In the Business of Armies

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Pablo Edronkin

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The Napoleonic war meant disaster for millions of people in Europe, but also an opportunity for those ready to make good business.

"Draw from the past, live in the present, work for the future!" - Abraham Geiger[250].

Wars are in all cases enormous tragedies, massive scenarios of death and survival, but they make excellent business opportunities for all sorts of companies catering military forces. Not only weaponry is required to fight, but food, uniforms, vehicles, and many other things that collectively fall within the realms of logistics.

In wide scale warfare, normally these are good opportunities for metropolitan companies - that is, of the same nationality as the intervening armies – but at empire scales, protecting and favoring the companies of the same nationality becomes impractical.

Poland was divided several times among different countries. Swedes, Austrians, Prussians, Russians and French occupation forces at one time or another visited – so to speak – the country and had to be fed, housed, equipped and armed. Being far away from their own countries, this meant that those armies had sooner or later to find local contractors to provide them with the required provisions.

Naturally, war times were, in this sense,a paradigm shift, and new opportunities opened for local contractors to make very good deals during the Napoleonic war, and that is what the Skowronek bankers did.

Two of the families belonging to the large – mega family that I collectively call Skowronek - although the actual Skowronek family was smaller and part of the whole net of families that Neil Rosenstein described as "The Unbroken Chain."[39]

The Schoenberg family of Warsaw made very good profits by feeding armies, especially the Imperial Russian after they seized control of Warsaw in the nineteenth century. The Schoenbergs owned large properties where they had cattle and crops. The Blat family had a factory that produced leather products, such as boots, saddles and other equipment required by the military. Later, the Blats entered the arms trading business itself, providing the Polish army after 1918. Two of the brands they marketed were Oerlikon, from Switzerland, and Bofors, from Sweden.

In the case of the Blat family, their business was relevant enough to warrant purchasing relatively big properties to be used as local bases to send their goods. For example, they had a building of about 10.000 sqm at Towarowa street, right in front of some railway cargo station that existed before WWII. In Nowy Dwór, in Warsaw, they had an "Austeria" (lodge), which still belongs to our family and was used also as a deposit for goods to be sent to the nearby Modlin military fortress and base.

Properties belonging to the Blat family were located in roads or streets that conduced to military installations, in all cases that we know about. The Blats, naturally, were married with the Schoenbergs. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Blats married their kin with the Rapaport, Klepfish and Guterman rabbinical families, as well as the Nathanson, Fiszsohn – Kronenberg and Skowronek banking families. The were also related to the Fajnmesser, Rozen and Berger families, among others.

During the first decades of the nineteenth century the Blats used the surname Goedel interchangeably with their own, and some variants of the original family name emerged, such as Blatt, Blit, Blitt and Bluht.

Intermarriage between these families was not casual: They sought to complement their own lines of business with those of others. For example: Military industries always get significant contracts, so they have considerable capital. Banks provide financial backbone, references and influence. Thus, it was natural that arms dealers would marry bankers.

In the case of the Kronenberg family, they invested not only in banks, but railroads as well. Some banks, like those of the Skowronek family were especially oriented towards foreign commerce, so, a military industry such as the one the Blats had benefited enormously by partnering with those other companies.

In the end, they were one big family where every business was kept within. Nothing was left to chance because after centuries of persecution they had to survive against the greed and envy of outsiders. No properties, no capitals and no contracts were lost or easily given up, and so, secrecy about their operations was safeguarded.

The Nowy Dwór Austeria; pencil, 2012, by Pablo Edronkin.
The Nowy Dwór Austeria; pencil, 2012, by Pablo Edronkin - The property is in the family since at least 1854;
It served as the business base in Nowy Dwór Maz. from where the Modlin fortress was easily reachable.

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