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Antisemites’ Petition (1880-1881)

Leading German antisemites launched a petition campaign in the summer of 1880 to rally public awareness of what they identified as the “Jewish problem” and to demand legislative action. Among this group was the schoolteacher Bernhard Förster (1843-1889). The following text is the second draft of this petition. It demands that the legal emancipation of the Jews (1869) be rescinded; indeed, it claims that the German nation itself must be “emancipated” from the Jews’ “alien domination.” It also demands the curtailment or limitation of Jewish immigration and the expulsion of Jews from positions as judges, teachers, and other civil service posts. Signatures were collected from many high-ranking figures, although some people listed had refused to sign or later denied that they had done so. The published list includes the well-known antisemites Adolf Stöcker (1835-1909) and Ernst Henrici (1854-1915); Ernst Schmeitzner (1851-1895), an editor and publisher in Chemnitz; and Carl Wilmanns, who served as the German Conservative Party’s first general secretary and who had authored The “Golden” International and the Necessity of a Social Reform Party [Die “goldene” Internationale und die Nothwendigkeit einer socialen Reformpartei] in 1876. Other signatories were antisemites working at this time to expand the Conservative Party’s appeal in southern Germany. Approximately 265,000 adult males signed the petition, but this was not a great success in terms of numbers: antisemitic leaders actually decided not to try the same tactic again. It did, however, occasion a two-day debate on the “Jewish Question” in the Prussian House of Deputies on November 20 and 22, 1880, during which a government spokesman gave only a lukewarm defense of Jewish emancipation. In April 1881, the petition was presented to Bismarck, but he refused to respond to it.

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The Jewish hypertrophy conceals within itself the most serious dangers to our national way of life. This belief has spread throughout all the regions of Germany. Wherever Christian and Jew enter into social relations, we see the Jew as master and the native-born Christian population in a servile position. The Jew takes only a vanishingly small part in the hard work of the great mass of our people; in field and workshop, in mines and on scaffolding, in swamps and canals – everywhere it is only the calloused hand of the Christian that is active. But it is above all the Jew who harvests the fruits of this labor. By far the greatest portion of capital produced by national labor is concentrated in Jewish hands. Jewish real estate keeps pace with the growth of mobile capital. Not only the proudest palaces of our cities belong to the Jewish masters (whose fathers or grandfathers crossed the borders of our fatherland as peddlers and hawkers), but the rural estate – this highly significant and conserving basis of our state structure – is falling into Jewish hands with ever greater frequency.

Truly, in view of these conditions and because of the massive penetration of the Semitic element into all positions affording power and influence, the following question seems justified on an ethical as well as national standpoint: what future is left our fatherland if the Semitic element is allowed to make a conquest of our home ground for another generation as it has been allowed to do in the last two decades? If the concept of "fatherland" is not to be stripped of its ideal content, if the idea that it was our fathers who tore this land from the wilderness and fertilized it with their blood in a thousand battles is not to be lost, if the inward connection between German custom and morality and the Christian outlook and tradition is to be maintained, then an alien tribe may never, ever rise to rule on German soil. This tribe, to whom our humane legislation extended the rights of hospitality and the rights of the native, stands further from us in thought and feeling than any other people in the entire Aryan world.

The danger to our national way of life must naturally mount not only when the Jews succeed in not only encroaching upon the national and religious consciousness of our people by means of the press, but also when they succeed in obtaining state offices, the bearers of which are obliged to guard over the idealistic goods of our nation. We think above all of the professions of teacher and judge. Both were inaccessible to Jews until very recently, and both must again be closed if the concept of authority, the feeling for legality and fatherland, are not to become confused and doubted by the nation. Even now the Germanic ideals of honor, loyalty, and genuine piety begin to be displaced to make room for a cosmopolitan pseudoideal.

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