Jewish history (or the history of the Jewish people) is the history of the Jews, and their religion and culture, as it developed and interacted with other peoples, religions and cultures. Although Judaism as a religion first appears in Greek records during the Hellenistic period and the earliest mention of Israel is inscribed on the Merneptah Stele dated 1213–1203 BCE, religious literature tells the story of Israelites going back at least as far as c. 1500 BCE. The Jewish diaspora began with the Assyrian conquest and continued on a much larger scale with the Babylonian conquest. Jews were also widespread throughout the Roman Empire, and this carried on to a lesser extent in the period of Byzantine rule in the central and eastern Mediterranean. In 638 CE the Byzantine Empire lost control of the Levant. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. The Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, a period of Muslim rule throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula. During that time, Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed.
During the Classical Ottoman period (1300–1600), the Jews, together with most other communities of the empire, enjoyed a certain level of prosperity. In the 17th century, there were many significant Jewish populations in Western Europe. During the period of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, significant changes occurred within the Jewish community. Jews began in the 18th century to campaign for emancipation from restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society. During the 1870s and 1880s the Jewish population in Europe began to more actively discuss immigration back to Israel and the re-establishment of the Jewish Nation in its national homeland. The Zionist movement was founded officially in 1884. Meanwhile, the Jews of Europe and the United States gained success in the fields of science, culture and the economy. Among those generally considered the most famous were scientist Albert Einstein and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. A disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners at this time were Jewish, as is still the case.
In 1933, with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, the Jewish situation became more severe. Economic crises, racial anti-Semitic laws, and a fear of an upcoming war led many Jews to flee from Europe to Palestine, to the United States and to the Soviet Union. In 1939 World War II began and until 1941 Hitler occupied almost all of Europe, including Poland—where millions of Jews were living at that time—and France. In 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Final Solution began, an extensive organized operation on an unprecedented scale, aimed at the annihilation of the Jewish people, and resulting in the persecution and murder of Jews in political Europe, inclusive of European North Africa (pro-Nazi Vichy-North Africa and Italian Libya).
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