Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/223

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
213
THE JEWS IN EUROPE.

Emperor Frederick II based thereupon the claim that all Jews were his property as the Emperor, according to the then prevailing logic, that the master's rights over them had been transmitted from the old Roman emperors to him as their successor. His son, Conrad IV, already used the expressions, "servants of our chamber," and the Schwabenspiegel[1] professed to know that "King Titus had given them over to be the property of the imperial chamber." King Albrecht demanded from King Philip of France that the French Jews be handed over to him, and later the Jews themselves said, in a memorial to the Council of Ratisbon, that "They belonged to the Emperor, in order that he might preserve them from entire destruction at the hands of the Christians, and keep them as a memorial of the sufferings of Christ."

After the fourteenth century, this servitude to the exchequer came to be understood and applied as a complete slavery: "You belong," says the Emperor Charles IV, in a document addressed to the Jews, "to us and the empire with your lives and possessions; we can order, do, and act with these as we like and as seems good to us." In fact, the Jews frequently went, like an article of merchandise, from one hand into another; the Emperor declared, now here, now there, that their claims for the payment of debts were annulled, and caused a large sum of money, generally thirty per cent, to be paid by the debtors into his own treasury.

The protection which emperor and empire were supposed to accord to the servants of the exchequer was often illusory, even when they were granted special privileges; as a matter of fact, they were without civil rights. Only where self-interest dictated, not to allow men in so many ways useful and profitable to utterly perish, did the governments step in. Otherwise everybody's hand was against them, from emperor down through all ranks of society to the very rabble. Often protection was assured them only for a limited time, at the end of which they were as good as outlawed, unless they immediately bought with large sums of money a renewal of the letter of protection. They were used like sponges—allowed to completely fill themselves, in order to be then as completely squeezed out. What happened in the year 1390 deserves to be kept in the memory of Germans as a constant warning. King, princes, nobles, and cities were, by reason of long wars, all alike in debt; then the example that had been already given by France was copied. At the Imperial Diet held in Nuremberg, all money-claims by Jews were annulled, and, instead of paying their rightful creditors the debtors paid in fifteen per cent of their indebtedness to the royal treasury! In this way, for example, the Duke of Bavaria, the Count of Oettingen, and the city of Ratisbon, each won one hundred thousand gold florins.

If a prince ever showed a disposition to favor the Jews of his land

  1. ↑ The book containing the statute-and feudal-laws of South Germany. Translator.