Old anti-Jewish stereotypes & myths

Example narrative (What do they say or do?)

And the Hebrew, sly and craven,
Round of shoulder, nose, and knee,
Slinks to the Exchange, unshaven
And intent on usury
– Wilhelm Busch (1872)

German:
Und der Jud mit krummer Ferse,
Krummer Nas’ und krummer Hos’
Schlängelt sich zur hohen Börse
Tiefverderbt und seelenlos.

Antisemitic context explained (What does this actually mean?)

This English translation of a verse in Wilhelm Busch’s “Helen Who Couldn’t Help It” reflects a common trope in German antisemitism: the Geldjude, or the equation of Jews with money and usury, greed and parasitic financial capitalism. In his work Busch puts this opinion in the context of the worldview of a pious uncle who wants to save his niece from the depravity of the big city.

Consequences (Why is this harmful?)

The Jewish people are seen as the cause of undesirable social developments, such as poverty and inequality. The Jews as a collective are in general equated with negative traits, such as greed or materialism. They are scapegoated for negative aspects of capitalism.

Personalize (How does it impact a Jewish person or a community)

A Jewish individual could be seen as rich or not deserving support. Attacks or crime against them could be justified by those who believe this myth. Nazi-Germany expropriated Jewish people and used this narrative as a justification to murder them.

Social impact (Why is this harmful for the society?)

These ideas prevent people from recognizing members of the society – Jewish people – as people with human dignity and equal rights. It prevents people from understanding real economic relations or how the capitalist economy functions as well as its history. It therefore distorts debates in societies about economic policy towards policies against groups identified as enemies of the people.

References

Busch, Wilhelm, Bildergeschichten, Die Fromme Helene, Erstes Kapitel
(Chapter 1 of “Die fromme Helene” by Wilhelm Busch)

Geldverleiher – Mittelalter 1
(article by Dr. Wolfgang Geiger about the prejudice of the medieval Jewish usurer)

Visuals (links only)

Debunking response (What to do? How to react? Options)

Already the widely believed story of Jews as medieval usurers is a myth. There have been plenty non-Jewish and moneylenders and bankers and the Catholic ban on usury was only sanctioned with ecclesiastical penalties and never fully enforced. The prejudice of Jews as especially greedy was however convenient to mobilize against Jewish moneylenders. Where Jews were not excluded from crafts or agriculture they became (and are) active in those professions. The vast number of Jews are not rich.

  • Discuss a stereotype
  • Use the book as example
  • If used in educational context (or any other “public” context) it should be contextualised
  • Use statistics when possible to show how this myth is inaccurate