Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Searching for the Prussian Emancipation Act of 1812


On H-Judaic, a list serv for professors of Judaica, a retired professor who is writing a book wanted to find the text of the Prussian Emancipation Act of 1812. I thought this would be an easy search using Google. I was mistaken. A search in English yielded many books and articles that mention this edict and portions of the text, but not the full text. The professor said that she had a summary of the text in English, but wanted the full text.

Since this was a complicated search, I hope that you can learn some of the search tricks that I need to use to find the text. I first had to read up and understand this edict. This was the document of emancipation for the Jews of Prussia issued by King Friedreich Willhelm III. The people of Prussia felt this was a reward for the achievements that Jews accomplished in Prussia. In other countries the rulers imposed citizenship and rights to the Jews. The edict eliminated most of the anti-Jewish laws that had existed from the Middle Ages. This edict ended the Middle Ages and its limitations on human rights. It was a great step toward modernity.  . The edict allowed Jews most freedoms of citizens and  required them to adopt family names.  Strangely,  since they couldn’t be university professors, some Jews were encouraged to convert. Foreign Jews who married Prussians were not granted all the rights as citizens. The provisions of the 1812 edict were not enforced uniformly in the Kingdom. For example the city-state of Lübeck expelled Jews who has settled there during the Napoleonic era.(1)

Prussia in 1812 was a German kingdom that included the cities of Berlin, Brandenberg, Hanover, and Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt an der Oder, Koenigsberg, and Breslau. Prussia existed from 1701 until Germany’s defeat in World War 1 in 1918. It had very irregular borders and islands of other states were completely surrounded by Prussia. It was the biggest and most populous of the German states. The borders changed in 1805 and 1807. Today parts of Prussia are in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. During the aftermath of World War 2, many areas no longer had a German character. For example the city of Königsberg, largely destroyed in the war, was renamed Kaliningrad (Калининград)in 1946. Königsberg was the city’s name from the year 1255.(2)

Since the edict was Prussian law I searched for a law book with the text. I found the compiled law of Prussia in Gesetz-Sammlung für diu Königlichen Preussischen Staaten., (Collected Royal Laws of the Prussian State) but strangely the volume that covers 1812 is either missing or never existed. The volume covering 1806-1810 was published in 1822 in Berlin. (3)

After I understood something about the edict I could return to use Google. By doing a search in German using Google books I found the complete text of the 1812 Emancipation Act in the book, Der Entwurfeiner Verordnung über die Verhaltnisse der Juden in Preussen und das Edikt vom 11. Marz 1812 / von Moritz Veit. Leipzig : F. A. Brockhaus, 1847, starting on page 27. It is printed in German Fraktur font. Here's the link for finding the book with Google books:

Here is the link for finding the book with Google books

Another copy is available from Freimann-Digital-Collection of Frankfurt University Library

The Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Institut für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte at the University of Duisburg-Essen has a digital archive of text that includes a plain text version of Moritz Veit’s book (

According to WorldCat, this book is only available in electronic format. However, I have learned that the book is available in Frankfurt University Library-Judaica Division.

This was not a quick search. Google is a great tool, but the search required an understanding of the search terms in both English and the original German and a brief lesson in what this document is and its significance. During the search process I read many articles on the topic and checked encyclopedias for background. Without the background I would not have known that the result was correct.

1> There are many articles and books that discuss the emancipation of Jews in German lands,  Examples are:  “The process of emancipation from the Congress of Vienna to the revolution of 1848/49,” by Arno Hertzog  in Leo Baeck Institute year book XXXVII 1992 p. 61- 69 and “The terms of emancipation 1781-1812,” by H.D. Schmidt in  Leo Baeck Institute year book I  1956.  Modern Judaism and historical consciousness : identities, encounters, perspectives, by Andreas Gotzmann and Christian Wiese  ( Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2007) see chapter 12 Jewish historical culture and Wissenschaft.

2>  One of the challenges of  the geography of Europe is that cities have changed countries and names very often.  Frequently cities had German, Polish, Russian and Yiddish names. The catalog of Jewish Theological Seminary Library list more than 150 books published in Königsberg and none from Kalingrad.

3>  Note added on July 7. Since the original publication I received additional information from Bonnie Anderson: the University of Iowa Law Library has a copy of the Gesetz-Sammlung fűr die Königlichen Preussischen Staaten, 1806-65. Thanks also to Rachel Heuberger of Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt a. M (Frankfurt University Library) for providing information about this item in their collection.

Notes received from Reina Wiliams:

The subject line of this email grabbed my attention immediately. I am working as an Online Librarian at a proprietary school. Yesterday, I was helping a student in chat, and he was angry he could not search the library databases like Google. He even submitted a feedback form saying how dissatisfied he was with the library web resources. He stated he could just Google his topic. This student fails to realize that the web resources may not be credible or accepted by his instructor. Librarians at the very least have to be present to teach students how to evaluate web resources.

1 comment:

Martin Gallas said...

I believe the former Koenigsberg is called Kaliningrad, not Kalingrad.