Jewish question

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In Europe from the 18th century onwards, the problems that arose from Jewish emancipation were called the “Jewish question” (also: “Judensache” ) . The discussion began around 1750 in Great Britain , around 1790 in the French Revolution also in France and was also referred to as the Jewish question ( English jewish question , French la question juive ). This formulation rather emphasized the claim of the Jews to a political solution to their problems with non-Jews.

From 1860 onwards, opponents of the Jews appropriated the term more and more in the context of nationalism , in order to describe the Jewish minority and Judaism in various ways as an obstacle to general social development. Since the stock market crash of 1873, the term has become an established expression of contemporary anti-Semitism in the German Empire , which denied Jews any ability to integrate and assimilate and imputed them to striving for world domination (“ World Jewry ”).

The Nazis advocated following the Deutschvolkische party a " final solution ". From 1941 this term camouflaged and justified the carrying out of the Holocaust .


The anti-Judaism had for centuries, causing exclusion discrimination, persecution of Jewish minorities in many European regions and solidified. Only with the gradual recognition of general human rights in the wake of the Enlightenment did equality of all citizens of a nation state become a political goal. This particularly affected the legally, socially and politically underprivileged Jews who could potentially free themselves from their social isolation.

The legal equality of all citizens, including Jews, was approached differently in the emerging European nation-states, met with considerable resistance and led - especially with regard to Jews - in many cases to setbacks. The attempts at integration and concepts ranged from “tolerance” and “civic improvement” to “equal rights” and “emancipation” based on the enlightened tolerance towards individuals or groups of different faiths.

In this transition process, a time observer, first in England in 1753 , gave a public " Reply to the Famous Jew Question ": By this he meant the permission to Jews to acquire land. In 1790, the French National Assembly discussed under the title la question sur les juifs whether Jews should belong to the legally equal citizens of France. Emancipation skeptics and opponents, on the other hand, have been demanding the settlement of all European Jews overseas or in the Land of Israel since 1800 . Anti-Jews like Hartwig von Hundt-Radowsky called for labor camps and compulsory sterilization for all Jews.

Until after the Congress of Vienna, however, advocates and opponents of the emancipation of Jews used the term Jewish question in almost the same sense for problems actually connected with the integration of Jews.

In 1838 two essays appeared for the first time under the title The Jewish Question , which wanted to defend against the then controversial legal equality of Jews in Prussia with reference to supposedly unchangeable Jewish peculiarities. Until 1844, the term Jewish question for this controversy was generally accepted in Prussia. Jews were thus identified as a unified group who, contrary to earlier expectations, would not have disbanded and converted to a pure denomination and therefore created a problem for national unification.

Philosophical twist

The religious philosopher Bruno Bauer published an article in the German Yearbooks for Science and Art in 1842 with the title Die Juden -frage , which he published in 1843 - now without a hyphen - as a separate brochure on this subject. In it he tried to prove that the Jews as a group could not be "improved" (brought up for integration through legal equality), since enlightened Jews also held on to their traditional religious claim to be exclusive. Therefore they too would have to strive for sole rule and thus ultimately wage war against humanity . Individual Jews could only integrate into civil society by giving up their Judaism in favor of general humanity. For Bauer, this was just as true for Christianity as he stated in his subsequent work The Ability of Today's Jews and Christians to Become Free .

The 26-year-old Karl Marx , who came from a Jewish family, responded to these writings in 1844 with his essay on the Jewish question . He saw the "solution" to the question in the abolition of the secular barriers of civil society, with which even limited religious standpoints would disappear. The legal equality of Judaism was for him an example of the imperfect "political emancipation" , which reduced people to an egoistic, independent individual on the one hand and to the moral person of the citizen on the other. Instead of the political, he demands a "human emancipation" in which the human being recognizes and organizes his forces as social.

Marx was often assumed to have an anti-Semitic attitude, although his essay actually calls for legal equality for Jews. He explains that in a modern political state, unlike the Christian state, religion is a private matter.

In the second part of the book, Marx undertakes to break Bauer's theological version of the Jewish question. He asks about the worldly basis of Judaism and receives the answer: "The practical need, the self-interest ". Whether these answers are obtained from Bauer's texts, Marx's own view or other sources is an object of the interpretation of On the Jewish Question . By taking this reinterpretation of the term “Judaism” literally, Marx seems to use popular prejudices, but then to show that “haggling” is equally fundamental to Christianity. He comes to the conclusion that the social emancipation of Christians as well as Jews presupposes the liberation of society from the power of money. In his later work he corrected himself in a few points and did not fight religion directly, but expected its gradual disappearance after a successful revolution in the relations of production. It was only in the following works, beginning with the economic-philosophical manuscripts from 1844 that were unpublished during his lifetime , that Marx examined the economy of bourgeois society more thoroughly. The criticism of the power of money, which is exercised in On the Jewish Question , gives way to an understanding of the entire capitalist system.

Marx, who himself had Jewish ancestors, was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but advocated a principally materialistic philosophy.



In the first half of the 19th century, especially educated people in the German and French-speaking areas often created a Jewish question through their publications that did not exist before. The impetus for his essay Das Judenthum in der Musik , which was published in 1850, was for Richard Wagner “to explain the involuntarily repulsive thing that the personality and nature of the Jews have for us, in order to justify this instinctive aversion to which we but clearly recognize that it is stronger and more prevalent than our conscious zeal to get rid of this aversion. ”In 1860 Ernest Renan spoke of a Semitism that could not create independent cultural achievements and could not achieve civilization on a par with the European civilized peoples.

The anti-Semites of the German Empire strictly rejected the legal equality of Jews achieved in 1871 and their subsequent integration into a society that was still shaped by Christianity and invoked the danger that Jews would only use these attempts at integration, promoted by non-Jews, to dominate the economy, politics and culture would exploit and have already achieved some of them. In doing so they reinterpreted - contrary to the line of thought represented by Karl Marx - the “social question” as the “Jewish question”.

Otto Glagau first propagated this view in 1874/75 in a series of articles in the gazebo . He branded Jews as guilty of the founder crash of 1873, as stock market speculators and "founding swindlers", but also as enemies of Catholicism in the culture war of that time .

He was followed by the Lutheran court preacher Adolf Stoecker . With his September speech in 1879, he made the Jewish question a public issue and from then on positioned his German Social Party as anti-Semitic. With the founding of the Berlin movement , he tried to campaign for the displacement of Jews from public office beyond his party. A little later Heinrich von Treitschke sparked the Berlin anti-Semitism dispute by calling for the further suppression of the Jewish religion in favor of a Prussian-national Protestantism in an essay. In the same month, following the overwhelming success of his book Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanthum , the journalist Wilhelm Marr founded the Anti-Semitic League as the first group to seek the expulsion of all Jews from Germany and to spread the catchphrase anti-Semitism as the core of its founding program.

The anti-Semites succeeded in coining the term Jewish question in such a way that it was understood to mean a danger for modern society emanating from “the Jews” or “world Jewry” as a collective, which had to be resolved in some way. Between 1873 and 1900 around 500 papers appeared that dealt with the Jewish question in this sense .


In the Russian Empire , since the conquest of the Polish territories in 1772, the government saw the numerous Jews living there as a problem and planned to solve this "Jewish question" either through assimilation or expulsion.

Most Russian Jews lived in western Russia in the Pale of Settlement , the borders of which were finally determined in 1815. The Jewish Statute of 1804 prohibited the settlement of Jews and their activity as tenants in villages as well as the serving of alcoholic beverages to farmers. Thousands of Jewish families were thus deprived of their livelihoods. The expulsion from the villages was postponed for a few years, but was systematically carried out in the Belarusian villages in 1822 .

Tsar Nicholas I tried to solve the "Jewish question" through coercion and repression. In 1827 he led the Kantonistensystem one that the forced conscription of Jewish young people aged between 12 and 25 in the Russian army envisaged. In the 1840s the government began to deal with the issue of education and decided to set up special Jewish schools. These schools were to be financed by a special tax ("candle tax"), which the Jews had to pay. The next phase of Nicholas I's program was to divide the Jews into two groups: “useful” and “useless”. The useful included wealthy merchants, artisans, and farmers. The rest of the Jewish population, small traders and the poor were considered "useless" and were threatened with forced conscription into the army, where they were supposed to receive craft or agricultural training. This project met with opposition from Russian politicians and led to interventions by Western European Jews. In 1846 Moses Montefiore traveled from England to Russia for this purpose. The order to classify Jews into these categories was issued in 1851. The application was delayed by the Crimean War , but the quotas for compulsory military recruitment tripled. The Russian May Laws were introduced by Tsar Alexander III. Put into effect in May 1882 as a reaction to the pogroms that had occurred in numerous Russian cities after the assassination attempt on his predecessor Alexander II , and served to restrict the freedom of movement of Russian Jews. From Konstantin Pobedonoszew , the personal advisor to Tsar Alexander III, the following saying has been passed down: One third (of the Russian Jews) will die, one third will emigrate, and the last third will be completely assimilated into the Russian people. See History of the Jews in Russia .


In the context of the first anti-Semitic wave in the German Empire (1879–1882), radical anti- Semites defined the Jews as “ Semites ”, i.e. members of a foreign race . So they tried to present the Jewish question as a racial problem that would only appear to be solvable by excluding all Jews. They found arguments for this in the biologically argued race theories of Arthur de Gobineau and in the selection theory of Charles Darwin . This modern racism was intended to pseudo-scientifically underpin the alleged non-integration of Jews, who in Europe often used the same language and culture as the rest of the bourgeoisie .

Increasingly harsher racist propaganda writings followed: Karl Eugen Dühring's book The Jewish Question as a Race, Moral and Cultural Question (1881) now also presented Jews as a biological danger. Édouard Drumont , Houston Stewart Chamberlain with the foundations of the nineteenth century , Paul Anton de Lagarde et al. a. helped this thinking to spread throughout Western Europe. Theodor Fritsch published an anti-Semitism catechism in 1887 , which collected all anti-Jewish clichés and had many editions as a manual on the Jewish question . It was also used by the later National Socialists until 1945.

Various plans to “solve the Jewish question” were propagated in the Völkische Movement in the German Empire. Since the 1880s there have been repeated calls to place Jews under “immigration law” and to prevent further immigration. According to the ideas of the publisher von Heimdall, Jews and other racial aliens such as Slavs or Wälsche , who were already resident in the Reich territory, should be . Journal for pure German and all-German , Adolf Reinecke , received the status of "Reichssassen": no right to vote, no public offices, no real estate, but military service and tax liability.

It is true that radical anti-Semites such as Friedrich Lange , Heinrich Pudor and Heinrich Claß mostly demanded nothing more in their publications than aliens legislation, expulsion and deprivation of citizenship rights for Jews. But the motto of the magazine Hammer (organ of the Reichshammerbund founded by Theodor Fritsch ) demanded from 1902 the “elimination of the Jewish race from the life of nations” and thus hinted at the will for a definitive radical solution. The founding program of the German Nationalist Party, which emerged from the united older anti-Semite parties, claimed in 1914 that the “annihilation of Judaism” would become the “world question” of the 20th century. This gave the solution to the Jewish question a universal historical meaning and stylized it into an apocalyptic final battle .


In the context of their emancipation efforts, Jews themselves also used this term to underline that they affirmed their integration and assimilation in the emerging European nation-states. In the dispute with the anti-Semites, representatives of the emerging Zionism also affirmed the term in the sense of a Jewish national consciousness, for which a “Jewish state” should be sought as a solution.

Nathan Birnbaum published the book The National Rebirth of the Jewish People in His Country as a Means for Solving the Jewish Question in 1893 (1893). Even Theodor Herzl , who later became president of the World Zionist Congress , took the term to:

“The Jewish question exists. It would be foolish to deny it. "

He wanted it to be understood as a “national question” and, since 1896, represented a separate state for the Jews as its solution: the Jewish state . Attempt at a modern solution to the Jewish question.

The Israeli declaration of independence of May 14, 1948 indicates that "the problem of Jewish homelessness must be solved by the restoration of the Jewish state in the land of Israel". In contrast, the concept of the Jewish question no longer appears.

National Socialism


In 1919, Adolf Hitler declared the removal of the Jews to be the unalterable goal of National Socialism. In its founding program, the NSDAP committed itself to the expulsion, expulsion and disenfranchisement of German Jews. In his autobiography Mein Kampf in 1924, Hitler declared that the solution of the Jewish question was a prerequisite for the Germanic people to rise again to a great power. His hateful description of the Jews as a parasitic race, the elimination of which is essential for the recovery of the peoples, already suggested the idea of ​​their murder. Hitler did not demand this, but made it clear that he would implement a radical policy of expulsion against the Jews. He adopted this goal from the anti-Semite parties and associations of the imperial era.

Pseudoscientific Projects

Since taking power in 1933, the radical anti-Semites in the Nazi regime established the “Jewish question” as a pseudoscientific project.

As a pseudo-historical justification for the Nuremberg Laws , Wilhelm Grau published the work The Jewish Question as a Task for New Historical Research in Hamburg in 1935 . Since 1936 he has also headed the history department of the Jewish question in the renowned historical journal , which is now directed by the National Socialists . As the Jewish question, he understood "all those problems [...] that have appeared in the encounter of the peoples with the Jewish people at every point in history". These should finally be freed from the influence of “Jewish” historiography and viewed from the standpoint of the “host peoples”. The aim is a "natural solution to the Jewish question according to the principle of clean divorce".

In 1934, Eberhard Taubert founded an institute for the study of the Jewish question under Joseph Goebbels on behalf of the Reich Propaganda Ministry . The Nazi historian Wilhelm Ziegler headed it since 1935. He and Hermann Kellenbenz also sat on the advisory board of the research department on Jewish issues headed by Karl Alexander von Müller at the Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany . From 1941 he taught modern history, politics and the Jewish question at the University of Berlin.

The Berlin Institute took its seat in the villa of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin , which was expropriated in June 1933 . There was u. a. designed the script for the propaganda film Der Ewige Jude and published the anthology Die Juden in Deutschland in 1935 . He drew a “shocking overall picture” of “the last decades of Jewish life and activity in Germany” and the alleged share of Jews in “corruption, crime and degeneration”. In the same year, the Berlin Institute planned a library on the Jewish question parallel to the Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany in Munich .

In the following years, many institutions with similar goals were founded, some of which competed fiercely with one another. Alfred Rosenberg had already published the magazine Der Weltkampf since 1924 . It had the subtitle: Monthly magazine for world politics, ethnic culture and the Jewish question of all countries . In 1941 he succeeded in founding his institute for research into the Jewish question in Frankfurt in competition with the Berlin institute . To do this, he had the extensive Judaica collection of the local library confiscated so that the institute library possessed 350,000 volumes and thus advanced to become the second largest Judaica library in the world (after Jerusalem ). In order to steal interesting book stocks from Jewish communities in the conquered countries and bring them to Germany as booty, Rosenberg founded a special "scientific raid", the task force of Reichsleiter Rosenberg . Under the direction of the librarian Johannes Pohl, he “sifted through” Jewish libraries a. a. in Vilnius, Saloniki, Minsk, Riga and Kiev and stole about 550,000 volumes from them, of which about 300,000 arrived in Frankfurt; the rest was destroyed.

The Berlin institute had meanwhile become a department for the study of the Jewish question in the Reich Security Main Office , headed by Adolf Eichmann . The "research into the Jewish question" carried out there had to do directly with the planning of the Holocaust, as it was supposed to justify the large-scale ethnic-racist resettlement, cleansing and genocide policy of the National Socialists in Eastern Europe.

Foreign allies followed the Nazi model: Mohammed Amin al-Husseini , the Grand Mufti for the Palestinian Territories with official seat in Jerusalem, founded an Arab Institute for research on the Jewish question in Berlin in 1943 , which was responsible for intelligence contacts, ideological exchange and cooperation in the extradition of Jews served for destruction.

Many academic departments also took on and awarded anti-Semitic “research contracts”. Most of the evangelical regional churches that were destroyed financed, for example, the Eisenach Institute for the research and elimination of the Jewish influence on German church life under Walter Grundmann . The Volks-Brockhaus Leipzig wrote in the article "Judaism" in 1943:

“A great Jewish revolt broke out in AD 66, which ended with the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple by Titus in AD 70. In the meantime, the Jews had spread widely over the Mediterranean countries: They multiplied by winning over foreign-born followers of their faith and were racially mixed with the most diverse elements. The 'Jewish question' arose through living together with their host people . "

Preparation for the Holocaust

Letter from Martin Bormann on the public handling of the Jewish question

Since 1940, the expression “final solution to the Jewish question” has been used in the official jargon of the Nazi regime to describe the radical goal of a complete deportation and deportation of all Jews from the areas ruled by Germany. From July 1941 to the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, it turned into a cloak for the mass extermination of European Jews in the extermination camps set up for this purpose .

A lecture given by Heinrich Himmler in December 1940 under the title “The Jewish Question” documents the plans for the “resettlement” of around 5.8 million European Jews “to a territory yet to be determined”. Since the “Operation Barbarossa” in the summer of 1941, the “final solution” became the official expression of the authorities for the murder of the Jews and their further planning.

Oppositional use

Opponents of the Nazi regime also used the expression to express their view of Judaism: In April 1933 , for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the famous essay Die Kirche vor der Judenfrage , which derived church advocacy for the human rights of minorities from the Christian creed and the obligation to resist of all Christians in the case of systematic state attacks on the Jews, proclaimed by an ecumenical council , theologically justified. With this early advance, Bonhoeffer remained isolated within the Confessing Church .

Since 1945

After the Second World War , the term receded in public debate, as one separated oneself from National Socialist ideology after the Holocaust. But it did not go away and is still used for current problems that affect Jews.

Jean-Paul Sartre described in his work “Réflexions Sur La Question Juive” (“Reflections on the Jewish Question”) the phenomenon of chimeric anti-Semitism without Jews : Antisemites would invent the Jews as an enemy even if there were no more Jews. For him, the freedom of all citizens was only realized with the full freedom and security of the Jews:

“No French will be free until the Jews have their full rights. No French will be safe as long as a Jew in France and throughout the world still has to fear for his life. "

He simply concluded:

"The Jewish question arose through anti-Semitism, and we must abolish anti-Semitism in order to solve it."

Historians like Reinhard Rürup also deal with the origin and development of anti-Semitism under this term.

After 1945, the major churches gradually began to rethink and self-critically turn away from traditional anti-Judaism , which was increasingly recognized as a long-term historical possibility of the National Socialist genocide of European Jews. In the EKD area , the word on the Jewish question of the Weissensee Synod in 1950 marks the beginning of this process (see Churches and Judaism after 1945 ).


  1. a b Alex Bein : The Jewish question. Biography of a world problem , Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1980, Volume 2, p. 4.
  2. ^ Karl Marx: On the Jewish question (1844).
  3. The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism: List of historical titles for the keyword “Jewish question”  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  4. ^ Theodor Fritsch, illustration from the 49th edition of the Handbuch zum Judenfrage 1944 ; Theodor Fritsch: Handbuch der Judenfrage, 49th edition 1934 (pdf; 1.4 MB) (facsimile with appendix on anti-Semitic associations from the Weimar period and German Christian groups from the Nazi period).
  5. Werner Bergmann, article Judenfrage , in: Wolfgang Benz (Ed.): Lexikon des Holocaust p. 108.
  6. quoted from Alex Bein: Die Judenfrage. Biography of a world problem. Volume 2: Notes, digressions, registers. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1980, p. 5.
  7. Magnus Hirschfeld Institute: Chronology of Events 1933
  8. Holocaust Info: The production team behind the "Eternal Jew" ( Memento of the original from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. Original text “Annual reports for German history” from the interwar period (1925-1938) , § 30. The Jewish question in Germany
  10. Heimo Gruber: Review of Maria Kühn-Ludewig's biography on JOHANNES POHL (1904–1960)
  11. Marcel Atze : Bowing to Scripture. Markus Kirchhoff portrays Jewish reading worlds and their decline (review of the houses of the book by Markus Kirchhoff)
  12. Gerd Simon: From Antisemite to Semitic Professor: Chronology Otto Rössler (PDF; 159 kB).
  13. Israel Gutman (ed.): Encyclopedia of the Holocaust Volume II, Article Husseini , p. 632.
  14. Wolfgang Benz: Dimension des Genölkermords , R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-486-54631-7 , p. 2.
  15. quoted from Sven Oliveira Cavalcanti: Sartre and Israel - Part 1: The Consequences of Auschwitz - before the founding of Israel ( Memento of the original from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  16. quoted from Alex Bein: Die Judenfrage. Biography of a world problem , Volume 1, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1980, p. 1.


  • Volkmar Eichstädt: Bibliography on the history of the Jewish question, Vol. I: 1750-1848. Hamburg 1938.
  • Wolfgang Benz (Ed.): The "Jewish Question". Writings on the foundation of modern anti-Semitism 1789 to 1914. KG Saur, Munich 2002-2003, ISBN 3-598-35046-5 (with 369 documents accessible on microfilm, detailed foreword).
Historical overview
  • Alex Bein: The Jewish question. Biography of a world problem. Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-421-01963-0 .
  • Robert Weltsch: The German Jewish Question. A critical review. Königstein 1981, ISBN 3-7610-0357-9 .
  • Abraham Léon: The Jewish Question & Capitalism. A historical-materialist analysis of the role of the Jews in history up to the establishment of the State of Israel. Training text on the economic history of Europe, Trikont, 2000.
  • Jakob Taut: Jewish question and Zionism , Freiburg 1986, ISBN 3-88332-097-8 .
  • Jakob Toury: The Jewish Question. A Semantic Approach , in: Leo Baeck Institut, Jahrbuch 11/1966, pp. 85-106 (English).
  • Isaac Deutscher: The unsolved Jewish question. On the dialectic of anti-Semitism and Zionism , Rotbuch, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-88022-159-6 .
Imperial times
Nazi era
  • Dieter Schiefelbein: The Institute for Research into the Jewish Question, Frankfurt am Main. Prehistory and foundation 1935–1939 . City of Frankfurt / Main 1993, ISBN 3-88270-803-4 .
  • Horst Junginger: The scientification of the "Jewish question" in National Socialism. Publications of the research center Ludwigsburg, series research. WBG , Darmstadt 2011. Review by Dirk Schuster, Zeitschrift für Junge Religionswissenschaft 2012, pp. 19–22.
Socialism and communism
  • Edmund Silberner , Arthur Mandel: Socialists on the Jewish question , Colloquium, Berlin 1962.
  • Edmund Silberner: Communists on the Jewish question. On the history of the theory and practice of communism , VS Verlag 1983, ISBN 3-531-11640-1 .
After 1945
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Reflections on the Jewish Question. Rowohlt TB, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-499-13149-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Judenfrage  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations