After Four Generations, Worldwide Jewish Population Approaching Pre-Holocaust Levels

In 1939, before the Holocaust, there were 16.6 million Jews among the global count of humanity of some 2 billion. The Jewish population at the time comprised only 0.83 percent of the planet’s inhabitants.

Izak (Ivy) Maurits Philips, child in the front of this 1934 family photograph take in Knokke, Belgium, survived the Holocaust.
Izak (Ivy) Maurits Philips, the child in this 1934 family photograph taken in Knokke, Belgium, survived the Holocaust. (Creative Commons)

For every three European Jews, two perished in the Holocaust, reducing the world Jewish population by about 6 million.

Today, Earth’s population has swelled to over 8 billion while the Jewish population has rebounded to 15.7 million. So while the present numbers of those who identify as Jewish are now at nearly 95 percent of the pre-Holocaust figure, the overall percentage of Jews in the world, given the quadrupling of the world population, has dwindled to slightly less than 0.2 percent of the people in the world.

The current figures come from a report by The Jewish Agency for Israel, drawn from statistics compiled by Jewish demographic expert Prof. Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 2009, DellaPergola projected that were it not for the Holocaust, there would be as many as 32 million Jews alive at that time, nearly a decade and a half ago.

In an article published that year in the journal Bishvil Hazikaron of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, DellaPergola outlined the long-range repercussions of the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust struck a deep blow to the demographic, cultural and social fabric of the Jewish people in many ways and with long-range consequences,” he said.

DellaPergola cited four key factors: First, “the destruction of cultural frameworks,” a circumstance that prevented Jews from marrying and having families over an extended period. Second, “a rise in intermarriages,” which the professor saw as a device used to escape Nazi oppression. Third, “the number of male victims outnumbering the female ones,” which depressed the birth rate and contributed to intermarriage. Fourth, “the murder of so many children in a population which had a high proportion of young people.”

Professor DellaPergola also spotlighted two variables in his projected figures. In one, if the socioeconomic conditions of Eastern European Jews remained as they were at the end of the 1930s, even with no Holocaust the birthrate would have remained low and the intermarriage rate high. He projected the worldwide Jewish population would have been about 26 million when that article was written in 2009.

If, on the other hand, economic conditions of that demographic had improved, a higher birthrate and less intermarriage would have raised the projection to 32 million.

Judaism is not an evangelistic faith. It does not proselytize. Traditionally, rabbis are taught to turn away the prospective convert three times as a test of sincerity. Most no longer do that. Most rabbis welcome, with few or no conditions, those who wish to convert. The reason given by many is the need to replenish the ranks after the annihilation of the Holocaust.

DellaPergola’s study on current world Jewry population will be published in the American Jewish Year Book 2023.


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