The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Oppenheimer

Early modern era

Samuel Oppenheimer (1630-1703) was a banker, arms supplier, diplomat, and philanthropist at the Imperial court in Vienna. As a so-called “court Jew” (Hofjude), he was granted the right to reside in Vienna – even though Jews had been expelled from the city in 1670 – in return for providing financial and diplomatic services for the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Like most “court Jews”, however, Oppenheimer’s good fortune was precarious, resting on the whimsy of royal favor and the caprice of royal budgets. In 1697, Oppenheimer was briefly arrested because of an antisemitic intrigue at the Imperial court. In 1700, anti-Jewish rioters destroyed and plundered houses in Vienna, including Oppenheimer’s mansion. Oppenheimer nevertheless remained loyal and rescued Leopold, who had overextended himself in the War of the Spanish Succession, from bankruptcy. When Oppenheimer died in 1703, however, Emperor Leopold refused to honor his debts, plunging the family into financial ruin.  

Samuel Oppenheimer, lithography by Josef Kriehuber, 1846. Public domain.

Privileges for Samuel Oppenheimer, 1691. Public domain.

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