Bismarck, Otto von°

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BISMARCK, OTTO VON° (1815–1898), Prussian statesman and from 1871 first chancellor of the German Empire. His attitude to Jews and Judaism was ambivalent. In 1847, when he was simply a conservative Eastelbian deputy in the Prussian "Vereinigte Landtag," he strongly opposed opening senior governmental positions to Jews. Later he was attacked by antisemites for "being duped by Jewish financiers" (their main target being G. von *Bleichroeder), and for passing the laws of 1869 and 1871 which abolished restrictions based on religious differences, first in the "Norddeutsche Bund," later in the newly founded Deutsche Reich. This legislation, however, was mainly directed by political expediency, while Bismarck's relations with Bleichroeder were financially beneficial to both men. The Jewish Liberal parliamentarians E. *Lasker and L. *Bamberger supported Bismarck in the early years, but when he turned to the Conservatives after 1878 they became his bitter adversaries.

Although Bismarck regarded the rabidly antisemitic court preacher Adolph *Stoecker with disdain, he appreciated Stoecker's services in opposing socialism. In 1878, during the Congress of *Berlin, Bismarck generally supported a policy favorable to the Jews, which resulted in the incorporation of written guarantees in the peace treaties assuring their equality in the Balkan states, in particular in *Romania. A petition (bearing 250,000 signatures) demanding the dismissal of Jews from all government positions (1881) was ignored by Bismarck, who was suspicious of all popular manifestations. However, only apostates were allowed to reach the upper echelons, while the careers of the few Jews employed by the state were severely restricted. In 1885–86, Bismarck supported the expulsion from Prussia of thousands of Russian and Austrian citizens, including around 9,000 Jews. Bismarck, who was contemptuous of all things Polish, despised the East European Jews and adopted the prejudices against Ostjuden current even among the Jewish community in Germany. He was also suspicious of the connection between Jewish *Reform in religion and political radicalism, and had a higher opinion of Jewish *Orthodoxy. In the early years of his political career, Bismarck had the support of the vast majority of German Jewry, but he gradually lost it later, as Jews in Germany increasingly turned toward radical liberalism. Concerning his own religious attitudes, Bismarck cultivated strong pietist attitudes, so that he had a vast knowledge of Old Testament.


O. Joehlinger, Bismarck und die Juden… (1921); H. Neubach, Die Ausweisungen von Polen und Juden aus Preussen, 188586… (1967), index; E. Hamburger, in: ylbi, 9 (1964), 216, 220–2; N.M. Gelber, ibid., 5 (1960), 221–48; D.S. Landes, ibid., 5 (1960), 201–20; add. bibliography: F. Stern, Gold and Iron (1978); O. Pflanze, Bismarck, 2 (1990), 70–85 and 318–320; Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, 3 (1995), 961–964; A. Hopp, Otto von Bismarck aus der Sicht des juedischen Buergertums (1999).

[Henry Wasserman /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]