ESIL Interest Group History of International Law

ESIL Interest Group History of International Law

woensdag 20 oktober 2021

ARTICLE: Thomas DAHMS, "Diligent Bureaucrats and the Expulsion of Jews from West Prussia, 1772–1786" (German History XXXIX (2021), No. 3 (Sep), 335-357 (OPEN ACCESS)


(image source: Wikimedia Commons)


Historiography has repeatedly highlighted the mitigating influence of the Prussian administration on Frederick the Great’s oppressive policies toward the Jews. Scholars have argued that officials frequently opposed the king’s discriminatory legislation and intentionally delayed its implementation. These actions, they claimed, were influenced by the Enlightenment humanism of the Prussian administrators and their training in natural law theories and mercantilist economics, both taught at German universities at the time. Such descriptions are central in the influential narrative of late eighteenth-century Prussia as a remarkably tolerant state that developed relatively lenient policies towards the Jews. This article challenges the traditional portrayal of the Prussian administration by examining the actions of three officials involved in the expulsion of several thousand Jews from the province of West Prussia between 1772 and 1786. It argues that the remarkably positive assessment of the Prussian bureaucrats and their role in the Jewish policies of the time needs significant revision. First, previous historiography has overstated the extent to which Prussian officials objected to the king’s discriminatory policies. Secondly, occasional instances of resistance from within the administration were mainly motivated by political, economic and demographic objectives or even careerist pursuits that had little to do with the Jewish communities. Lastly, the Prussian administrators did not merely adhere to economic principles or even to ideals of tolerance and humanity. To a significant extent, their actions were also influenced by anti-Jewish sentiment.

Read more here (DOI 10.1093/gerhis/ghab027).