From the beginning it seemed that Marx was going to lead a life punctuated by conflict. He was born of Jewish parents in 1818 in the city of Trier, then a part of Prussia. His mother was Dutch and his father Prussian, both from a long line of rabbis. Just before Karl’s birth, however, his father, Heinrich, converted to Christianity and became a baptized member of the Evangelical Established Church. It is thought that this was an attempt to help his professional life as a lawyer at a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise, with the Prussian government banning Jews from high positions in law and medicine.
Young Karl was baptized at the age of six and defended his Christian faith in his early years. But the family’s experience with discrimination was never far from the surface. Combined with Heinrich Marx’s interest in Enlightenment social thinkers such as Voltaire and Kant, this may have led the young Marx to an interest in radical social ideas and his later questioning of religion’s role in human existence.
The town of Trier on the Moselle held one of the oldest Jewish communities in Germany. In fact, the area between Trier and Colonia Aggripina, as the Romans called Cologne, was settled by Jews in the fourth century, nearly six hundred years before the vast majority of Germans came into northern Europe from Siberia around 1000 C.E. Jews and some Romans were the first Germans.
Trier is known in French as Treves; both the French and the German name come from the Latin Augusta Treverorum (City of Augustus among the Treveri). It was a Celtic tribal name of uncertain etymology.
The Jewish surname Trier has many spellings including DREIFUS, DREIFUSS, TREFUS, TREVES.