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 Three - ‘Heimatkunst’ and ‘Hauptstadt’: The Portrayal of Urban and Rural Jewish Business People in the Literature of the Late Nineteenth Century 93
Chapter Three ‘Heimatkunst’ and ‘Hauptstadt’: The Portrayal of Urban and Rural Jewish Business People in the Literature of the Late Nineteenth Century The image of the ‘nefarious’ Jewish businessman in Wilhelm von Polenz’s Der Büttnerbauer Soll und Haben was written in the wake of the liberal revolution of 1848, which failed to establish a constitutional monarchy to enable the German people to enter into a statehood based on what Freytag held as the enlightened, liberal values of the mercantile middle class. Freytag’s warning in Soll und Haben is that the German middle classes must not fall victim to moneyed interests as had some of the Prussian nobility, represented in the novel by Baron von Rothsattel. Employing a juxtapositional construct of corrupt Jewish business practice to emphasise and contrast the benevolent traits and promise of the ‘Bürgertum’, Freytag vilifies Jewish business people, though not all Jews, as representing the wrong way forward. Wilhelm von Polenz’s Der Büttnerbauer (1895) was written forty years after Soll und Haben. It too has as a leitmotif a supposed ‘Jewish’ threat to the livelihoods of ‘German’ landowners. However, von Polenz’s topos of the ‘nefarious Jew’ takes on a far more hostile tone, along with racist overtones that do not exist in Freytag’s book. Freytag and von Polenz, in depicting their Jewish protagonists as rack- eteers and usurers, were following a long line of anti-Jewish stereotyping in literature. Mark H. Gelber sees the figure of Veitel itzig as directly derived from K.B.A. Sessa’s judeophobic...
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