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4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare
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Overview: Forging an Empire: Bismarckian Germany, 1866-1890   |   1. Demographic and Economic Development   |   2. Society   |   3. Culture   |   4. Religion, Education, Social Welfare   |   5. Politics I: Forging an Empire   |   6. Military and International Relations   |   7. Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization

Jewish Life and the Rise of Political Antisemitism. In the Bismarckian era, Jews as well as Catholics were the targets of nationalists obsessed with the need to define and defend a confessionally homogenous nation state. The 1870s was not only the decade in which associational life expanded rapidly in support of Protestant and Catholic confessional goals, but also the decade in which an alleged Jewish threat to the young German nation mobilized antisemites of word and deed. One impetus to the explosion of political antisemitism was the perception that Jews benefited disproportionately from the scandals associated with the founding era. The propaganda that carried the antisemites’ message to every corner of the land drew on centuries-old stereotypes and falsehoods about the Jews: for example, their alleged propensity for usury and the blood-libel myth. But another source of antipathy toward the Jews can be discerned in Germans’ uncertainty about whether the boundaries of their nation were sufficiently well-defined to meet the challenges of a precarious geographic position in Europe and the international, even global, reach of commercial and cultural networks (IM10, IM11). In this context, it became easy for anxious nationalists to claim that Germany would never be truly unified until the Jewish “enemy within” was vanquished.

In obvious contrast to the radical antisemitism that followed defeat in 1918 and the state-sponsored murder of six million Jews after 1933, antisemitism in the Bismarckian era did not attract enough support to lead to widespread violence against Jews. Nor did it destroy the Jews’ confidence that Germany would provide a more congenial home as modernization continued. Nevertheless, to further the Jews’ integration into German society required great effort, as suggested by Emil Lehmann’s campaign for Jewish rights in Saxony (D6, D14, IM15) and the public advocacy of notables during the “Berlin Conflict” (D15, IM12, IM13, IM14, IM18). Documents included here (D9, D10, D11, D16, D17) provide chilling examples of the radicalism and plainness of language used, even in Bismarck’s day, by antisemitic leaders and publicists. They spoke of ostracizing the Jews, destroying their “dominant” position in German business, culture, and the press, stripping them of civil and political rights, banishing them from German territory, and even instigating physical violence against them (D9, D10, D11, D16, D17, IM16, IM17, IM19).

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