In June 1862, the satirist Julius Stettenheim published in Hamburg a four-page lampoon with the title “The Jew-Eater – Hope you Like it!” It contained a caricature and a seven-stanza poem entitled “Mad Spook of a Summer Night’s Dream.” The pamphlet was carried round on poles, proclaimed by its bearers throughout the city, and sold for a Schilling. It was a satirical answer to a letter by Wilhelm Marr, published by the “Courier on the Weser” (June 13, 1862, no. 161). A Bremen friend of Marr had implored him to support the cause of Jewish emancipation. Marr refused and instead published the book, Der Judenspiegel [A Mirror to the Jews] on June 22, 1862. This publication unleashed a storm of indignation in Hamburg’s political life. Marr had to answer to the Democratic Club and the Association for the Advancement of the Freedom of Conscience, both of which he belonged to. Finally, he agreed to resign his seat on the Association’s board of directors.
After studying at the University of Berlin, Julius Stettenheim returned to his native town Hamburg where, from 1862 onward, he published a satirical paper, the Hamburger Wespen [Hamburg wasps]. Later, in Berlin, he was a collaborator on the Kladderadatsch [the unholy mess] and editor of Wippchen [silly joke], a supplement to the Kleines Journal [little journal], which were to make him famous. He had completed his apprenticeship between 1847 and 1852 on Mephistopheles, a satirical newspaper edited by Wilhelm Marr, and therefore owed a debt of gratitude to him. Both men, despite the controversy of 1862, continued their friendly relations.
The caricature shows Wilhelm Marr in the shape of the devil, as indicated by the caption which reads “Devil, now you let your mask fall!” as well as the figure’s cloven hoof. The devil image is perhaps an allusion to Marr’s editorship of the newspaper Mephistopheles. However, the figure also represents the fool, with the typical jester’s ruff, pointed shoe, and cap with a feather. A feathered quill clamped between the figure’s legs refers to Marr’s journalistic activity. On the devil’s tail are to be read the words “Slave question” and “Jewish question,” with the former written in emphatically larger type. In this way the caricature alludes not only to Marr’s letter that deemed the Jews unwilling to assimilate, but also to an earlier publication concerning the slave trade in Costa Rica, as well as an article he published in the periodical Freischütz, “Toward Understanding the Events in North America.” In that article, which appeared shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War, Marr made observations concerning Afro-Americans in the USA that were seen as racist and as supporting slavery. The main message of the caricature, however, lies in the self-exposure of the figure, who lets a mask with Marr’s totem-like portrait slide into a grave, newly dug by a Jew and a Black. Upon the cross that marks the grave are to be seen the initials WM and the lettering “here rests.” In addition, the forehead of the mask bears the inscription “Democracy.”
Stettenheim, above all, criticized Marr, the democrat, who had squandered his credibility as a progressive politician in the Hamburg city council, not only among his political enemies but also with his own party associates, and less because of his hostility toward Jews than because of his racism. That Stettenheim himself and the Jews of Hamburg did not take either the letter or Der Judenspiegel [A Mirror to the Jews] very seriously or even as especially anti-Jewish is attested to by the title above the caricature: “It is certainly no disaster, just tough luck.” Similarly, the last strophe of the poem, “Mad Spook in a Summer Night’s Dream”: “Alas, I said all this, it was now a reality, I spoke, I wrote, and shamelessly had it printed, And what happened? … I became a laughing-stock, The others shouted: That guy is simply nuts!...” Marr’s writing was dismissed as a “laughable farce!”
The notion of the “Jew-Eater” later made its way into the graphic satirical treatments of leading antisemites, such as Richard Wagner, Edouard Drumont, and Karl Lueger. Stettenheim also incorporated a few substantive aspects based on a historical precedent. As early as the Revolution of 1848, Leopold Schön had published the pamphlet, “Franz Schmidt, the Jew-Eater”. It was directed against one Franz Schmidt, who had written the anti-Jewish pamphlet, “Petition of the Christian Slaves to Their Jewish Masters concerning Christian Emancipation.” Depicted in Schön’s work is a man out of whose wide-open mouth there protrudes half of another man, while his hands reach for yet other, presumably, Jewish men. Stettenheim tied to his own caricature, the jester-fool motif, already present in Schön’s rhetorical question of 1848: “Who deserves to be put in the madhouse?” The answer, “Franz Schmidt.” In his poem “Mad Spook in a Summer Night’s Dream,” Stettenheim seizes upon another popular theme during the Revolution of 1848, also present in in the Franz Schmidt pamphlet, the often-decried reversal in the power relationships between Christians and Jews. “The Jew now ruled, with iron force, / The Christian was in every land oppressed.” (Stanza 1, lines 7-8). The entire poem utilizes this role reversal as a means of holding a mirror up to Christians. The Jewish dreamer has a nightmarishly spooky experience, in which he sees himself by analogy with Marr’s political stance as a “democrat in a Jew parliament.” The dreamer fantasizes a situation in which Jews, in the manner of Christians, exercise an oppressive dominance over them, and it is now the Christians who find themselves to be the humiliated group. Christians are confronted with exactly the same restrictions that Marr raised against Jews in Der Judenspiegel – “From state service were they banned, shoved back into haggling.” – and with the same reproaches – “they formed a little Christian state-within-the state.” Christians could achieve equality of status only by means of full adaptation to Judaism, including, of course, circumcision. Stettenheim thus played upon Marr’s demand that Jews give up their “too specifically designed national-Jewish” religion and let themselves be baptized.
In stanzas four and five of the poem, the dreamer enumerates a series of misdeeds committed by Christians throughout history and up to the present moment, such as the slave trade, the burning of heretics in Spain, the St. Bartholomew’s Night massacre, the 1840 Damascus ritual murder allegation Ritual murder: with this allegation, Jews and other minorities were accused of requiring the use of Christian blood for ritual purposes, and commiting murder to obtain this blood. that led to torture and finally the execution of Jews, et cetera. These justified the existing barriers between Jews and Christians and could only be overcome by [Christians] giving up their own state and submitting to circumcision.
The poem concludes with a surprising reversal in stanzas six and seven when the dreamer must concede that his group, too, was mired in historical injustice and that the children today were being tormented for the sins of the fathers. This was another play on the customary argumentation by enemies of the Jews, that held contemporary Jews accountable for the “misdeeds” of their forebears. With this self-criticism, Stettenheim implicitly scolded Marr for his ill-considered publication of Der Judenspiegel, which was now nevertheless a reality. The dreamer restrains himself from committing the same mistake and risking being ridiculed as “crazy.” This is what, in a waking state, motivated him to put his criticism in the form of a satire (“the stinging missile”) aimed at Marr, he who experienced in reality what the dreamer only dreamed.
That this satire and a book like Der Judenspiegel (“a laughable farce”), which subjected the readiness of Jews for assimilation to Christian-German society to hypercritical scrutiny, were not taken too seriously was the consequence of the liberal spirit of the times that strongly favored full legal equality for Jews. In contrast, the fierce reaction against Marr on the part of his democratic party colleagues shows that his position was politically untenable in this period. A direct reaction from Marr to the “Jew-Eater” has not been recorded. However, this satire together with the criticism of his publication of Der Judenspiegel surely led to the book’s altered Introduction for the fifth edition, “on account of the guttersnipe ways in which the majority of Hamburg’s leading Jews reacted against my person rather than my writing.” Thus, Marr felt compelled to remove the earlier introduction’s “conciliatory conclusion” and, instead, mount a counter-critique of the false judgments of his work.
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Werner Bergmann (Thematic Focus: Antisemitism and Persecution), Prof., is Professor at the Centre for Research on Antisemitism, Technical University of Berlin. His research interests centre on the sociology and history of Antisemitism and related fields, such as racism and right-wing extremism.
Werner Bergmann, The Jew-Eater. A Response to Wilhelm Marr (translated by Richard S. Levy), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-126.en.v1> [September 23, 2023].