The history of the Jewish people has long been one characterized by diaspora, the scattering of Jews across the world from their homeland in the Levant. One of the areas into which the Children of Israel migrated was Europe, with a significant community of Alexandrian Jews living in Rome in the waning days of the Republic.
European Jews, however, have long faced ostracism, ghettoization, and outright physical attacks as an historical minority in Europe. Persecution of European Jews began not long after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity under Constantine. Anti-Semitic efforts against European Jews during the later centuries of the Roman Empire consisted of forced conversion, the burning of synagogues, and expulsion from the larger community.
These efforts persisted throughout the Middle Ages. In Spain, for example, the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella saw a significant attempt to expel the Jewish population or force their conversion under the Inquisition. Obviously, however, the most significant threat to European Jews occurred in the middle of the 20th century, when Hitler’s Nazi regime undertook its “Final Solution,” the Holocaust. It is estimated that there were about 9 million European Jews before World War II, with more than six million killed by the Nazis. Today, European Jews comprised less than one percent of that continent’s population.