Besides capitalizing on the ancient belief that the Jews of all time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, the Nazis capitalized on an equally crazy centuries-old belief that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children to obtain their blood for use in making matzoh. This crazy belief is called the blood libel.
The blood libel was not just crazy talk among uneducated people. Courts of law actually tried cases in which Jewish individuals were accused of killing particular Christian children to use their blood in matzoh! An example of this occurred in the early 1900s in Russia with the Beilis Trial, described to us by our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez. A Jewish Ukrainian factory superintendent named Menahem Mendel Beilis was tried in court for killing a Christian boy in order to use his blood in making matzoh. Beilis was found not guilty; the boy had been killed by a criminal gang who were at enmity with his family. However, Professor Kenez explained, the records state that, while this one individual Beilis had been found not guilty of this one particular crime, it was nonetheless well-known that Jews do indeed murder Christian children to use their blood in matzoh. One must go back to the witch trials of the Inquisition, where women were tried in law courts for the crime of killing their neighbors’ cattle by casting an evil spell, to find comparable nonsense.
With courts of law seriously trying blood libel cases, it is sadly not amazing that Nechama Tec, an eleven-year-old Jewish girl in Poland during World War II, encountered this belief among her neighborhood friends. Tec was passing as a Christian in a distant Polish town during the war; a Christian family had agreed that she could live with them as their orphaned niece. On page 144 of her memoir Dry Tears, Tec tells of her distress at hearing a neighborhood friend express belief in the blood libel. Tec asked her friend this very sensible question: “Have you seen it happen?” Her friend replied, “How strange, Krysia [Tec’s Christian name], that you should ask such a thing. Everybody knows Jews do that, but they’re smart, they do it secretly! So how could I have seen such a thing?” Sadly, Tec’s friend was a thirteen-year-old Christian Polish girl who believed the blood libel—and who refused to be dissuaded, even when Tec pointed out that no one had ever seen it happen. Clearly, this girl was parroting a widespread belief that she had heard from her elders.
The Nazis, then, capitalized on two crazy but widespread beliefs among Christian Europeans in the first half of the 20th Century, beliefs that had been passed down through centuries: the belief that all Jews everywhere and throughout time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, and the belief that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in making matzoh.
These beliefs served to demonize the Jews. In fact, Nazi propaganda equated the Jews with the devil. Yehuda Bauer, on page 89 of A History of the Holocaust, explains that traditional pseudo-religious beliefs had held that the Jews were possessed by the devil, but that under the Nazis, the Jews were the devil himself. Anyone who would kill God in the person of Jesus Christ could hardly be considered human. And anyone who would kill a child to make matzoh was definitely not human, was indeed the devil incarnate. The devil had to be eliminated. The devil was the Jew.
My next post will look at the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific beliefs about the Jews.