Die Judenbuche

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Die Judenbuche
by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff
Die Judenbuche.jpg
TranslatorLionel and Doris Thomas
Published inMorgenblatt für gebildete Stände
PublisherCotta'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung
Publication date1842
Published in English1958

Die Judenbuche, translated as The Jew's Beech or The Jew's Beech-Tree, is a German novella written by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and first published in 1842.[1] The story about the unsolved murder of a Jewish citizen in a village in the Westphalian mountains was based on true events.[1]


Friedrich Mergel is the only son of Hermann Mergel, a violent alcoholic, and his second wife Margreth. He grows up in the village of B. ("Dorf B."), a small, isolated village in 18th century Westphalia, whose inhabitants work mostly as farmers, some of which are involved in illegal logging. After his father's death, twelve-year-old Friedrich is adopted by Simon Semmler, his mother's younger brother and her only surviving relative, who lives in the nearby village of Brede.

Over the years, Friedrich turns from a silent, pensive boy into an ostentatious young man. When a forester is killed with an axe after Friedrich deliberately sent him in the wrong direction, he is questioned by the authorities, but no charges are brought against him and the other townspeople. He later notices a missing axe in his uncle Simon's household, who gives a flimsy excuse upon his request. At a village festivity, Friedrich tries to impress the bystanders with a silver watch, but is ridiculed when Jew Aaron publicly declares that Friedrich still owes him the money for the watch. Shortly after, Aaron is found murdered, blungeoned to death. Friedrich, the main suspect, flees the village with Johannes, Simon's workhand. The local Jewish community acquires the Beech where Aaron's body was found, and marks it with the words

אם תעמוד במקום תות יפגע בך כאשר אתת עשית לי

Half a year later, an arrested criminal confesses of having slain a person named Aaron in the woods, but it remains unclear if he refers to the Aaron killed by the Beech.

28 years later, on 24 December 1788, a frail elderly man appears in Brede, claiming to be Johannes, who had escaped together with Friedrich. After both had enlisted in the Austrian army, he was taken prisoner by the Turks and held as a slave, until he returned to Europe on a Dutch ship. Since Simon has long died, the man is taken in by a widow in the village, and the local landlord sees to it that he is given new clothes and regular meals.

A few months later, the man disappears. His decomposed body is eventually found at the site of Aaron's murder, where he hanged himself in the Beech. The landlord examines the corpse and, upon discovering a scar on the body, identifies him as the missing Friedrich Mergel, not Johannes. The novella closes with a translation of the Hebrew words carved into the tree: "If you approach this spot, what you did to me will happen to you."


Die Judenbuche is based on a true incident dating back to 1783, written down by Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's uncle, the agronomist and writer August von Haxthausen, and published in 1818.[1] After killing the Jew Soestmann-Behrens, farmhand Hermann Georg Winkelhagen from Bellersen (referred to as "B." in the novella) fled the country to avoid arrest, was enslaved in Algeria and, after being freed in 1805, returned to his home town where he committed suicide.[1]

Originally intended as part of an unrealised work on Westphalia by von Droste-Hülshoff, the novella was published separately in serialised form in the literary journal Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände, its title being suggested by editor Herrmann Hauff, who made the manuscript's original title Ein Sittengemälde aus dem gebirgigten Westphalen ("A portrayal of customs in mountainous Westphalia") its subtitle.[1][2] The printed version was slightly shortened in one passage, either by Hauff or Levin Schücking, who had delivered the manuscript to the editor. Von Droste-Hülshoff was at first critical of the deletion, but later gave her assent.[2] A possibly unauthorised reprint, again in serialised form, appeared in the same year in the Westfälischer Anzeiger.[2]

While highly popular with contemporary readers, its reception among reviewers and fellow writers was initially rather mixed. A repeated subject of criticism were the story's ambiguities, which, as later comparisons of different drafts revealed, had been wilfully inserted by the author.[3] One of the few to unreservedly praise von Droste-Hülshoff's work was Theodor Storm.[1][4] In 1876, editor Paul Heyse, who still had been critical of Die Judenbuche a few years earlier,[3] included it in volume 24 of his novella anthology Deutscher Novellenschatz.[1][4] This publication is nowadays regarded as the beginning of its rise to prominence.[1][4][3]


An early translation into English by Lillie Winter appeared in 1913, which took liberties like omitting the introductory poem.[5][6] A later translation was provided by Lionel and Doris Thomas in 1958.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Huge, Walter (1986). "Nachwort (Afterword)". Die Judenbuche. Stuttgart: Reclam.
  2. ^ a b c Blasberg, Cornelia; Grywatsch, Jochen, eds. (2018). "5. Die Judenbuche. Ein Sittengemälde aus dem gebirgigten Westphalen". Annette von Droste-Hülshoff Handbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 507–508.
  3. ^ a b c Gaier, Ulrich; Gross, Sabine (2018). Herausforderung der Literaturwissenschaft: Droste-Hülshoffs 'Judenbuche'. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler. p. 4.
  4. ^ a b c Völkl, Bernd (2012). "Rezeption (Reception)". Annette von Droste-Hülshoff: Die Judenbuche. Reclam Lektüreschlüssel. Stuttgart: Reclam.
  5. ^ Francke, Kuno, ed. (1913). "The Jew's Beech-Tree". The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Vol. 7. Translated by Winter, Lillie. New York: The German Publication Society.
  6. ^ Sammons, Jeffrey L. (2009). Kuno Francke's Edition of the German Classics (1913–15). A Historical and Critical Overview. New York: Peter Lang. p. 173.
  7. ^ von Droste-Hülshoff (2008). The Jew's Beech. Translated by Thomas, Lionel; Thomas, Doris. London: Alma Classics.

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