The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism (UK) | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism (UK)

Students explore the long history of discrimination against Jews and come to understand how anti-Judaism was transformed into antisemitism in the nineteenth century.


One 50-min class period


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About This Lesson

In the previous lesson, students began the ‘We and They’ stage of the Facing History & Ourselves scope and sequence by examining  the concept of a universe of obligation. This lesson continues the study of ‘We and They’ in the Facing History scope and sequence by introducing antisemitism, another historical example of how humans have created ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups. Students will explore the long history of hatred and discrimination against Jews, and they will see how anti-Judaism, a religious prejudice, was transformed in the nineteenth century into antisemitism, a form of racism. Learning about the development of antisemitism will provide students with important context for the world view of the Nazis. It will also help students recognise and understand the impact of stereotypes and myths about Jews that persist today.

A note on terms:

  • The term anti-Judaism refers to religious prejudice against Jews before the historical emergence of the concept of race.
  • The word Semitic does not actually refer to a group of people. It is not a ‘race’ but rather a linguistic term that refers to a group of languages traditionally spoken in the Middle East and parts of Africa, including Amharic, a language spoken in Ethiopia, as well as Hebrew and Arabic. Because there is no such thing as a Semitic race, Facing History uses the alternate spelling antisemitism.

What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

  • What is antisemitism, and how has it impacted Jews in the past and today?
  • What are the consequences when a ‘single story’ is used to exclude a group of people from the benefits and protections a society offers to its members?
  • Students will be able to explain how anti-Judaism developed into antisemitism in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will consider the present-day implications of long-standing patterns of discrimination and violence against Jews.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 1 PowerPoint 
  • 1 reading
  • 1 handout
  • 1 extension activity

Although antisemitism – a central component of the Nazi world view – is based on the belief that Jews are members of a distinct race, the history of hatred, prejudice, and discrimination targeting Jews extends back in time more than two millennia, long before the idea of race emerged during the Enlightenment.

In the late 1800s, many European and American scientists continued to divide humankind into smaller and smaller ‘races’. One of these was the ‘Semitic race’, which they used to categorise Jews. The term antisemitism was coined by German Wilhelm Marr, who published a pamphlet in 1878 titled ‘The Victory of Judaism over Germandom’. Filled with lies and myths about Jews, Marr’s pamphlet argued that Jews were more than a distinct ‘race’. They were dangerous and alien, intent on maliciously destroying German society. Marr founded the League of Anti-Semites in Berlin in 1879 to combat the threat he imagined that Jews posed. Although his political organisation did not gain much support, the racist beliefs of antisemitism spread across Europe, providing justification for discrimination and violence against Jews in the twentieth century.

Antisemitism relies on the idea that certain physical and intellectual differences exist between groups and that these differences are biological, permanent, and irreversible. Because they believed, falsely, that differences between so-called races were justified by modern science, antisemites were convinced that science also justified discrimination against Jews.

Historian Deborah Dwork explains:

The move from anti-Judaism – against the religion – to antisemitism with this notion of ‘race’ was only possible when Europeans conceived of the idea of race. And once they had conceived of the idea of race in the nineteenth century, Wilhelm Marr had the notion that Jews constituted a ‘race’. And thus, antisemitism can be seen as a form of racism. 1

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers 

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and backgrounds.

As with the topic of race in the previous lesson, students may begin this lesson with misconceptions about Judaism. Antisemitic beliefs and stereotypes persist today. Students may encounter facts and information in this lesson that conflict with things they learnt at home or in church and that they did not realise were rooted in the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Therefore, it is important to be ready to respond to ‘single stories’ about Jews that may arise in class, help students consider where such stories came from, and ground the discussion in what we know from history about the origins of antisemitic ideas. The campaign Get the Trolls Out, which seeks to counter religious hatred in Europe, has created a few videos on debunking antisemitic tropes. It might also be helpful to refer to the Antisemitism Policy Trust’s document on Myths and Misconceptions about Jews.

The reading Responses to Antisemitism Online contains profanities, so, depending on your class, you may choose to either forewarn them or create an adapted version of the text. 

The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:

  1. Antisemitism
  2. Anti-Judaism
  3. Aryan
  4. Marginalise

Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.

The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales, context, and detailed activity instructions that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plan


The history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism is in part a story of rumours, lies, single stories, and myths that have developed and persisted over the course of centuries. Ask students to record their observations about rumours, lies, and myths from their own experiences by responding to the following questions in their journals:

  • How do rumours get started? 
  • Why might lies and myths about people persist even after they have been proven wrong? 
  • Have you ever helped to spread a rumour that you doubted or knew wasn’t true? Why?

Students should be allowed to keep their own stories of spreading rumours private. However,  you can ask for volunteers to share their more general observations about why rumours and lies can be so persistent; they can share these thoughts without having to share details of the particular incident.

  • Inform students that for the rest of the lesson they are going to learn about antisemitism. Tell them that its most basic definition is ‘hatred of or hostility towards Jews’, but it is also a form of racism. Explain to them that they will look at history to understand how religious prejudice against Jews evolved into racism.
  • Give students the handout Overview of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism.   
  • Instruct students to read the handout with a partner, stopping at each box to annotate the section and answer the text-based questions. 
  • If you have a class with students with different starting points in terms of reading skills, pair stronger readers with weaker readers and have them read the text aloud in their pairs.
  • Debrief the reading with students by asking them to share their answers to the questions. Take this opportunity to correct any misunderstandings regarding the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism.
  • In the same pairs, ask students to discuss the following questions:
    • What do you notice about the history of hatred, discrimination, and violence towards Jews?
    • How is antisemitism, which emerged in the 1870s, different from the anti-Judaism that existed before the 1870s? Why is that difference significant?
    • How were ‘single stories’ used to exclude Jews from the protections, rights, and privileges that society provides for its members? What were the consequences?
  • The questions increase in difficulty in terms of concepts or the language skills needed to express ideas; you could, therefore, allocate the questions to students according to which they will find the most accessible. Alternatively, you may wish to construct a timeline on the board with students providing the information, based upon their reading. This is useful if you feel that students need support in drawing together the whole narrative or if some did not complete the reading.
  • Ask the student pairs to share their answers to these questions in a brief class discussion.
  • Explain to students that antisemitism still very much exists today and that it is in fact on the rise in the UK.  
  • Share the reading Responses to Antisemitism Online (or an adapted version, if you have omitted some content – see Notes to Teacher) and read as a class using a Read Aloud strategy. 
  • Then ask students to discuss these questions in pairs: 
    • How does antisemitism affect Izzy? 
    • How does it affect others in her community?
    • What role does social media play in this story? 
    • What does the presence of antisemitism reveal about the state of society?
    • What might it take to overcome antisemitic beliefs? 
  • Invite the student pairs to share their answers to these questions in a brief class discussion.

Finally, if there is time, give students the opportunity to complete an exit card using the following prompts: 

  • I came in thinking/feeling ______.
  • I am leaving thinking/feeling ______.

Extension Activity

For a deeper and more detailed exploration of the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, you can substitute the resources below for the handout Overview of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism. The readings, from Holocaust and Human Behaviour, and the videos listed below also include connection questions for additional discussion and reflection:

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

This is the handout that students use throughout The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism (UK) lesson plan.

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