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Wooden folk art figurine of a Jewish freeloader

Object | Accession Number: 2016.184.5

Small, roughly carved, 19th-century wooden figurine of a Jewish schnorrer, a Judeo-German term for a Jewish beggar. A phrase on the figurine’s base may represent the sort of a line a schnorrer could use on a hesitant potential benefactor. Methuselah is a biblical figure renowned for his old age, and Strauss is likely a reference to a rich Jewish family of department store owners and bankers. By referencing those two names, the schnorrer may be implying that their mark is old and wealthy, and would not need or miss any money that the mark contributed to him. During the Chmielnicki pogroms in Poland (1648-57), hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed and thousands of Jews fled west after the destruction of their homes and way of life. Afterward, the influx of destitute Jewish refugees in central Europe helped create the archetype of the Jewish beggar, or schnorrer. Unlike a beggar or panhandler who could be distinguished by their ragged outward appearance, a stereotypical schnorrer dressed respectably. Schnorrers were characterized as impudent, with an air of entitlement to disguise their true needs from charitable individuals. They were evasive about why they needed assistance, and were not satisfied with small favors. Typical reasons given for a schnorrer’s collection included recovering from the destruction of their home, or funding the dowry for their daughter or another relative. Schnorrers were said to invert the act of charity by asking for handouts. They give the affluent members of society a chance to do a good deed, which complies with the Jewish communal practice of providing aid to those less well off in the community. This act of kindness meant the charitable patron should be thankful to the schnorrer for providing the opportunity. This folk art figurine is one of the 900 items in the Katz Ehrenthal Collection of antisemitic artifacts and visual materials.

creation:  approximately 1800-1899
creation: Germany
Decorative Arts
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Katz Family
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 18:12:34
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