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Antisemitismus in der Karikatur: Zur Bildpublizistik in der französischen Dritten Republik und im deutschen Kaiserreich (1871–1914), by Regina Schleicher. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009. 203 pp. €39; $45.00.
Caricature as an art form distorts the character and appearance of a person or a group of people in order to create an identifiable, usually negative, visual representation. This book in German by Regina Schleicher carefully analyzes antisemitic caricatures that were published in journals, newspapers, and flyers, as well as book illustrations and post cards from 1871 to 1914 in Imperial Germany and in the French Third Republic (the republican government following the defeat of Louis Napoléon in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870). Schleicher makes a distinction between modern antisemitism and antisemitism in previous centuries. The caricatures discussed in her book present potent, political antisemitism. Since the last decades of the nineteenth century political antisemitism emerged in France and Germany that flourished in such organizations as clubs, unions and political parties. Representatives of these movements were often from the educated middle classes, among them teachers and librarians.
Schleicher is interested in the transition from anti-Judaism, which according to her is religiously based, to antisemitism, which represents a secularized form of denigrating and demonizing Jews. These distinctions demonstrate the strong methodological aspects of her book and the serious research that was performed in museums and libraries. One of the major sources for her depictions is the university library in Frankfurt am Main, the Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg. Stereotypical caricatures of Jews were disseminated in publications by the above-mentioned organizations. The development of journalism and new printing techniques which enabled mass publications contributed to widely available journals and newspapers that contained these caricatures. Even in seemingly harmless illustrated family magazines, such as the Gartenlaube, the reader would find anti-Jewish depictions.
The following categories were utilized to defame Jews: Jews as beasts and animals, for example, pigs (pp. 142f.) or dragons (p. 145). These caricatures presented a distorted Jewish body. These depictions were based upon some pseudo-scientific views of Jews in the nineteenth century that are explored in essays by Sander Gilman and others. The myths concerning Jewish dominance of the world, especially the suggested power of Jewish money and banking as shown in the figure of Rothschild (p. 150), are well-known caricatures that spread fear, hatred, and falsehoods. Some of these caricatures utilized Christian religious notions of the Jew as the devil, a long-standing “tradition” of antisemites. In 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Twelve years later Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army in 1906. In the caricatures of his time, Dreyfus (p. 145) was represented as a monster that Schleicher identifies as the serpent-like Hydra from Greek mythology, although the Hydra of Lernea had nine heads, whereas the Dreyfus caricature had only seven heads. The monster has been pierced by a dagger that affixes to its body a piece of paper inscribed “the traitor.” This reviewer suggests that this defaming depiction of Dreyfus is based upon the beast in the New Testament book of Revelation, which would add a religious perspective, and it is likely that Christian Frenchmen at this time would have known their Bible.
In the opinion of this reviewer, the topic of this book is highly relevant because of the continuing wave of antisemitic caricatures, mainly disseminated from the Arab world, defaming Israel and applying antisemitic tropes from medieval Europe to Israel, its political leaders and to Israelis in general. Schleicher’s book is based upon her 2007 dissertation at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main. The book contains a rich bibliography, and the publisher is commended for its excellent reproduction of the caricatures under discussion. This book is of interest to historians, cultural theorists, and scholars researching antisemitism.