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Title: Prussian bureaucrats and the Jews in West, South, and New East Prussia, 1772-1807
Author: Dahms, Thomas
ISNI:       0000 0004 9360 0012
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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This dissertation examines policies towards the Jews in late eighteenth-century Prussia, paying particular attention to its eastern provinces in present-day Poland. Drawing on archival sources from Germany, Poland, Israel, and the US, it complicates traditional narratives of eighteenth-century Prussia as a relatively tolerant state that treated Jews with remarkable leniency. Firstly, I argue that previous historiography has overstated progressive aspects of the Prussian legislature under Fredrick the Great. Providing for the economic exploitation of wealthy Jews and the expulsion of all others, the king’s policies were discriminatory even by contemporary standards. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, anti-Jewish measures reached a peak with the expulsion of several thousand Jews from the newly acquired province of West Prussia. Secondly, the dissertation challenges the traditional portrayal of the Prussian administration during the reign of Frederick the Great. Previous scholars have argued that civil servants frequently tried to mitigate the king’s discriminatory policies towards the Jews. Yet, officials rarely objected to the king’s orders. Instances of resistance from within the administration were mainly motivated by economic objectives or even careerist pursuits that had little to do with the Jewish communities. Thirdly, I trace the influence of contemporary discourse on Prussian policies towards the Jews after the death of Frederick the Great in 1786. Previous historiography has maintained that late eighteenth-century debates on the ‘civic improvement of the Jews’ had little to no immediate impact on Prussian legislation. I argue, instead, that reformist views strongly influenced leading officials in the territories that became the provinces of South and New East Prussia after the Second and Third Partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795. As a result, the local Jews lived under much more liberal conditions than those in other parts of Prussia. Lastly, the findings of this dissertation illustrate that Prussia was not a unitary state at the time. Previous historiography has often equated the situation of the Jewish community in Berlin with that of the Prussian Jews in general. Yet, Prussian policies towards the Jews varied widely from one province to another.
Supervisor: Whaley, Joachim Sponsor: Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Early Modern Europe ; Eighteenth-Century Germany ; Eighteenth-Century Poland ; History of Prussia ; Jewish History ; History of the Enlightenment ; History of Religious Toleration