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Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

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The goal of Business of Emancipation, prepared by the Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin is to tell a complex story about the economic integration of Jews into German society and its impact on their families, professions, and the wider community. Because civil rights are intimately bound up with economic rights, the story of Jewish emancipation is also the story of the economic liberties afforded to Jews. The emancipation of German Jewry was not instantaneous, nor was it irreversible; rather Jews gained rights and, sometimes, lost them again throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. By exploring the commercial activity of Jews during this period through a few well-chosen examples, the exhibition will underscore the importance of the relationship between political freedom and economic liberty in a way that is historically accurate and currently relevant.

As important as it is to tell the story of the fate of German Jews beginning in 1933, it is equally important to preserve German-Jewish history before 1933. From the tremendous accomplishments of German Jews in the face of legal adversity to their remarkable contributions as they gained the rights of citizenship, the business of German-Jewish emancipation offers a unique perspective on the importance of integrating minorities into industrialized societies. Examining the relationship between political rights, economic opportunities, social discrimination, and commercial success and failure offer important lessons for today.