The Nazis used Anti-Semitism as a propaganda tool in order to gain support for their Party. Anti-Semitism had been deeply ingrained in Europe for centuries, and was not exclusively a German prejudice. Jewish communities around the world had suffered from religious persecution for thousands of years, and were frequently blamed for society's ills.
They were often victims of massacres and pogroms. William Marr first used the term 'anti-Semitism' in 1879, as a way of describing anti-Jewish attitudes.
The Nazis exploited a variety of anti-Semitic myths, many of which had been entrenched in European culture for generations. They promoted the idea of a 'master race', claiming that Germany should be a nation of pure-blooded 'Aryans', uncontaminated by the influence of inferior peoples such as Jews. At the time of Hitler's rise to power, Germany was experiencing great economic hardship, and Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat, blaming them for the collapse of German society. This is one of the reasons the Nazis found so many willing adherents to the Nazi cause against the Jews. In 1937, the Christian church seemed to do relatively little to defend the Jews, apart from those who converted to Christianity. The Pope at the time denounced the Nazi's ideas of racial purity, but did not condemn the anti-Jewish decrees implemented by the Nazis.
Examples of anti-Semitic incidents:
The Third Crusade
England showed support for the Crusades where the Jews were killed for supposedly murdering Jesus. Pogroms took place against Jews all over the country. The Jews of London were killed on the day of the King's coronation. In York, the Jews of the city took refuge in a castle, but with no hope of survival after three days' fighting, all five hundred of the Jews chose to commit suicide rather than be butchered by their attackers.
Jews were expelled from England.
Until the 19th century, many European Jews were forced to practice specific jobs, such as money lending. They thereby took on a social role that was immediately despised, and were accused of being corrupt and avaricious. (In fact, the Old Testament specifically demands fairness in all financial/business practices).
Jews were accused of murdering Christian children and using their blood in Jewish rituals. (In fact, the Old Testament has specific rules on Jews not having any contact at all with blood of any kind).
Jews were accused of poisoning wells and spreading disease such as the Plague. (However, historians now believe that, due to the rules of Kashrut (strict rules on how to keep and cook food) listed in the Old Testament, fewer Jews died of the Plague - this is why rumours spread that the Jews were the cause of the Plague).
The Nazis used many of these myths and stereotypes for their own propaganda purposes.
Historian Raoul Hilberg has summed up the pattern of anti-Semitism as follows:
12th century Crusades - "You have no right to live amongst us as Jews".
16th century ghettos - "You have no right to live amongst us".
20th century Nazis - "You have no right to live".