Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem

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Carl Wilhelm Jerusalem

Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem (born March 21, 1747 in Wolfenbüttel , † October 30, 1772 in Wetzlar ) was a German lawyer. Through his suicide he became the model for the tragic end of Goethe's Werther .


The original of the ticket with which Jerusalem requested Kestner's travel pistols is preserved in the Goethe and Schiller Archives in Weimar.
Elisabeth Herd, silhouette 1771
Memorial stone for Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem in Wetzlar

Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem was the son of the Protestant theologian Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Jerusalem .

During his studies in Leipzig he got to know Goethe , but he didn't like him. After that he was in the service of the Braunschweig branch as the secretary of the embassy . He studied litigation at the Reich Chamber of Commerce in Wetzlar . There he met Goethe and Johann Christian Kestner again.

Because of his middle-class status he was not adequately respected by the nobility, had clashes with his superiors and - like Goethe in his Frankfurt law firm - found no satisfaction in his work. The unhappy love for the already awarded Elisabeth Herd (née Egell, 1741–1813), wife of a legation secretary from the Electoral Palatinate , broke his heart.

He shot himself on October 29, 1772 in his apartment at Schillerplatz 5 in Wetzlar and died the following day. Lessing's tragedy Emilia Galotti lay open on the table . The apartment is now a memorial ( Jerusalem house ). Goethe processed this event in the tragic outcome of his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther .

"... tormented by unsatisfied passions, by no means stimulated from outside to take significant actions, with the only prospect of having to hold out in a sluggish, mindless bourgeois life, one made friends in displeased arrogance with the thought that life, if it was one no longer waiting to be able to leave at your own discretion. "

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : From my life. Poetry and truth

After the publication of “Werther”, Lessing published Jerusalem's “Philosophical Essays” with a polemical preface and sharp comments as a protest against the representation of Goethe. Lessing was particularly annoyed to see his deceased friend portrayed by Goethe as a “sensitive fool” while he valued Jerusalem as a “true, thoughtful philosopher”. Significantly, one of Jerusalem's philosophical essays was a defense of suicide.


  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (ed.): Philosophical essays by Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. Bookshop of the Princely Orphanage, Braunschweig 1776.
  • Paul Beer (ed.): Philosophical essays by Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. (1776). With GE Lessing's preface and additions. Berlin 1900 (digitized version)
  • Heinrich Schneider (Ed.); Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem: essays and letters. Weißbach, Heidelberg 1925.


  • Adalbert Elschenbroich:  Jerusalem, Karl Wilhelm. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 10, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-428-00191-5 , pp. 416-418 ( digitized version ).
  • Jakob MinorJerusalem, Karl Wilhelm . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 13, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1881, pp. 783-785.
  • Friedrich Koldewey: Werther's archetype. In: Friedrich Koldewey: Articles and lectures from various fields of knowledge. Volume 2: Life and Character Pictures. Wolfenbüttel 1881, pp. 167-202.
  • Roger Paulin: The Wilhelm Jerusalem Case. On the suicide problem between education and sensitivity. Wallstein, Göttingen 1999, ISBN 3-89244-044-1 .
  • Isa Schikorsky: Jerusalem, Karl Wilhelm . In: Horst-Rüdiger Jarck, Dieter Lent u. a. (Ed.): Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon: 8th to 18th century . Appelhans Verlag, Braunschweig 2006, ISBN 3-937664-46-7 , p. 376f.
  • "... No clergyman accompanied him." Documents from the estate of Johann Christian Kestner about the suicide of Carl Wilhelm Jerusalem on October 30, 1772 in Wetzlar. Ed. Magistrate of the City of Wetzlar. Text comment: Manfred Wenzel. Petersberg 2015, ISBN 978-3-7319-0218-8

Web links

supporting documents

  1. Beer (Ed.): Philosophical essays by Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. 1900, p. IV.
  2. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: From my life. Poetry and truth . In: Berlin edition. Vol. 13, Berlin 1960.
  3. Beer (Ed.): Philosophical essays by Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. 1900, SV
  4. Beer (Ed.): Philosophical essays by Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. 1900, p. IV.