German Jews

German Jews

In Brief

"I don't want to see my country fall into the hands of German jews either. That's our national problem, I'm afraid, just now": Haines justifies his name in Telemachus by spouting the theory of an international Jewish conspiracy. Near the end of Nestor, the proudly Unionist Mr. Deasy subjects Stephen to more of the same: "England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation's decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation's vital strength." Anti-Semitism was powerful not only in England but also in Germany, France, and other nations. In Proteus it surfaces briefly in Kevin Egan's mention of "M. Drumont, famous journalist." These three passages alluding to European nations being undermined or overtaken by treacherous Jews set the stage for Joyce's introduction of a Jewish protagonist in the fourth chapter, and for the prejudice exhibited by various Dubliners later in the book.

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Although distrust of Jews reaches far back into the medieval origins of Christian Europe, it took new, virulently ideological forms in the late 19th century, starting in Germany and spreading to Russia, France, and the Austro-Hungarian and British empires. The term "anti-Semite" was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr (1819-1904), in a pamphlet titled Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthums über das Judenthum (The Way to Victory of Germanism over Judaism). Marr's work became what Jacob Katz, in From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933 (Harvard UP, 1980), has called the "first anti-Semitic best-seller."

Marr was a student of German cultural identity whose ideas grew out of the romantic 19th century struggle to create a nation out of the disparate lands occupied by Germanic peoples. The essence of his argument, Gifford observes, was that "Jews in Germany had already taken over the press, they had become 'dictators of the financial system,' and they were on the verge of taking over the legislature and the judiciary." Marr did not invent these charges: they were already current in his culture. And he was not a racial bigot in any simple sense: three of his four marriages were to women who were at least partly Jewish, and he renounced anti-Semitism and German nationalism toward the end of his life. But by depicting two races (one native, the other a foreign invader) locked in an irreconcilable struggle, and by describing a massive conspiracy to infiltrate and take over the vital systems of his society, he did more than any other individual of his time to create an ideological justification for this species of hatred.

French society was polarized two decades later by the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish soldier convicted in 1894 on exceedingly flimsy grounds of giving secret military documents to the Germans. Again the assumption was that Jews would prove more loyal to their own international ethnic cabal than to the nation that had given them citizenship. When new evidence emerged in 1896 implicating a different officer, the military command suppressed the evidence, effected a hasty acquittal of the non-Jewish officer, and brought new charges against Dreyfus based on fabricated documents.

Émile Zola published a fiery letter titled J'accuse in a prominent newspaper, stirring public pressure for Dreyfus to be acquitted in a new trial. When the trial was held in 1899, a battle for public opinion raged, led on the anti-Dreyfus side by Édouard Drumont, publisher of an anti-Semitic newspaper called La Libre Parole that had been slandering Jews since 1892. Kevin Egan does not mention Drumont's views in Proteus, but his insistence on dropping his name into his conversation with Stephen imports a French context for European anti-Semitism into the novel. Haines, who has voiced suspicion of "German Jews" in the previous chapter and whose name means "hate" in French, probably represents another indirect evocation of the Dreyfus affair, in which French bigots defended their nation from a traitor who was ostensibly working for the Germans. (Dreyfus was again convicted in the 1899 trial, but subsequently pardoned. In 1906, after years of tireless labor by his brother and his wife, the falsity of the charges against him was at last proved. He was reinstated in the French army at the rank of major, and after serving throughout World War I retired as a lieutenant colonel.)

When Haines voices anti-Semitic views in the first chapter, it may seem that Joyce is characterizing them as a new import from England, a parasite clinging to a "stranger." Deasy's more detailed exposition of the ideology in the second chapter puts an end to that slight comfort. Anti-Semitism is already well established in Ireland, and will surface many more times in the book. The men in the funeral carriage in Hades, Nosey Flynn in Lestrygonians, Buck Mulligan in Scylla and Charybdis, Lenehan in Wandering Rocks, the Citizen in Cyclops, and Bloom himself in Ithaca will all indulge invidious stereotypes about Jews. The novel's outstanding anti-Semite, the Citizen, specifically articulates the view that Jews are internationalist provocateurs who feel no loyalty to their European homes: "What is your nation, if I may ask?" Bloom, of course, answers that his nation is Ireland: "I was born here. Ireland."

Marr’s was not the only pamphlet fanning the flames of anti-Semitic hatred in early twentieth-century Europe. Circe alludes to the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 1905 document forged by Russian secret police to justify pogroms by making it appear that Jews were planning a takeover of the entire civilized world. Gifford notes that the Protocols “did not turn up in western Europe until 1918-19,” but Joyce made sure that they appeared in his book, even at the price of anachronism. In a personal communication, Vincent Van Wyk notes that in Catholic countries like France and Ireland Jews were also sometimes associated with the international Protestant order of Freemasons, whose highly secret rites invited suspicions of the sort that Nosey Flynn articulates. Joyce acknowledges this association by making his Jewish protagonist a Freemason, and when Flynn says that Bloom will never sign his name ("Nothing in black and white"), he may be a trotting out a stereotype about Jews, Freemasons, or both groups.

JH 2011
Portrait of Wilhelm Marr by unknown artist, from Vierhundert Jahre Juden in Hamburg (Doelling und Gallitz, 1991). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photographic portrait of Alfred Dreyfus, artist and date unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
1898 cartoon by French satirist Caran d'Ache (pseudonym of Emmanuel Poiré) in the anti-Semitic weekly cartoon magazine Psst...! that he co-founded, showing a family dinner ruined by discussion of the Dreyfus affair. Source: Wikimedia Commons.