Although Jesus Christ himself was born a Jew, there have been battles between Jews and Christians for 2000 years. This is because the Romans who then ruled the area where they lived - now known as Israel - tried to crush the Jewish faith. Many Jews moved away to escape persecution, taking their customs and cultures with them. Through their hard work and consequent success in business, Jews were often resented in their new homes, especially in Christian countries. Terrible crimes were committed against them.
In England, when Shakespeare was writing, Jews had been banished for the past 300 years. Shakespeare's audience would not have known any Jews; their knowledge of Jews would have been based solely on rumour and prejudice. They would have enjoyed the verbal insults and racist jokes against Shylock, and would probably not have questioned the treatment Shylock receives as we do today.
The worst ever persecution of Jewish people occurred comparatively recently, before and during World War II (1939 - 45). The Nazi party convinced the Germans that the Jews were responsible for the country's economic problems and so began the Holocaust: 6 million Jews were killed in Germany and other European countries, many in gas chambers at concentration camps. The Diary of Anne Frank will give you some idea of the horrors of that time.
And, unfortunately, Jews are still being persecuted in different countries around the world today.
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