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The radicalization of stereotypes and scapegoats in the wake of the Spanish Flu in 1918

Research field:Corona project
Period: 07.2020 - 12.2022
Coordination:Prof. Dr. Mike Schmeitzner
Editing:  Dr. Matthäus Wehowski, Hans-Martin Behrisch, Josefine Matzig


The current discussion about the consequences of the "Corona Pandemic" has generated a multitude of stereotypes and scapegoats. Similarly, powerful conspiracy theories were already developed in the early 1920s in the context of the Spanish flu and the loss of World War I. Contrary to older findings, it can be assumed that the Jewish population was also defamed as a supposed 'carrier of the epidemic' and made the scapegoat for the pandemic's effects at that time. Based on the research discussion on the "East Jewish question" of the early 1920s and the dimension of antisemitism in Germany that developed out of it, the project will focus on new questions and forms of comparison in order to highlight important factors such as place of origin, levels of public discourse, actors, and consequences in comparison to East-Central Europe. The study aims to analyses in greater detail the (assumed) network of relationships between the health crisis ("Spanish flu"), discussion of public health policy (especially the so-called "racial hygiene"), and public image of "the other" (Eastern Jews, but also Poles, Germans, Czechs). The discourses surrounding this process of othering will be systematically investigated in three different areas — utilizing media (print media) and parliamentary discourses and the analysis of ego-documents. The study will focus on three larger urban centers within Central Europe: Leipzig/Central Germany, Prague, and Wroclaw/Opole. A decisive factor for selecting this tri-state area is the large proportion of the Jewish population within each area, the existence of Völkisch publishing-"hotspots" (Leipzig), and the new demarcations in Central Europe after 1918 with their inherent potential for ethnic conflict.