Under a Cloak of Civility: Bourgeois Answers to the “Jewish Question” in London and Berlin 1890-1914

Is there a "morally right" answer to the "Jewish question"? In the early 1890s this question was heavily debated in London and Berlin’s bourgeois circles. After all, previous and current attempts at dealing with the new presence and visibility of Jewish life – like the Antisemiten-Bewegung in Berlin and the persecutions taking place in Zsarist Russia – stood widely at odds with bourgeois ideals of civility, rationality, and non-violence. As a result, "the charge of antisemitism [was] dreaded" (White 1894: 158), given its potentially negative consequences for one’s personal reputation and career. At the same time, however, the necessity for an answer to the "Jewish question" was deemed more urgent than ever: Both London and Berlin were not only home to some of the largest and most vibrant Jewish communities in their respective countries, but also experienced an unprecedented influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing the Russian pogroms creating actual problems and issues that needed to be solved.

My project follows the actions taken by those members of the bourgeois classes who were both intent on finding an answer to the "Jewish question" as well as keeping their reputation and self-image as upstanding citizens intact. A large variety of actors – ranging from the Berlin-based völkisch Deutschbund and the Deutschkonservative Partei to anti-immigration and pro-Boer activists in London – come under scrutiny with regards to the following questions: How did they define and evaluate the "Jewish question"? What were their suggestions for "solving" it? How did they communicate those ideas? Did they react to actual or potential backlash from Jewish or liberal organizations? How did they deal with accusations of being antisemitic?

By taking this actor- and milieu- centered approach, my project offers new perspectives on the creation and communication of anti-Jewish rhetoric and action in concrete urban contexts. Moreover, it reveals the distinctly transnational character of bourgeois debates on the "Jewish question" which previous research has failed to recognize. Unearthing and explaining the differences and similarities between both cities as well as fleshing out the potential consequences for future developments constitutes the overarching aim of my project.



Prof. Stefanie Schüler-Springorum