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Heinrich von Treitschke Pronounces, "The Jews are Our Misfortune" (November 15, 1879)

Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896) was one of the most prominent historians of nineteenth-century Germany and also the most politically engaged. In 1866, he was appointed editor of the Preußische Jahrbücher [Prussian Yearbooks], which provided monthly reviews of politics. In 1874, he was appointed Professor of History at the University of Berlin. He also served as a Reichstag deputy in the 1870s, representing the National Liberal Party. In his university lectures, journal articles, political essays, and even in his multi-volume History of Germany, Treitschke expressed his disdain for the governments of non-Prussian states, women, socialists, Catholics, Poles, and – as we read here – Jews. The ostensible impetus for this essay was Treitschke’s review of the eleventh volume of Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews (Geschichte der Juden). Only the last third of the article – the part excerpted here – deals directly with the “Jewish Question.” It was published in January 1880, along with two later articles, as a separate pamphlet entitled A Word about Our Jews (Ein Wort über unser Judenthum). This pamphlet reached a far wider audience than the initial essay: by the end of 1880, it had been printed in three editions, with a fourth following in 1881. Treitschke’s polemic sparked the “Berlin Antisemitism Conflict” (Berliner Antisemitismusstreit), which raged for the next two years and produced violent scenes like the one depicted in another document in this collection. Just as Stoecker’s social and political prominence had allowed him to state his “demands” on the Jews two months earlier, Treitschke’s reputation as a university faculty member lent great weight to his pronouncements, particularly among members of student fraternities (Burschenschaften). Two declarations from this essay were seized upon and repeated ad nauseum in the years to come. The first was his statement that “year after year, out of the inexhaustible Polish cradle there streams over our eastern border a host of hustling, pants-peddling youths, whose children and children’s children will someday command Germany’s stock exchanges and newspapers.” The second, more concise phrase had still greater contemporary impact and historical resonance: “The Jews are our misfortune!”

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Among the symptoms of a deep change of heart going through our nation, none appears so strange as the passionate movement against Jewry. A few months ago the oft-heard cry “Hep-Hep”* still echoed in Germany. Anyone is permitted to say unabashedly the harshest things about the national shortcomings of the Germans, the French, and all the other peoples, but any who dared to speak about the undeniable weaknesses of the Jewish character, no matter how moderately or justly, was immediately branded by almost the entire press as a barbarian and a religious bigot. Today we have progressed so far that a majority of the voters of Breslau have sworn under no circumstances to elect a Jew to the state parliament** – and this apparently not in wild agitation but with calm forethought. Antisemitic leagues are banding together. The “Jewish question” is being discussed in excited meetings. A flood of anti-Jewish libels is inundating the book market. There is all too much dirt and crudity in these activities, and it is nauseating to note that many of those inflammatory writings apparently stem from Jewish pens. As is well known, since Eisenmenger and Pfefferkorn,*** born Jews have been ever more strongly represented in the ranks of the fanatic Jew haters.+ But is all that hides behind this noisome activity really just the coarseness of the mob and business envy? Are these outbreaks of deep, long-restrained anger merely an ephemeral excrescence, as hollow and baseless as the Teutonic Jew baiting of 1819? No; in fact, the instinct of the masses has correctly identified a serious danger, a critical defect in the new German life. It is no empty formula when we speak today of a German Jewish question.

* Supposedly of medieval origin, the “Hep-Hep” cry was the signal for the pogrom, the anti-Jewish riot. During the “Hep-Hep” riots of 1819, various derivations of the phrase were offered. Nazi storm troopers revived its usage during the 1920s. [Footnote taken from Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism in the Modern World. An Anthology of Texts. Lexington, Mass., and Toronto: D.C. Heath, 1991, p. 69] Up to now, the origins and original meaning of the expression are still open to question: the opinion that “Hep” means Hierosolyma est perdita (Jerusalem must be destroyed) is not provable beyond a doubt. According to another interpretation, “HEP” stands for “Hebrew, Noble People (Edelleute), and Potentates,” against whom popular anger during the German revolutionary movements of 1819 was originally directed. In any event, since the anti-Jewish riots of that year (the so-called Hep-Hep-riots), this expression was a popular topos for anti-Jewish agitation and persecution. [Note adapted and translated from Karsten Krieger, ed., Der „Berliner Antisemitismusstreit“ 1879-1881. Eine Kontroverse um die Zugehörigkeit der deutschen Juden zur Nation. Kommentierte Quellenedition [The “Berlin Antisemitism Conflict” 1879-1881. A Controversy Over Whether German Jews Belong to the Nation. Annotated Source Edition], 2 parts. Munich: K.G. Saur, 2003-2004, pt. 1, p. 10]
** This passage refers to Eduard Lasker’s candidacy for the Prussian Assembly in 1879. [Note adapted from Krieger, p. 10]
*** Treitschke's contention of Jewish authorship for the antisemitic pamphlets of the 1870s is baseless. He is, perhaps, referring specifically to Wilhelm Marr, who was widely thought to have been a renegade Jew; this, too, has no basis in fact. Marr was descended from Lutherans on both sides of his family. [Note from Levy, p. 69]
+ Johann Andreas Eisenmenger was not a Jew. [Note adpated from Krieger, p. 11]

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