One Percent, or Why the German Census of 1933 is Relevant Today
One of the most shocking facts about the Holocaust is that Jews comprised less than 1% of the German population in 1933, just over a half-million at the time. This number sounds suspicious, given our knowledge that about 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Yet, that number is not plucked from some crackpot Holocaust denial blog, it comes from the German census of that year, and is consistent with censuses done in 1925, 1910, and earlier (link to census data, in German):
|Jewish Percentage of German Population|
|1939 (during holocaust)||0.39%|
Most Jews killed in the Holocaust resided in other countries, such as Poland (almost 3 million), Ukraine/Russia (over 1 million), and Hungary (about half a million).
An understandable reaction to this information might be –astonishment. Howcould Adolph Hitler and propagandists such as Julius Streicher persuade so many people that less than one percent of their population was responsible for the Great Depression, most crime, moral degeneracy, corruption, and even Germany’s loss in World War I?
Sabotaging an entire nation seems like a lot of work for such a tiny sliver of the population!
Millions of people were persuaded by this conspiracy theory, and it seems likely Hitler believed it too. His invasion of Poland and foolhardy attack on Russia prioritized the destruction of much larger numbers of Jews living there. The thinking was that these Jews were conspiring against Germany from afar.
The people actually undermining the country were the ones leading it. World War II in Europe was caused by the Nazis, and resulted in the deaths of several million non-Jewish Germans. A gullible population allowed themselves to be governed by dangerous leadership. Rapid descent into disaster resulted.
Welcome to the Past
From the distance of history, we can recognize the undisciplined thinking that led people to attribute such negative traits and seemingly magical power to a tiny religious minority. In hindsight, it is almost hard to believe that people could be so gullible.
Unfortunately, there is no longer a need to wonder how such mindsets develop. Here in the modern United States, a new religious scapegoat has emerged: Muslims.
These days, prominent Christian pastors such as Terry Jones, Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress preach hatred for Muslims. They walk in the footsteps of their many anti-Semitic predecessors: Bishop Martin Sasse applauded Kristallnacht, and even Martin Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies.
The hysteria reached a point that several states felt the need to ban Sharia law. Again, we see a widespread belief that a tiny religious minority is somehow, perhaps magically, taking over the world. Was it actually likely that Sharia could become the law of the land in Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina, or Louisiana, or is this an example of moral panic and scapegoating?
Given these levels of anti-Muslim hatred, guess what percentage of the US population is Muslims?
- a) 1%
- b) 3%
- c) 5%
- d) 10%
The chilling answer is the same as it was for Jews in 1920’s Germany: one percent.
Religious minorities comprising about one percent of the population in majority-Christian countries seem to be especially vulnerable. At one percent, most people have at least seen a person in the religious minority, so they are perceived as real. Yet, a religious minority comprising only one percent of the population lacks the political power and influence to fight back against discrimination and conspiracy theories leveled at them.
In other words, a one percent minority is a defenseless scapegoat. The tiny minority seems realistic only because its presence is known and poorly understood. Nazism didn’t arise in nations with much larger Jewish populations such as Poland, Ukraine, or Greece – it arose where most people did not have a Jewish neighbor or friend to defend.
So what is the current relevance of the German Census of 1933?
It teaches us to recognize the irrationality of today’s mass hysteria.
It teaches us that conspiracy theories, if left unchallenged by courageous people, will become normalized.
It teaches us that if we don’t stand up for the rights of the scapegoats and organize in defense of the ideals of our democratic republic, then freedom itself will not be long lived.