Before the final solution

Before the Final Solution: Toward a Comparative Analysis of Political Anti-Semitism in Interwar Germany and Poland: by William W Hagen

 

William Hagen, in Before the Final Solution, compares the anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland between the world wars because he felt that historical literature offered no comparison.  Hagen’s argument is that both anti-Semitic movements had “common features deriving from their embeddedness in comparable patterns of socio-economic development.  In other words, Hagen believes that the anti-Semitism in both states was motivated by economic concerns.  This essay successfully argues that anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland were similar movements stimulated by similar perceptions of a Jewish threat to Christian prosperity in the emerging industrial economy.

 

The body of the essay starts by following Neville Laski as he travels throughout Austria and Poland to investigate the emergence of anti-Semitism in both states.  Laski believes that anti-Semitism is an economic question and suggests that Jewish leaders in Eastern Europe take steps to mitigate anti-Semitism like capping the number of Jews who work in professional jobs and to encourage Jews to maintain a more secular posture. 

 

Hagen follows this with a comparison of Jews in Poland and Germany, which, he notes, were in stark contrast: Jews in Germany were advanced members of the economy, were less than 1 % of the population and they assimilated in large numbers; Jews in Poland were “backwards and agrarian,” 10% of the population, few Jews felt they were members of Polish society and most were poor.  Hagen notes that despite these differences, anti-Semitism in both states originated from a “functionalist” perspective or a “political manifestation of social distress.”  Jews were the scapegoat for large declines in economic prosperity and subsequently the quality of life for most Poles and Germans.  This fact was exacerbated, as Hagen notes, by the fact that fascism in Germany and authoritarianism in Poland were given increasing importance because of the decline in quality of life.

 

Hagen concludes that the example Hitler provided did not produce the results that we may attribute to his vision of wide spread extermination of Jews.  Rather, the anti-Semitism in Poland and Germany was the result of a long process of “nationalist identity formation.” 

Hagen lays out a convincing argument for the similarity of anti-Semitism in Poland and Germany and its roots in economic struggle and national identity.  He effectively proved that Hitler was not the inspiration for anti-Semitism in Poland and that Poles were not simply following his lead.  They were, in fact, equally anti-Semitic and these sentiments originated before the rise of Hitler. 

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