In August 1819 Hamburg, too, saw the outbreak of so-called “Hep-Hep” riots. The riots began on August 19 when Jews frequenting coffeehouses in the city center were attacked, and they spread to the entire city in the following days. The instigators distributed handwritten flyers with slogans such as “Hep Hep! Jude verreck” Hep Hep! Jew die like a beast or “Hep Hep! Der Jude muß im Dreck [sic]!” Hep Hep! Down in the dirt with the Jew! The senate was well aware that these were planned riots brought about by economic competition and envy, and it viewed them as a threat to the commercial city’s reputation. The senate also assumed that the lower classes had only joined the riots because they had been incited to violence by the instigators. When the senate threatened to give an order to shoot rioters on August 26, the pogroms died down.
In comparison to other cities like Würzburg or Frankfurt, the riots in Hamburg were relatively minor. The riots, which were directed against attempts to improve the Jews’ legal status and grant them greater occupational choice, remained marginal because their social base was very narrow. Those who explicitly opposed emancipation or a social restructuring of the Jewish community (usually referred to as “Produktivierung,” i. e. increasing the Jews’ economic productivity) constituted a small minority with little support in the senate. They did know how to mobilize and manipulate those prejudiced against Jews, however.
While a direct connection between Ludolf Holst’s statements in his anti-Jewish book published in 1818 and the “Hep-Hep riots” in Hamburg cannot be established, their common message is obvious. It is assumed that Holst was commissioned to write his book by “an interested party” Jacob Katz, Vom Vorurteil bis zur Vernichtung. Der Antisemitismus 1700-1933, Munich 1989, p. 95. in light of events unfolding at the time. In his book Holst sought to explain the economic problems of his time – increased prices, unemployment among craftsmen, excessive consumption of luxury goods, moral decline (gambling by playing the lottery), etc. – by tying them to the Jews. He examined the sources of the Jews’ economic power and saw the explanation in “the principles, maxims, especially the trade maxims of the Israelites” (p. 224), which in his opinion were particularly damaging for commercial towns. According to Holst, these included especially the bypassing of legal restrictions, the flooding of markets with foreign goods, the use of manipulated weights in trading, and sales at particularly small profit margins in order to accelerate currency circulation by increasing demand (p. 239 f.). These anti-Jewish accusations were embedded in general statements typical of 19th and 20th century antisemitism: that Jews were immeasurably rich and that they had excelled neither in science nor the arts. Supposedly the only art known to the Jew was “the art of all arts: money grubbing” (p. 216). A lack of loyalty was also among the accusations. In contrast to the Christian, the Jew was not “attached to his fatherland by heartfelt love,” but he only “considers worthy of his temporary residence […] only that country where he expects to find the most profitable source for his dealings” (p. 213 f.).
Representing the interests of mid-size business owners and the craftsmen’s guilds, Holst was politically and economically conservative. After the French Revolution had influenced government policy towards Jews in both the Confederation of the Rhine Rheinbund and in Prussia (1812 Emancipation Edict) as well as in England since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, merely repeating traditional, mainly religious arguments against equality for the Jews was no longer sufficient, yet old prejudices could easily be adapted to new circumstances. Instead of criticizing the expansion of trade to the disadvantage of traditional craftsmen, Holst complained that it was the Jews who ruined the traditional crafts in aid of English trade. Thus Holst diverted the anger felt by the disadvantaged groups from reality. By declaring that the Jews were to blame, he shifted aggression towards them. In order to add more authority to his arguments, Holst and the riot’s instigators particularly emphasized the disadvantages the “Jewish trade maxims” brought for the lower classes.
The organizers of the Hamburg riots actually achieved their immediate goal: attempts at reform and suggested reforms for improving the Jews’ legal situation were thwarted. Thus professional groups in decline were able to delay, if not altogether prevent, the Jews’ rise to become equal members of middle class society. Yet Holst did not content himself with this victory, and in his publication written after the “Hep-Hep riots” he consistently maintained his opposition to granting the Jews freedom of trade for religious, moral, historical, and economic reasons he outlined in great detail. “The sources of their wealth,” he writes, are “usury, mercantilist tribal spirit, and trade maxims.” Ludolf Holst, Judenthum in allen dessen Theilen aus einem staatswissenschaftlichen Standpuncte betrachtet, Mainz 1821, p. 18.
In his second anti-Jewish book, Holst tried to offer a broad, supposedly scientific basis for his general rejection of Jewish emancipation. After the “Hep-Hep riots” it had already become clear that this issue did not only concern single locations or commercial towns, but the entire Germanic Confederation Deutscher Bund and its policy towards the Jews. Holst spoke of the German shipping industry and of a Jewish and a German nation. In doing so, he repeated the accusation he made in his first publication, namely that of the supposed lack of patriotism among Jews, which was particularly emphasized in the 19th and 20th century, the age of nationalism.
Holst’s accusations, and the arguments of the opponents of Jewish emancipation in general, did not remain without opposition. Holst picked up on critical responses to his writings and tried to refute them. In his 1821 book, “Judenthum in allen dessen Theilen,” he attacked several Jewish scholars and writers in order to convince non-Jewish readers of his verdict and discredit the supporters of emancipation. The attack on Jewish writers was to become the most effective defensive strategy against criticism of Holst and other reactionaries of his time.
Holst and his followers sought to mobilize the lower classes for their cause as well. For governments during the Restoration period following 1815, revolutionaries and agitators represented the greatest threat, however. Thus the riots proved to be counterproductive for the Jews’ enemies. Not only in Hamburg did authorities assume that “the mob” had been incited to riot by middle class stakeholders. The Carlsbad Decrees, discussed and eventually proclaimed during the “Hep-Hep riots,” were also directed against elements within the middle class suspected of being rebellious – students, professors, gymnasts. Jews advocating emancipation who were quoted by Holst tried to portray their enemies as instigators of revolutionary riots in order to discredit them with contemporary governments. Holst sought to defend himself against this accusation in his second publication. It is one of history’s ironies, for it is well known that since the second half of the 19th century, the Jews were accused of being revolutionaries, meaning opponents of the established order. Holst’s 1821 publication tells us that precisely this accusation was made against the Jews’ enemies in the Vormärz period because of their support for anti-Jewish riots.
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Moshe Zimmermann, Prof. Dr. phil., born 1943, emeritus, 1986-2012 Director of the Koebner Center for German History at the Hebrew University Jerusalem. His research interests include: social and cultural history of Germany in the 18th-20th centuries, history of the German Jews, history of antisemitism, visual history and history of sports.
Moshe Zimmermann, The “Hep-Hep” Riots in Hamburg. Ludolf Holst’s Treatise “On the Relationship of the Jews to the Christians in Commercial Towns” (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, March 09, 2017. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-190.en.v1> [February 29, 2024].