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

An example of a Schutzbrief from the Hesse region in 1678 Source: HStAM II A 2 Judenachen 1646-1814

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.”23

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, painting by
Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Community employees, including rabbis.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.







  1. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 28-29. 
  2. Breuer-Graetz. pp. 29-30. 
  3. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 30-31. 
  4. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 29-30. 
  5. Stein, p 6. 
  6. Stein, p.6. 
  7. Stein, p. 20. 
  8. Breuer-Graetz, p. 65. 
  9. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 75-77. 
  10. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 104-117. 
  11. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 117-122. 
  12. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 123-134. 
  13. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 135-136. 
  14. Breuer-Graetz, p. 136. 
  15. Breuer-Graetz, pp.136-137. 
  16. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 137-143. 
  17. Stein, p. 22. 
  18. Stein, p. 22. 
  19. Stein, p. 20. 
  20. Stein, p. 18. 
  21. Breuer-Graetz, p. 145. 
  22. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  23. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  24. Breuer-Graetz, 148-149. 
  25. Breuer-Graetz, p. 149. 

Introducing the Goldschmidts of Oberlistingen

It’s a new year, and it’s time to start the story of a new line in my family. As I was finishing the history of the Katzenstein family, I pondered which line I should work on next. Growing up, I’d only known the surnames of some of my ancestors: Cohen, Seligmann, Nusbaum, Schoenthal, Katzenstein, Brotman,  and Goldschlager, the lines I’ve focused on so far. I did not ever hear the names Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Hamberg, Goldschmidt, Brod, or Rosenzweig. Those names had disappeared when the women took their husbands’ names and gave their children only their husbands’ names. But after researching the husband’s lines, I learned the birth surnames of their wives. 

So now it’s time to go back and find the stories of these other families. I have decided to start with the Goldschmidt line—the family of my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt who married Gerson Katzenstein. She was the mother of my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal and the grandmother and namesake of my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen. It made sense to start with the Goldschmidts because they are entangled in several ways with both my Katzenstein relatives and my Schoenthal relatives, as you will see. Also, I am intrigued by the idea of following the direct female line of my paternal grandmother–from Eva Schoenthal to Hilda Katzenstein to Eva Goldschmidt.

Thanks to the incredible work of David Baron and Roger Cibella, I can trace my Goldschmidt family back to my fifth-great-grandparents, Falcke Jacob, born in about 1697, and his wife Sara (surname unknown), born in about 1704.

My Goldschmidt ancestors came from Oberlistingen in the Hesse region of Germany, just a few miles from the village of Breuna, where my Hamberg ancestors once lived, about fourteen miles from Sielen where my Schoenthal ancestors lived, and about fifty miles north of Jesberg where my Katzenstein relatives lived.  Oberlistingen is in fact a small village within the larger township of Breuna, which also includes Niederlistingen, another small village very close to Oberlistingen. The two villages are sometimes referred together as the two “Listingens.”


Years ago David and Roger put together a website that traced the history of the Goldschmidt family and Oberlistingen and included excerpts from Chapter III of Dieter Carl’s book, Die Juden Geschichte Beider Listingen [The Jewish History of the Two Listingens] (Herausgegeben vom Gemeindevorstand der Gemeinde Breuna, 1999), as translated by Joseph Voss.

According to Dieter Carl, Jews had been expelled from the Hesse region by Duke Phillip the Generous in the mid-16th century in response to pressure from Martin Luther.  Then in 1592 Lord Moritz allowed a few Jews to settle in the region. Eventually more Jews settled in the Hesse region, but restrictions were imposed.

Carl provided this helpful background:

The unique position of the Jews derived from the nature of their religion, on one hand, and, on the other hand, stemmed from the nature of a people who had no citizens rights, who were not fully free, and stood outside of the established Christian society.  Therefore the Jews had gained the special protection of the Feudal lords needed for their security and livelihood for economical activity and housing.  Originally this protection was in the hands of the Kaiser, but in time it transmitted down to local Dukes.  ….  [T]he Dukes of Hessen … gave to certain families a letter “schutzbriefe” of protection–the legal basis for living in these rural areas.  The receiver of the schutzbriefe had to pay a reasonable sum and had to provide other services for the Lord.  The protection letter gave the Jews the legal right to trade and lend money.

For a long time Jews could not become artisans, farmers or civil servants, but only moneylenders or traders.  In order to limit the number of Jews in Hessian towns and villages, the letter could not be inheritable.  In reality though, the letter was passed down from father to eldest son with a small sum paid in order to continue that right.  This was beneficial for the right to do business and who could establish a family; hence the authorities could control the size of the Jewish population.  All the Jews for whatever reason did not possess the Schutzbrief, the youngest sons and unmarried daughters were the so-called “Unvergleitete” or disinherited.  From these large groups were created the Jewish under classes   or “Unterschicht”.  These consisted mainly as the “knechte, or the worker/ servants, the men and women who served the Schutzjuden in their employ.  In part they lived in great poverty and some resorted to begging for their livelihood.

According to Dieter Carl, the first Schutzbrief in Oberlistingen was given in 1724 to someone known as Juden Falcke, as seen in this letter dated October 19, 1724:

I, the undersigned am writing because I am protected by the esteemed sires of Malsburg.  I wish to become a member of the Oberlistingen community with permission to reside there.  I have obtained all of the rights to function in this community as a Jew and who has officially received these rights along with your right to cancel my contract.  Furthermore I am obligated, if the community is in need of money, and if I have the means to provide a loan without interest without damage to myself, I will make an advance to them if the need arises.  All of what is said here and recorded is based on free will and opinion, which my signature authenticates.

Signed 19 October 1724

Juden Falcke

Who was Juden Falcke? Was he related to me?

My fifth-great-grandparents Falcke Jacob and Sara had three children: Jacob Falcke, born in 1729; Joseph Falcke, born in 1734; and Blume Falcke, born in 1740.  Following the March 31, 1808 decree requiring Jews in the region to adopt surnames, Jacob Falcke adopted the surname Goldschmidt. Carl concluded that the “Juden Falcke” who received the first Schutzbrief for Oberlistingen was Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt, my four times great-grandfather. His brother Joseph adopted the surname Neuwahl and eventually also received a Schutzbrief to live in Oberlistingen.

Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt was married three times.  His first wife was named Bela, with whom he had one son; his second wife was Judith Arons, with whom he also had one son. Jacob’s third wife was my four-times great-grandmother, Eva Reuben Seligmann,[1] whom he married on November 24, 1780. [2]

Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann had four sons:  my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann and his brothers Lehman, Meyer, and Simon. Dieter Carl also listed an unnamed daughter, and David Baron found a reference to this daughter in the Alex Bernstein Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute.  Her name was Jette, and she was born May 4, 1793; she married David Grunewald of Hoexter, Germany—the region that is the focus of Alex Bernstein’s research. According to his research, Jette died on August 4, 1822, and did not have any children.

CORRECTION: David Baron pointed out that I had misread Bernstein’s research. He found that Jette Goldschmidt did have children with David Grunewald before her death. First, a son Jacob Grunewald was born May 5, 1820; a second child was stillborn on July 30, 1822. Jette died five days later, presumably from complications from childbirth. Jacob Grunewald married and had fourteen children. Later I will return to these Goldschmidt cousins and report on them more fully.

Although I am primarily interested in my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann and his descendants, I will also write about his brothers, in part because his brother Simon was married to Fradchen Schoenthal, sister of Levi Schoenthal, my great-great-grandfather from Sielen.  Yes, my family tree continues to twist and bend.


[1] There is no known familial connection between Eva Reuben Seligmann, who was born in Warburg, Germany, and my Seligmann ancestors from Gau-Algesheim.

[2] This information all comes from Dieter Carl’s book as excerpted on the Cibella-Baron website. I will be focusing only on the children of my direct ancestor, Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt.