Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some of the English correspondence concerning Maria Theresa's expulsion of the Jews of Prague in 1744.

On December of 1744 Maria Theresa issued an edict of expulsion of the Jews of Prague, with the rest of the Jews in Bohemia to follow. The next month an edict expelling the Jews of Moravia and Silesia was issued. Although Prague's Jews had to leave immediately, they were graciously granted a couple of months to stay in Bohemia itself to tidy up their business affairs. The ostensible reason for the expulsion was that Maria Theresa felt that the Jews had behaved treacherously in the War of Austrian Succession. Apart from the cruelty of expulsion in itself, the order of immediate evacuation in the middle of the winter was seen as especially cruel.

Naturally the Jews affected by the order applied for intervention wherever they could. Indeed, letters asking Maria Theresa to rescind her decree came from many influential and powerful quarters. So, for example, the following are some British newspaper clippings from that era:

Two Jewish leaders in England, Moses Franks and Aaron Hart, were asked by Jewish leaders in Prague to petition King George II and they of course did so. Then Sir Thomas Robinson, the English ambassador to Vienna, got involved. The correspondence was published by J. Krengel in the Monatschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 44 (1901).

As you can see, first Hart and Franks told George that the expulsion order gave no reason at all, which leads them to believe that it was due entirely to antisemitic machinations. But even if there were some Jews who committed some crime, then certainly they should be punished, but the innocent should not suffer with the guilty. Fully 50,000 families are about to be expelled!

Below is a translation of a contemporary account of the expulsion order being carried out, included in Wilma Iggers The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, which brings out the brutality of the event:

Three weeks later the ambassador sent a note to Lord Harrington, the Secretary of State, hoping that the Queen revokes the order. If she didn't then it will "be a sad delusion in political arithmetick, particularly at this time of day." Ultimately it took four years for the decree to be fully rescinded, and in the mean time many Jews were displaced.


  1. Fred, you gotta figure out how to do the "continued after jump" thing. These posts are getting unwieldy.



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