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Jews in Business and their Representation in German Literature 1827-1934

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John Ward

This book gives an account of the literary representation of Jews as businessmen from the early nineteenth century to the onset of the Third Reich. The historical context provides the background for an examination of the literary representation of Jewish businessmen and presents evidence for the perpetuation, transformation, and combination of stereotypes.
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.

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Chapter Two - Citizens and Conmen 61

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Chapter Two Citizens and Conmen The image of the Jewish businessman in Gustav Freytag’s Soll und Haben Another voice that was added to the debate on the Jewish presence in the economy of the German-speaking lands was that of Gustav Freytag. Writing after the failed revolution of 1848, Freytag championed the advancement of an educated, entrepreneurial German business class. To what extent the Jews were eligible for inclusion in this class is a question that has exercised many since the novel was written in 1855. Freytag saw in the figure of the Jewish moneylender and estate agent a counter ideal to what he supposed was the ideal form of economic enterprise. Whereas Hauff illustrates the popular desire for a restoration of the ‘Stände’ system in which the ‘Bürger’ and gentry had guaranteed rights that could be checked and balanced against the power exer- cised by the potentate, Freytag sees Germany’s future lying with the mercantile middle classes. Only under the benign leadership of an honest business class could Germany prosper in the era of the Industrial Revolution. As Hauff had his Jewish ‘Hoffaktor’ play the role of the despised and destructive interloper in the affairs of state of baroque Württemburg, the Jewish merchant class is portrayed in Freytag’s novel as a dishonest and equally destructive force whose negative characterisation provides readers with a foil against which they can positively identify the gentile merchant bourgeoisie. Freytag outlined in the book his concept of a reshaping of German soci-...

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