Guilt, Resentment, and Post-Holocaust Democracy: The Frankfurt School's Analysis of 'Secondary Antisemitism' in the Group Experiment and Beyond

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Previous discussions of the Frankfurt School’s work on Judeophobia have almost entirely neglected the Critical Theorists’ pathbreaking analysis of “secondary antisemitism” after Auschwitz. This new form of Jew-hatred originates in the political and psychological desire to split off, repress, and downplay the memory of the Holocaust because such memory, with which Jews are often identified, evokes unwelcome guilt feelings. As Holocaust memory undermines the uncritical identification with a collective, family, or nation tainted by anti-Jewish mass atrocities, the repression of national guilt may unconsciously motivate the reproduction of resentments that helped cause the Shoah. In this light, the article re-examines the empirical postwar German study Group Experiment and other works of the Frankfurt School. Three specific defensive mechanisms in relation to historical collective guilt feelings are identified that engender a variety of antisemitic projections—from “Jewish power” to “Jewish money” and other anti-Jewish tropes—after the Holocaust. It is argued that these insights into post-Holocaust secondary antisemitism, empirically analyzed in the German context, can partly be transferred to other contexts in European democracies and beyond. This article demonstrates that an unprocessed history of national guilt can have a negative impact on democracy and the resilience
of antisemitism.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)4-37
Number of pages34
JournalAntisemitism Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jan-2017


  • post-Holocaust Germany
  • secondary antisemitism
  • democracy
  • democratic theory
  • Frankfurt School
  • political psychology

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