The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Late 18th- first half of 19th Century: Changes are coming

In the late 18th century, the legal status of Jews in German lands began to improve. Emperor Joseph II issued the Edict of Toleration in 1782, inviting Jews to become members of the Holy Roman Empire and serve in the army, and thus abolishing occupational and residency restrictions and eliminating special taxes levied on Jews. Similarly, Napoleon emancipated the Jews living in the lands he conquered, granting them equal rights and the right to worship as they saw fit.

 

Under the influence of Napoleon, some German rulers introduced reforms that fell short of full emancipation and were often abrogated in their implementation. In 1812, for example, Prussia passed an edict granting Jews citizenship but refusing them the right to serve in any official capacity, whether as officers in the army, civil servants, postal clerks, or university professors. Still, some Prussian regions revoked these economic and social freedoms for Jews. In other German states, emancipation suffered grave setbacks. The Free City of Frankfurt stripped Jews of their citizenship, and, in Austria, formal civil rights were often undercut locally through legal chicanery.

 

Despite some opposition, economic reforms nevertheless proceeded, with states lowering taxation rates on Jews and opening some professions to them. In 1842, Prussia lifted residency restrictions for all its subjects, which significantly lowered obstacles to Jewish migration to larger towns and cities. Although greater economic freedom did not automatically translate into higher living standards, it permitted Jews to participate in the larger German trend towards urbanization.

Family stories

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Kahn & Arnold

Aron Kahn (1841-1926) and Albert Arnold (1844-1913) both came from rural Bavaria, where they peddled textile goods. In 1869, they moved to Augsburg (a midsize city near Munich) and founded a wholesale business specializing in cotton trade. Over the years, thanks to their entrepreneurial skills, the firm grew into a major cotton-spinning enterprise. The partners had gravitated to manufacturing partly because the social barriers to entering the new economic sectors were comparatively low.

For more information about Glückel of Hameln see Shared History Project: https://sharedhistoryproject.org/object/hamburg-during-the-life-of-gluckel-of-hameln

Early modern time

Second half of the 19th century

Early modern era

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Edict of Toleration by Joseph II, 1781. Public domain. 

An 1806 French print depicts Napoleon Bonaparte emancipating the Jews. Public domain.

Napoleon grants the Jews freedom to worship, represented by the hand extended extended to the Jewish woman.

The Revolution of 1848-49 brought calls for emancipating Jews, as well as opposition to them. Although many German states initially signed onto the idea that all people were equal no matter their religion, many rulers backpedaled after the Revolution failed. Wurttemberg, for example, revoked the emancipatory statutes it passed in 1848, but eventually granted its Jews full civil rights in 1864. Sporadic violence against people and property remained a serious threat to safety. Many German Jews responded to this violence and to the continued restrictions on their economic freedoms by moving from rural areas and smaller towns. Some left for big cities, where they found more protection from violence and more economic opportunities. Others left Germany entirely and emigrated to North America, attracted by the promise of legal equality as well as economic freedom.