The First Schoenbergs in Warsaw

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Pablo Edronkin

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The appearance of the Schoenberg family name in the Polish capital, key to understand the history of the Skowronek banking family can be interpreted in different ways.

"The righteous man shall live by his faith." - Habakkuk 2:4[250].

Considering only the Schoenberg – Belmonte or Schoenberg HaCohen[1.78][`.79] branch: In this case, which is the more certain and documented, we will deal only with the Jewish family of priestly lineage

Considering the Schoenberg – Belmonte branches in addition to the Szembark and von Schoenberg: In this case we would have to take into account the fact that in Warsaw, at the end of the XVIII century coexisted three branches of the name, of different origins but possibly interlinked.

The first branch:

We will being with the first case, since the second one could be seen as an extension of the former. The Schoenbergs from Warsaw are related to the family of the same name found in Alzey, Germany, in Hamburg and in Amsterdam. This family name's first use occurred in the Netherlands, as the family bearing it changed it surname from de Sampayo - Belmonte to van Schoenenberg, which later evolved into von Schoenenberg, von Schoenberg and ultimately, simply Schoenberg.

There are several factors that demonstrate the relationship between the Schoenbergs from Amsterdam, those from Alzey and those from Warsaw.

Cohen status: Family tombstones from Warsaw demonstrate that some of its members had Cohen status, including the oldest found so far in Poland, which correspond to the earliest Schoenbergs found in the city. There are at least two cases described by Gottheil, of Schoenbergs from Amsterdam and Hamburg who also had Cohen status[24.2][24.3]

Similar line of work: The Schoenbergs from Amsterdam, Alzey and Warsaw were dedicated to the same line of work, which could be summarized into that of a "faktor". They were in the banking business plus, political lobbying. August Belmont, from Alzey, was a banker and financial and political representative of the Rothschilds in the United States[1.30]. The Schoenbergs from Amsterdam represented the Spanish and Portuguese kingdom as resident ambassadors and were married into banking families of the time[24]. Those from Warsaw were married with banking families as well and made deals at government level, being army suppliers[24.2]. The three branches were wealthy.

Shared surnames: The Warsaw Schoenbergs were directly related to the Gans – Eger family[1.29]. In turn, the Gans family was related to the Schnapper[1.74] and Rothschild[1.73] families, and in turn, these were related to the Alzey Schoenbergs[1.75][1.76][1.77]. Other surnames, such as Oppenheim and Wertheim are also common to both Schoenberg branches. In all cases – Gans, Oppenheim and Wertheim - it is possible to actually establish the concrete links relating the people from both towns.

So there is no doubt that both Schoenberg branches are related. Then, we have to consider that both the Amsterdam and Warsaw Schoenbergs shared Cohen status, according to cemetery records and tombstones.

The Amsterdam Schoenbergs, thorough their derivative family names Raphael and Joseph[26], are related to other family names which, in turn, are related to both the Alzey and the Warsaw Schoenbergs, such as Adler – the family of rabbis[1.80][1.81].

Also, the Jewish Encyclopaedia states that "There is little doubt that the Belmont family of Alzey is descended from the Belmontes of Amsterdam"[63.1] and we should remember that Belmont and Schoenberg were names used interchangeably by the family[26].

Thus, the three branches are indeed related to one another. However, as Gottheil stated[24.1] aside from these concrete, demonstrable facts, it is very hard to establish the precise relationship of each member of the family in most cases.

According to the information available thanks to records and tombstones, the two Schoenbergs HaCohen that first lived in Warsaw were Yitzkhak Aizik Schoenberg HaCohen (1764 – 1854)[1.79] and his father Szmul Schoenberg HaCohen (Abt 1740 -)[1.78].

Considering that Rabbi Selomo Cohen Belmonte[24.3] (his surname would be Schoenberg HaCohen using the Polish form) died in 1731, taking into account a generation every 20 to 25 years, and the fact that Cohen status is passed always from father to son, Rabbi Selomo could have been a grandfather or granduncle of Szmul on any probable scenario.

`The two additional branches:

We have commented so far on the arrival of the Schoenberg HaCohen branch; these facts are for certain and documented to the extent described. However, in Warsaw at the time, two additional Schoenberg branches were present, which belonged to the same social level of the former, bringing the question whether they were completely separated or, quite on the contrary, somehow related.

In this case, nothing is sure so far but we have to consider that around the middle of the XVIII century, the three Schoenberg branches – be them related or not – were present in Warsaw, and all of them belonged to the aristocracy.

As we have already said, so far there is no concrete, direct evidence pointing to that fact, at least to speak about a relatively close relationship, for being all these branches related ultimately to the Plantagenet[26] family either directly or by intermarriage of prior generations, that is, indirectly, there are indeed some distant links like in the case of most royalty and nobility in Europe.

That would be enough to close the topic, except for the fact that the three branches were present in Warsaw around the middle of the XVIII century, and these three branches are characterized by the same group to which they belonged. It is legitimate to ask whether they would have arrived together or not.

While it is perfectly possible to have similarly-named families that are otherwise unrelated in one given place, the fact that they all belonged to the aristocracy limits the odds considerably since people belonging to that particular social group would very rarely mix themselves with others that are not at their same level[63.3].

Then, the number of people that belonged to the aristocracy in monarchical countries was much smaller that the population in general. Even in Poland, where about 10% of the population belonged to the lower nobility (Szlachta) – a number much higher than in Western Europe – only 1% of the total population belonged to the high nobility, known as the magnate class (Magnaty) to which members of royalty and the richer families belonged.

So it would be quite rare if the three branches arrived there independently. One case might be luck, two coincidence, but three such cases often bespeak of intentionality.

The Schoenbergs as a connecting family:

The Warsaw Schoenbergs expanded to Kraków a few years after their arrival. In both cities, members of the Schoenberg HaCohen family began marrying with almost every possible well - known name, be it of rabbinical origin, industrial or from the banking sector. The family became - at least in Poland - an intermediary or connecting family that binds many other families together, much like Goldschmidt, Katzenellenbogen or Oppenheim:


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The Schoenbergs became quite popular, very rapidly, meaning that whatever they carried from where they came from, it was already valuable. Theirs was not the case of a family that arrived, slowly progressed and over several generations its members could afford to marry well. They did that right from the start. Names like Zuckerwar, which correspond to one of the biggest sugar companies in Europe at the time found their way into the Schoenberg family, and then Schmelkes, Bach, Berlinerblau, Wertheim, Gelbfish, Eibeschütz and others, oddly but clearly as minor parties in the deal. Normally it was the non - religious family that aspired to gain respectability by marrying their members to some well - known rabbinical family. With the Schoenbergs it seems to have been the other way around so they had to have something of value, not common even among the families of rabbis, and that likely was their royal ancestry[24][26].

Three names became more relevant thorough the history of the Schoenberg family in Warsaw: the rabbinical Rotenberg family, Gans – Eger and Skowronek. With these families, the Schoenberg family made several marriage arrangements.

By 1938, the Schoenberg family was tightly interconnected with the Skowronek family name up to the point in which it was almost impossible to speak of both as different entities. Also, at that moment, the family became related to virtually all the major Hasidic dynasties, rabbinical, industrialist and banking families of Warsaw.

That's why probably my grandmother always spoke of the city with particular emphasis as "Nasza Warszawa".


A small river near Modlin; watercolour 2012, by Pablo Edronkin.
A small river near Modlin; watercolour 2012, by Pablo Edronkin.
This was one of the areas where the Schoenbergs had properties in the proximity of Warsaw.



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