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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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Conclusion 231

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Conclusion The history of the Jews in Germany came to an end with the Nazis’ attempted annihilation of those whom they deemed unfit for life. The millions of Jews who were murdered during Hitler’s twelve-year regime are the ultimate proof that the Jews failed in their long quest for recognition as ‘Deutsche Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens’. How this came to pass in a country where Jewish cultural life had flourished, with German Jews taking a prominent position in the European Haskala and Jewish reform movement, is difficult to comprehend. This book has attempted to examine the vagaries of Jewish existence in the German-speaking lands from the early nineteenth century until the early years of Hitler’s regime, by exploring the reception of the role of a Jewish business class in the fiction and public discourse of the time. The literature that has been examined is a reflection of the reception of an evolving Jewish status in both the socio-economic framework and the broader cultural commonwealth of German-speaking Central Europe. The authors in question provided subjective representations, albeit fictionalised ones, of that evolving Jewish status which reflected the conditio judaica of each writer’s respective age. The conclusions which they drew as to the relative benefit of the presence of a Jewish business class to their society can be divided into two distinct schools of thought: the first can be said to have taken its lead from Christian von Dohm. Dohm believed that the Jews should be ‘improved’ and encouraged to make...

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