‘No Jews, Dogs, or Consumptives’: Comparing Anti-Jewish Discrimination in Late-Nineteenth-Century Germany and the United States

[This article is part of the  Open Peer Review-Publication series “Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitism in International Perspective”]

von Richard E. Fraenkel

In the late nineteenth century, prominent voices warned of the danger posed by a ‘flood’ of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Political and religious figures described a mysterious conspiracy directed by international Jewish financiers aimed at world domination. Jews found themselves increasingly excluded from hotels, resorts, country clubs, and residential neighborhoods while facing limits on access to higher education and jobs. They also came under physical assault. While this might sound like the situation in Imperial Germany, it is actually a description of the United States of America. Both countries, it turns out, experienced a dramatic wave of antisemitism during the 1880s and 1890s. Most scholars, however, do not see the two cases as comparable. While some see antisemitism in the Second Reich as having prepared the ground for the Holocaust, many have come to see the anti-Jewish atmosphere in the United States during the same period as an unfortunate, though ultimately harmless expression of a broader American nativism. This paper is an effort at re-thinking some of our assumptions about antisemitism. By placing the scholarship on antisemitism in both countries side by side, this paper seeks to challenge such a notion of exceptionalism through a comparative and transnational analysis of antisemitism in Germany and the United States that looks forward, not back through the lens of the Holocaust.

In a number of additional ways, the similarities in the experiences of Germany and the United States in the latter third of the nineteenth century are rather striking. They involved the integration of both countries into a growing process of globalization while at the same time they were dealing with fundamental questions of national self-definition. Both were entering an intense period of industrialization, with all the disruptions that attend such dramatic transformations. This rapid industrialization was accompanied by a financial and economic crisis that began in 1873 and would continue, with varying intensity, for the next two decades. This also coincided with a nearly simultaneous rightward political shift with Bismarck’s ‘Second founding of the empire’ and the US government’s ending of Reconstruction some twelve years after the Civil War. With both countries just emerging from military conflicts, each fought over fundamental questions about the nature of each nation, this period marked a liminal phase in the development of notions of Germanness and Americanness. Add to this a growing global migration of labor through and to both countries and the process of self-definition became that much more intense. As millions of Jews and other laborers were on the move, talk of expulsion and exclusion was entering the national dialogue. As a form of local exclusion, I would argue that anti-Jewish discrimination, which became an increasingly widespread phenomenon not just in Germany, but in the United States as well, should be understood within this broader context of globalization and nationalization.

German Jews experienced emancipation in stages during the nineteenth century, with full legal equality coming with unification in 1871. This did not, however, translate into equality of opportunity as certain areas remained, if not off-limits, then certainly less than welcoming to Jews. These well-known areas included the officer corps, government service, and the judiciary. It is important to remember that these restrictions were typically not official, legal barriers, but rather the result of tradition and continued resistance to complete equality. In the case of the judiciary, for example, Prussia dropped its law barring Jews from becoming judges in 1866. Still, by 1914 there were some two hundred Jewish magistrates, none of whom had a chance of promotion.[1] There was also no law barring Jews as candidates for career officer positions in the Prussian army. But the anti-Jewish prejudice that inspired the military leadership’s refusal to accept Jews as officers was of a more traditional variety, based on common negative stereotypes about Jews’ abilities (or lack thereof) in the military sphere. Until late in the history of the empire, it was typically not the product of blind or fanatical ideological hatred. And while Prussia remained closed to Jews, things were somewhat better in Bavaria and Saxony where they could become reserve officers up until the turn of the century, and even, in rare cases, active officers.[2] With regard to government service, high political office was nearly as unattainable as a career officer position in the Prussian army, and those few who did make it, like Paul Keyser and Bernhard Dernburg (of Jewish descent), faced significant resistance and criticism.[3] Still, it should be remembered that Catholics faced only slightly better odds of attaining such positions. Of the ninety top political posts in the Reich between 1888 and 1914 – Reich Chancellor, Reich State Secretaries, and State Ministers – only seven were Catholic.[4] It’s been noted that antisemitism in America never prevented Jews from entering the middle class. It’s important to remember that it did not do so in Germany, either. If the traditional professions provided limited opportunities, many Jews entered the so-called ‘free professions’ in large numbers and became successful journalists, physicians, scientists, as well as businessmen and bankers. In other areas Jews also made adjustments based on varied levels of acceptance and rejection.

Jewish acceptance into the associational life of Germany actually preceded the formal emancipation that came with Bismarck’s unification. For the first half of the nineteenth century, most all clubs refused them membership. In response, Jews founded their own clubs and created a social world that, in many respects, paralleled that of Gentile society. Starting in the 1850s, however, most clubs in Berlin, Königsberg, Frankfurt, Breslau, and other cities opened themselves up to Jewish membership. One example of this would be the Schlesische Gesellschaft für Vaterländische Cultur. Founded in 1803, by the 1850s Jews were not only members, but were playing leading roles in the club. Many of the new clubs founded at this point featured Jews as founding members, including the Breslauer Dichterschule – “the gathering place of literary life in the city.”[5] With the antisemitic wave of the 1880s, resistance to this trend of openness appeared in the form of efforts to exclude Jews from cultural and civic organizations – efforts that ultimately failed. But the growth of an anti-Jewish atmosphere did leave its mark. In Breslau, for example, Till van Rahden notes that “associational life had become polarized over the “Jewish question”” during the last decades of the nineteenth century as antisemitism had diffused into what Shulamit Volkov has called a ‘cultural code’.[6]

One particular form of discrimination that grew in significance during the last decades of the nineteenth century in Germany is what came to be known as ‘resort antisemitism’. Perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the case of Borkum in the North Sea, which even came complete with its own antisemitic song. People there hung signs on their homes that read, “Jews and dogs may not enter!” and “This house is Jew-free, damned shall every Jew be!” (“Dieses Haus ist judenrein, verdammt soll jeder Jude sein!”)[7] The existence of publicly self-declared ‘judenfrei’ resorts is certainly a noteworthy phenomenon, and as Frank Bajohr points out, it reflected some of the social bases of antisemitism in late nineteenth-century Germany, where elements of the lower middle class (Mittelstand) found themselves falling behind in a rapidly changing social and economic environment. They watched as some of the newly emancipated Jews made dramatic advances up the social ladder into the higher ranks of the Bürgertum. And so it played out at the nation’s resorts – places where people made public displays of their social standing, including the newly arrived ‘parvenus’ of the Jewish faith. Jealous of Jewish success, lower middle-class Germans found a home in the newer, simpler (less ‘ostentatious’) resorts such as Borkum, located near the more established (and tolerant) resort of Norderney. In fact, many of the new and openly antisemitic resorts were located in the immediate vicinity of older establishments where Jews remained welcome. There developed, as Frank Bajohr described it, “a silent coalition of jealousy” between antisemitic resort visitors and the owners of certain resort establishments.[8] Interestingly enough, as newly immigrated Jews from Eastern Europe began to arrive at German resorts after the turn of the century, they brought out equal revulsion among antisemites, but of an opposite nature. Rather the flamboyance and ostentatiousness of the ‘parvenu’ drawing their ire, here the rhetoric focused on filth, poor manners, and general appearance – this latter issue leading some locales, for instance, to ban the Caftan.[9]

The situation for Jews in the United States involved some notable differences from that of their co-religionists in Germany. Of course, in the U. S. there was no formal emancipation. The idea of separation of church and state enshrined in the Bill of Rights meant that on the federal level Jews enjoyed equal rights with their fellow Christian citizens from the start. On the state level, however, political rights were extended to Jews slowly, over the course of a century, with North Carolina and New Hampshire doing so only after the Civil War.[10] Across the country, negative images and descriptions of Jews were common, whether on stage or in print. Still, despite uncoordinated discrimination in places, by mid-century the small population of Sephardic and mainly German Jews were becoming increasingly successful in their careers, steadily moving up the social ladder, and finding acceptance in many areas of politics and society, including business and social clubs. This would begin to change in the late 1870s, and over the two decades that followed, the place of Jews in America grew increasingly precarious.

It was social discrimination in the 1870s, in fact, that seemed to indicate a new and potentially troubling situation for Jews in the United States. No doubt the most famous instance of discrimination against Jews during those years involved the banker Joseph Seligman and the refusal of Henry Hilton’s Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York, in 1877, to serve him. While it is widely cited, it was by no means the first such case. One year earlier a hotel in New Jersey placed an ad in the New York Tribune declaring, “Jews are not admitted.”[11] Two years after the Seligman case the Manhattan Beach Corporation in Coney Island, New York announced it would no longer accept Jewish guests. Its president, Austin Corbin, explained his thinking behind the new policy. “We do not like Jews as a class,” he said. “As a rule they make themselves offensive. They are a detestable and vulgar people.”[12] As John Higham noted, the decade that followed would see discrimination against Jews at hotels and resorts “spread like wildfire” across New York and New Jersey.[13] As Jews started purchasing hotels in this region, competition grew fierce, with non-Jewish hotels posting signs and publishing ads in newspapers and magazines announcing, for example, “No Dogs. No Jews. No Consumptives.”[14] The wildfire of antisemitic discrimination would not remain contained along the east coast and in the coming years Jews could read ads in the Chicago Tribune, for example, making clear a preference for a “Christian” or “Gentile” clientele. Of course, social discrimination extended beyond the realm of America’s vacation spots to other areas of life.

As German Jews in America grew wealthier and rose into the middle class they sought not only to vacation where well-off Gentiles vacationed, but also to join them in their social clubs and on the boards of significant cultural institutions. The response was increasingly one of rejection. In the 1880s and for the remainder of the century, for example, Jews found themselves unwelcome at the Union League Club in New York and excluded from the boards of directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the New York Zoological Society.[15] “By the end of the century,” John Higham notes, “Jewish penetration into the most elite circles in the East had become almost impossibly difficult.”[16] A similar process of exclusion unfolded in Portland, Oregon starting in the late 1860s and in San Francisco soon after the turn of the century.[17] Also in the South, Jews were banned from clubs of which they had once been members, including the Gentleman’s Driving Club in Atlanta and the Boston and Pickwick Clubs in New Orleans.[18]

While it was becoming increasingly clear that growing numbers of Gentiles did not want to vacation near or socialize with American Jews, another trend revealed a growing desire to avoid living in proximity to Jews. From the east coast to the west, whole neighborhoods worked to prevent Jews from moving in. They accomplished this through a number of techniques, including informal agreements among neighbors and formal obligations included in the very deeds to the property themselves. Such ‘restrictive covenants’ barred the owner from selling to particular groups, with Jews figuring prominently among the undesirables. In Baltimore, the entry of Jews into a neighborhood resulted in the complete disappearance of its former Gentile residents. Antero Pietala, in his recent study of housing discrimination in that city, attributes this to “Baltimoreans’ embedded aversion to Jews.”[19] Sales to Jews in Roland Park, just north of Baltimore stopped in 1913 – a ban that would continue for the next fifty years. Many other communities followed suit with the help of real estate brokers and through private agreements among homeowners.[20]

Opportunities for elite education for Jews began to narrow during this period. Private schools – especially girls’ schools – started rejecting Jewish applicants in the 1880s. At the university level, the well-publicized efforts of Harvard University to limit Jewish enrollment tends to draw people’s attention to the 1920s, but an anti-Jewish culture in academia had already developed by the late nineteenth century. An 1878 article in the Yale News, for instance, entitled “Old Clothes Men” described Jews as “human vermin,” “vultures,” and “scourges,” while depicting one as “a remarkable creature,” a “dangerous beast,” and a “rapacious usurer.”[21] A well-known collegiate song from the early twentieth century included the lines,

Oh Harvard’s run by millionaires,

And Yale is run by booze,

Cornell is run by farmers’ sons,

Columbia’s run by Jews,

So give a cheer for Baxter Street,

Another one for Pell,

And when the little sheenies die,

Their souls will go to hell.[22]

What such an atmosphere meant for Jewish students can be seen in the case of Josiah Moses, who entered Clark University as a graduate student in 1899. Despite an impressive record he could not find a position. In an effort to improve his chances he changed his name from Moses to Morse in 1907, two and a half years after receiving his PhD. Through his letters of recommendation, his advisor, known to be a liberal and tolerant individual, tried to help Morse overcome the stigma of his Jewishness, though in doing so, he also revealed many of the anti-Jewish prejudices common in academia. In one, for example, he described him as having “none of the objectionable Jewish traits. He is sandy-haired, has no Jewish features, is genial, popular with students and colleagues, knows his place and keeps it and is extremely loyal to his superiors.”[23] Individuals far more prominent than Moses also felt the sting of academic antisemitism. Oscar Straus, for example, who would later serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of Commerce from 1906 to 1909 (the first Jew ever appointed to a cabinet position), found himself barred from his college’s undergraduate literary society in 1867. And since the fraternities at City College of New York had closed their doors to Jews in 1878, Bernard Baruch, financier and later advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, who attended in the 1880s could not gain entry.[24]

Discrimination might seem a somewhat benign expression of antisemitism, certainly when compared with what was to come in the 1930s and 1940s. But the stigmatizing effects of groups being set apart in various ways could have life-and-death implications. The migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to Germany and the United States in the late nineteenth century would help stimulate antisemitism in both countries. In particular, the association of Jews with disease led to all kinds of special measures being taken in both countries to deal with the perceived danger of these exotic migrants from the east. Concerns over disease led American officials to develop a whole set of criteria to determine who could enter the country, with those falling short having to return to Europe. This led first German officials and then German shipping firms to establish an entire infrastructure aimed at facilitating the movement of Jews from east to west and then on to the United States. Special medical inspection and sanitizing facilities, closed trains, sealed-off stations, and separate housing for Jewish transmigrants served to further stigmatize this population.[25] Back in the U. S., Jewish immigrants faced measures not applied to other groups upon arrival. On February 13, 1892, for example, Dr. William Jenkins, health officer of the Port of the City of New York decreed that all East European Jews were to be detained and quarantined regardless of their port of departure. The following day, the US Nevada arrived in New York harbor. Despite no evidence of Typhus, thirty Russian Jews were immediately placed in quarantine. At the same time, ninety-three Scandinavians as well as others who had traveled side by side with the Jews in steerage were immediately allowed to go.[26] From the ‘polite’ discrimination of the Grand Union Hotel in 1877 to physical abuse from New York’s public health officials in the 1890s, antisemitism would ultimately make little distinction between assimilated and unassimilated, German and Eastern European Jews, both in Imperial Germany and the United States.

In his study of ‘resort antisemitism’, Frank Bajohr argued that ‘judenrein’ vacation spots provided German antisemitic propaganda an already-existing example of ‘Jewish-free zones’ and therefore at least to some degree helped prepare the ground for Nazi efforts at exclusion after 1933.[27] Of course, there was a great deal more that was required to produce a Third Reich, much less a Holocaust. And in the late nineteenth century, no one would have imagined Germans carrying out such an atrocity some four decades later. Looking forward, anti-Jewish discrimination in nineteenth-century Germany appears anything but exceptional. It fit into a much larger context that extended across the Atlantic. In fact, such exclusion was far more prevalent in the United States before the First World War than in Germany prior to the Third Reich. Presumably they also provided Americans with an already-existing example of ‘Jewish-free zones’. Might this mean that the ground was also prepared for some potential future anti-Jewish campaign in the United States? Certainly the decades that followed the outbreak of the First World War did little to diminish such a potential. And yet scholars routinely downplay the significance of American antisemitism in relation to that of Germany specifically and Europe more broadly. What we’ve seen here is that through comparative and global perspectives we can recognize a need to reevaluate such assessments in order to develop a better understanding of anti-Jewish prejudice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


[1] Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellscahaftsgeschichte, Bd. III, 1849-1914 (Munich: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1995), 1065.

[2] Wolfram Wette, The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 31-33.

[3] Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, 1027-1028.

[4] Ibid., 1027.

[5] Till van Rahden, Jews and Other Germans: Civil Society, Religious Diversity, and Urban Politics in Breslau, 1860-1925. Translated by Marcus Brainard (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), 71.

[6] Ibid., 79.

[7] Quoted in Frank Bajohr, “Unser Hotel ist judenfrei” Bäder-Antisemitismus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2003), 13.

[8] Ibid., 35.

[9] Ibid., 37-42.

[10] North Carolina in 1868 and New Hampshire in 1877.

[11] John Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America, Rev. ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 127.

[12] Corbin quoted in Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 40.

[13] Higham, Send These to Me, 128.

[14] Naomi W. Cohen, Encounter With Emancipation: The German Jews in the United States, 1830-1914 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1984), 250.

[15] Morton Rosenstock, Louis Marshall, Defender of Jewish Rights (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965), 17.

[16] Higham, Send These to Me, 130.

[17] Robert W. Charny, “Patterns of Toleration and Discrimination in San Francisco: The Civil War to World War I,” California History, vol. 73, nr. 2 (Summer 1994): 138-139.

[18] Eric L. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 54.

[19] Antero Pietala, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010), xi.

[20] Ibid., 36.

[21] Dan A. Oren, Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 18.

[22] Ibid., 40.

[23] Shelly Tennenbaum, “The Vicissitudes of Tolerance:  Jewish Faculty and Students at Clark University,” Massachusetts Historical Review, Vol. 5 (2003):  12-13.

[24] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 38; Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers: The Journey of East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made (New York: New York University Press, 1976, 2005), 281.

[25] See Nicole Kvale Eilers, “Emigrant Trains: Jewish Migration through Prussia and American Remote Control, 1880-1914,” in Tobias Brinkmann, ed., Points of Passage: Jewish Tramsmigrants from Eastern Europe in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain 1880-1914 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), 63-84.

[26] Howard Markel, Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 73-74.

[27] Bajohr, “Unser Hotel ist judenfrei,” 166.

Cite as: “Richard E. Fraenkel, ‘No Jews, Dogs, or Consumptives’: Comparing Anti-Jewish Discrimination in Late-Nineteenth-Century Germany and the United States, in: Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitism in International Perspective – Open Peer Review, 05.12.2016, https://antisem19c.hypotheses.org/630.


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4 Responses

  1. Richard Frankel says:

    Yes, that is certainly an interesting question. My current research, in fact, looks at, among other things, the role of global labor migration in the emergence of modern antisemitism in both Germany and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  2. Oliver Schulz says:

    Very interesting article. As I already said in the discussion during the conference, the question to what extent European antisemitism also migrated to the US with European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century would merit further discussion (maybe at a later stage in your research?).

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