Question of the Day: What is the Origin of the Yellow “Star of David” That the Nazis Required Jews to Wear at the Time of the Holocaust?

Answer: The yellow patch, or yellow “star of David”, set upon the clothing as a marker of Jewish identity, has its origins, not in 20th century anti-Semitism, but in 13th century Christian anti-Semitism.

In 1215 Pope Innocent III decreed that Jews living among Catholics must wear a yellow badge to distinguish themselves from the Christians.

Source: PBS Documentary from the Frontline series, titled The Longest Hatred: A Revealing History of Anti- Semitism (DVD release 2004). The whole DVD, by the way, is excellently produced and highly worth owning.

NOTE: The PBS documentary does not mention this, but Pope Innocent may have taken his decree cue from Muslim regions, where the designation of groups by distinguishing markers was widely practiced. Paul Johnson, in his 1987 book, A History of the Jews, claims that Jews were marked off, in twelfth century Baghdad, by a yellow patch (p. 204).

Below is an image of medieval Jews, with patches on their garments in the shape of Moses’s tablets of the Law, being beaten by a Christian:

 BritLibCottonNeroD1Fol183vPersecutedJews.jpg

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Question of the Day: What is the Origin of the Yellow “Star of David” That the Nazis Required Jews to Wear at the Time of the Holocaust?

  1. jack says:

    I would like to learn what the significance of the color yellow is.

    I suspect the sun appears that color through the media of the atmosphere of the earth through nitrogen blue.

    The Prophecy of the sun may be in play, there. The Armageddon.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jack,

    The color may have no tracable symbolic significance at all. Perhaps the Pope saw the color yellow in a basket of fruit when he got the idea. Or perhaps a yellow patch was simply a more obviously visual marker than, say, a darker color (like brown).

    It may also be that Muslims and Christians had a particular “color” associated with the clothing of their merchants, and yellow wasn’t one of them.

    Or it may be that yellow, being akin to the color of gold, may have been a way for the Pope to designate an anti-Semitic stereotype (that Jews control the secular world’s wealth).

    Or it may be nothing more than a dye-color readily available at the time.

    —Santi

  3. JR says:

    Maybe the Magen David was yellow because a messianic star like the one that led the wise men to Jesus Christ is depicted as yellow with its shining light; but I’ve always thought the yellow Magen David the Nazis put on Jews was intended to mark them off as cowardly people who have refused to face up to their sins before God and have characteristically Judas-like back-stabbed Gentiles rather than front them fairly face to face in fight.

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  5. concerned christian says:

    Santi, you are right about the fact that dress code to distinguish different religious groups was first introduced by Muslim rulers, and it was more detailed than just wearing a yellow badge. Bat Ye’or in her book “The Dhimmi” page 65 said
    “Although many regulations concerning the dhimmis were derived from the provisions of the Code of Justinian (534) … a differentiation of costume appears to have been an innovation of the Arabs …
    Thus there were many laws regulating the clothes worn by dhimmis (color, shape, and dimensions), the shapes of the turbans, footwear, and saddles, as well as the attire of wives, children and servants of dhimmis.”

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      One of the things that I find troubling about Islamic modes of thought is its collectivism and the setting off of individuals as, in essence, something “owned” by their communities (or ummahs). It’s Herderianism before Herder ever wrote about it. It runs contrary to all notions of individual liberty. Egypt is about to undergo a depressing shift into this sort of thinking, setting the country back for (perhaps) generations. You know the details much better than I, but my guess is that you’ll see an Islamic Brotherhood period (bad enough) followed by an outright Salafist period. It will get worse before it gets better.

      —Santi

      • concerned christian says:

        Santi, the election results in Egypt show that Muslim Brothers’ party is leading with Salafi’s party coming second. Between them they will have more than 60% of the seats. The youth who started the January revolution are still protesting, but the Military is viciously crushing them, killing tens and injuring hundreds, with most of the victims this time are from the progressive Muslims rank. This is really sad because many of the dead were true patriots who could have helped bring real progress to Egypt.
        The Islamist parties are not protesting the military brutality because they expect to take over any way. The situation is quite intriguing and it is not clear who will come on top at the end, either the Islamist or the Military, but either way a good number of educated Muslims started to see the Islamist for what they really are; just power hungry and opportunists.
        I still find the American Administration position towards the events in Egypt confused and puzzling, because we are giving full recognition to the Islamist and not doing much to help progressive parties, and if the Islamist took over the whole Middle East will be in shambles.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        My guess is the Obama administration is looking at the Muslim world in the same way that the Brits and French looked at the end of colonialism. Once you leave and stop trying to control the situation, there will invariably be alternative models tried, most of them futile and unpleasant and not to our liking, but not really stoppable. The Muslim world will try conservative Islamism, and, over time—perhaps 50 years—it will corrode as a political, religious, cultural, and economic model. If I were a Christian in Egypt, I’d get out.

        —Santi

  6. eartha says:

    Actually, I read in books re. the history of colors, the origins of color dyes and usages in history, that it was the jew rabbis that chose that color for id. In the Middle Ages, colors could not be set like today, and dyes were expensive. The poor wore natural colors, like grey, beige, etc. There was one color the poor had readily available in the common woad plant, which gave a pale blue color. Also some dark greens. But bright colors were not available widely: reds, purples, bright blue, greens, red-oranges, and above all,yellow. A clear shade of yellow was rare and very expensive. THAT is the color the rabbis chose.

  7. aaheart says:

    Jewish author, Joseph L. Burg, testified in court in Canada that German Zionists in 1933 requested that Nazi authorities allow the use of yellow Magen David patches to be required of all Jews. He testified in 1938 the leading rabbi in the Third Reich demanded the mandatory use of the yellow Magen David patch by all German Jews.

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