A braided and illuminating study of local-level anti-Semitism and its insinuation into the life of a small town in early 20th-century Germany.
In 1900, in Konitz, West Prussia, a young man was killed, his body dismembered, and the parts distributed about the town, neatly wrapped in packing paper. A rumor soon took shape: It was an act of ancient blood libel, the ritual slaughter of Christian children by Jews to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzo. Riots and acts of violence against the Jewish community followed, and Smith (History/Vanderbilt University) has taken as his task to discern the motives behind the anti-Semitism, twining together the many threads with the dexterity of a lace-worker. He sees the phenomenon as a “process,” making “latent anti-Semitism manifest, transforming private enmity and neighborly disputes into bloodstained canvases of persecutory landscapes.” The townspeople fabricated tales against a Jewish butcher; an anti-Semitic press fanned the tales into a collective narrative of good and bad, respectable and low, light and dark; anti-Semitic political groups exploited archaic layers of hatred and superstition, fashioning an allegory of the dangers of social pollution. Smith follows both the course of Jewish relations with the German state, which was markedly liberal in 1900, and the history of such symbols as ritual murder and how they play and endure across the popular imagination. As well, he charts the mutual influence of oral and print cultures, the creation of a spectacle, economic and class factors, and, most importantly, “the dynamics of personal power, with Christians typically asserting power over the Jews they worked for, or had once been injured by, or . . . had once been in love with.” A unifying theme can be found in the “human relationships” and the way they “target the weak points in the overall system of relations.”
A dreadful augury, critically and masterfully told.
The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith Essay
1184 Words5 Pages
Anti-Semitism is the hatred and discrimination of those with a Jewish heritage. It is generally connected to the Holocaust, but the book by Helmut Walser Smith, The Butcher’s Tale shows the rise of anti-Semitism from a grassroots effect. Smith uses newspapers, court orders, and written accounts to write the history and growth of anti-Semitism in a small German town. The book focuses on how anti-Semitism was spread by fear mongering, the conflict between classes, and also the role of the government.
In March 11, 1900 in a German town called Konitz the severed body parts of a human were discovered. Almost immediately, the blame fell on the Jewish. As Smith points out, anti-Semitism had been on a steady decline, and the anti-Semitics…show more content…
The Inspector, who had been sent to solve the case, had formed a theory that placed focused on a Christian butcher. Wilhelm Bruhn, the publisher of Die Staatsburgerzeitung, then interfered by convincing Bernhard Masloff, a laborer, to testify against a Jewish butcher. The story that Masloff gave would directly conflict with the theory that the Inspector had formed. This created more subject matter that the anti-Semitic newspapers could use to fuel their tirade.
Smith also makes the argument that anti-Semitism was a gateway for neighborly disputes and personal grudges to develop into bigger conflicts. He presents two arguments on the issue of class. In the first argument, he points out that a majority of the people who came forward to accuse someone were in the lower class. Additionally, the people who came forward were often poorly educated and sometimes had mental issues. He explains that it was possible that poorer Christians would condemn higher class Jews out of spite. An example that Smith provides was in the conflict between Josef Rosenthal, a wealthy Jewish merchant, and his servant, Margarete Radtke. Margarete went to the police and told them that her employer had killed Ernst Winters. No evidence could be found to back the story up. It was later discovered that Margarete had a habit of accusing her employers as a ploy to get revenge. Another incident occurred between