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The Discourse of Usury: Relations Between Christians and Jews in the German Countryside, 1880–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Helmut Walser Smith
Vanderbilt University


Most historians are aware that the charge of usury belongs to the standard arsenal of both traditional anti-Judaism and modern forms of anti-Semitism (if indeed one accepts the validity of this distinction). More recently, historians and scholars of literature have considered the way in which usury was a powerful simile—the usurer as Jew—and as such central to the cultural history of learned and popular forms of anti-Semitic prejudice. In the essay that follows, I do not intend to further document the history of this prejudice in the realm of print culture. Rather, I will explore the way in which its central assumption (namely that Jews and Christians possessed radically different and religiously specific conceptions of work and trade) configured, entered into, and also obfuscated rural relations between Christians and Jews.

Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 1999

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22. Brettener Wochenblatt, n.d. press clipping, 11 January 1892 (Offener Sprechsaal, letter “Im Namen der Israeliten in Bretten”.); GLA 357/10035.

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25. The Brettener Sonntagsblatt was a conservative Anzeiger, but as the only newspaper in town, it received letters from both sides. Moreover, because it was an official paper (supported by the government of Baden), it had an obligation to be impartial in the publication of these letters.

26. Brettener Wochenblatt, 11 January 1892, G LA 357/10035.

27. Ibid., 12 January 1892.

28. Ibid., 9 March 1892.

29. Ibid., 2 January 1892.

30. Flugblatt no. 36 Deutsch-Soziale Partei (Güterschlächter Liste), 1890. GLA 60/681.

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48. This definition is from Weinberg, Werner, Die Reste des Jüdischdeutschen (Stuttgart, 1969), 99.Google Scholar

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73. See also Cahnman, Werner J., German Jewry: Its History and Sociology (Brunswick, N.J., 1989), 51,Google Scholar who remembers Jews who engaged in foreclosing peasant farms as people “who did not always enjoy the most salubrious reputation among Jews or Christians.”

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85. See Calmman, , German Jewry, 66, n. 60 for more detail.Google Scholar

86. Stolz, , Armut und Geldsachen, 4950.Google ScholarSchwab, , Jewish Rural Communities in Germany, 39, also suggests evidence “of sermons of more than one priest in Bavarian villages who praised the Jewish population for their family life and their sobriety as an example to his flock.”Google Scholar

87. Brcuer, , Jüdische Orthodoxie, 279,Google Scholar who cites a Christian villager as saying “1ch kann de Jude net leide, die den Schabbes net halte” (I can't stand the Jew who doesn't observe Sabbath). For an astute reflection on the degree to which religious life, Jewish and Christian, showed characteristics of convergence in popular religiosity, see also Lowenstein, Steven, “Jüdisches Leben in deutschen Dörfern,” in Jüdisches Leben auf dem Lande, 219–29.Google Scholar

88. Der Wucher auf dem Lande, 55.

89. Ibid., 91–92.

90. Bäuerliche Zustände, 2: 20.Google Scholar

91. Jeggle, , Judendörfer in Württemberg, 314.Google Scholar This, he writes, is a function of false consciousness, not in any way a reflection of a past reality: “Late capitalist society,” he argues,“does not know unity, for that reason it must postulate harmony all the more vigorously.” Monika Richarz, who does not argue in the same style, nevertheless emphasizes difference. Sec especially Richarz, , “Landjuden ein bürgerliches Element im Dorf?” in Idylle oder Aufbruch: Das Dorf im bürgerlichen 19.Jahrhundert, ed. by Jacobeit, Wolfgang et al. (Berlin, 1990), esp. 184.Google Scholar