The Schoenbergs from Holland to Germany and Poland

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Pablo Edronkin

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During the eighteenth century the Schoenberg family moved from Holland to northern Germany, then to the centre of the country and to Poland; leaving a very good position behind, they also found very fertile ground in their new homes.

The Schoenbergs living in the Netherlands during the first years of the XVIII century were descendants of the de Belmonte family that moved away from Portugal as Jews were expelled and the Inquisition gained a foothold in their former homeland. There, in the Netherlands, some of them still carried the name de Belmonte, while others (the main branch of the family) adopted the "Germanized" van Schoenenberg, which derived into von Schoenenberg, von Schoenberg and then simply Schoenberg. Also, three secondary branches of the family began to unfold there, identified with the names Raphael, Emmanuel and Joseph (see Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte and Schoenberg).

These three cadet branches of the family spread thorough Europe, mostly in France and England, while the Schoenbergs remained in Holland for a while, quite prosperous indeed (see Skowronek Genealogy).

Having left the Portuguese courts, they were in nevertheless a very good position in the Netherlands as finaciers, traders and high-ranking officials (see The Skowronek Bankers in the XVII Century) and also, the Netherlands were always very tolerant toward Jews so, there wasn't apparently any of the most common motivations or reasons to emigrate that would justify or explain why almost the complete Schoenberg family moved away from there

As described by Gottheil[24][24.47], only one part of the family remained in the Netherlands and nearby, non-Dutch cities such as Hamburg after a while, and at least in the beginning of the XX century, according to this researcher, it lacked the lustre of its former self and its members had little or no idea about their past. This was the Brandon - Belmonte sub branch, and records indicate that they continued in the Netherlands at least until WWII; we have pictures of Jewish people by the name Schoenberg from before World War II from Amsterdam who reportedly were later killed in Auschwitz[1.208].

Later in the history of the family, surnames like Brand, Brandis and Brandeis do appear in the Warsaw family; however, at this point I have no indication that such surnames originate from the Amsterdam Brandon.

About 1750, members of the Schoenberg family begin to appear in Alzey, Germany, and in Warsaw, Poland; in less than fifty years signs of their former activities could be seen in these areas: banking and trading. By 1830 the Alzey Schoenbergs were tightly associated and even married with the Rothschilds of Frankfurt, and the Warsaw Schoenbergs were already marrying happily with all sorts of tycoons and rabbinical dynasties, meaning that both branches were again, quite prosperous.

Something must have prompted the Schoenbergs to move away from the Netherlands; clearly, it wasn't a matter of survival, so it is reasonable to assume that they were looking for better opportunities.

One thing that both the Alzey and Warsaw Schoenbergs have in common, aside from finances, was that they became landowners in both places. In the Netherlands, with its proverbial lack of space, owning land might have been more difficult or inconvenient, while in Germany and Poland it was perhaps easier: By the early years of the XX century, the Alzey Schoenbergs owned large vineyards, for example, while in Warsaw they owned both land as well as buildings (see Bcia Wolf i Icek Schoenberg).

But at the time they left the Netherlands Jews were not allowed to own land in many places, so this may or may not have been a reason.

Gottheil states that the Sephardic community of Amsterdam began to lose its position due to their close inter breeding, with little interaction with the Ashkenazi Jews living in the same area.

The Schoenbergs, despite being Sephardim in their origins, seem not to have had any problem either with other Jews or Christians. As Gottheil also states, people in the kind of social level they were, only required others approaching them to be of their same stature, no matter whether they were Jew, Christian or Muslim. And in fact, marriage records of the Schoenbergs both in Warsaw and Frankfurt show that they had no problem mixing with Ashkenazi couples, provided that the brides and grooms were wealthy. This, however, was a practice frowned upon by both the community of the Sephardim and Ashkhenazim[24.48][24.49] so they might have felt constrained in their ability to reach their goals.

So it is possible that looking for new blood outside a somewhat decaying social micro cosmos was at least a factor, or it could be that the disappearance of the higher echelons of Sephardi society in Amsterdam prompted the decay, since other wealthy Jewish families from Amsterdam - more frequently Sephardim rather than Ashkhenazim in those days - also moved elsewhere.

Or it could be both, since looking to expand their wealth and influence would certainly have been in the minds of the rich, especially if the community began a slide down into decadence, and their migration could have accelerated the decadence process at the same time.

Another possibility is that the Schoenbergs somehow fell in disgrace in Amsterdam, and had to go; perhaps they went bankrupt or a scandal of the kind suggested by Gottheil among the Sephardim forced them to move away instead of intolerance, persecution or renewed opportunities. This might be suggested by the fact that the parents of Aaron Schoenberg, a.k.a. August Belmont, arguably the most famous member of the Alzey branch, appear described as humble merchants, and at the same time, the oldest Schoenberg tombstone found so far in Warsaw corresponding to Yitzkhak Schoenberg (1764-1864)[1.79] is a pretty modest one.

However, appearances often deceive in the case of wealthy Jews: Young members of these families are often educated into being discrete so as not to attract unwanted attention from envious people, racists and even government officials, and there is no indication so far that the Schoenbergs were involved in any sort of scandal in or around Amsterdam, and the tombstones of other Schoenbergs from Warsaw put in place at roughly the same time as the one mentioned are significantly more elaborated, while others from known members of the family that were indeed wealthy, like Zelman Józef Schoenberg (?-1880) who belonged to a branch of the family married with names such as Erlich and Winawer, as well as the sugar-tycoon Cukierwar family, from later times, are also pretty discrete. So, tombstone design might have had a lot to do with religious beliefs and personal tastes.

The Schoenberg family expanded its interests even further than Warsaw: Indeed, before the Russian revolution, Shlomo Abraham Schoenberg operated a bank and took part of a banking committee in Berdichev, Ukraine, in the Kiev gubernia, while Wulf Zalman Schoenberg had the monopoly of tobacco and alcohol sales in Slonim, now in Belarus. The combination of licenses that granted monopolies over the distribution of alcohol or tobacco, or both, plus banks and railroads gave the Schoenbergs and some associated families like Halpern, Kronenberg, Bloch and Soloveitchik a great advantage. Based in Warsaw, Kronenberg owned railways and had a tobacco monopoly, which later was shared with the Bloch family, which also ostensibly owned railways, and Halpern. In Ukraine and Poland, the Soloveitchik family owned railways.

The Schoenbergs had tobacco and alcohol monopolies in eastern europe, plus banks, and needless to say, they were al relatives. Kronenberg, Soloveitchik and Halpern are alos rabbinical families.

Thus, a scandal or severe financial problem is nothing more than speculation right now.

In either case, the Sephardi community of Amsterdam became a shadow of its formers self in less than a hundred years, while in Frankfurt and Warsaw, it assumed a new form and flourished.


The departure of the fleet.
The departure of the fleet, Pablo Edronkin.



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