Transcription

TWOFrankfurt an der Oder:Central European MiddlemenIn 1758 Simon Symons arrived in Frankfurt an der Oder from Amsterdam and married the daughter of a wealthy and successful local Jewish merchant named PincusMoses Schlesinger. That union seemed like a promising familial connection. Rightafter the wedding, Simon Symons entered into a business partnership with hisbrother-in-law, Levin Pincus Schlesinger, extending their business eastward to Warsaw. Nearly two decades later, however, the elder Schlesinger complained bitterlyabout his son-in-law in a letter to the Prussian ruler. He claimed that upon his arrival Symons “found himself in bad financial circumstances, but now he is a richperson and the court-jeweler of the king of Poland.”1 Since Schlesinger wasseeking legal support against Symons from the Prussian administration, it seemsnatural that he would try to cast his former son-in-law in a bad light. It is difficult toassess, much less reconcile, the diferent accusations these merchants lodgedagainst each other. Documents from a highly complex court case in Danzig andother correspondence with the Prussian government support the impression thatSchlesinger’s problems with Simon Symons contributed to his economic difficulties,which eventually ended in his bankruptcy by the time he passed away in 1795. SimonSymons had died two years earlier in Warsaw; he, too, had lost everything.2Despite this sad demise, the beginning of their business partnership shone withpromise. As was explored in the previous chapter, the Symons family of Amsterdam was a central player in the brokerage of credit from Amsterdam to centralEurope, especially to Prussia. This chapter examines the critical role of theSchlesinger family in particular and the Jewish merchants in Frankfurt an der Oderin general as middlemen between east and west. It argues that it was them who builtand maintained close ties to Polish Jewish merchants and were one determinantof the rise of a new Jewish mercantile and financial elite in the nineteenth century.The Schlesingers were middlemen between Jewish and non-Jewish merchants,brokers, and bankers in the west and Jewish merchants in the east. They possessedless wealth and influence than the tiny group of central European Court Jews, butplayed a crucial role in the economic developments in central Europe from the second half of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century. While exploring how theyfilled their role as middlemen, this chapter also addresses how important familial

38The Jewish Economic Eliteand ethnic networks were in their economic endeavors. Moreover, it shows the influence of the Jews’ legal position on the life of these Jewish merchants, who hadto grapple with strict Prussian legislations toward Jews. As David Sorkin argued,central Europe—unlike the west and the east—most dramatically restricted thepolitical status of the Jewish population in the early modern period. The grantingof privileges largely to individuals or groups of individuals not Jewish communities as such kept Jews in the German lands in a politically inferior position.3After establishing ties to Amsterdam, Pincus Moses Schlesinger’s son, LevinPincus, entered into a formal business partnership with Simon Symons, and bothmoved on to Warsaw, actively extending the business of both families eastward.Notably, the contacts between the two families were established in the mid-1750sat the brink of the Seven Years’ War, which was likely a lucrative time for both families. Following the war, the extension of business relations eastward seems to haveincreased their fortunes temporarily. The aforementioned business partnership wasdissolved in the early 1770s amid quarrels. The story of these two families underscores that commercial and familial relations were not always harmonious; kinshipties did not necessarily guarantee successful business.The Schlesingers were one of the wealthiest and most influential merchantfamilies in the Jewish community of Frankfurt an der Oder for much of the eighteenth century. Although they enjoyed the benefits of Prussian privilege, they didnot belong to the group of Court Jews who were most influential in Prussia andother German and central European states into the first half of the eighteenthcentury. They did not live close to the Prussian Court; rather, they settled in Frankfurt an der Oder, a town with an important commercial fair connecting eastern andwestern Europe. Textile trade was one of the strongholds of Jewish merchants incentral Europe, and especially in Frankfurt an der Oder. They traded textiles suchas raw drapery, linen, cotton, silk, and ready-made clothing. Whereas Jewish merchants were overrepresented in commerce as compared to the general populationnumbers, they did not monopolize or even dominate the textile trade.4 Still, theseJewish merchants played a crucial role in the commercial exchange with easternEurope and especially in providing the credit necessary in this trade. Particularlyin the eastern parts of Prussia, their business focused on the east; together withJews from Poland and later Russia, they dominated this part of the market by utilizing their transregional connections.The familial, communal, and business connections of the Schlesinger familydeveloped around the Frankfurt fair and extended to other commercial cities withinand outside of Prussia. My focus here is on how they constructed and maintainedtheir familial and commercial connections but also how general economic measuresand specific local circumstances such as protective trade regulations, the partitionsof Poland, and the subsequent decline of the fairs in Frankfurt an der Oder under-

Frankfurt an der Oder39mined the economic stability of previously successful merchant families such asthe Schlesingers. After some relative economic success around the Seven Years’ War,the city and its Jewish merchant community slipped into a slow decline toward theend of the eighteenth century. These developments eventually caused Jewish merchant families to shift their economic activity and networks away from Frankfurt.Beyond the field of commerce, the Schlesinger family was also part of the communal leadership, in line with the practice of Jewish communities being headedby members of the mercantile elite in eighteenth-century Europe.5 Within the community, the Schlesinger family, along with some others, was drawn to enlightenment ideas, without following the more radical forms of the Haskalah, the Jewishenlightenment, that developed in the Prussian capital of Berlin. Here too, thesemerchants capture an encounter between east and west, this time, intellectual innature. We, thus, need to exercise some caution toward the notion of the Jewishenlightenment and its close linkage to economic success and the assumption thatthose members of a wealthy Jewish mercantile elite were necessarily ardent followers of the Haskalah.The Schlesinger family, the Jewish community of Frankfurt an der Oder, andthe city itself with its three annual fairs exemplify the central role this triumviratefulfilled in the commercial connections between western and eastern Europe during the eighteenth century. This case equally illustrates the turning fortunes of individual merchants, families, and cities in the shifting economic system in centralEurope toward the end of the eighteenth century.Prussia’s Policy toward JewsFollowing the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), a new centralist state began toemerge in central Europe. Based on the intermarriage of the Hohenzollern familyof Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia, the rulers of Brandenburg-Prussia integrated new territories and sought to centralize its administration after the endof the Thirty Years’ War. This process continued after Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, succeeded in elevating his status to King, and the Kingdom of Prussiaemerged in 1701. The promotion of large-scale immigration was part and parcelof this policy, especially under his predecessor, Frederick William (known as TheGreat Elector). Central to these measures was the Edict of Potsdam (1685) that encouraged French Huguenots to immigrate to Brandenburg-Prussia, driven by demographic and economic consideration after the devastations of the war. Jews toobecame part of these immigration measures, though on a much smaller scale.After the medieval expulsions, Jews began to resettle in central and westernEurope in the final quarter of the sixteenth century, but it was only the Thirty Years’War that marked a real turning point in their readmission. Many German statesalready used Jewish army providers and court factors during the war to supply their

40The Jewish Economic Elitecourts with goods and credit. The new phenomenon of central European CourtJews arose as a result of these services and their continuation after the war.6 Prussia, however, came late to this development. It was only in 1671 that BrandenburgPrussia allowed Jews to resettle. Frederick William invited wealthy Jewish familieswho had been expelled from Vienna to settle in Berlin and a few other Prussiantowns. He aimed at drawing inhabitants who could provide fiscal income and economic advancement to the state, though he placed severe restrictions on theeconomic, religious, and personal freedom of Jews.7These newly admitted Jews were thought to generate fiscal income and contribute to the creation of a Prussian manufacturing industry, despite the fact thatmost of them remained primarily active in commerce. Typically, the focus in historiography remains on Jews in Berlin, Königsberg, and Breslau, the developmentof their Jewish communities, and the emergence of the Haskalah in Prussia.8 However, Jews settled in a number of smaller Prussian cities as well. Due to legal restrictions and as intended by state policy, the number of Jews in the Prussian provincesremained very small. Ten Jewish families from Austria were allowed to settle inFrankfurt an der Oder in 1671, and in 1688 more Jews lived in that town than inBerlin or Königsberg. The growth of the community slowed down during the eighteenth century. In 1718, forty additional families were admitted. Among the latterwas Moses Jacob Schlesier/Schlesinger (1683–1757), a drapery and silk merchant,who according to his name may have arrived from Silesia. Additional Jews, like thelater communal elder Levin Buko (also Levin Jacob Elias), were admitted in the firsthalf of the eighteenth century together with their families on an individual basis.9In the second half of the eighteenth century the rights of individual Jews werebased on the Revised General Code (Revidiertes Generalprivilegium und Reglement)of 1750 that imposed severe restrictions on Jews settling in Prussia. The earlier General Code of 1730 had already transferred the policy toward Jews from royal decrees, still the legal basis of Polish Jewry at the time, to state law. As such, the directrelationship between the monarch and the Jews as his subjects was abolished. Jewswere integrated into state law, thereby “marking the victory of the centralized absolutist polity over the corporative state.”10 Still, the Revised General Code of 1750was extremely restrictive. Jews were divided into six diferent categories: from a verysmall group of “generally privileged” (Generalprivilegierte) to “privileged protectedJews” (Ordentliche Schutzjuden), and “unprivileged protected Jews” (AußerordentlicheSchutzjuden), down to community employees and “tolerated” Jews registered viathe privilege of a “protected Jew,” and finally servants employed by Jews of the firstgroup. Jews of the latter three categories were completely dependent on their communal or individual employer, but even Jews of the second and third categorycould not choose their place of residence freely and were limited to transferringtheir settlement privilege to only one child.11 In contrast to their counter parts in

Frankfurt an der Oder41Moses Jacob Schlesier/Schlesinger(1683-1757)Pincus Moses Schlesinger(1711-1795)Marcus Moses Schlesinger(1719-1783)Baile MendelBlumeElias Naphtali(Friedberg)Hendele(1731-1761)Simon Symons(d. 1793)(Amsterdam)1. Hinche Levinin (b. 1730)2. Edel/Sara Heymann (?)Marcus PincusAbraham PincusAlexander Pincus(b. 1747)(b. 1745)(b.1737)Daughter ofAbraham SeligmannRahel(Königsberg)Jacob Baruch(Potsdam)Levin Pincus(1733-1812)Mitje EliasDaniel Nijmegen(1745-1811)(Amsterdam)Margolia EliasDaniel Nijmegen(1743-1800)(Amsterdam)Moses(1767- 1800)Herz Marcus(1744-1824)Jacob Moses Schlesinger(d. 1791) (Hamburg)Isaac Jacob SchlesingerDavid Pincus(1749-1827)Gittel(Frankfurt)Levin (Leib) Marcus(1746-1809)Philip (Feibisch) MarcusAdolph (Aaron)(b. 1777) (Leipzig)Figure 2.1. Family tree of the Schlesinger family in Frankfurt an der Oder.Credit: Oliver Ihlow.Berlin, Königsberg, and Breslau, none of the community members in Frankfurt ander Oder received a general privilege for their services to the state.Among the most affluent members of the community were Pincus Moses(1711–1795) and Marcus Moses Schlesinger (1719–1783), sons of Moses JacobSchlesinger, who had arrived in the city in 1718 (see figure 2.1). They were listedin the city’s records in the 1760s as discount brokers (Wechselhändler) and merchantswith various goods, trading especially with Poland and Russia.12 They lived in thecenter of Frankfurt an der Oder; some family members owned houses along thecity’s main streets.13 They were also able to employ servants; in the early 1750s Moses Jacob Schlesinger had a maidservant, a cook, and a boy. His son Marcus Mosesalso had three servants whereas his son, Pincus Moses Schlesinger, is listed as employing five: a boy for trade, a boy, a teacher, a cook, and a maidservant.14 One hasto be mindful of the fact that employing servants was sometimes a ruse for keeping relatives or acquaintances without a privilege of residency in the city. Nevertheless, it illustrates the family’s comparative wealth within the Jewish community ofFrankfurt an de