2019 | 120 |
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The ‘Merchant Schism’ in Breslau: A Chris- tian-Jewish Conflict and the Construction of the Exchange Building in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

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This article seeks to interpret the dispute between Christian and Jewish merchants that took place in Breslau (today, Wrocław in Poland) in the first half of the nineteenth century. The dispute arose in the eighteenth century and severely deepened after the reforms designed by Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg were being introduced in Prussia since 1807. Among other aspects, the conflict revolved around the rapid development of the local Jewish religious community and the fast expansion of its steam-gathering economic elite. The development of Silesian trade, with an enormous role of Jews in it, was accompanied by continuous attempts at regaining the Eastern markets, partly lost after Prussia annexed Silesia in 1740 as well as resulting from the decisions of the 1815 Vienna Congress. In order to restore Breslau as an intermediary in trade between the West and the East and make it an important stock-exchange hub, collective action was a must. However, conflicts between merchants of different religions, including keeping the Jewish merchants off the local exchange, obstructed the design. The dispute was partly averted when a Chamber of Commerce was set up in Breslau in 1849. However, only the gradual quitting by the Christian merchants, members of the merchant corporation, of their privileged position in the organisation of local trade gave way to a compromise. The construction in 1864–7 of a common ‘exchange’ can be perceived as epitomising the completion of a centuries-long dispute. The monumental edifice, the largest and the showiest of all exchange buildings east of Berlin at the time, testified to high aspirations of Breslavian economic circles and their keen willingness to develop trading business far beyond the then-frontier of the state.
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