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Painted ceramic wall plaque of a grinning Fagin

Object | Accession Number: 2016.184.94

Oval-shaped wall plaque with a relief image of Fagin, a character from the Charles Dickens’ novel, “Oliver Twist,” possibly from the early 20th century. On the plaque, Fagin is portrayed with a beard, sidelocks, hooded eyes, thick eyebrows, and a large nose; all stereotypical physical features attributed to Jewish men. His mouth and beard are painted a crimson red, resembling blood, possibly to represent blood libel, antisemitic allegations that accused Jews of murdering Christian children to consume their blood. In “Oliver Twist,” Fagin is the villainous leader of a gang of children whom he has instructed in the ways of criminality. He attempts to corrupt the protagonist, Oliver, in the same manner. In the novel, Fagin is described in his first scene as hunched over a fire holding a toasting fork. This imagery reinforces the antisemitic stereotype of Jewish associations with the devil, due to the toasting fork’s resemblance of a pitchfork. He is repeatedly referred to as “the Jew” in the book and also emphasized as a greedy, miserly, and cowardly character; all traits aligning with common antisemitic stereotypes. However, in a later edition of the novel, Dickens reduced his use of “the Jew,” substituting it for pronouns or other phrases. Even in this later version, Fagin is still repeatedly and negatively referred to as “the Jew,” and remains emblematic of multiple antisemitic canards. Later writings by Dickens portrayed Jews in a more positive light, however, the reprehensible Fagin is his most remembered Jewish character. This plaque is one of the more than 900 items in the Katz Ehrenthal Collection of antisemitic artifacts and visual materials.

Decorative Arts
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Katz Family
Record last modified: 2022-05-05 14:31:39
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