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1787 Decree by Austrian Emperor Joseph

In 1787, the Austrian Emperor ordained all Jews in his monarchy to use extra German names and new German surnames. The original document was written in Old Polish. (Images of the 4-page document can be viewed in Shoreshim's Gallery).

There were actually 2 documents: the first written in 1787, and the second (which is almost identical) in 1805. The translation of the first document appears below, and the differences between the two documents is discussed at the end of the translation. The note also explains which Jews in which territories are meant in the two documents. Of course, the decree relates to all Jews in the Habsburg monarchy, Czech and Hungarian Jews.

1) Thanks to Viola Reder for the translation, and to a new young employee at the State Archives in Krakow who made the document available.
2) These images and the translation are strictly copyright.

demanding that, beginning with January 1st 1788,
each Jew should have a constant surname

Joseph II Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor

We Joseph etc.

  In order to avoid any kind of disorder which usually occurs to some classes of people in political and judicial proceedings and in their private lives if families have no constant surname, and if particular persons have no known given name – the following law is instituted for all our hereditary lands.

  § 1. Jewry in all the provinces should be urged to do the following. Each host of household should adopt a constant surname for his family beginning with January 1st, 1788; whoever is taking care of orphans should do the same for them; also each unmarried man who is not under the care of his father nor any other care – should do the same for himself. An unmarried woman should adopt the surname of her father, and a married woman should adopt the surname of her husband. Every particular person without exception should adopt a German surname and never change it in his or her lifetime.

  § 2. All surnames that have been used in the Jewish language so far – whether originating from a place where someone has always stayed or where he has only stayed for some time, eg, Schulem Töplitz, Jochem Kollin etc., which were adopted in a common way – should be totally abandoned.

  § 3. By the end of November 1787, the father of each family and each particular person, by means of a note written in German, should inform the local municipality or the local authority of the place where they are permitted to live or stay of the name and surname adopted by them. This declaration, confirmed by an unsealed certificate, signed by the district deputies and by the chief rabbi or district rabbis, should state that now, the given persons have adopted a family surname X for ever, together with a particular German given name, and that they descend from Y, and that before they had used a such and such name.

  § 4. From January 1st, 1788, all circumcision books and all birth books without an exception should be composed in German. Also all who are born, marry or die should be put down in the books with their German name and surname adopted for ever.

  § 5. The certificates from the local authorities or their clerks, commanded in § 3, should be carefully kept, and shown to the revision officer at the soonest conscription revision. For the first time, ie, in the year 1788, the latter should write down in German both names: the name that has been used so far, and, after that, the name and surname adopted by the person for ever. In the conscription book for the next year only the newly adopted names should be found.

  § 6. Herewith it is announced that this regulation does not concern in any way the documents made out with the persons’ common surnames until the end of December 1787. These documents will remain invariably valid although they were signed in whatever way.

  § 7. In order to prevent any kind of guile and bring this law to a complete implementation, we institute the following penalties:

   a/ The rabbi who, beginning with January 1st, 1788, will not write down births, weddings, and the dead in the German language and using a constant surname or who will not compose such books in German – will be penalized with a fine of 50 Rhine Zloty for the first time. If he will violate this regulation second time, he will be fired from his service and regarded unfit for it.
   b/ Every person regardless of his or her sex who, after that day, will not use the name and the surname adopted for ever, but will adopt another one will be punished with a fine of 59 Rhine Zloty – if he is well off. If he is poor, he will be expelled together with his family from all our countries. However, if he has any debts or obligations that can be proved, they will keep their validity against him.
   c/ Everybody who will not deliver his certificate by the end of November 1787 as described above will be penalized with a fine of 10 Rhine Zloty - or with the penalty of 8 days' work for common good if he is poor.
   d/ Half of the sum of all these fines will be designated to the Jewish domestic fund in each of the countries. The other half will fall to the one who will discover such a deceit and denounce it.

It was issued in Our Capital and Residential City of Vienna on 28th of August, 1787, in the 24th year of Our Roman Rule, and in the 7th year of Our Rule over the Hereditary Countries.


(L. S.) Jozef
Leopoldus Graf von Kollowrat
Anton Friedrich von Mayern

Note on Austrian regulations concerning the surnames of Galician Jews [2]

Emperor Joseph II’s Decree of 1787 concerns Jews living in all his monarchy, but our focus here is on the territory acquired by Austria through the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was made by three European empires in 1772. That territory was called Galicia by the occupier; it was south to the Vistula River and reached as far east as Tarnopol, including, eg, Tarnów, Jarosław, Rzeszów, Lvov, but excluding Kraków.

The same regulation, worded almost in the same way, was issued by another Austrian Emperor, Franz II on 21st of February, 1805, ten years after the Third Partition of Poland, which took place in 1795. The new Austrian acquisition, called Western or New Galicia by the Austrians, included Kraków and lands north to it reaching as far as Warsaw, Warsaw (being Prussian at that time) excluding.

The only difference between the regulation of 1787 and 1805 is marked by a new paragraph in which it is stated:

  § 3. No Jew is allowed to adopt a surname of a noble family or some other distinguished family. And if such an adoption occurs, the surname, adopted not in a valid way, will be immediately changed, and the Jewish family will be given another surname in the way described (…), instead of this one. This should be always and everywhere abided by also in the future if anyone should complain that his surname was adopted by a Jew.

The history of the "Western Galicia" - the lands between Kraków and Warsaw -abounded with vicissitudes: it stopped being Austrian in 1809, when it became part of the Prussia-dependent Duchy of Warsaw, and it became part of the Russia-dependent Kingdom of Poland in 1815. Galicia and Kraków, however, remained Austrian until 1918.

„Patent. Die Führung bestimmter Geschlechtsnamen von 1-ten Jäner 1788 bei fer Judenschaft betrefend” [Austrian German version] or „Uniwersał. Aby każdy z Żydów od 1 stycznia roku 1788 stałe przezwisko przybrał sobie” [Polish version]. From „Continuacya wyroków y rozkazów powszechnych w Galicyi i Lodomeryi”, 1787 (General rulings and orders in Galicia and Lodomeria continued, 1787)
Translation and notes by Viola Reder