The introduction of a mark to distinguish persons not belonging to the religious faith of the majority did not originate in Christendom, where it was later radically imposed, but in Islam. It seems that Caliph Omar II (717–20), not Omar I, as is sometimes stated, was the first ruler to order that every non-Muslim, the dhimmī, should wear vestimentary distinctions (called giyār, i.e., distinguishing marks) of a different color for each minority group. The ordinance was unequally observed, but it was reissued and reinforced by Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847–61). Subsequently, it remained in force over the centuries, with a few variations. Thus, in Sicily, the Saracen governor in 887/8 compelled the Christians to wear on their garments and put on their doors a piece of cloth in the form of a swine, and the Jews to affix a similar sign in the form of a donkey. In addition, the Jews were compelled to wear yellow belts and special hats.
Although written documentary testimony concerning distinctive signs worn by Jews from the 12th century is still lacking, pictorial representations of this period, especially in the Germanic countries, introduce the pointed hat. This is subsequently referred to as the “Jewish hat,” worn by Jews or depicted in allegorical representations of Judaism (“Synagoga”). It would seem, however, that this distinction was instituted by the Jews themselves. There are some ambiguous references to the compulsory imposition of distinctive Jewish clothing in documents from the beginning of the 13th century (Charter of Alais, 1200: Synodal rules of Odo, bishop of Paris, c. 1200). The consistent record, however, can be traced back only to canon 68 of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) led by Pope Innocent III, who called for Jews and Muslims to be distinguished from Christians:
Both the allusion to biblical law (Lev. 19) and the inclusion of the canon among a series of others regulating the Jewish position indicate that the decree was directed especially against the Jews, which made sense since there were no large Muslim communities in Europe outside of Spain.
Implementation of the council’s decision varied in the countries of the West in both the form of the distinctive sign and the date of its application.
In England, papal influence was at this time particularly strong. The recommendations of the Lateran Council were repeated in an order of March 30, 1218. However, before long the wealthier Jews, and later on entire communities, paid to be exempted, notwithstanding the reiteration of the order by the diocesan council of Oxford in 1222. In 1253, however, the obligation to wear the badge was renewed in the period of general reaction, by Henry III, who ordered the tabula to be worn in a prominent position. In thestatutum de Judeismo of 1275, Edward I stipulated the color of the badge and increased the size. A piece of yellow taffeta, six fingers long and three broad, was to be worn above the heart by every Jew over the age of seven years. In England, the badge took the form of the Tablets of the Law, considered to symbolize the Old Testament, in which form it is to be seen in various caricatures and portraits of medieval English Jews.
In 1217, the papal legate in southern France ordered that the Jews should wear a rota (
wheel) on their outer garment but shortly afterward the order was rescinded. However, in 1219, King Philip Augustus ordered the Jews to wear the badge, apparently in the same form. Innocent III wrote to French bishops instructing them to ensure the badge did not expose Jews to the “danger of loss of life.”
Discussions regarding the permissibility of wearing the badge on the Sabbath when not attached to the garment are reported by Isaac b. Moses of Vienna, the author of the Or Zaru’a, was in France about 1217–18. Numerous church councils (Narbonne 1227, Rouen 1231, Arles 1234, Béziers 1246, Albi 1254, etc.) reiterated the instructions for wearing the badge, and a general edict for the whole of France was issued by Louis IX (Saint Louis) on June 19, 1269. This edict was endorsed by Philip the Bold, Philip the Fair, Louis X, Philip V, and others, and by the councils of Pont-Audemer (1279), Nîmes (1284), etc. The circular badge was normally to be worn on the breast; some regulations also required that a second sign should be worn on the back. At times it was placed on the bonnet or at the level of the belt. The badge was yellow in color, or of two shades, white and red. Wearing it was compulsory from the age of either seven or thirteen years. Any Jew found without the badge forfeited his garment to his denunciator. In cases of a second offense, a severe fine was imposed. When traveling, the Jew was exempted from wearing the badge. Philip the Fair extracted fiscal benefits from the compulsory wearing of the badge, by the annual distribution of the badges by the royal tax collectors at a fixed price.
The obligation to wear the Badge of Shame was reenacted by the secular authorities in Spain shortly after the promulgation of the decrees of the Lateran Council, and in 1218 Pope Honorius III instructed the archbishop of Toledo to see that it was rigorously enforced. The Spanish Jews did not submit to this passively, and some of them threatened to leave the country for the area under Muslim rule. In consequence, the pope authorized the enforcement of the regulation to be suspended. The obligation was indeed reenacted sporadically (e.g., in Aragon 1228, Navarre 1234, Portugal 1325). However, it was not consistently enforced, and Jews who had influence at court would often secure special exemptions.
Alfonso X the Wise of Castile in his Siete Partidas (1263) imposed a fine or lashing as the penalty for a Jew who neglected the order. In 1268, James I of Aragon exempted the Jews from wearing the badge, requiring them on the other hand to wear a round cape (capa rotunda). In Castile, Henry III (1390–1406) yielded in 1405 to the demand of the Cortes and required even his Jewish courtiers to wear the badge. As a result of Vicente Ferrer’s agitation, the Jews were ordered in 1412 to wear distinctive clothing and a red badge, and they were further required to let their hair and beards grow long.
The successors of Henry III renewed the decrees concerning the badge. In Aragon, John I, in 1393, prescribed special clothing for the Jews. In 1397, Queen Maria (the consort of King Martin) ordered all the Jews in Barcelona, both residents and visitors, to wear on their chests a circular patch of yellow cloth, a span in diameter, with a red
bull’s eye in the center. They were to dress only in clothing of pale green color – as a sign of mourning for the ruin of their Temple, which they suffered because they had turned their backs upon Jesus – and their hats were to be high and wide with a short, wide cuculla. Violators were to be fined ten libras and stripped of their clothes wherever caught. When, in 1400, King Martin granted the Jews of Lérida a charter of privileges, he required them, nevertheless, to wear the customary badge.
In 1474, the burghers of Cervera sought to impose upon the local Jews a round badge of other than the customary form. In the period before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the wearing of the Jewish badge was almost universally enforced, and some persons demanded that it should be extended also to Conversos.
Presumably, the order of the Lateran Council was reenacted in Rome very soon after its promulgation in 1215, but it was certainly not consistently enforced. In 1221–22 the
enlightened emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen ordered all the Jews of the Kingdom of Sicily to wear a distinguishing badge of bluish color in the shape of the Greek letter τ and also to grow beards to be more easily distinguishable from non-Jews. In the same year, the badge was imposed in Pisa and probably elsewhere.
In the Papal States, the obligation was first specifically imposed so far as is known by Alexander IV in 1257: there is extant a moving penitential poem written on this occasion by Benjamin b. Abraham Anav expressing the passionate indignation of the Roman Jews on this occasion. The badge here took the form of a circular yellow patch a handspan in diameter to be worn by men on a prominent place on the outer garment, while women had to wear two blue stripes on their veil.
In 1360, an ordinance of the city of Rome required all male Jews, with the exception of physicians, to wear a coarse red cape, and all women to wear a red apron. Inspectors were appointed to enforce the regulation. Noncompliance was punished by a fine of 11 scudi; informers who pointed out offenders were entitled to half the fine. The ordinance was revised in 1402, eliminating the reward for informing and exempting the Jews from wearing the special garb inside the ghetto.
In the Duchy of Piedmont, Jewish communities raised money to pay taxes to receive exemptions from wearing a badge.
In Sicily, there was from an early period a custos rotulae whose function it was to ensure that the obligation was not neglected. Elsewhere in Italy, however, the enforcement was sporadic, although it was constantly being demanded by fanatical preachers and sometimes temporarily enacted. The turning point came with the bull Cum nimis absurdum of Pope Paul IV in 1555, which inaugurated the ghetto system. This enforced the wearing of the badge (called by the Italian Jews scimanno, from Heb. siman) for the Papal States, later to be imitated throughout Italy (except in Leghorn), and enforced until the period of the French Revolution. In Rome, as well as in the Papal States in the south of France, it took the form of a yellow hat for men and a yellow kerchief for women. In the Venetian dominions, the color was red. In Candia (Crete), then under Venetian rule, Jewish shops had to be distinguished by the badge. David d’Ascoli, who published in 1559 a Latin protest against the degrading regulation, was severely punished and his work was destroyed.
In the 1560s, the governor of Milan received a letter from two bankers in Genoa complaining that they had been robbed because they were wearing badges identifying them as Jews. In 1572, representatives of Pavia and Cremona said that children attacked and attacked them when they were wearing yellow hats. In 1595, David Sacerdote, a musician from Monferrato said other musicians would not play with him when he wore the yellow hat.
In Germany and the other lands of the Holy Roman Empire, the pointed hat was first in use as a distinctive sign. It was not officially imposed until the second half of the 13th century (Schwabenspiegel, art. 214, c. 1275; Weichbild-Vulgata, art. 139, second half of 13th century; cf. Council of Breslau, 1267; Vienna, 1267; Olmuetz, 1342; Prague, 1355, etc.). The church councils of Breslau and Vienna, both held in 1267, required the Jews of Silesia, Poland, and Austria to wear not a badge but the pointed hat characteristic of Jewish garb (the pileum cornutum).
A church council held in Ofen (Budapest) in 1279 decreed that the Jews were to wear on the chest a round patch in the form of a wheel. The badge was imposed for the first time in Augsburg in 1434, and its general enforcement was demanded by Nicolaus of Cusa and John of Capistrano. In 1530, the ordinance was applied to the whole of Germany (Reichspolizeiordnung, art. 22). In the course of the 15th century, a Jewish badge, in addition to the Jewish hat, was introduced in various forms into Germany. A church council that met in Salzburg in 1418 ordered Jewish women to attach bells to their dresses so that their approach might be heard from a distance. In Augsburg, in 1434 the Jewish men were ordered to attach yellow circles to their clothes, in front, and the women were ordered to wear yellow pointed veils. Jews on a visit to Nuremberg were required to wear a type of long, wide hood falling over the back, by which they would be distinguished from the local Jews. The obligation to wear the yellow badge was imposed upon all the Jews in Germany in 1530 and in Austria in 1551. As late as the reign of Maria Theresa (1740–80) the Jews of Prague were required to wear yellow collars over their coats.
In the new communities which became established in Western Europe (and later America) from the close of the 16th century under somewhat freer conditions the wearing of the Jewish badge was never imposed, though sometimes suggested by fanatics. In Poland, partly probably because the Jews constituted a distinct ethnic element, it was likewise virtually unknown except in some major cities under German influence. Similarly, the Court Jews of Germany were unable to perform their function unless dressed like other people. In the course of the 18th century, although there was no official modification of the established policy, the wearing of the Jewish badge came to be neglected in a good part of Europe. In Venice, the red hat continued to be worn by elderly persons and rabbis through sheer conservatism.
From the 17th century, there were some regional suspensions of the distinctive sign in Germany, as also for the Jews of Vienna in 1624, and for those of Mannheim in 1691. It was abrogated at the end of the 18th century with Jewish Mannheim. Thus, on September 7, 1781, the yellow
wheel was abolished by Emperor Joseph II in all the territories of the Austrian crown.
In the Papal States in France, the yellow hat was abolished in 1791 after the French Revolution reached the area, although some persons retained it until forbidden to do so by official proclamation. In the Papal States in Italy, on the other hand, the obligation was reimposed as late as 1793. When in 1796–97 the armies of the French Revolution entered Italy and the ghettos were abolished, the obligation to wear the Jewish badge disappeared. Its reimposition was threatened but not carried out during the reactionary period after the fall of Napoleon, and it then seemed that the Badge of Shame was only an evil memory of the past.
It was to commemorate the yellow badge or hat that Theodor Herzl chose this color for the cover of the first Zionist periodical Die Welt. It was in the same spirit that the Juedische Rundschau, the organ of the Zionist Organization in Germany, wrote on the morrow of the Nazi rise to power:
Yellow Badge in the Nazi Period
In 1938, the Nazis compelled Jewish shopkeepers to display the words
Jewish business in their windows but did not introduce distinctive signs to be worn by Jews until after the occupation of Poland. The first to issue an order on his own initiative, without awaiting instructions from the central authority, was the town Kommandant of Wloclawek, S.S.Oberfuehrer Cramer, who, on October 24, 1939, ordered that every Jew in Wloclawek was to wear a distinctive sign on the back in the form of a yellow triangle at least 15 cm. in size. The order was published in the Leslauer Bote (October 25, 1939). The order applied to all Jews, without distinction of age or sex. This device was rapidly adopted by other commanders in the occupied regions in the East and received official approval, in consideration of the anti-Semitic sentiments prevailing among the local Polish public, which received the new German measure with enthusiasm. The dates of application of the measure varied. There were regions where the instructions were applied even before they were issued in the General-Government, such as in Krakow, where the Jews were compelled to wear the sign from November 18, 1939, whereas the date throughout the General-Gouvernment was December 1, 1939. In Lvov the order was applied from July 15, 1941, and in eastern Galicia from September 15, 1941. On the other hand, in certain places, the instruction is known to have been applied only after publication of the general order, as for example in Warsaw on December 12, 1939, and not on December 1, 1939, even though Warsaw was included in the General-Government. In the smaller communities, the official German instructions were replaced by an announcement of the Judenrat.
In the West, the situation was totally different. In the Reichsgebiet (the territory of the Reich proper, as opposed to the occupied territories), the order was issued on September 1, 1941. It was published in the Reichsgesetzblatt and was applied as of September 19, 1941. This date was also valid for the Jews of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. The age from which the wearing of the sign was compulsory was six years for Germany and Western Europe and ten years for Eastern Europe. In certain places, the age differed. In Holland, the order was applied from May 1942, while in Belgium and France, the Jews were compelled to wear the distinctive sign from June 1942. A meeting had been held in Paris in March 1942 to coordinate the application of the order in these three countries. In Bulgaria the order was applied from September 1942, in Greece from February 1943, and in Hungary from April 1944.
The type of distinctive sign varied, the following being the principal forms: a yellow Shield (Star) of David inscribed with J or Jude, etc.; a white armband with a blue Shield of David on it; a Shield of David, with or without inscription and in various colors; a yellow armband with or without inscription; a yellow button in the form of a Shield of David; a metal tag inscribed with the letter J; a yellow triangle; a yellow circle. This general use of the Shield of David as the Jewish badge was unknown in the Middle Ages. The inscriptions appearing on the badges were specially chosen to resemble Hebrew characters. After the Jews were compelled to reside in ghettos, they were also forced to wear the distinctive sign in conformity with the order applying to the region in which the ghetto was located. In the concentration camps, they wore the sign that designated political prisoners on which was sewn a triangle or a yellow stripe to distinguish them from non-Jewish prisoners. In the Reichsgebiet, as well as in several of the occupied countries, the Germans introduced distinctive signs on Jewish business premises, passports, and ration cards, where the letter J was overprinted in a most conspicuous manner.
Jews reacted with dignity to the order and wore the sign as if it were a decoration. However, they did not realize the danger which lay in wearing a distinctive sign. Non-Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, generally accepted this anti-Jewish measure with enthusiasm and saw in it an opportunity to remove the Jews from commercial, economic, and public life. In the West, reactions varied. The Jews could often rely on the hatred of the Germans by the public, and this even brought active support to the Jews. The Dutch wore the badge out of solidarity with the Jewish citizens. Three-hundred thousand replicas of the badge were produced and distributed throughout Holland bearing the inscription: "Jews and non-Jews stand united in their struggle!" In Denmark, the badge was never introduced as a result of the courageous resistance of King Christian X, who was said to have threatened to wear it himself.
The principal objective in introducing distinctive signs for the Jews was to erect a barrier between them and non-Jews and to restrict their movements. The Germans achieved this objective to a large extent, despite the various reactions which rendered the application of the order difficult. The Jews increasingly concentrated in closed districts, even before the establishment of the ghettos by the Nazis, for fear of being arrested and deported to concentration camps. A Jew had the choice of concealing the sign and thus becoming an offender liable to a deportation sentence to the concentration camps, or of wearing the sign and becoming easy prey to his enemies. The distinctive signs were thus an effective means in the hands of the Germans to facilitate their plan to exterminate the Jews.
G. Rezasco, Segno degli ebrei (1889); U. Robert, Signes d’Infamie… (1891); F. Singermann, Kennzeichnung der Judea im Mittelalter (1915); Kisch, in: HJ, 19 (1957), 89ff.; Lichtenstadter, ibid., 5 (1943), 35ff.; Strauss, in: JSOS, 4 (1942), 59; A. Cohen, Anglo-Jewish Scrapbook (1943), 249–59; Aronstein, in: Zion, 13–14 (1948–49) 33ff.; B. Blumenkranz, Le Juif médiéval au miroir de l’art chrétien (1966); S. Grayzel, Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century (1966), index; Baron, Social2, II (1967), 96–106; A. Rubens, History of Jewish Costume (1967), index. NAZI PERIOD: L. Poliakov, L’Etoile jaune (1949); G. Reitlinger, The Final Solution (1953), index S.V. Judenstern.
[B. Mordechai Ansbacher]
Flora Cassen, “The Long History of Forcing Jews to Wear Anti-Semitic Badges,” Smithsonian, (March 20, 2023).