German anti-semitism is still strongest in states that gave the Nazis early support

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Israel yesterday marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of the most solemn days on the national calendar, when the country comes to a standstill to mark the six million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide between 1933 and 1945.

(An estimated total of 11 million people—including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, handicapped people, and Soviet war prisoners—died in Hitler’s system of industrialized death.)

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper finds, sadly, faint echoes of anti-semitic attitudes can still be found in Germany, especially in states where the Nazi party fared well in the elections of May 1928. (The party, which ran on an outright platform of anti-semitism only garnered a sliver of the national vote.)

This suggests that anti-Semitic sentiments continued to exist in local areas for centuries. We use this idea and include in some of our specifications a measure of local support of the Nazi Party in 1928. We find that people who reside in states that have provided above-median support for the Nazi Party in 1928 are more anti-semitic today in comparison to those who live elsewhere.This provides evidence that local cultural traits in terms of anti-semitism persisted over the last 80 years.

Using survey data and historical polling results, the authors of the paper—Louisiana State University’s Naci Mocan and Sam Houston State University’s Christian Raschke—find that people in those areas expressed more anti-semitic feelings than Germans in other regions. (The states in question are: Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Niedersachsen, Hessen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Bayern, Sachsen and Thüringen.)

“Those who live in states which provided above-median support for the Nazi Party in the 1928 elections are about seven percentage points more likely to reveal that Jewish people living in Germany should not have the same rights as Germans,” they wrote. People that live in those states are also about three percentage points more likely to indicate that “it would be unpleasant to have a Jewish neighbor.”

“This finding suggests that whatever anti-Semitic culture that existed in 1928 in those states, it still has an impact on anti-Semitic feelings today,” the authors wrote.

While it’s pretty remarkable that these attitudes have survived for the last 80 years, even after the horrors of the Holocaust, researchers have separately found that they’ve also survived for more than a half-millenium. A 2012 study by economist Nico Voigtlaender and economic historian Hans-Joachim Voth looked at the medieval origins of German anti-semitism by analyzing documented outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in Germany during the mid-14th century, when the Black Death hit Europe and set off a wave of pogroms. (Jews were often accused of poisoning wells, in reaction to the bewildering appearance of the disease.) The authors write:

We demonstrate that localities with a medieval history of pogroms showed markedly higher levels of anti-Semitism in the interwar period. Attacks on Jews were six times more likely in the 1920s in towns and cities where Jews had been burned in 1348-50; the Nazi Party’s share of the vote in 1928–when it had a strong anti-Semitic focus–was 1.5 times higher than elsewhere.

So, the same areas that were were responsive to the Nazi party’s 1928 platform of anti-semitism, were also anti-semitic hotspots 600 years ago. And, unfortunately, they seem to remain more susceptible to anti-semitism today. That’s remarkable, surprising and sad. And it’s also good reason to reinforce the commitment to never forget.