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Heritage Civilization and the Jews
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Europe/Near East/North Africa
1789 to 1925


The 19th century witnessed an unprecedented expansion and collapse of global empires. Prussia and the Russian Empire finished dividing Poland between themselves in 1795; and Russia went on to expand its rule far into Central Asia.

Following the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power and led French forces to a series of stunning military victories across Europe and the Near East. His success was due in part to the enthusiasm of his troops, who believed they were on a campaign to spread the ideals of human rights to peoples living under oppressive regimes. He seemed on his way to forging a vast empire but met a series of reversals and was decisively defeated in 1815 by joint
British and Prussian troops at Waterloo.

While the British continued to build their mercantile empire throughout the 19th cen, the democratic and nationalist ideals of the French Revolution encouraged rebellion and gradually undermined the power of more traditional empires such as those of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and even Ottoman Turkey. The final collapse of these three great empires at the beginning of the 20th century was due, in large part, to the massive social changes wrought by industrialization and the rise of new political ideologies with which their autocratic rulers were unable to cope.

The social changes which swept Europe by the 19th century were accompanied by radical new ideas about the nature of humankind, society, and culture. The theory of evolution and psychoanalysis offered up strikingly modern visions of mankind's relationship to the world. The writings of Marx and Engels and other socialists questioned the values of the emerging industrial society. Revolutions in art, music, and literature -- including Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism -- flouted convention to explore new aesthetic frontiers.

Jews played key roles in many of the great upheavals of the century. Jewish financiers, merchants, and manufacturers were instrumental in the rise of industrialization, and Jews gradually attained civil rights in many countries of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. Their very success, however, led to a political backlash in western Europe, where anti-Semitic politics became common by the end of the century. In the Russian Empire the regime's anti-Jewish economic policies and its encouragement of anti-Semitic violence drove many Jews to emigrate. Between 1881 and 1924, more than two million Jews from eastern Europe emigrated to the United States.

Within European Jewish society new movements such as Reform Judaism, Zionism, and Bundism arose in response to new challenges and opportunities. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Zionist movement was struggling to attain an autonomous Jewish homeland in Palestine. When in 1917, in the midst of the First World War, Great Britain issued the Balfour Declaration supporting the idea, Zionists were encouraged, and more than 35,000 Jews
immigrated to Palestine between 1919 and 1923, joining the tens of thousands who had settled there in earlier migrations.


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