Protected Jews and the Struggle for Emancipation

The following deals with the Jewish experience in Hannover, where, in the 18th century, the Jews came under the protection of the local Count, then later under the Electors and Kings of Hannover.  These rulers, like many others in the German lands, required Jews to pay a special tax in order to become "Schutzjuden" (Protected Jews).


Under the Hannover decree of 1723 this meant that for an annual fee a Jew could receive a Judenschutzbrief (Jews’ Letter of Protection) which gave him the right to reside in the Kingdom of Hannover in a specified place for a period of 10 years.  This right of residence included his family and his servants. Unauthorized changes of residence were punished.  The Judenschutzbrief contained a series of detailed directives and prohibitions relating to trade and slaughter of animals, as well as a prohibition against Jews acquiring real estate.


One of the aims of the Judenschutzbrief legislation was to keep the number of Jewish inhabitants as small as possible.  According to the strict letter of the law, the Judenschutzbrief could only be passed on from an old-aged or deceased resident to one male descendant of the family, and only this person, and none of his brothers, could establish a family.  There is evidence that this latter regulation was often ignored.  


Below is an example of the first page of a Schutzbrief issued in the year 1806.  It was granted to a Jew named Aberle Abraham, who lived in Linden, a village outside the city of Hannover.  Today Linden is within the boundaries of the city.



We, George III, by the Grace of God, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Braunschweig and Luneburg, Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire and Prince Elector


Herewith proclaim that we have upon the request of our devoted servant the Jew Aberle Abraham admitted him to our grace, and that this Jew together with his wife, his unmarried children and all of his belongings is granted permission to establish his home in Linden.  By virtue of this document, we will take him and his family under our protection against any unjust forces from the date of May 1 of this year 1806 for a period of 10 years until May 1, 1816.  Our protection of this Schutzjude will also include permission that he may do business according to the laws concerning Schutzjuden in our lands issued on the 2/11th of April 1723 and that he shall be forever protected in his business activities by the same equal rights as our other subjects and that he shall be granted the justice they convey.


In return, the above mentioned Schutzjude has agreed and promised that he will be faithfully devoted to us, dedicate his life to our welfare, keep away from us sorrow and inconvenience, lead an honest life, and live as a good man within the law and its prescriptions.  Any lawsuit against him shall be conducted in our court in Amt Calenberg...


A translation of a Schutzbrief issued in 1806 to a Jew named Marcus Levi, who lived in Stolzenau, provides some of the remaining text:


“He shall be allowed to slaughter cattle for his own consumption and whatever he cannot use for himself and his family, he may sell at the place of his residence but at all times for less than it is sold by local butchers in accordance with our law of the 2nd of April 1723.


This Jew shall positively be forbidden to pass on his right of lending money or to take interest on it,  However, in our grace, we will allow him to buy and sell gold and silver and make himself useful by dealing in monetary affairs with foreigners, but he will be forbidden to accept any type of currency which might tend to devalue our own currency.


He shall not be allowed to buy any real estate, in accordance with our law of January 5, 1718. 


With reference to our law of February 11, 1723 concerning non-privileged Jews and other beggars, it is our full intention to deprive him of this privileged passport if he should not comply fully with all the requirements of this law.


Upon expiration of this letter of protection, we will determine whether in our grace we will renew it or let it expire.


For the privilege of having this letter of protection, the above mentioned Jew shall be required to pay annually an amount of 4 thalers as protection money.  This money shall be paid to our court in Stolzenau and shall be due on May 1 of each year.  This money shall be in substitution and not in addition to a regular "personal Jew tax" which is normally payable on the borders of our country.


We hereby order and admonish all our servants and officials to obey all the orders and not to take any action against the said Jew and give him the protection as stated in this document.


Given in Hannover, our residence, this the 13th day of February 1806.”


The Judenschutzbrief laws also restricted Jewish occupations.  Prior to the 19th century Jews were excluded from skilled trades, since Christian guilds would not accept them and Jews were not permitted to found such organizations themselves.   Since they could not acquire land they could not practice agriculture.  With the exception of butchering, the one skilled trade that was permitted, all that remained was trading and pawnbrokering.  As the restrictions were lifted later in the 19th century many Jewish businesses expanded in areas where they had established connections.  For example, butchering provided the opportunity to expand into trading livestock and agricultural commodities.