Trigger Warning: This article mentions antisemitism, genocide, and the Holocaust. Please take care when reading.
May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of Jewish Americans throughout centuries of United States history. This should be a time for Jewish Americans to be proud of their heritage and non-Jewish Americans to learn about and appreciate Jewish culture.
However, the present tumultuous sociopolitical climate in the United States in the wake of the pandemic also features an increase in antisemitism, a millennia-old prejudice based on discrimination against Jewish individuals. These deplorable sentiments historically led to institutionalized discrimination, violence, and even genocide. Despite vowing to never repeat the horrors of the Holocaust, it seems some are intent on renewing some of the worst atrocities in world history.
As a non-Jewish person with limited interaction with the Jewish American community, I wanted to learn more about the history of antisemitism and how it presents today to have a more informed understanding of the nuance of this issue. If you would like to conduct some research on your own to better understand and fight antisemitism, here are five books that offer unique perspectives and analyses on the history of antisemitism.
Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll
Part history, part memoir, this 2001 book was written by former Catholic Priest James Carroll and details how antisemitism has in many ways been endorsed by the Christian Church over time. From the time Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire to Hitler’s rise to power, Carroll connects these historical events with a thread of antisemitism and details his own crisis of faith after learning this information. While this read is geared toward an audience familiar with the tenets of Christianity, it is still a brutally honest and thought-provoking look at how some of the largest historical perpetrators of Jewish hate were members of a religion that preaches love and inclusivity.
In this essay collection published in 2021, renowned author Dara Horn reflects on the notion that whenever she is asked to write on themes adjacent to Jewish culture in the wake of antisemitic attacks, she is always asked to write about dead Jewish people, never living ones. Through her research, Horn writes on topics ranging from “the veneration of Anne Frank, the blockbuster traveling exhibition Auschwitz, and the mythology that Jewish names were changed at Ellis Island.”
Horn also details scenes from her own life, from attempting to explain Shylock from The Merchant of Venice to a ten-year-old to her anger at the swastikas being drawn on the desks at her children’s school. By doing so, she creates a biting, insightful, and complex commentary on the connection between ignoring the presence of real, living Jewish people and the rise in antisemitism.
Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt
Told through a series of letters between a fictional Jewish student and a fictional non-Jewish colleague, this 2018 read discusses antisemitism as it appears today. Lipstadt takes special notice of how white nationalism and the rise of white supremacy in the United States have led to an increase in antisemitism reminiscent of Nazi Germany and analyzes potential contributing factors to this disturbing trend. Thoroughly researched and arguably controversial, Lipstadt’s book won the 2019 National Jewish Book Award and is sure to offer readers ideas on how to combat antisemitism today.
Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius
For those looking for an in-depth history lesson, this 2010 read by British lawyer and academic Anthony Julius is over 800 pages long. A complete history of antisemitism in England, Julius details everything from King Edward I’s expulsion of Jewish people in 1290 to the rise of Anti-Zionist thought in the late twentieth century. Trials of the Diaspora is an objectively written and comprehensive account that will surely inspire debate and conversation around the issue.
The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945 by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
Arguably one of the most mandatory reads in this genre is Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s comprehensive account of one of the worst times in Jewish history. Alternately chilling, immersive, and gut-punching, this 1975 book depicts the moral degeneration of a nation through the planning, execution, and eventual end of the Jewish Holocaust. While I would recommend reading the content warnings before diving in, Dawidowicz’s book offers a complete understanding of this genocide as a reminder to never do this again.
Whether you identify as Jewish or non-Jewish, it is important for everyone to have an understanding of antisemitism and how those in power can influence the masses to reflect their own prejudice. However, once you understand where antisemitism comes from and how it remains prevalent, you must be willing to fight this flawed ideology until it truly becomes a relic of the past. After all, regardless of color or creed, every human is entitled to live a life that brings them peace and joy.
For more book recommendations on Jewish History, click here!
FEATURED IMAGE VIA TEDxSkoll.