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Crime, Jews and News

Crime, Jews and News: Vienna 1890-1914

Daniel M. Vyleta
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    Crime, Jews and News
    Book Description:

    Crimes committed by Jews, especially ritual murders, have long been favorite targets in the antisemitic press. This book investigates popular and scientific conceptualizations of criminals current in Austria and Germany at the turn of the last century and compares these to those in the contemporary antisemitic discourse. It challenges received historiographic assumptions about the centrality of criminal bodies and psyches in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century criminology and argues that contemporary antisemitic narratives constructed Jewish criminality not as a biologico-racial defect, but rather as a coolly manipulative force that aimed at the deliberate destruction of the basis of society itself. Through the lens of criminality this book provides new insight into the spread and nature of antisemitism in Austria-Hungary around 1900. The book also provides a re-evaluation of the phenomenon of modern Ritual Murder Trials by placing them into the context of wider narratives of Jewish crime.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-594-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations Used in the Endnotes
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    They found her lying in the woods, half-naked. There wasn’t much blood at the scene, nor in her body. On the first of April, 1899, the corpse of Anežka Hrůzová was discovered in the forest of Březina near the Bohemian–Moravian border-town of Polná, with numerous head wounds, and her throat cut from ear to ear. It started as a provincial murder, gruesome but not singularly atrocious; a local affair, historically inconspicuous. Nevertheless, within months, Anežka Hrůzová, a nineteen-year-old assistant seamstress, had become a household name throughout Austria, a name that precipitated waves of veneration and righteous anger. Her own...

  7. Chapter 2 Scientific Tales of Criminality: Criminology and Criminalistics
    (pp. 14-39)

    Two spectres haunt the historiography of criminology into which we wish to inscribe the Jewish criminal: the spectre of Cesare Lombroso and that of Michel Foucault.¹ Lombroso and his famed creation, l’uomo delinquente, have long been accepted as a convenient cipher for the momentous shift within nineteenth-century thought about crime, away from a forensic and moral understanding centred upon the criminal act, to a medical understanding centred upon the agent.² Similarly, there is wide agreement amongst historians of criminology that while Lombroso’s theory of atavism, in which criminality was reduced to biological difference that could be physically located upon the...

  8. Chapter 3 Jewish Criminals
    (pp. 40-69)

    On the surface of things there is plenty of reason to anticipate a criminological construction of Jewish criminals as biologico-racial others.¹ Was not crime science’s shift of attention towards physiological abnormalities upon criminal bodies mirrored by an ever more racialist discourse surrounding Jews that similarly stressed physical markers? Indeed, one only needs to scratch the surface to uncover suggestive similarities between ‘the born criminal’s’ physiological and behavioural stigmata as established by ‘positivist’ criminology and the antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish physiological and behavioural difference. Criminals had dark complexions and big noses, as did Jews; criminals spoke in a secret language that...

  9. Chapter 4 Paper Trials
    (pp. 70-113)

    Following the enormous proliferation of printed matter that accompanied the various 1848 revolutions – fuelled by the need to spread the revolutionary message, and helped along by the temporary relaxation of censorship laws – the newspaper established itself across Europe as a central institution of bourgeois life.² By the start of the twentieth century (and in some European countries much earlier) it had consolidated on this success through the birth of mass journalism. Urbanisation and growing literacy rates facilitated the gradual penetration of a much broader strata of society, in particular those who lived in thefin-de-siècleurban centres of...

  10. Chapter 5 Jewish Crimes
    (pp. 114-177)

    Antisemitic periodicals such as theDeutsches Volksblattconnected Jews to the theme of criminality with astonishing regularity. A ‘busy’ month like March 1900 could witness more than thirty instances in which a headline or opening paragraph established a connection between the two – and that refers to the morning editions alone. Even an uneventful month (say, September 1910), and the most conservative of counts, reveals around a dozen instances of such connection. In other words, an avid reader of this newspaper stood to encounter the theme of Jewish crime at least twice a week, and more likely four or five...

  11. Chapter 6 The Hilsner Ritual Murder Trials
    (pp. 178-217)

    At long last, then, let us return to the ritual murder accusation of Polná, and the two trials it precipitated. At first glance the very concept of ritual murder – or ‘blood libel’ as it is sometimes called – strikes one as irredeemably medieval: a malicious fantasy dreamed up by the spiteful, the fanatical and the plain ignorant. It seems an incongruous atavism in an age that increasingly liked to dress its anxieties and hatreds in scientific clothes. The astonishing frequency of ritual murder accusations in the final decade of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth...

  12. Chapter 7 Conclusions
    (pp. 218-228)

    This book has presented a number of interlocking arguments concerning the themes of crime and antisemitism in Vienna during the two decades leading up to the First World War. The first of these arguments concerned the shape of both popular and scientific thought about crime in that period. The most basic point made here – although hardly a mainstay of the critical literature – was that popular thinking about criminals was not overshadowed by biological models. Indeed the most popular of genres in which narratives of the criminal were articulated – the trial report – followed a logic in which...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-254)