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Prussian Jews Emancipated

The French army swept through the German states in 1806, occupying the Rhineland, Westphalia, and the free cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Luebeck. Jews living in these territories were emancipated in accordance with French law. Other states, free of French rule, nevertheless found themselves under pressure to adopt liberal reforms on the French model.

Prussia emancipated its Jewish population in 1812, and the Prussian decree, from which these excerpts come, remained the most liberal law concerning Jews in a German state until the revolutions of 1848.

We, Friedrich Wilhelm [III], by the grace of God, King of Prussia, etc., have resolved to grant the adherents of the Jewish faith in Our monarchy a new constitution suitable to the general welfare, and declare all laws and regulations concerning Jews [issued] hitherto, which are not confirmed by the present Edict as abolished, and decree as follows:

1. Jews . . . domiciled at present in Our state . . . are to be considered as natives and as Prussian state citizens.

2. The continuance of this qualification as natives and state citizens conferred upon them shall however be permitted only under the following obligation: that they bear strictly fixed family names, and that they use German or another living language not only in keeping their commercial books but also upon drawing their contracts and declaratory acts, and that they should use no other than German or Latin characters for their signatures . . .

8. They may therefore administer academic school teaching and municipal offices for which they qualified themselves . . .

11. They may acquire real estate of any kind same as the Christian inhabitants, and they may carry on any permitted trade.

14. Native Jews must not be burdened with special taxes.

15. Native Jews may contract marriages among themselves without a special permit . . .