German Immigrants, Part 1

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Causes of 19th Century German Jewish Emigration


     The German Jews who came to the United States during the nineteenth century were a part of a larger non-Jewish German migration from the “old country.” These Jews were driven to leave their native land in part for the same reasons which motivated all Germans.  Economic conditions in Germany and Europe generally guaranteed lifelong poverty for most subjects of the European nobility. Moreover, the revolutions of 1848 had failed in all German lands. Yet, the Jews had an additional reason for leaving Germany, and that was the failure of the German Christian population to accept Jews as equal citizens.

     Jews had settled in southern Germany with the Romans in 321 and founded the city of Köln, known in America as Cologne and originally called Colonia Agrippina. Nevertheless, Jews were always viewed as outsiders by the large Christian majority, who had settled in Germany much later.

      Jews and Judaism were viewed as disagreeable and cause for murderous persecutions at all times in the long history of Jewish life in German lands. During the Crusades (1095-1191), Jews were slaughtered wherever the crusaders went. Martin Luther, no doubt the most influential German of his day, condemned Jews in many of his writings, so that such opinions concerning Jews entered into all European literature.

     Although Jews were given legal rights after the Napoleonic Wars, these rights existed only on paper.

     While in 1812 Prussia granted Jews equal citizenship, this was most unpopular. Thus, the legal rights of Jews were circumvented and it was said that a German Jew could not do the most minute thing without it being interpreted as “typically” Jewish. By 1819 it was common for German Jews to be attacked physically on German streets. These attacks were mainly organized by university students, leading to a Prussian law of 1829 which denied Jews any opportunity to attend any Prussian school.  In fact, Jews were seldom accorded any equality with Christians in Germany, so that Jews could not enter many of the professions, as Christians could not tolerate any Jew as teacher, governor, member of the press or parliament, or army officer.

     Numerous anti-Jewish books were published in Germany in the nineteenth century, such as The Victory of Judaism over Germanism by Wilhelm Marr, who also coined the phrase “anti-semitism.” Even Biblical names such as David or Benjamin were anathema among German Christians, lest a child so named be regarded as a Jew.

     All this and much more made Jewish life exceedingly difficult for Jews in Germany long before the mass extermination of the European Jews became a reality in 1933.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Assassination, Anarchy, & Terrorism (2012).

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