The JC Archive Blog No.22 – The Jews expelled from Basle, Switzerland

We think of Switzerland as neutral, but in the 1800s the Swiss had some rather troubling views

October 24, 2018 08:43

Seeing as my reading habits consist of reading rather old newspapers, I began reading this 1852 Jewish Chronicle because it is dated October 29th, and I thought it is rather timely, being October, that is.

I was surprised to read the very first article, which starts like this:

We would direct particular attention to the following communication relating to the persecution endured by our brethren in Switzerland, in the hope that its serious and attentive perusal will sink deep into the hearts of the Jewish leaders, in order that effective means may be adopted to stem the torrent of persecution which, in the nineteenth century, has set upon the Jews.

It sounds serious. It is.

§ 1. No Jew, without exception, is permitted to settle, to carry on commerce, trade, or any handicraft, in the canton (Basleland).

§ 2. Any citizen who admits a Jew into his house, be it for commercial purposes, as clerk or servant, or in any other capacity, or for .what other purposes soever[sic.], is liable to a fine of 300 francs.

§ 3. Hawking goods or with patterns, dealing in cattle, products, leather, etc., is prohibited to any Jew under a fine of from 5 to 20 francs for the first offence, and of confiscation of goods and the same fine for the second offence.  

§ 4. Whoever lets a ware-room, stall or-house to any Jew, during a fair, for a period exceeding six days, is liable to a fine of 50 francs for the first contravention and of 200 francs for the second.

This law, promulgated on the 17th of November, 1851, and for which we should rather have looked to the annals of the fourteenth century, was subsequently suspended for a few months, since the government of the Prince President had forwarded a note to the Council of the Confederation to the following effect:—

That France will expel all Swiss citizens established in France, in case the two cantons (Basle, City and Campagne) should insist on carrying out this law against the Jews.

But while negotiations were pending between France and the central government of Switzerland, the two cantons carried out the law of expulsion, and no further steps have since been taken by the French government. Every attempt on the part of the Jews themselves, as well as the intercession of the Consistory of the Upper Rhine (to which department the Jews expelled from Switzerland mostly belong), and of the Central Consistory of Paris, for the repeal of this obnoxious law, proved futile and unsuccessful.

And is wasn’t just theory.

The rigour with which this law is enforced will become apparent from the recent fact, that a Jew was fined twenty francs for having purchased a cart-load of fire-wood in Basleland.

Switzerland remained neutral in WW2, and is not particularly known for anti-semitism. Yet its Jews were expelled as recently as 1852. Who knew?

Rivka Goldblatt is a genealogist specialising in Jewish family history. Her website is

Read more from the Archive Blog here.

October 24, 2018 08:43

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