The double bind of assimilation – that the Jews were vilified whether they succeeded or failed – is illustrated from literary treatments by the Romantic writer Wilhelm Hauff and the early twentieth-century writers Lion Feuchtwanger and Paul Kornfeld of the historical figure of ‘Jud Süß Oppenheimer’. Gustav Freytag’s use of the Jews as ‘counter-ideals’ in his notorious bestseller Soll und Haben (1855) and the onset of racial anti-Semitism in Wihelm von Polenz’s Der Büttnerbauer (1895) are illustrative of how literary anti-Semitism hardened in the course of the nineteenth century.
The book considers a number of literary texts, some well known, some less familiar, which are revealing of the way in which Jewish–Gentile relations were imagined in their time.
1 Jews were, to a large extent, predestined to fit into the ‘ubiquitäre, kollektive Sündenbockvorstellungen’ of the majority.18 The Jews had been for a long time strangers among the gentiles. Apart from cultural, religious and linguistic differences, centuries of discrimination and disdain had produced a sustained negative Jewish stereotype. So ingrained was this Jewish ‘Feindbild’ that it became ubiquitous enough to supersede in duration and intensity all other antipathies, i.e. the Francophobia that followed the Napoleonic occupation or the anti-Catholicism of Bismarck’s ‘Kulturkampf ’. In times of change the uncertainties that such times had occasioned elicited a strong sense of anxi- ety among the population, which was projected onto the traditional Jewish ‘Other’. What is more, the Jews provided the perfect scapegoat when they were understood to be the beneficiaries of radical socio-economic change: Napoleon had granted emancipation to the Jews in the western German states and the Liberalism of the early ‘Gründerzeit’ saw a huge increase in specula- tive trading on the stock exchange, a locale many anti-Semites considered ‘judaised’. Jews who had attained commanding positions through professional endeavour thus made particularly visible targets for their enemies. Such a seemingly omnipresent Jewish menace could no longer be explained as a mere religious aberration: the Jews’ role of definitive ‘Other’ had to stem from a more convincing source. Unlike the French or the British, the Germans were not involved in empire building until the late nineteenth century. Nationalist notions of ‘Germanness’, in contrast to Britain’s colonial endeavours,...
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