Jews In The 30 Years War

The were reintegrated into European Society as a result of the financial burden of the Thirty Years War.

The Thirty Years War lasted from 1618 to 1648. It began as a renewal of religious warfare in the provinces of Germany, but quickly spread throughout Europe. As it spread it began to take on a more political meaning rather than a religious one. Thus, it became a struggle for dominance between European powers. Catholic France led by Cardinal Richelieu allied with the Protestant princes of Germany and the Protestant king of Sweden against the Holy Roman Emperor. The source of the conflict stretches back to the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. When the Church split apart it created the problem of who was going to decide which religion people were going to practice. The Church wanted complete authority over religious matters, whether or not the people were actually living within the Imperial borders or not. The German princes wanted to be able to decide for themselves which religion the people inside their borders practiced. France and Sweden entered the conflict when they realized that they could gain power at the expense of the Holy Roman Empire. In the end, the German princes gain the right to choose their official state religion. Thus reducing the authority of the Church in international affairs.

This long and terrible conflict accelerated the reintegration of Jewry into the seventeenth century European society. Before the war Jews led a highly restrictive life. The Cossack pogroms of the late 1500's killed over 40,000 Jews. Thus, creating an environment of death and destruction that isolated the Jews against violent Cossacks of Poland. On top of this Jews were only allowed to live in a very few European countries. England had expelled its Jewish population in 1290 and France and Spain followed suit in 1394 and 1492 respectively. Where Jews were allowed to live, they were still restricted to certain arts of the cities called ghettos. Thus, Jews were extremely isolated from European society in the years before the Thirty Years War.

This trend of isolationism was reversed by the Thirty Years War. The largest reason for the reintegration of the Jews into society was the development of a good relationship with the Holy Roman Emperor. To explain this unlikely match we must look at the advancements of Jews in the economic sphere. While Jews were continual persecuted and mistreated socially, they succeeded greatly in the economic sphere. Many Jews had made fortunes off of the trading and exploratory voyages of Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth century. Also, many Jews, as a result of religious tendencies of Christians, were bankers. Thus, in many places, they were the sole suppliers of loans and bank accounts. Thus, many Jews were wealthy and experienced in international matters.

As the Thirty Years War raged on, The Holy Roman Emperor began to run out of money. Fighting a war against three large European powers that had vast monetary resources was incredibly expensive. The Holy Roman treasury was struggling to provide the added expenses of the war. In Italy at this time there were an incredible amount of Jews. These Jews lived harsh lives. They were confined to ghettos and were legally recognized as a race inferior to Christians. However, they were extremely prosperous merchants, bankers, and traders. Thus, they had incredible monetary resources at their disposal. The Emperor saw a golden opportunity in the plight of the Jews. Because they lived such hard lives they could provide loans in exchange for certain freedoms that Christian bankers took for granted. In this way the treasury would be refilled without having to repay expensive loans.

As result of this relationship Judenstadt, a Jewish Ghetto in Prague, was spared when the rest of the city was burned to the ground by the Imperial army. This ghetto was also enlarged and improved. Thus, a Jewish population of a few hundred in 1600 grew to a Jewish population of a few thousand by 1650. In 1623, in exchange for a large, no interest loan to the Holy Roman Emperor, Jews in Italian cities were allowed to trade in wine, cloth, and grain. Christian merchants had previously monopolized this activity. This policy of freedom in exchange for money was not just practiced in the Empire. As the war continued and the other participants began to run out of money they too developed this strategy. In Vienna a community of Jews was allowed to build a synagogue. Up to this point the building of synagogues had been outlawed since 1421. In nearly every major city in Europe Jews were granted access to trade fairs. They had been systematically banished from all trade fairs because they were competition for Christian merchants. They were allowed back into the fairs because it increased their financial security, and thus. More money could be extracted from them. Thus, as a result of the cost of the war, Jews were reintegrated into society.

© High Speed Ventures 2011