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The Sword of Judith

Kevin R. Brine
Elena Ciletti
Henrike Lähnemann

Music and Drama

25. Judith and the ”Jew-Eaters” in German Volkstheater

Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza

Texte intégral

  • 1 Martin Luther, ”Vorrhede auffs buch Judith” and ”Das Buch Judith,” in Biblia/das ist/die gantze He (...)
  • 2 Luther, ”Vorrhede,” p. IIr.
  • 3 Mieke Bal terms it an ”ideo-story,” ”a narrative whose structure lends itself to be the receptacle (...)
  • 4 The following two studies provide an overview over most literary treatments of the story: Edna Pur (...)
  • 5 Luther, ”Judith,” p. IXv.
  • 6 Sixt Birck, ”Ivdith,” in Manfred Brauneck (ed.), Sämtliche Dramen, 3 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 19 (...)

1Fated to represent the Jewish people, as Martin Luther asserted in his 1534 Bible,1 the figure of Judith has been the subject of religious festivities, fine art, music, and literature over the centuries. An examination of the rich history of the story’s reception reveals why many church fathers consider the Book of Judith holy and useful. Edifying for Christians because of its allegorical potential,2 the Jewish narrative is an ideal mode for expressing a wide diversity of Christian virtues.3 Throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern era, it was used as both a spiritual and a worldly tool of resistance, for example against the Ottoman invasion, papal supremacy, and Luther’s growing influence.4 Voices criticizing the story, such as the comparison of the Bethulians to mice in Luther’s Bible5 or the herald’s warnings about cunning Jewish girls in Sixt Birck’s 1536 drama,6 are still restrained by the Bible’s undisputed authority. This changes in the age of secularization.

  • 7 Johann Nestroy, Judith und Holofernes, in John R. P. McKenzie (ed.), Johann Nestroy. Sämtliche Wer (...)
  • 8 [Anon.], Judith und Holofernes. Ein Drama in fünf Akten (1818), ed. by Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza (M (...)
  • 9 Michael Brenner, Stefi Jersch-Wenzel, and Michael A. Meyer, Deutsch-jüdische Geschichte in der Neu (...)
  • 10 Ibid., 35–49.
  • 11 Colin Walker, ”Nestroy’s Judith und Holofernes and Antisemitism in Vienna,” Oxford German Studies, (...)
  • 12 Friedrich Walla, ”Johann Nestroy und der Antisemitismus. Eine Bestandaufnahme,” in Österreich in G (...)

2When Johann Nestroy’s Joab, donning Judith’s clothes, coquettishly calls Holofernes a ”Judenfresser”7 (Jew-eater), he refers to a dark and little-known phenomenon of German popular theater: Judith and anti-Semitism. The anonymous 1818 drama, Judith und Holofernes,8 and Nestroy’s 1849 parody of Friedrich Hebbel’s 1840 tragedy, Judith, introduce a decisive change in the perception of the story. For the first time in German and Austrian literature, the Jewish narrative is connected to the Jewish Question and is used to create different images of the Jewish Other. This is no coincidence. Although Jews were a small minority in the German-speaking world,9 the issue of their civil rights was a major political one. The anonymous drama was written during the time of the Restoration. With Napoleon’s defeat and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the German Jews lost the citizenship rights that had been granted to them under French rule. In practice, each state of the German Confederation enacted different, often highly discriminatory, laws for dealing with its Jewish population.10 Moreover, this was the time of the ”Hep-Hep” riots against the German Jews. Nestroy’s travesty was written at a time when the struggle for the acquisition of political rights for Jews had already made progress. Still, Vienna’s Jews did face numerous and vocal opponents during and after the 1848 Revolution.11 Nestroy was not an anti-Semite12 and his text does not bear on the Jewish Question, but his controversial representation of Jewish figures is related to the concurrent rise of anti-Semitism in the Austrian Empire. The present study will show how Judith’s story was rewritten in nineteenth century Volkstheater to negotiate images of Jewishness as well as the Jewish Question.

Judith und Holofernes (1818)

3The anonymous drama, Judith und Holofernes, which was first published in the Anhaltian city of Zerbst in 1818, gives rise to many questions. The number of copies printed remains undetermined. Equally uncertain is whether it was read or performed in anti-Semitic circles. Since November 1855 it has belonged to the Königliche Bibliothek Berlin. The preface permits a few assumptions about the author. First, the author was probably a man. Considering the repressive gender models for women at the time, the use of vulgarisms in the drama makes it unlikely that the text was written by a woman. Second, the author was probably a ”kleine[s] liebenswürdige[s] Christenkind” (dear little Christian child) (42). He distinguishes between ”wir Christen” (we Christians) and ”d[en] Juden” (the Jews) (43), takes sides against the ”böse gesinnten Juden” (evil-minded Jews) (41), and abuses Yiddish words and syntax to create a negative Jewish ambience. Third, the author was probably Protestant. Intertextual evidence indicates that the Luther Bible was one of his sources. His deprecating attitude toward apocryphal books is a signal that he uses Luther’s carefully phrased concerns about the Book of Judith and its subsequent exclusion from many Protestant Bibles as an opportunity to back up his dramatic campaign with a famous name. By calling Judith’s deed ”gotteslästerlich” (blasphemic) (43), he legitimizes an anti-Semitic rewriting of the Jewish story, purportedly for the good of the German nation.

Fighting the ”Evil Talmudic Principles”

  • 13 A representative example is Christian Konrad Wilhelm Dohm, Ueber die bürgerliche Verbesserung der (...)

4In his opening remarks about the noble, great, patriotic Jewish people in the preface (41), the author seems to oppose the real and metaphorical exclusion of Jews in the states of the German Confederation. But one soon notes that he opens the doors of the Jewish ghetto for one reason only: he wants to Christianize the Jews. Haunted in equal measures by his cravings for recognition and by conspiracy theories, he maintains one primary objective: a ”Jew-free” Germany. An emerging focal point of the preface is the struggle for the socalled ”Nation” (41), a collection of diffused fantasies of unity with political, social, religious, and linguistic connotations. The author wants to ”refine” the German nation by replacing the ”bösen talmudischen oder schlechtprophetischmoralischen Grundsätze mit unsern weit bessern christlichen” (evil Talmudic or evil-prophetic-moral principles with our much better Christian ones) (41). In other words, Jews must become Christians. The author sees his program of ”replacement” as the only way to transform ”diese armen, bisher schwächlichen Leute auch zu arbeitsamen, kraftvollen Menschen, wie die christlichen Knechte und Mägde” (the poor, weak people into industrious, strong humans like the Christian servants and maids) (41). His overriding goal remains to establish Christian baptism as the port of entry to German nationality. As such, his core program still resembles common Christocentric approachesto the Jewish Question in the late Enlightenment.13 By referring to the ”evil Talmudic principles,” however, he attacks more than just the Talmud, traditionally considered the heart of Jewish life and identity. He confirms widespread ”Jew-eater” stereotypes, and in so doing, he sows seeds of doubt about whether evil can turn into good or, more precisely, whether ”evil” and ”weak” Jewish ”people” are capable of becoming ”better” and ”stronger” non-Jewish ”humans” by merely replacing their principles. His strategy of ”Verabscheuung” (abomination) (43) fulfills a dual function. On the one hand, it aggressively promotes Jewish assimilation; on the other hand, it nourishes fears about pseudo-assimilated Jews and collapsing German nations.

5The strategy of ”abomination” plays an important role in the author’s concept of the refined nation. Negative behavior must be presented to the public, preferably in a theater house, so that it can be loathed and ridiculed. Although he relates this function of theater to both Christians and Jews (43), he makes no secret of the fact that he views his theater, above all else, as a political institution that is able to subdue the ”evil Talmudic principles.”

[E]inige alte höchst schädliche Vorurtheile und Grausamkeiten, die von den Bethuliern begangen worden sind, und von einigen Juden jetzt noch als löbliche Thaten gerühmt werden, sollen in diesem Drama zur Verabscheuung derselben figuriren. (43)

Some of the most harmful old prejudices and inhumanities that were committed by Bethulians are still vaunted by Jews as laudable deeds. They shall be exposed as abominable deeds in this drama of abomination.

6The author articulates a veritable formula of detestation: negative exposition gives rise to abomination which in turn leads to baptism, the very core of a refined nation. In order to enhance this formula, he uses a plethora of Jewish images. According to him, the end justifies all means. But do his means actually lead to the holy water stoup and, therefore, to a refined nation? The drama itself gives reason to doubt this simple formula. Apparently, abomination does not necessarily lead to refinement. In fact, the drama’s excess of ”evil Jews” develops its own dynamics and thereby undermines the author’s dramatic goal.

7In the preface, the author evokes two main images of horror: the image of the cursing Jew and the image of the fatal Jewess. The scenarios of the Haman feast are particularly interesting here.

Auch giebt es gewiß noch etliche Juden, welche an ihrem Hamansfeste den 109ten und 118ten Psalm bloß wider uns Christen zu Jehovah beten, um uns mit jenen entsetzlichen Flüchen, die diese Psalmen enthalten, zu behexen, da sie doch den eigentlichen Haman jetzt wohl nicht mehr damit todtschlagen können? Schreiber dieses Vorworts hat ja selbst mehr als einmal gehört, wie solche böslich gesinnte Juden kleine liebenswürdige Christenkinder in deutscher Sprache außerordentlich geliebkoset, und zugleich in ihrer jüdischen mit solchen entsetzlichen Flüchen, wie die gedachten Psalmen enthalten, gar grausamer Weise verflucht, und ihnen alle nur mögliche Krankheiten, nebst Tod und Verderben, auf den Hals gewünscht haben. (41-42)

There are Jews who, when they pray to Jehovah during their Haman festivities, only recite the 109th and 118th Psalms in order to bewitch us Christians with the dreadful spells contained in these psalms. They do this because they cannot slay the real Haman anymore. The writer of this preface has heard on more than one occasion how these evil-minded Jews speak sweetly to the dear little Christian children in the German language, but when they speak their Jewish language, they curse them terribly with the dreadful spells contained in the aforementioned psalms, wishing them not only all kinds of diseases, but also death and ruin.

  • 14 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, ”Beitrag zur Berichtigung der Urtheile des Publicums über die französische (...)
  • 15 Ritchie Robertson investigates this idea of a ”hidden language of the Jew” in The ”Jewish Question (...)

8The reference to Psalm 118 is important because the closing psalm of the small Egyptian Hallel articulates a messianic hope. After the suffering in Exile, Jews are able to finally enter the gates to God (118:19–21). The reference to Psalm 109 is important because this vindictive psalm is deadly for all those who want to undermine the messianic kingdom. Its curses do not only clothe the enemy, like a robe or a dress, but they enter his belly like water, seeping into his bones like oil (109:18). The figure of Haman confirms the destructive forces of (hidden) Jewish curses; Haman has been slain. Closely connected to the image of Haman is the image of the fatal Jewess. The Haman feast refers to the Purim feast, which is based on the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther describes an unexpected boomerang effect. Haman plans to rid the city of its Jews (3:6). But the ”Jew-eater” does not expect Esther’s reaction. The figure of Esther leads a life with two identities. Married to the Persian king, Mordecai’s daughter lives under her Persian name, Hadassah, in the Persian kingdom (2:20). Learning of Haman’s plot and its dire consequences for her people, she reveals her Jewish identity (7:3–4). Secretly, she pulls the strings (5:1–8) and obtains the king’s edict to kill Haman (7:6–10). Esther’s hidden actions imply that Jews always remain Jews and support the Fichtian theory of Jews as a hostile state within a state.14 The idea of the hidden Jew and the idea of a hidden language of the Jews are intertwined – (sweet) language serves as a powerful tool for concealing and therefore achieving the hidden goals of the cursing Jews.15 Apparently, the anonymous author fears that pseudo-assimilated Jews could undermine his dreams of a refined German-Christian nation. He fears that those who have to give up their ”evil Talmudic principles” will turn out to be ”indigestible chunks” in the nation, waiting for another boomerang effect in their favor on the way to the messianic kingdom that remains closed for all the ”dear little Christian children.” By turning a Jewish heroine into a treacherous assassin, he shows what happens if a pseudo-civilized Jewess is integrated into a civilized non-Jewish nation: the nation collapses.

Perverting Non-Jewish/Jewish Encounters: Der Verkehrte Verkehr

9The anonymous author reverses the biblical plot. In his drama, the ”civilized” Assyrians fight against the ”wild” Jews from Bethulia. This contrast is already reflected in the play’s topographical descriptions; the Assyrian camp is situated in the foreground, next to the wilderness, Bethulia is situated in the background, in the wilderness, hidden behind the ”unersteiglichen Felsen” (invincible cliffs) (47). While the standard-German-speaking Assyrians are committed to ”Mannszucht” (51), consisting of hospitality, courage, and holy love, the Yiddish-mumbling Bethulians are depicted as cowardly mice and money-grubbing servants of the devil (46–47). Although Bethulia is seen as the world’s hotbed of ”beterkeln” (betrayal) (46), ”Brünst” (rut) (68), and ”Abra! Kadabra!” (abracadabra) (66), only one of its wild inhabitants can pose a real threat to the civilized Assyrian army: Judith.

10According to the anonymous author, Judith arouses ”den tiefsten Abscheu in jedem rechtschaffenen Herzen” (the deepest repugnance in every upright heart) (43). What makes his Judith the very showpiece of horror? It is the fact that Judith crosses borders. The author associates female activity in the political sphere with chaos and death. With the two women of the preface and drama – implicitly Esther and explicitly Judith – he illustrates what happens if women are allowed to leave the boundaries of behavior ascribed to their sex: ”Dein Wille söll sind unterworfen dein Mann, ünd er s[ö]ll sind dein Baalbohs!” (Your will shall be submitted to your husband’s, and he shall be your master!) (71) While Esther remains faithful to her husband and king and fights Haman with words, Judith abuses Holofernes’s ”heilige Liebe” (holy love) (43) and stabs him in the back. Furthermore, due to her Trojan self, Judith is able to cross the invincible border between civilization and wilderness. On the one hand, she has a number of wild features at her disposal. She betrays each and everyone (71–72), craves fame and recognition (74–75), sees sexual intercourse as an indispensable component of her mission (87), and signs away her soul to evil forces – twice (74, 99)! On the other hand, Judith displays some civilized features too. She leaves Bethulia as a virgin (81), wears a white linen dress (76), smells of rose perfume (78), is beautifully polished (76), and speaks Hochdeutsch. Judith’s pseudo-civilized image is a perfect façade of innocence for hiding her wild ambitions and for preventing any negative reactions from the Assyrians.

11The ”Meuchelmord” (treacherous assassination) (43) is the core ingredient of the strategy of ”abomination” for several reasons. First, it is the devil himself who originally initiates the killing of the ”edelmüthigen Feldherrn” (noble captain) (43). Infuriated by Holofernes’s refusal to give in to his evil temptations – he ties the devil to a tree – he seeks to punish him (60). Eventually, however, it is the rabbi Charmi who develops the concrete action plan and forms an alliance with the cloven-hoofed Adramelech (66–69). Second, it is Judith who becomes the instrument of this axis of evil. When the devil’s minister, disguised as Ariel, appears in Judith’s dream and advises her in God’s name to murder Nebuchadnezzar’s famous general, she overlooks his hoofs and horns and blindly follows his call (74). After stealing Holofernes’s heart and having sex with him on his carpet, she kills him from behind (87). But this is not all. The scene of Judith and Holofernes together has a deeper meaning. Third, it is a pseudo-civilized Jewess who causes the death of a civilized micro-state. Judith’s permission to move freely in the camp paves the way for the perverted encounter between the civilized and the wild forces (82). Judith kills Holofernes in the darkness of night, and it is precisely this dark omission of the entire scene that gives her deed a treacherous touch and stresses the destructive nature of the Jewish/non-Jewish encounter (84–85). The drama implies that any non-Jew who gets involved with a Jewess will lose his head – and die! From this point on, the drama deploys strong mechanisms to tame the representative of the ”evil Talmudic principles.” While the Bible luminously celebrates Judith in the brightness of the following day, this author ensures that his dark Judith is banished from the surface of the text (101). The verdict of the brave Assyrian soldiers initiates the act of containment of the abominable border crosser. Judith’s banishment to hell leaves little doubt. The least one can say is that the author’s approach to the Jewish Question remains ambiguous.

Updating the Judith/Jewish Question

  • 16 Fichte, ”Beitrag,” p. 150.

12Although the anonymous author promotes Jewish assimilation, he is haunted by his fear of pseudo-assimilation. At the end, however, his Judeo-phobic beliefs gain the upper hand. With his numerous stab-in-the-back legends, he raises doubts about the possible success of Jewish integration in Germany. In fact, since his dramatic strategy of ”abomination” is soaked with religiously and racially motivated anti-Semitic stereotypes, he comes dangerously close to the ”Hep-Hep” strategies of other contemporary German ”Jew-eaters.” It is perhaps excessive to detect a link between his program of replacement, Holofernes’s headless body, and radical programs of replacement, such as the Fichtian idea, ” [den Juden] die Köpfe abzuschneiden und andere aufzusetzen, in denen auch nicht eine jüdische Idee sey”16 (to cut off the heads of the Jews, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which contain not a single Jewish idea). Nevertheless, by holding a pseudo-civilized Jewish ”border-crosser” responsible for the end of a civilized micro-state, the drama supports the concrete and metaphorical significance of the ”invincible cliffs.” In doing so, it induces the notion of (naturally grown and essentially important) boundaries between wild (Jewish) and civilized (non-Jewish) territories. In other words, the anonymous author leaves us with a disturbingly dark final message. Since the assimilation of the German Jews bears the risk of failure and pseudo-assimilated Jews can cause Germany’s bloody end, there seems to be only one way out for the nation’s self-appointed fighters – to keep the doors of the Jewish ghettos closed, even locked, more tightly than ever and, as the devil’s minister puts it, for eternity – ”auf ewig!” (100).

Johann Nestroy’s Judith und Holofernes (1849)

  • 17 W. E. Yates, Nestroy. Satire and Parody in Viennese Popular Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge Universit (...)
  • 18 See Johann Hüttner, ”Machte sich Nestroy bezahlt?,” in Nestroyana, 1 (1979), pp. 3–25.
  • 19 The ”Dramatische Wochenbericht” was published in Ignaz Kuranda’s Ost-Deutsche Post on March 18, 18 (...)

13Nestroy’s one-act play, Judith und Holofernes, was first performed anonymously in the Viennese Carltheater on March 13, 1849, the first anniversary of the revolution in Vienna. The figure of Judith/Joab was played by Nestroy himself. The closeness of the parody in many scenes to Hebbel’s text, which was available to Nestroy in printed form since 1841, shows that Nestroy’s text developed in an essentially literary way.17 However, there are also several scenes in his text for which there are no analogues in the Bible or in Hebbel’s play. The abundance of deviations of this text from the original sources produces a host of comic effects. As it turned out, Nestroy’s Judith und Holofernes was enough to make not only the Assyrians, but also the members of the audience lose their heads. Nestroy’s March première achieved what Hebbel’s February première could not, namely, storms of both enthusiastic applause and deep indignation. What had happened? On the one hand, his play was a big success. In its first month, it was performed seven times and its average profit was 373 gulden higher than that of Nestroy’s other March pieces.18 On the other hand, because of its representation of Judith and the Jewish people, some contemporaries called it ”die kolossalste Gemeinheit, die noch je eine Bühne entehrt hat”19 (the greatest insult that has ever dishonored the stage). Still, in contrast to the anonymous author, Nestroy subverts his stereotyping machinery in several ways. He frees Judith of the devil’s grip and grants her a parodic yet glorious victory over a world-famous ”Jew-eater.”

Stigmatizing the Jews

14Before any of Nestroy’s Jews appears on stage, the Mesopotamian emissary characterizes the Bethulians:

Der Gesandte: Die Hebräer sind ein merkwürdiges Volck. [...] Handwerk und Ackerbau ist ihnen verhaßt.
Holofernes: Kein Ackerbau? ja von was leben s’ denn hernach?
Der Gesandte: Von Rebach, ihre Nahrung besteht aus Vierteln, aus Achteln und aus Vierzehnteln, auch saugen sie aus allem Möglichen Percente. [...] Im Kämpfen sind sie schwach. (91–92)

Emissary: The Hebrews are a strange people. They hate manual labor and agriculture.

Holofernes: No agriculture? What do they live on, then?
Emissary: On capital gain. Their nourishment consists of fourths, eighths, and fourteenths. Also they suck out percentages of all possible things. In battle they are weak.

  • 20 Hans Peter Althaus, Kleines Lexikon deutscher Wörter jiddischer Herkunft (Munich: Beck, 2003), p. (...)
  • 21 See Walker’s excellent analysis of anti-Semitic texts and images in contemporary Vienna (pp. 85–11 (...)

15According to the emissary, the Bethulians do not earn their living by the sweat of their brow; instead they live on capital gain, suck out all possible things, and make a poor showing on the battlefield. Re(i)bach is a German term for profit gained by deception, derived from the Yiddish word rewach (interest).20 Nourishment evokes physiological processes of internalization, here the journey of Reibach and its fourths, eighths, and fourteenths through the digestive system. Since the goal of nourishment is the absorption of particles, in this case of Reibach particles, the emissary suggests that capital gain is not only an external activity, but an internalized part of the Jewish self. This negative image is further emphasized through the verb ” [aus]saugen,” which evokes the picture of the Jew as Sauger, someone who likes to suck out all possible things. The Blutsauger (blood-sucker) takes this correlation one step further. Moreover, the words Sauger and saugen contain the word Sau and can thus evoke sculptures of the Judensau, images of Jews sucking from the teats of a female pig or making other obscene use of the animal. The emissary also implies that the Jews are unable to join the armed forces. His words echo the satire in contemporary lampoons and caricatures where Jews were deemed too cowardly, ill-disciplined, or weak to fulfill their civil obligations.21 Through the combination of a specific set of anti-Semitic stereotypes with a specific language – Viennese dialect, misspelled foreign words, and Yiddish expressions – the ancient Hebrews are made to embody the alleged defects of modern Viennese Jews. It does not end here.

16A volunteer in the Hebrew army challenges the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people: ”Wie Gott freye Wahl unt’r all’n Völkern hat g’habt, / Hat er ohne viel B’sinnen auf d’Häbräer glei tappt.” (When among the peoples of the earth the choice was up to God, / Without a great amount of thought he gave the Jews the nod.) (95) With the verb tappen (to grope), Joab evokes the proverbs in die Falle or im Dunkeln tappen. The latter refers to a path one wanders along without knowing where one is going. Combined with ”ohne viel B’sinnen,” this expression describes a lack of orientation due to failing senses. The proverb to be in the dark comes from Moses’s warning in his fifth book: if you do not observe all his commandments, you shall grope at noonday, as the blind gropes in darkness (28:29). By saying that God was groping in the dark when he chose the Jews, Joab asserts that the Almighty chose them thoughtlessly, senselessly – poorly! The implicit reference to Moses in Joab’s first song is followed by an explicit reference to ”Der Moses der Moses” (95) in his monologue. By making fun of Moses, the liberator, leader, lawgiver, and prophet of the Jewish people, the man who is credited with having written the Torah, Joab drives a stake through the heart of Judaism. Furthermore, in his second song, Joab extends his criticism and negates the importance of Old Testament stories and miracles altogether: ”So was nennt man kein Wunder jetzt mehr heutzutag’, / Man findt’s ganz natürli und kein Hahn kraht darnach.” (We moderns find such stories in no way wondrous / But really rather commonplace, no cause for cocks to crow.) (98) According to Joab, biblical stories are commonplace, but, after all, it is he who uses the story of Judith in order to free his people.

Challenging Stereotypes

17Nestroy’s text subverts its own stigmatizations in several ways. First, the text breaks theatrical illusions. Nestroy’s ”German, I mean, Hebrew”speaking figures (108) know that they live in the Vienna of the 1848 wine (110), but that they have to act as if they were ”graue[] Vorzeitler” (pre-historic graybeards) (90). Their distinct style of juggling with images reveals that everything and everyone on this stage is a product of Nestroy’s complex machinery of illusions. Second, the text contrasts the Assyrians with the Bethulians. The Assyrian priests are hypocrites (89), the Assyrian soldiers have an Untertanen mentality (88), and Holofernes is both a ”Menschenfresser” (man-eater) (97) and a ”Judenfresser.” Compared to the Assyrian gluttons, Bethulia’s inhabitants appear in a more favorable light. Nestroy presents them not only as haggling and mumbling types, but also as city-dwellers who love art and science (91), as moderns who do not believe in miracles and fortune-telling (94), and as pacifists who oppose militarism and authorities (93). Third, the text’s main protagonist fights against anti-Semitic and gender stereotypes.

  • 22 Friedrich Hebbel, Tagebücher. Sämmtliche Werke. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe. Neue Subskriptions-A (...)

18With the figure of Joab, Nestroy questions his depiction of Jews for two reasons: first, Joab is different from the other Jews, and second, he successfully fights against a ”Jew-eater.” Joab is the opposite of the cowardly shirker and greedy ”sucker.” In the second Book of Samuel, Joab is so hotheaded and pugnacious that he gets cursed (3:29). In Nestroy’s play, however, he presents himself as a courageous, considerate, and critical contemporary who clearly describes his own ”Erleuchtung” (enlightenment) in the 15th scene: ”Mein Plan is ein Wunder des Himmels wenn er gelingt –” (My plan is a miracle from Heaven if it works –) (98). Joab demonstrates that stereotypes about Jews and the gluttonous creatures that nourish them can be defeated with the help of a new – Viennese – version of Judith. Although he wants his sister Judith to follow in the footsteps of her famous namesake, he is confronted with the simple fact that this could-be-heroine is not available for heroic deeds and decides to take over her role (97). By staging a peculiar encounter – the muscleman Holofernes, hiding his ”schönes Geschlecht” (beautiful sex) (97), meets the lithe and lissome ”Hebräer-Maid,” Judith, hiding her male sex – Nestroy shows that in matters of gender, nothing is as it seems. Since the mission of his Judith travesty is possible without causing tragic side effects, such as slayed generals, paralyzed heroines, and banishments to hell, Nestroy crosses the supposedly natural borders of common bourgeois gender models elaborately described in Hebbel’s flower bulb scenario: ”Das Weib ist in den engsten Kreis gebannt: wenn die Blumenzwiebel ihr Glas zersprengt, geht sie aus.”22 (Woman is confined to the narrowest circle; if a flower bulb breaks its glass, it goes out.) The only one in Nestroy’s play who resembles a paralyzed ”something” in the last scene is a chained ”Jew-eater.”

Fighting the ”Jew-Eaters”

19Although ”Holofernesse” (89) have by definition the duty to conquer the world, Nestroy depicts his Holofernes as a ”Jew-eater” who ruthlessly expresses his goals: ”Morg’n um die Zeit giebt’s gar kein Juden mehr. [...] [D]ein Volck verbrennt – rein Alles verbrennt.” (By this time tomorrow there won’t be any Jews left. Your people will be burned, burned to a crisp.) (110–11) By equipping Nebuchadnezzar’s general with the voice of a modern Jew-hater who wants to fry his ”Kartoffel-Schmarre” (105) with the flames of a burning city, Nestroy gives Judith’s ancient struggle a topical dimension and suggests that new types of enemies require new strategies of resistance. In Nestroy’s text, Holofernes’s unexpected ruse prevents his expected death. After having a nightmare about the biblical Judith, he asks his chamberlain to put a fake head on his bed. Nestroy’s Joab, donning Judith’s clothes, strikes his murderous blow but does not thereby become a murderer. Although the juggling with an ”Überfluß an Köpfen” (abundance of heads) (113) has a long tradition in Viennese popular theater, the beheading of a fake head is particularly significant in a story of Judith. A ”kaschirte[r] Kopf” is made of papier-mâché or plaster. If one interprets Nestroy’s ”dem Holofernes ähnlichen, aber größeren, kaschirten Kopf” (112) as a Pappmaschee head, the dual meaning of the German word Papp-Kopf becomes interesting: it is both a head made of paper and other materials mixed with glue as well as a colloquial term for ”idiot.” In any case, a fake head is always a head without a brain. In addition, this big and brainless head resembles Holofernes. Though a head-centered reading might seem excessive, it is worth noting that Holofernes’s Papp-Kopf develops its own dynamics in the text. Because Joab is not a Papp-Kopf, he makes sure that the wrong head produces the right result: Holofernes’s real head is declared invalid by both the panic-stricken Assyrian army – too busy running to look – and the approaching Hebrew army (113). Since the ”Jew-eaters” completely rely on a Papp-Kopf to deceive and defeat a potentially dangerous visitor, they behave like real Papp-Köpfe, provoking their absurd end. Nestroy’s text implies that because of their cerebral emptiness, ”Jew-eaters” can easily be beaten. However, independently of how one reads Holofernes’s ”kaschirten Kopf,” there seems little doubt that the victory over a German-speaking Assyrian ”Jew-eater” has a redeeming function on Nestroy’s stage:

Schlachtmusik [...] Man hebt Joab auf einen Schild und trägt ihn in Triumph herum; vor ihm wird Holofernes in Ketten geführt. Während der Zug die Bühne vorn umkreist, sieht man im Hintergrunde das Lager in Flammen aufgehen. Unter dem Triumphgeschrei der Hebräer fällt der Vorhang. (114)

Martial music. Joab is lifted upon a shield and carried about triumphantly. Before him, Holofernes is led in chains. While the procession circles about within the tent, one can see the camp burning in the background. Triumphal shouts of the Hebrews.

20This triumphal end makes an update on Nestroy and the Judith/Jewish Question necessary.

Updating the Judith/Jewish Question

  • 23 Walker, ”Nestroy,” p. 109.
  • 24 Ibid., p. 110.

21Colin Walker criticizes Nestroy’s ”insensitivity” since he subjected to ridicule members of an anxious minority at a critical time in their fortunes.23 Indeed, several scenes in his play nourish notions of the anti-social essence of Judaism, and thus reinforce certain stereotypes with which contemporary ”Jew-eaters” tried to justify the reghettoization of Viennese Jews. It is not clear, however, whether Nestroy, the Carltheater, or future admirers of the Jewish story would have been better served if Judith und Holofernes had always been banished from the stage, as Walker rhetorically suggests.24 Nestroy’s rewriting does not seem to be the greatest insult that has ever dishonored the Viennese stage. In contrast to the anonymous author, he leaves us with three messages of hope. First, his text shows that Judith’s story continues to be relevant in post-revolutionary Vienna: it provides instructions to free a city and to fight ”Jew-eaters;” it saves Judith, the savior; and it lays the foundation for a collective metamorphosis. His parody can be read as a call for a new approach to the story of Judith in particular and perhaps, considering the martial shouts of Joab’s compatriots in the last scene, to the Jewish people in general. Second, the text undermines its own stereotyping machinery in several ways and grants a Jewish heroine a travestic but glorious comeback. Nestroy’s Judith is neither a devil’s servant nor a paralyzed belladonna; she is a disguised he who is allowed to celebrate her victory over Holofernes without going to hell for it. Third, the disgraceful end of a ”Jew-eater” contains a political message. The final scene speaks for itself: anti-Jewish voices are drawn out by the Jewish howl of triumph, and the stage is neither ”Jew-free,” as Holofernes had planned, nor ”Judith-free,” as in the 1818 drama. On the contrary, this text makes sure that a ”Jew-eater” and Papp-Kopf finally gets what he deserves. In doing so, Nestroy’s stage of Viennese G’spaß gives a surprisingly serious answer to Vienna’s Jewish Question. New encounters with Jews and Jewish stories can become reality if (and only if) the Viennese put all the empty-headed ”Jew-eaters” in chains, verbally and physically. While the anonymous text creates new boundaries between Jews and non-Jews, Nestroy’s text marks the start of a new beginning in Jewish/non-Jewish relations, in Bethulia and beyond.


1 Martin Luther, ”Vorrhede auffs buch Judith” and ”Das Buch Judith,” in Biblia/das ist/die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch. Wittemberg 1534 (Cologne: Taschen, 2002), p. IIr. The 1999 edition of the Luther Bible will be used for all other biblical references: Die Bibel. Nach der Übersetzung Martin Luthers mit Einführungen und Bildern. Mit Apokryphen (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1999).

2 Luther, ”Vorrhede,” p. IIr.

3 Mieke Bal terms it an ”ideo-story,” ”a narrative whose structure lends itself to be the receptacle of different ideologies,” in Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 11.

4 The following two studies provide an overview over most literary treatments of the story: Edna Purdie, The Story of Judith in German and English Literature (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1927) and Otto Baltzer, Judith in der deutschen Literatur (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1930).

5 Luther, ”Judith,” p. IXv.

6 Sixt Birck, ”Ivdith,” in Manfred Brauneck (ed.), Sämtliche Dramen, 3 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1976), 2, p. 137.

7 Johann Nestroy, Judith und Holofernes, in John R. P. McKenzie (ed.), Johann Nestroy. Sämtliche Werke. Stücke 26/II. Historischkritische Ausgabe, 42 vols. (Vienna: Deuticke, 1998), 26.2, p. 109, hereafter cited in the text; all translations are my own. The term ”Judenfresser” was used in a pejorative sense for those hostile to Jews, for example in Jakob Korew’s 1862 Purim play Haman, der grosse Judenfresser, kept in the Bibliotheek Universiteit van Amsterdam. The term ”Antisemit” was coined by Wilhelm Marr’s Antisemitic League to replace the term ”Judenfresser” with a more ”scientific” term that would make Jew-haters look better and emphasize racial connotations.

8 [Anon.], Judith und Holofernes. Ein Drama in fünf Akten (1818), ed. by Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza (Munich: Iudicium, 2005), hereafter cited in the text; all translations are my own. For an in-depth analysis, see my introduction to the drama (pp. 7–37) and the chapter on Judith und Holofernes in my book: ”Da befiel sie Furcht und Angst ...” Judith im Drama des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Iudicium, 2005), pp. 100–32.

9 Michael Brenner, Stefi Jersch-Wenzel, and Michael A. Meyer, Deutsch-jüdische Geschichte in der Neuzeit: Emanzipation und Akkulturation 17801871, 4 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1996), 2, pp. 57–66.

10 Ibid., 35–49.

11 Colin Walker, ”Nestroy’s Judith und Holofernes and Antisemitism in Vienna,” Oxford German Studies, 12 (1981), p. 87.

12 Friedrich Walla, ”Johann Nestroy und der Antisemitismus. Eine Bestandaufnahme,” in Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur, 29.1 (1985), pp. 41–43.

13 A representative example is Christian Konrad Wilhelm Dohm, Ueber die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden (Hildesheim: Olms, 1973).

14 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, ”Beitrag zur Berichtigung der Urtheile des Publicums über die französische Revolution. Erster Theil: Zur Beurtheilung ihrer Rechtmässigkeit,” in Immanuel Hermann Fichte (ed.), Fichtes Werke, 11 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971), 6, pp. 149–50.

15 Ritchie Robertson investigates this idea of a ”hidden language of the Jew” in The ”Jewish Question” in German Literature 17491939. Emancipation and Its Discontents (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 156–63.

16 Fichte, ”Beitrag,” p. 150.

17 W. E. Yates, Nestroy. Satire and Parody in Viennese Popular Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 113.

18 See Johann Hüttner, ”Machte sich Nestroy bezahlt?,” in Nestroyana, 1 (1979), pp. 3–25.

19 The ”Dramatische Wochenbericht” was published in Ignaz Kuranda’s Ost-Deutsche Post on March 18, 1849. It has been reprinted in McKenzie’s critical edition of Nestroy, Judith und Holofernes, pp. 396–97.

20 Hans Peter Althaus, Kleines Lexikon deutscher Wörter jiddischer Herkunft (Munich: Beck, 2003), p. 169.

21 See Walker’s excellent analysis of anti-Semitic texts and images in contemporary Vienna (pp. 85–110).

22 Friedrich Hebbel, Tagebücher. Sämmtliche Werke. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe. Neue Subskriptions-Ausgabe, ed. by Richard Maria Werner, 4 vols. (Berlin: Behr’s, 1905), 1, p. 366.

23 Walker, ”Nestroy,” p. 109.

24 Ibid., p. 110.


Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza received her Ph.D. in German Studies from the University of Toronto in 2005. For her work on Judith, she was awarded both Canada’s Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal (2005) and the Women in German Dissertation Prize (2006). In 2007–2008, she has held lecturer positions at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and at the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a critical edition of little known eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German texts on the conquest of Mexico.


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