Back on January 12, 2018, I wrote about my four-times great-grandfather Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt who in 1724 was the first Jew to receive a Schutzbrief in the town of Oberlistingen. I received a couple of comments and questions about the practice of obtaining a Schutzbrief, so I decided to do some additional research to get a better understanding.
Unfortunately, there is not much written online about this practice. I asked in the Jewish genealogy groups on Facebook and received a recommendation for a book by Mordechai Breuer and Michael Graetz entitled German-Jewish History in Modern Times, Volume I: Tradition and Enlightenment 1600-1780 (Michael A. Meyer, ed., William Templer, translator) (Columbia University Press 1996)(hereinafter “Breuer-Graetz”). Another person recommended a different book, Mathilda Wertheim Stein’s The Way It Was: The Jewish World of Rural Hesse (FrederickMax Publications 2000)(hereinafter “Stein”). What follows is based on just these two sources and is not meant to be a comprehensive summary of German Jewish history by any means, but merely a brief overview of the practice of issuing letters of protection or Schutzbriefe.
In 1236, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared that Jews were servi camerae nostril—that is, permanent servants of the emperor.1 Jews were subject to many restrictions; for example, they were not allowed to bear arms; they were required to pay onerous taxes to the empire; and they were prohibited from many areas of trade and from guilds.2 Because of these restrictions, many Jews made their living as moneylenders and pawnbrokers, fields that were were considered un-Christian. As a result, many Jews developed experience in finance and in facilitating trade.3
It was during this era that a class of “protected Jews” or Schutzjuden developed. Frederick II instituted a policy whereby territorial rulers could take over the oversight and taxation of Jewish.4 As explained by Stein, “When the emperor needed funds, he granted his right over the Jews to territorial feudal lords and free cities. They in turn charged a regular fee for letters of protection to the Jews living within their domain. As a result, Jews became the subjects of the feudal lords, who furnished a letter of protection (Schutzbrief). Letters of protection had to be renewed periodically for a fee set by the sovereign and they generated a good income.”5 According to Stein, “Many a palace in [Hesse] was built with money exacted from Jews who paid excessively for the privilege of living under wretched conditions at the pleasure of the sovereign.” 6 But the payment for protection at least ensured the Schutzjuden some rights as well as some protection against anti-Semitic violence and abuse.7
By the 16th century, there was some liberalization in the treatment of Jewish residents. According to Breuer-Graetz, those in power at this time “gradually came to view the Jews in a different light: not as individuals bereft of all rights, but as human beings with a basic right to toleration, though no more than that.”8
But Jewish security was still very much dependent on the local nobles, and at the same time the nobles often found themselves depending on the Jews for their expertise in commercial and economic matters.9 During the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, many Jews played a critical role in financing and procuring supplies for the nobles’ armies.10 This led to the development of a class of Jews known as Court Jews who were very wealthy and protected by the nobles though still treated as outsiders. The Court Jews also played an important role within their own Jewish communities, acting as tax collectors for the nobles and as advocates and benefactors for Jewish residents who needed financial help or who were having legal problems. Court Jews also hired other Jews to work as their servants in their homes.11 Other Jewish residents worked as peddlers and traders, often as cattle and horse traders.12
The practice of Schutzjuden also was somewhat liberalized during this period in some places. In earlier times, a letter of protection (Schutzbrief) was issued to just one individual and for a limited time, usually just a few years. Now in some localities letters of protection lasted for the lifetime of an individual and were granted to larger numbers of people. To acquire a letter of protection, Jews were required to pay a substantial annual fee.13
“One important feature of these letters of protection was the specification of a precise territorial area in which they were valid. The patron could cancel the privilege at any time, and there was generally a fixed number of authorized protected Jews.“14 The entire household of a protected Jew was also covered by the letter of protection, including servants. Jews who were not covered by a Schutzbrief were part of an underclass known as “unvergleitet” Jews; they had no right to reside in a community and were dependent on manual labor or begging to survive.15
Even those with protection had quite circumscribed rights. They were still prohibited from most areas of trade, and they could own no real estate other than their home. They were subjected to many taxes and fees in addition to their annual fee for protection, and those taxes were substantially higher than the taxes paid by their Christian neighbors. If an individual Jew did not fulfill his or her personal obligations, the entire Jewish community was responsible for the debts of that individual. Breuer-Graetz observed that the non-Jewish peasant community was in some ways worse off financially than the Schutzjuden, but in many ways had more legal rights than their Jewish neighbors.16
There were many regional variations in Schutzbrief practice. According to Stein, “Renewal of a Schutzbrief was customary in the region of Hesse, but each case was handled individually at the discretion of the local feudal lord with whom terms had to be continually renegotiated.”17 Stein cites as one example a Schutzbrief that was valid for only four years and subject to carrying on an approved business and paying the yearly fee in advance.18 In some towns in Hesse the granting of a Schutzbrief was subject to two other requirements: the ability to read and write and the possession of sufficient wealth.19 A couple wishing to marry often had to wait until a place in a town or village was available before they could marry.20
The 18th century saw the dawn of the so-called Age of Enlightenment, but for the Jewish residents it was hardly that. It was during this time that my ancestor Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt became the first protected Jew in the town of Oberlistingen. Jews were still forced to endure both heavier taxation and greater legal restrictions. “Increased difficulties were likewise encountered in connection with the granting of protection. In many places there was a rigorous expulsion of poor, ‘unprotected’ Jews; the children of protected Jews were not accepted for permanent residence unless the parents were wealthy or had proven their worth by the establishment of manufactories.” 21
During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), treatment of Jews worsened. He considered Jews “the most dangerous of all sects”22, and despite his view that the state’s most important function was to ensure the welfare of all its subjects, he did not extend that view to his Jewish subjects. “Rather, they remained nothing but an instrument for furthering the welfare of the state and its development into a great European power.”23The Revised General Code of 1750 placed Jews in a number classes from most privileged to least privileged. As described by Breuer-Graetz,24 these categories were:
- Generalpriviligierte: the smallest and most elite level. They could purchase land and homes without a permit, work as merchants, and pass on their rights to their children.
- Ordentliche Schutzjuden: privileged protected Jews; they could not choose their residence without a permit and could only pass on their rights to one of their children.
- Ausserodentliche Schuzjuden: unprivileged protected Jews; only permitted to reside in the town if they had a useful profession or trade and could provide one of their children with the right of residence if the child had sufficient assets.
- Community employees, including rabbis.
- Unprotected Jews: they required the patronage of a protected Jew and could only marry if their spouse was someone from the top two classes. Children of the privileged protected Jews who did not share in the right to inherit were also placed in this class as were children of community employees.
- Servants employed by those in the first class.
According to Breuer-Graez, the purpose of this system of classification was “to curb the growth of the legitimate Jewish population and to put a halt on the illegal influx of unprotected Jews.” 25 It was also a means of raising revenue since each of those who obtained protection paid hefty amounts for that privilege.
This oppressive government-imposed treatment of Jews as outsiders with limited rights lasted for another century. It was not until the 19th century that various Germanic states began to emancipate their Jewish residents and grant them full legal rights as citizens; unfortunately, that did not end anti-Semitism and the violence and discrimination it engendered, as we saw most tragically in the 20th century.
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 28-29. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz. pp. 29-30. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 30-31. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 29-30. ↩
- Stein, p 6. ↩
- Stein, p.6. ↩
- Stein, p. 20. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 65. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 75-77. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 104-117. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 117-122. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 123-134. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 135-136. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 136. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp.136-137. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, pp. 137-143. ↩
- Stein, p. 22. ↩
- Stein, p. 22. ↩
- Stein, p. 20. ↩
- Stein, p. 18. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 145. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, 148-149. ↩
- Breuer-Graetz, p. 149. ↩