When my mother shetichyeh was around 13, she left her home in Kelm to go to the Ponovezher Gymasium, The Ponovezher Gymasium was a high school for Jewish girls, founded by Ponovezher Rov, HaRav Yosef Kahaneman, that taught Jewish and secular subjects. In Ponovezh, she rented a room from a Jewish family. My mother's parents felt comfortable letting her leave home because her sister (Taibel) was married to Rav Mottel Pagremanski's brother (Yosef), so her family and the Pogremanski family were very close, and Reb Mottel's sister, Bassel, lived a few houses away and kept an eagle's eye on my mother. Bassel, a lawyer, was already very frum by then. (A little too frum, my mother implies. An envious classmate of my mother's reported to Bassel that she saw her talking to boys- a total fabrication. Back to Kelm she went.)
A Gentile that lived in the same courtyard passed away, and the woman from whom she rented the room mentioned that she had gone to pay her respects to the deceased's family. My mother said, "Oh, they must have been very honored." דאס איז זיכער געווען פאר זיי א גרויסער כבוד. The lady looked at her as if she had come from another world. She incredulously said "Honored??? I'm lucky they let me into the house."
My mother simply couldn't process that response. She had been raised in Kelm to think of Jews as בחיר היצירה, the pinnacle of creation. She had been taught that to be a Jew meant that one is a member of the עם הנבחר, that as a servant of Hashem one is an aristocrat, and that a Jew must comport him or herself as would a king or a queen. What did that mean, that she was lucky that they let her in??? It took a long time for my mother to assimilate the fact that not every Gentile had that point of view.
I don't want you to thing that my mother, at 13, was childishly simple. A few years later she was offered the King George Scholarship to Oxford, which she had to decline because her parents sought the advice of Reb Eliah Lopian, who was living in England at that time, and he strongly discouraged them from allowing her to go. In the Lithuanian Yeshiva world, she was famous for her intelligence and knowledge, among other things. Reb Mottel Pogremanski used to say to her "מנוחה, איר ווייסט צו פיל." Unfortunately, unlike in some families, such as the Huxleys and the Soloveichiks, brilliance is not a dominant gene.
The point of this story is not that she was educated to see Gentiles as inferior. The point is that she was taught that to be a Jew meant that we represent the Torah and the relationship between the Ribono shel Olam with His world, and this created responsibilities- noblesse oblige. It was not intended to belittle, it was not a statement of relative inferiority of the "other." It was a concept that emphasized the obligation of the Jew to ensure that his life and his behavior expressed the Kedusha with which Hashem has entrusted us. God chose us; He gave us His Torah, He put His name on us, and He expects us represent Him.
I was reminded of this story by an obituary that I saw for Hagaon Rav Ovadiah Yosef. Of all the things one could say about him, about his love of Torah and Klal Yisrael, of his photographic and encyclopedic memory for Torah and the ability to perfectly assimilate and organize all his knowledge, the fact that he was a living treasure whose life was absolutely dedicated to the Mesorah of Klal Yisrael, what did they say? "...and said God put gentiles on earth only to serve Jews...." Which is, of course, something להבדיל בין קודש הקדשים להמאוס, Julius Streicher was fond of attributing to the Jews. What a pity it is that from a life of a Malach Ha'Elokim they found and quoted out of the context of Jewish philosophy one theological expression that is not politically correct. Who do you think has more respect for human life? The secular humanists, the left wingers, or our Gedolim? The Irish think they're the best of all the races; Stokely Carmichael and Cornel West think they are the pinnacle of the creation. All that is needed is a tiny little bit of Seichel to realize that there's nothing wrong with voicing such sentiments of self esteem within one's group. But they stupidly and unethically use these words to attribute to this great man a primitive and xenophobic tribalism.
But, as noted in the comments, the unfortunate reality is inescapable: these quotes have increased antipathy towards the Jewish people. Let me say this: I don't know what Rav Ovadia said. I wasn't there. But I know enough to not trust reporters who are quoting people they don't respect (an understatement) and don't understand (another understatement.)
I also know that the Talmud (Berachot 58) quotes the Tanna Ben Zoma, who once looked out upon a vast multitude of Jews surrounding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and said "Thank God, who has created all these people to serve me." He was talking about his fellow Jews. He was not a horrible solipsist. He obviously did not mean that no Jew other than he had any independent significance. He knew that every one of them was equal to him in God's eyes. Harav Ovadia said exactly the same thing as Ben Zoma, but while Ben Zoma applied it to himself vis a vis the rest of the Jewish People, Harav Ovadia applied it to Klal Yisrael as a whole vis a vis the rest of the world. So if you're going to quote Rav Ovadia Yosef, if you're going to quote someone whose entire life and lexicon reflected the deep wisdom of Chazal, you really ought to have a smidgen of understanding of the context of his words. If you don't, then you can quote God Himself and make Him look like the Devil.