Antisemitism 400 years before Hitler

In a recent post, “An Amazing Day in a Jewish Ghetto,” I promised to write more about the synagogues we toured and the history of the Jewish people living in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Italy, during the 16th century. Several things stood out to us among all that we heard and saw, but the most surprising fact was that antisemitism did not begin with Hitler’s cruel and tyrannical campaign.

Jewish Ghetto, Venice

Center Square in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, Italy

Although one could argue that prejudice against the Jewish people began the day God chose Abraham, we find a definite starting point for Italy’s history. In 1516, the Senate of the Republic of Venice and a cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, ordered the Jews to live together, segregated and away from the city center. The area they were forced to occupy was known as getto, a Venetian word meaning “foundry” where metal was cast. This is where our modern word ghetto was coined, and the reason it has the connotation of a neighborhood where minorities dwell. Click the photo on left to enlarge it.

Forced to live behind metal gates, they would be locked in at nighttime. Only the Jewish doctors could come out after the evening curfew. During the day, everyone had to wear red or yellow hats so they could be identified as Jews in public. They were forbidden to take part in construction work, for all the builders had to be part of a guild, and no Jew was deemed worthy according to the non-Jewish. It wasn’t until Napoleon arrived and took charge of the city in 1797 that the gates were removed and the Jews were permitted to move about freely. Still, they did not enjoy full integration until the late 19th century.

In my next post we’ll look at just a few more interesting details regarding the Jewish synagogues and the social classes that caused them to divide. If you think you’d like to receive notice when that or other new posts come out on uThinkology, you can easily subscribe here on the side bar to the right.


7 responses to “Antisemitism 400 years before Hitler

  1. I am amazed at the knowledge you acquired during this trip to the Jewish ghetto in Venice. I am wondering if we even passed through there without knowledge. What rich history, what persecution, ( did not realize such prejudice existed in Italy ) and still what love God has for His chosen people.Thank you for all the research you are investing here, and the stories told .

    • Thanks Cindy. It really is a very interesting history to an amazing people that have been through so much. Yet most of us are really unaware. With all they have had to endure, still they persevere. Clearly, they have been miraculously preserved by God and are destined to receive his promises. I think every Christian should know a lot more about the Jews and Israel in general. After all, that is the real beginning of our Christian heritage.

  2. it’s really a fascinating social dynamic to look at isn’t it? I just finished a midterm that centered on shakespeare’s merchant of venice and from that alone you can bear witness not only to the subjugation they endured within italy, but throughout europe; it definitely made me want to look more into their history when I get back to Venice.

  3. I am totally fascinated by this subject, Mark, and thank you for sharing what you’ve learned with us. I’d actually been wondering since Carnevale what the original word ghetto meant. Also did you know there are the remains of the door to the ghetto in Treviso right near that pizza restaurant “Fausto”? Everywhere I go there’s evidence of God’s chosen people. I just realized that it’s almost as if the Lord is keeping them right in front of our eyes…so we don’t forget.

  4. It’s got me fascinated as well and I think I’ll be posting a lot more about this in between other post subjects. I’ll investigate the Treviso background. Thanks for the tip!

  5. Pingback: Synagogues and Social Classes: Life in the Jewish ghetto of Venice « Welcome to uThinkology

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