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Improvements of European Jews¡¯ Status as Described in 19th Century German Encyclopedias

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Jun, Bum Sun
Term Paper, AP European History Class, June 2009

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Europe's Jews Before the French Revolution
II.1 Persecution on Europe's Jews
II.2 Writer¡¯s Viewpoint
III. Europe's Jews After the French Revolution
III.1 French Revolution and Emancipation of Jews
III.2 Napoleonic Wars and the Imposition of Emancipation
IV. Europe's Jews after the Revolutions of 1848
IV.1 Revolutions of 1848
IV.2 Exceptions
IV.3 Writer's Viewpoint
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Historically, Christians had persecuted Europe's Jews due to their religious difference and tendency to be involved in usury. They were often restricted to ghettos: unhygienic and compact portions of city. Accused of baseless charges, such as well poisoning and murdering of Christian children, the Jews received unfair treatment in Europe, including public abuse and insult, and exclusion from public offices and services.
            However, 19th century saw a gradual change of Jew¡¯s status in Europe. France was the first to emancipate Jews when it underwent the French Revolution at the end of 18th century. Due to liberalistic movements triggered by the French Revolution, many European nations adopted similar policies toward Jews soon afterwards. Especially, when Napoleon conquered most of European continent, he imposed France's tolerant policies on countries like Italy, Austria and German states. Although some of these countries rolled back when Napoleon was abdicated, they eventually adopted equitable laws toward Jews when the Revolutions of 1848 swept the continent.
            This paper will examine the transition of European treatments on Jews during the 19th century by analyzing contemporary German Encyclopedias : Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, and Meyer¡¯s Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909. Taking into account both factual contents and judgments, it will outline the transformation of European attitude toward Jews. Yet, since the sources are of single nationality, it should not be neglected that there exists significant degree of bias. Thus, this paper will also clarify the limitations of such encyclopedias in discussing the situation of Europe's Jews in 19th century.

II. Europe's Jews Before the French Revolution

II.1 Persecution on Europe's Jews
            The Jews had been severely discriminated by Christians due to their irreconcilable religious dogmata. Ever since Jerusalem fell to the Roman emperor Titus, the Jews were not able to restore the land of their own; hence the Jewish Diaspora occurred with Jewish communities sprouting all over the world. Although they enjoyed relatively fair treatments in non-Christian regions like Asia and Africa, Jews had to encounter much harsher persecutions in Christian Europe. They were usually "barred from all offices and services, from engaging in agriculture, and from any occupation of free men." (1) Hence, Jews were left with no alternatives but to participate in trade or financial industries. Thanks to their business acumen, Jews often turned out to be successful to the degree that they "almost monopolized (trade) in the Middle Ages." (2)
            Despite their inevitability to engage in trade activities, Jews were blamed by other Europeans to be extremely greedy and charging excessive interest. The Kings often supported public persecution toward Jews since they were unable to pay their own debts to the Jews. The accusations on Jews were mostly groundless: "At one time Jews were suspected of having poked blessed hosts, at another occasion they were suspected of having slaughtered Christian children or having engaged in other blasphemic nonsense." (3) Even when Reformation and Enlightenment fought against social and religious irrationalities, the "deep-rooted hatred against (Jews) did not end." (4)

II.2 Writer's Viewpoint
            The prejudiced viewpoint on Jews is well reflected in the frequent judgmental statements in Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon's 1809-1811 edition, which was written before Napoleonic emancipation of Jews was fully imposed in German states. The writer characterizes Jews as having "the tendency (...) to enjoy splendor and luxury" (5) and alleges that it is their "tendency to insurrections and mutinies" (6)and "moral decline among them" (7) that resulted in their loss of Jerusalem. Although he acknowledges the unfairness of treatments on Jews, he makes it clear that Jews do possess undesirable characteristics that deserve hatred : "Exposed to such humiliation and oppression, (...) it does not wonder that their character was spoilt more and more, that their morals declined." (8) He even accuses Jewish usury to take "revenge against Christians (...) by charging excessive interest." (9)
            Influenced by the ideas of enlightenment prevalent during the period, the writer expresses his recognition of Jews to a limited degree: "In newest times men arose among (Jews), who by their acumen and their high moral character gained respect in a high degree." (10) Nonetheless, he also manifests that such statements are under the assumption that Jews are clearly inferior to Christians; he mentions that Jews "do not lack the potential to acquire knowledge" (11) and hopes the "Jewish nation will no longer lag behind the Christian one." (12) The assumption represents the prejudice Europeans had, before Napoleon spread the liberal ideas and policies created by the French Revolution.

III. Europe's Jews After the French Revolution

III.1 French Revolution and Emancipation of Jews
            Provoked by the news of American Revolution, the French Revolution erupted at the end of 18th century. The French were inspired by Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights; their 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen supported religious toleration, under the condition that it did not curb public order. While most other European nations maintained their measures to restrict the rights of minorities, France implemented policies that significantly changed the position of the Jews. Eventually, "following the model set by the United States of North America, the French national Assembly, where Mirabeau spoke for the Jews, granted emancipation on September 28th 1791." (13)
            Notably, the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte further improved the position of Jews. "Napoleon, by convening an assembly of notables under the presidency of Furtado in 1806 and by the formation of the Grand Sanhedrin composed of 71 persons and presided by David Sinzheim, regulated their affairs, and given them a consistorial constitution." (14) In 1807, he even proclaimed Judaism as official religions of France along with Roman Catholicism, and Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism.
            Napoleon¡¯s motivation in freeing the Jews was a combination political one and an ideal one. His attitude can be seen in his response to Barry O¡¯Meara¡¯s question on why he pressed for the emancipation of the Jews, after his exile in 1816 :

            "My primary desire was to liberate the Jews and make them full citizens. I wanted to confer upon them all the legal rights of equality, liberty and fraternity as was enjoyed by the Catholics and Protestants. It is my wish that the Jews be treated like brothers as if we were all part of Judaism. As an added benefit, I thought that this would bring to France many riches because the Jews are numerous and they would come in large numbers to our country where they would enjoy more privileges than in any other nation. Without the events of 1814, most of the Jews of Europe would have come to France where equality, fraternity and liberty awaited them and where they can serve the country like everyone else." (15)

            However, the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 article overemphasizes the political cause over ideal one; German states were largley agaisnt the imposition of Napoleon¡¯s laws. The article puts :

            "The cause to the convocation of this convention is given as follows: when, after the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon came through Strassburg, he was brought to the attention of limitless usury conducted by the Alsatian Jewry. The book of mortgages presented to him showed that the registered sums which had been lent by Alsatian Jews to the farmers surpassed the value of the respective plots of land by the factor 6 or 7. Because of this abuse the Emperor saw it necessary to organize the Jewish synod in Paris." (16)

            No matter what the cause was, Napoleon undoubtedly contributed to guaranteeing the rights of French Jews by implementing laws that replaced old ones that were based on prejudice. Napoleon would play an even more significant role in extending such measures throughout Europe.

III.2 Napoleonic Wars and the Imposition of Emancipation
            Until his defeat in 1814 at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon conquered vast amount of territory throughout Europe either directly or indirectly ruling the nations for a small number of years. In conquered countries, he emancipated Jews by abolishing laws that restrained Jewish activities. "Napoleon implemented the emancipation (...) which also remained valid in Holland and Belgium." (17) In addition, "Germany was pressed to emancipate the Jews (...) After it was implemented in parts of Germany under French control already in 1808, it was implemented in Hessen 1808, Frankfurt 1811, Baden(1808 and 1811), (...) and in Prussia by the Edict of March 11th 1812." (18) In 1814, the Jews were also emancipated in Denmark.
            However, since the laws were superimposed by Napoleon without the consent of the people, Jewish position deteriorated again in most countries after French rule was terminated. "While some governments (Hessen, Mecklenburg, Prussia) introduced new restrictions, others (Hannover, Frankfurt, Hamburg) deprived them of their citizenship." (19) Most of the European nations, unlike France, were not prepared to accept the Jews as equals. They would have to wait until the continent-wide Revolutions of 1848 spark the liberalistic spirits that embrace the rights of minorities like Jews.

IV. Europe's Jews after the Revolutions of 1848

IV.1 Revolutions of 1848
            As soon as the French Rule was ended, many nations seemed to return to their previous treatments toward Jews. However, as the call for civic freedom and religious toleration expanded throughout the continent, some countries began to implement pro-Jewish policies again. Namely, Belgium, which experienced a Revolution in 1830, abolished individual stipulations and its state assumed the costs of Jewish religious services.
            The liberal atmosphere of Europe climaxed when it underwent a series of political upheavals throughout the continent. Again, starting from France, the revolutionary spirit spread to the rest of Europe, resulting in violent protests that demanded policies in favor of the poor. Although most of the uprisings were quickly put down, they marked a turning point in liberalizing the governments. Consequently, Europe¡¯s attitude toward Jews faced a significant transition after the year 1848.
            In France, the constitution of November 4th 1848 upheld previous stipulations that the state "took on costs for Jewish religious service and a part of the costs for education" (20) In Italy, the Jewish tax was "abolished by the republican triumvirate in 1849" (21) German states also experienced substantial change in their laws on Jews :

            "During the events in Germany in 1848 the federal decision of April 7th 1848 (...) opened to (the Jews) access to the German National Assembly, and the enacting of German basic rights (1849), (...) stated that civil rights and the rights of a citizen could not be granted on condition or restricted, and that it should not infringe on citizens' duties. So full emancipation was granted" (22)

            Prussia already implemented a law of 1847 that lifted restrictions on Jews' emigration, trades, and real estate rights. The law remained intact after the changes in 1848. In Braunschweig, "laws of 1848 and 1849 abolished any inequality in pubic and private rights which were based on religious faith" (23) while in Schwerin, Jews "gained the rights of burghers, and thus the right to acquire real estate." (24) Weimar granted full Jewish emancipation in the law of 1850 while Frankfurt/Main altered the constitution in 1849 in order to extend the civil rights of Jews. In Lübeck, "(Jews) were granted rights equal to those of Christians" in 1848. Lastly, in Hungary, "the Imperial decree of November 1848 that the Jewish tax, and all fees on passports and local police taxes were abolished and that Jewish merchants were to be treated equal with Christian merchants." (25) Since the Revolutions of 1848, the conditions of Jews in Europe advanced substantially and continuously throughout the later half of the century.

IV.2 Exceptions
            Nevertheless, there were some exceptions to this continent-wide trend toward emancipating Jews. In those countries that did not experience any revolution in 1848, notably, the Russian Empire, situation of Jews remained mostly unchanged.

            "In the Russian Empire, which in its Polish provinces is home to a large Jewish population, their conditions were determined by an ordinance, (...) during the last decade the Russian government pursued a more severe policy toward the Jews, in part because of their participation in revolutionary activities in Poland, in part because of their involvement in smuggle trade along the border. According to a decree of May 1843 all Jews living within 50 werst of the border to Prussia and Austria should be resettled further in the interior. (...) In 1816 it was decreed that all Jews of the Kingdom of Poland up to the age of 60 (...) should dress like the Christians. " (26)

            Russian Empire's bitter persecution toward Jews continued until it finally emancipated them in 1917 as the last among European nations. Considering that at the beginning of the 20th century, Russian Jews composed nearly half of total number of Jews in the world, the Empire's delay in emancipating the Jews should not be neglected
            Other than the Russian Empire, however, most reformed European nations favored policies that were tolerant toward religious and political minorities like Jews.

IV.3 Writer's Viewpoint
            Compared to Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, encyclopedias written after the Napoleonic wars and Revolutions of 1848 show more tolerant and equitable viewpoints. The author of Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 describes that "the Jews, in a time of the decay of science in Europe, maintained a degree of civilization and dominant trade," (27) while Meyers Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909 characterizes the Jews to be men of "great perseverance and (...) excellent stature." Moreover, the articles often praise the contributions of Jews to European communities, especially in the fields of music, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and social sciences.
            On the other hand, the authors tend to pride Germany¡¯s liberalistic policies toward Jews in the later half of the 19th century. In fact, many of the newly created republics or constitutions perceived the protection of minority rights to be the index of the level to which a nation was civilized. In other words, 19th century European states supported Jewish rights in order to emphasize the degree of democratization. Consequently, the authors excessively underscored Germany¡¯s efforts in improving the position of Jews. Sometimes, they even twist historical accounts: even though the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 states that "Luther himself had a negative view of the Jews, and he advised to treat them as an unavoidable evil", later article in Meyer¡¯s Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909 contradicts by saying that Marin Luther requested "to treat the Jews as friends in blood and as brethren." It further emphasizes that Germany held "Humanism and the freer spirit (...) to treat (the Jews) with Christian love, to treat them in the spirit of friendship, to work with them." Moreover, they disdainfully characterized the situation of Jews in other countries like Russia, Galicia, and Romania to be "miserable" (28) contrasting with that of Jews in Germany.
            Nonetheless, the writers unwittingly express some degree of prejudice, although a lot milder than before, remaining within themselves. They show their deep-rooted disregard toward Jewish religious beliefs: "(The Jews) still refer to a Messiah, who, with temporal powers, will elevate the Jews to the first rank among the peoples of the world, and so the credulous were fooled by numerous tricksters." (29) The authors also hint that Europeans' stereotype on Jews still survived after the emancipation; they describe the "Semitic characteristics" to be "greed, shrewdness, cleverness, and the dislike for manual labour." (30)

V. Conclusion
            Europe¡¯s Jews, after centuries of persecution under Christian majority, finally gained emancipation in most of the European countries during the 19th century. Beginning with the French revolution, tolerant policies were imposed throughout the continent thanks to Napoleon¡¯s fervent conquests. Despite minor setbacks after the removal of French rule, majority of the countries implemented pro-Jewish policies when the Revolutions of 1848 ignited liberal atmosphere in Europe. With the exception of those in countries like the Russian Empire, Europe¡¯s Jews were gradually emancipated in the 19th century.
            The German encyclopedias, Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841, Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, and Meyer¡¯s Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909, all accounts for such transition in the position of Jews in Europe. Factually, these encyclopedias records the process in which individual states adopted laws liberating the Jews and how their rights improved in particular regions. On the other hand, they also provide with judgmental statements which directly or indirectly reflects Europeans', or more specifically, Germans' viewpoint toward Jews. The factual accounts and attitudes of the writers seem to be coherent in that they both transformed into more liberal ones, supportive of Jews¡¯ rights, throughout the 19th century. However, the articles also have bias that prides fragmented Germany's policies toward Jews over those of other countries. Moreover, the tone of the authors implies that despite substantial changes in policies, the underlying stereotype and hatred toward Jews remained intact among Europeans.
            The examination of 19th century German encyclopedic articles on Jews clearly manifests improving conditions of Europe¡¯s Jews. Nevertheless, the bias and implicit prejudice shown in the articles should not be neglected in determining the degree at which such reformation took place.


(1)      Article: Die Juden (1), from Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 edition
(2)      Ibid.
(3)      Ibid.
(4)      Ibid.
(5)      Ibid.
(6)      Ibid.
(7)      Ibid.
(8)      Ibid.
(9)      Ibid.
(10)      Ibid.
(11)      Ibid.
(12)      Ibid.
(13)      Article : Juden, from Meyers Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909 edition
(14)      Ibid.
(15)      Wikipedia
(16)      Article: Die Juden (2), from Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 edition
(17)      Article: Die Juden, from Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841 edition
(18)      Article : Juden, from Meyers Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909 edition
(19)      Ibid.
(20)      Article: Die Juden, Pierer¡¯s Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 edition
(21)      Ibid.
(22)      Ibid.
(23)      Ibid.
(24)      Ibid.
(25)      Article: Die Juden, Pierer¡¯s Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 edition
(26)      Ibid.
(27)      Article: Die Juden, Pierer¡¯s Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 edition
(28)      Article : Juden, from Meyers Grosses Conversations-Lexikon 1902-1909 edition
(29)      Article: Die Juden, Pierer¡¯s Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865 edition
(30)      Ibid.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009.

Primary Sources
1.      Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon. 1809-1811 edition, Article : Die Juden (1), posted by Zeno, translated into English on WHKMLA
2.      Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon. 1837-1841 edition, Article : Die Juden, posted by Zeno, translated into English on WHKMLA
3.      Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 1857-1865, Article : Die Juden, posted by Zeno, translated into English on WHKMLA
4.      Meyers Konversationslexikon. 1902 - 1909 edition, Article : Die Juden, posted by Zeno, translated into English on WHKMLA

Secondary Sources
5.      Article: Napoleon and the Jews, from Wikipedia.
6.      Park, Ju Hyun, Anti-Semitism in Europe, 1850-1914 (2009), posted on WHKMLA,

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