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.
Chapter One - The ‘Hoffaktor’: A Necessary Evil? 19
Chapter One The ‘Hoffaktor’: A Necessary Evil? The Jud Süß motif in the writings of Wilhelm Hauff, Lion Feuchtwanger and Paul Kornfeld The Jews had been driven out of almost all the German centres of commerce in the fifteenth century and in the following century they were expelled from most of the larger territories. They had to make a living as pawnbrokers, money lenders and pedlars in smaller villages and towns where they came under the protection of Imperial knights, bishops and Imperial noblemen (‘Standesherren’). Only a few of the larger cities, like Frankfurt, Worms, Fürth and Vienna, granted residence rights to Jews. Jews were thus excluded from the economic growth that most German cities experienced in the sixteenth century. The situation changed in the seventeenth century when Jews were permitted to reside in most German territories and to establish communi- ties (‘Gemeinden’) where they could practise their religion. The reason for this munificence on the part of the gentile authorities was financial: after the destruction of the Thirty Years’ War, the German potentates sought to repopulate their lands with affluent tax payers. At the same time, they sought to counteract the power of the guilds and establish the modern monetary and mercantilist economy, with a view to strengthening their position in the weakened political entity that the Empire had become as a result of the war. The economic consequences of the war had effected a shift of the European commercial centre of gravity away from the Empire to...
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