The antipathies of Poles, Germans, Russians and others against Jews are often explained as if they were religiously based in the patristic and medieval manner. From the early 19th century on, however, anti-Jewish sentiment of Catholic and Protestant Europe, itself increasingly secularized, had other roots no less mythical. The proper term for it is anti-Semitism. Its target was Jewish ethnicity. It was primarily politically and economically motivated. Demagogues, however, were only too happy to put the ancient Christian rhetoric of anti-Judaism in its service.
Germany was populated with more Jews than any country in Western Europe when Hitler came to power. It also had the same ugly heritage of anti-Jewish sentiment as all Christian Europe. The short-lived Weimar Republic could not deliver Germany from the severe economic hardships it experienced after World War I. Jews had been the Republic’s strong supporters and a few of them were the architects of its constitution, a fact that Hitler capitalized upon. Huge inflation in 1923 and the depression of 1929 increased Germany’s problems. Some leading capitalist families, gentile and Jewish, managed to escape these problems, but the eyes of the angry populace were trained on the Jews rather than the gentiles.