team, Bitola, Macedonia, August 14, 1928

USHMM, courtesy Gabriel Albocher

Jews from the Lodz ghetto in Poland are loaded onto freight trains for deportation to the Chelmno death camp, c. 1943.

USHMM, courtesy National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia