Peasants and Jews: Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany

Chapter 3:  Anti-Semites in Eclipse? (1903-1914)


The focus of this chapter is the 1st Hanoverian Reichstag constituency, which covered the eastern half of East Friesland and included the cities of Emden and Leer. Like the 19th Hanoverian discussed in the preceding chapter, the 1st district was a composite of fertile drained wetlands (Marsch), where prosperous large peasant farmers controlled dependent farm laborers, sandy Geest villages characterized by a more egalitarian social and political structure, and desperately poor Moor colonies on the eastern reaches on the constituency. From 1893 until his death in 1909, Prince Edzard zu Innhausen und Knyphausen led a fractious coalition of conservatives, imperialists, and anti-Semites that contended for votes against an equally fractious Liberal/Progressive alliance. When Knyphausen died in 1909, the anti-Semitic faction within his coalition took precedence in the selection of candidates, resulting in a swing of votes to the Progressives, who had themselves emerged as the dominant group within the Liberal coalition. My individual focus in this chapter will be on Knyphausen and Christian Bruhn (the anti-Semitic editor featured in Helmut Walser Smith’s The Butcher’s Tale), who stood as the Agrarian candidate in 1903 in the neighboring constituency of Hanover 2.

My spatial and statistical analysis will focus on the national elections of 1907 and 1912, linking out via hyperlink to color maps and data sets.

In Chapter Three, I will begin with an examination of the crisis between anti-Semites and Conservatives, as local anti-Semitic groups rebelled against their subservient place in the Agrarian/Conservative coalition. As a result, the election of 1903 saw a sharp setback for radical forces within the BdL (i.e., Hahn and other BdL leaders failed to be reelected) and a seeming resurgence of Liberalism. While the hyper-nationalist Hottentot election of 1907 temporarily put an end to this intra-coalition contention, it resurfaced in 1908-1909 in a general crisis that led to the creation of the German Peasant League and the total alienation of the National Liberal Party from the Agrarian coalition on the North Sea coast. Anti-Semites used this confusion to push themselves to the fore in special elections in Hanover 1 (in 1908) and Hanover 18 (in 1909) and generally in 1912, when they forced openly anti-Semitic candidates on the coalition. In each of these instances, the coalition witnessed a decrease in its vote share, as Liberals refused to support an anti-Semite.

This chapter will be a major step towards understanding the very confused domestic political situation on the eve of the War. While the Agrarian block was in dissolution on the eve of the Great War, it would be inaccurate to speak of a corresponding "revival" of liberalism. My own work on the German Peasants League suggests that there was an urban-financed pushback against Agrarianism, and the local data that I have analyzed in this study makes it clear that this “revival” in the countryside was a myth.