A neo-Nazi rally in Germany.
A neo-Nazi rally in Germany. Photo by AP
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Is it possible to measure anti-Semitism and to influence its spread in society? Two German researchers who specialize in cultural economics claim that it can. The results of their research, entitled, "Hatred transformed: How Germans changed their minds about Jews, 1890-2006," were published this week on the research portal of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, based in London.

We will reveal its conclusions now: Your place of birth bears a great influence on your level of hatred toward Jews (and foreigners in general), but with the help of the appropriate (but measured) education – we can reduce levels of anti-Semitism (and hatred of foreigners).

The two researchers, Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth, combined historical data with current statistics. In this way, they used statistics from the stockpile of the German General Social Survey that surveys German attitudes on a variety of issues, and also examined voting patterns for Germany's extreme right-wing party and the Nazi party in certain parts of the country, from the 19th century until Nazi rule. The result enabled them to sketch a wide-ranging and interesting portrait of the trends in modern anti-Semitism, from the end of the 19th century, to the beginning of the 21st century.

The questions researchers asked and analyzed are interesting themselves, and can serve other researchers in different parts of the world, not only in regards to Jews. The list includes the following questions: "Do you think that Jews brought persecution on to themselves?" "Would you mind if you had Jewish neighbors?" "Should Jews have equal rights?" "Would you mind if a Jew married into your family?" "Do Jews have too much influence in the world?" "Jews are exploiting their victim status for their own financial gain – do you agree?"

On examination of the answers that Germans gave to these questions, from 1996 to 2006, the researchers discovered a consistent difference between different areas of Germany, which is made up of 16 states. In some areas, for example, 87 percent were convinced that the Jews brought persecution onto themselves.

In contrast, in other places the number of people who agreed with this sentiment was 38 percent of the population. At the top of the list, however, is Lower Bavaria, where the study found the highest rate of anti-Semitism, according to a number of variables.

The overall rate of extreme anti-Semitism in Germany, however, is not high, standing at 5 percent, according to the measures used by the researchers.

Following this, the researchers examined the rate of anti-Semitism in the same places in the past. They did this by examining the rate of voting among Germans for anti-Semitic parties from 1890 to 1912, as well as the Nazi party in the 1920s, and also in the 1930s.

The result was clear: In places where past support for anti-Semitic parties was low in the past, today's German's are more open to having Jewish neighbors, to having Jews as family members, and more likely to support equal rights for Jewish citizens. They are also less likely to blame Jews for bringing persecution onto themselves, to think that they have too big an influence on the world, or that they exploit their victim-status. Not surprisingly, overall hatred of foreigners in these areas is low.

"The extent to which the past still matters for attitudes today is surprising," write the researchers. After 1945, anti-Semitism went from being an official policy to a taboo in German society. In Germany, and worldwide, "The fact that some people confess to it to the extent that they do, even in front of an interviewer who might elicit responses that are widely approved, suggests that privately-held views are probably even more anti-Jewish," they added.

The study did not end there. It turns out that it is not only geographic location that has an influence on the anti-Semitic tendencies of its residents. It is also the kind of education they have undergone that plays a part.

"The Nazis, once in power, pursued a single-minded policy of indoctrination. We examine if this policy was successful in instilling racial hatred that is still visible some 70 years later," the researchers wrote.

The conclusion is not surprising, but it is certainly interesting: As the Germans become older, there is a greater possibility that they hold xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes. Another interesting piece of data indicates that whoever was between 11 and 20 years of age when the Second World War was over, is likely to be far more anti-Semitic than the average. This, the researchers claim, is a direct result of a Nazi policy of indoctrination of the population towards hatred, racism and a belief in racial superiority.

And what happened after the war? The study also examined the influence of the policy of the countries that occupied Germany after 1945. At a time when all the allies were committed to a process of "de-Nazification," every one of them implemented it in a different way. Analysis of the data showed that Germans who lived under British occupation are the least anti-Semitic. Areas controlled by the Americans, however, tend to have stronger anti-Semitic attitudes among residents.

The reason for this is related to the different policy that was enacted in the different areas. "The American authorities ran a highly ambitious and punitive programme which resulted in many incarcerations and convictions, with numerous, low-ranking officials banned and punished. Citizens were confronted with German crimes, forced to visit concentration camps, and attend education films about the Holocaust. There was a considerable backlash," according to the researchers. The study cites an American military advisor who said in 1948, “If the United States Army were to withdraw tomorrow, there would be pogroms on the following day.”

The British, on the other hand, took a different approach: "A limited and pragmatic approach that focused on major perpetrators. Public support was substantial, perceived fairness was higher, and intelligence reports concluded that the population even wanted more done to pursue and punish Nazi officials," the researchers said.

What is the conclusion of the overall study? In the researchers' opinion, the conclusion is far more important than any other discussion of anti-Semitism in Germany, as it serves as an example of the extreme change of a society – from one that officially supported racism, to one that forbids it.

"We examine what it takes to change beliefs by looking at the case of Jew-hatred in modern-day Germany," the researchers say.

"Across one of the greatest discontinuities in social norms in recorded history – the change of racism from encouraged attitude to banned belief – we find that policy can make a difference. The young can be manipulated by massive indoctrination, but only to the extent that the new, radical beliefs are not completely at variance with pre-existing norms. Policies designed to change the views of the population largely failed after 1945; we conclude that low-pressure interventions with substantial public support may be best to generate “buy-in“ from the population."