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«Ethan Jared Cohen April 11, 2011 An honors thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for an honors degree of Judaic Studies at The ...»

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From Castile to Kristallnacht:

The Similarities in the Events Preceding the Spanish Inquisition and the

Nazi Holocaust

Ethan Jared Cohen

April 11, 2011

An honors thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for an honors degree of Judaic

Studies at The University of Michigan in 2011

Thesis Advising Committee:

• Ryan Szpiech, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Judaic Studies

• Scott Spector, Chair and Professor of Germanic Languages & Literatures and Professor of History

• Elliot Ginsburg, Associate Professor of Jewish Thought     Cohen  2   © Ethan Jared Cohen All rights reserved 2011     Cohen  3  


~ To all humanity… past, present, and future ~     Cohen  4   “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?

If I am for myself alone, then what am I?

And if not now, when?” ~ Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14 “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people:

Those who let it happen, those who make it happen, And those who wonder what happened.” ~ John M. Richardson, Jr.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

The important thing is not to stop questioning.” ~ Albert Einstein “It is bad to speak too much, but it is worse to be silent;

For in my opinion, the tongue was not given to be speechless.” ~ Shem Tov of Carrión     Cohen  5  


There are not enough words to fully, or even appropriately, acknowledge all of the people that I would like to thank in helping me throughout this extensive thesis process. While words cannot adequately express my true appreciation for everyone’s support on this thesis, I would like to acknowledge the unwavering support I received. Additionally, I would like to thank the various individuals who have been cornerstones in both the development of my life and my graduation here at Michigan.

Over the course of this process, which really began taking shape over the last year, I am very grateful and thankful for the tremendous and remarkable support that I have received from numerous groupsand individuals. I am blessed and very thankful to be afforded such great role models and assistance throughout this thesis process. With these individuals in mind, I would like to take this moment and acknowledge the following groups and individuals for their incredible support, dedication, and love.

First and foremost I would like to thank the University of Michigan for affording me the opportunity to be surrounded with one of the world’s most renowned environments for learning, elite professors, and educators in the field. Over the course of my four years here at Michigan, I would like to thank each of my respective Professors and Graduate Student Instructors. I am very appreciative of their love of education and the various lessons that they have bestowed on me.

Second, I would like to thank my thesis advising committee. At the beginning of this formalized process, Chairman Professor Deborah Dash Moore and Professor Rachel Neis who sent me the proper path. Additionally, I would like to thank my secondary thesis advisors, Chairman Professor Scott Spector and Professor Elliot Ginsburg for sharing their expert opinions

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Szpiech. I can honestly say that without Professor Szpiech this thesis would be nothing but thoughts in my imagination. I am very grateful and appreciative for his hard work in helping me prepare my thesis.

Third, I would like to thank the education cornerstones of my childhood, The Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex & Union, The Ramah Camping Movement, and my Synagogue Congregation Agudath Israel. Throughout my childhood, I attended the Solomon Schechter Day School for 14 years. I had some of the best role models and educators any student could imagine. Additionally, I had the privilege of being a camper at three different Ramah camps and even staffing at the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack. In total, I have been at Ramah Camp for the last 16 years summers of my life. Also, I am grateful for the great love of Judaism that was imparted upon me from my synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. These Jewish education institutions planted a seed and instilled a love of Jewish studies. Over the years, my numerous teachers and staff members have certainly watered that seed and allowed my Jewish learning to flourish and prosper into this culmination of this thesis. I thank them all for their all their hard work and for teaching me to never stop learning and never stop questioning. I am indebted to all of their years of hard work.

Fourth, I would like to take time to thank all of my various friends over the course of my life. I have been blessed to make friends from various international communities ranging from Chile, Israel, and additionally here in the US. Thanks for taking a chance on me, and most importantly, thank you for always being there for me when I needed you. You know who you are…you mean the world to me.

Fifth, I would like to thank my family for their constant love, endearment, and support. I

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my father’s parents, Adrianne and Jerry Cohen, for being the perfect Jewish role models.

Directly, and even indirectly, I have learned so much from both your lessons and stories. You have certainly taught what it means to be a proud American Jew. I would additionally like to thank all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins for their continuous love and support throughout my entire life. I will never take for granted all our memories during the various simchas, family gatherings, and future occasions.

In concluding these acknowledgements, there are two final groups of people that I would like to thank for allowing me to reach this amazing accomplishment and milestone in my life.

My siblings Micah, Avi, and Talia. I cannot imagine graduating college and completing this thesis without all the things we have shared. You are each amazing role models in my life. It is an honor, and a privilege, to share this amazing achievement in my life with you all. I am so excited to watch you each prosper and flourish in your respective lives. In all that you each respectively pursue, I wish you all only health and happiness.

Finally, I would like to the two individuals who are the pure reason for who I am and why I am here, my parents, Eta Gershen and Steven Cohen. Ever since I can remember, you have provided me with everything, but most importantly, with absolute and endless love. I would like to thank you for providing, and encouraging me, in my pursuit of education. There are simply not enough words to express my love and gratitude for everything you both have provided me over my short life. I love you both very much and you will always be my heroes.

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Numerous scholars and historians have cautioned against the comparison of the Holocaust with other humanitarian tragedies and genocides. In particular, historians of Jewish cultures have debated both the connection between events of Anti-Jewish and Anti-Semitic violence and the trajectory of development connecting medieval and early-modern Anti-Jewish violence with twentieth-century history. Without rejecting the caution against linking the Holocaust to earlier Anti-Jewish events, this thesis proposes to compare the social and intellectual conditions that led up to the Holocaust with those of another iconic tragedy in Jewish history, the persecution of the Jews by the Spanish Inquisition and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. In particular, it compares four phenomena from each respective period: the rise of social Anti-Jewish movements, the emergence of Anti-Jewish legislation, the lack of a powerful central government, and the active participation of common civilians. In comparing these four categories from fifteenth-century Castile and Aragon and 1930s Germany, this thesis argues that while the events of the Holocaust and the Inquisition/Expulsion themselves cannot be compared directly or equated meaningfully, the conditions that gave rise to them bear striking similarities. The thesis concludes by exploring why, in light of these similar conditions, the

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Introduction………………….………………………………………………………… 10

Chapter 1

Anti-Jewish Movements ……………………………………………………………... 19

Chapter 2

Anti-Jewish Legislation.……………………………….……………………………... 38

Chapter 3

Lack of Centralized Government ………...…………………………………………… 56

Chapter 4

Dangerously Influential Individuals ………...………………………………………... 74 Conclusion ………………………………...………………………………………… 105 References ……………………………………………………………………………114     Cohen  10  

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In the summer of 1391, waves of persecution, conversion, and chaos swept across medieval Spain. These waves of public violence, which included the conversion of some Judaism’s most notable and established citizens, are notorious in Jewish history. These waves of persecution and conversion are known as the riots of 1391, killing many and forcing many more to flee or convert to Christianity. These events mark the beginning of a period of Anti-Jewish animosity that culminated 100 years later with the expulsion of all Jews in Spain in 1492. Over 540 years later, on November 9, 1938, Jewish citizens in Germany were arrested, killed, and deported during series of pogroms against the respective Jewish communities. This night is known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Clearly these events are significantly different and contain separate historical backgrounds. However, are there any connections between these two events? Are there any parallels between the conditions of these catastrophes? Furthermore, if we are able to compare these events, how would be able to make or draw such comparisons?

Over the course of Jewish history, there have been thousands of events that might fall under the umbrella and general category of Anti-Semitism. In this thesis, I will examine two of the most notable and well-studied events of Anti-Semitism, the Spanish Expulsion and the Nazi genocide of European Jewry, or Holocaust. Both of these events, about 500 years apart from one another, can be seen as culminations and climaxes of their respective periods of Anti-Semitism.

In this thesis, I will examine some of the similarities and differences that can be seen between the two periods leading up to these monumental events.

In comparing these two significant Anti-Semitic events, a historian must be very careful and diligent when drawing comparisons. In the introduction of his book Communities of Violence, David Nirenberg addresses the question of whether historical events, far removed in

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like those of Nazi Germany and 15th century Iberia can legitimately be compared. Nirenberg then offers the answer that they cannot. He notes the importance of not comparing historical

events by writing:

We need no longer insist on continuities of meaning in claims about minorities

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Towards the end of his introduction, Nirenberg as well adds that in looking at the process of

history, there needs to be:

An effort to express (at least metaphorically) the difficulties involved in narrating

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By this, Nirenberg is stating that despite the surface similarities, events over the course of history should not be directly equated with one another. Furthermore, Nirenberg specifically and

precisely notes that it is imperative to avoid comparing Jewish historical events when he writes:

In Jewish historiography, for example, scholars have drawn a line of mounting intolerance from the Rhineland massacres of the First Crusades, through the expulsions and massacres of the thirteenth century, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, through German ritual murder trails and Russian Pogroms, to

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Additionally, Nirenberg explains that historians can find themselves in trouble when they try “stringing together episodes of large scale-violence against minorities.”4 Nirenberg explains that events of different time periods differ in cultural, societal, and governmental changes. Therefore, in the fairness of human history, it is not permissible to compare and contrast these separate Jewish atrocities of history as part of a single phenomenon.

However, while the events themselves cannot be compared, I believe that if done very carefully, it is possible, and potentially useful, to compare the events that preceded and lead up to these climaxes. Thus, in what follows, I will not be going into great detail about events post 1492, nor will be I be discussing historical events post 1941. I will specifically be examining, and looking for similarities between, the events that paved the way and snowballed into the atrocities that were the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust. In this sense, I will argue that while applicable in many respects, David Nirenberg’s thesis is incomplete in one important sense. I suggest that it is possible to research the similar conditions of development even if the events themselves are not comparable. Through this research, we can suggest an equation as to why these types of events occur.

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