In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,
Jews throughout Europe lobbied their respective governments for emancipation.
Having for centuries been regarded as non-citizens without any rights,
the Jews, influenced by the Haskalah's emphasis on equality and integration, began to demand from their rulers
citizenship and treatment equal to that of non-Jewish residents. The
cause of emancipation, which began to be implemented on a permanent
basis in the mid- and late-nineteenth century, was greatly hurt in 1819
by a series of anti-Jewish disturbances known as the "Hep Hep riots."
For some time, sporadic anti-Jewish violence had been
accompanied by the rallying call "Hep! Hep!" The origins of
this phrase are unclear while some hold that the cry was an acronym
for "Hierosolyma est perdita," a Crusader chant meaning "Jerusalem is lost," others believe that it
was simply as an exhortatory cry for sheep-herders that was borrowed
by Jew-baiters. In either case, the slogan became a widespread one in
1819 when German Jews were the
targets of widespread rioting.
The immediate cause of these riots probably lay in
the Jewish demands for civil rights. The Jewish representatives who
attended the 1815 Congress of Vienna formally demanded emancipation,
and German academics and politicians alike responded with vicious opposition.
The Jews were portrayed to the public as "upstarts" who were
attempting to take control of Europe, particularly of its financial
sector. This widespread lie, combined with the fact that many Europeans,
reeling from the famine of 1816, were heavily indebted to Jewish bankers
and moneylenders, sparked violence beginning in Wuerzburg in August
of 1819. The attacks on Jews and Jewish property spread from there to
the whole of Germany, with particularly
vicious conflict occurring in Frankfurt,
Leipzig, Dresden, and Darmstadt. Eventually, the rioting reached as
far as Denmark and Poland.
The local German authorities invariably responded to the disturbances
by protecting the Jews; in several cases, they even called in the military
to hold back rioters. However, the government's reaction was not entirely
favorable to the Jews. While they protected them physically, many rulers
used the attacks as pretexts not to grant equal rights to Jews, explaining
that if even the suggestion of such a move was provoking popular unrest,
the actual granting of such rights would lead to catastrophe.
The riots had two simultaneous effects on the German
Jews. In many cases, the violence sped the Jews' attempts at assimilation
and integration into secular society. Proponents of emancipation refused
to be dissuaded, and believed that only if Jews became fully "German"
would they be treated as such. The riots also led some Jews to form
even more tightly knit groups in response to the animosity from without;
the Verein fuer Kultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Association
for Culture and Science of the Jews) was one such group.
Eventually, emancipation was achieved despite the
popular unrest; nonetheless, the granting of equal rights probably took
longer than necessary because of the rioting. By the mid-1800s, the
Hep! Hep! cry had lost its popularity, as even more virulent expressions
of anti-Semitism became prevalent.