EARLY JEWISH IMMIGRANTS
FROM THE CZECH HISTORIC LANDS
by Miloslav Rechcigl, Jr.
Prior to the publication
of Guido Kisch's book, In Search of Freedom1,
the subject of the Czech and Slovak migration to the New World was entirely
unexplored both from the factual angle and with regard to its political
and social origins. Despite the generally-held notion that Jews from areas
that later became part of Czechoslovakia "appear to have left only faint
traces of their presence in America," Kisch's penetrating analysis clearly
established that “the Jewish immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia
not only made important and original contributions to American civilization,
but left remarkable and lasting imprints on American life and culture."2
Professor Kisch focused his inquiry primarily on the immigrants who came
to America around and after the revolutionary year of 1848, which gave
the impetus to the mass "Auf nach Amerika" (On to America) movement.
The present study explores and
documents the arrival of Jews in America from the territory of the former
Bohemian Crown (Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) and Upper Hungary (Slovakia)
prior to 1848.
The First Bohemian in America
Joachim Gans. The
first documented entry of a Bohemian Jew3,
or for that matter, of any Jew4 on the
shores of America, is that of Joachim Gans of Prague, who came to Roanoke,
NC in 1585 with an expedition of explorers commanded by Admiral Sir Richard
Grenville (1542-91). This expedition originated in Plymouth, England, 35
years before the Pilgrims set sail from the same port on their historic
voyage. Joachim Gans, who probably was related to the famed
Prague Jewish scientist and scholar David*
ben Solomon Gans (1541-1613), was a metallurgist of note who mastered the
skills of dressing and smelting copper. Unfortunately, due to various logistical
problems, and particularly due to the lack of provisions for the colonists
and the inherent dangers from the Spaniards and Indians, the expedition
was abruptly brought to an end on June19, 1586, when Sir Francis Drake
(1546-96) was ordered to take the whole company of colonists back to England.
Gans must have been a man of
strong religious convictions, for upon his return to England, he was arrested
at the seaport of Bristol for professing his Jewish faith. No record has
been found indicating the manner in which this incident was resolved. In
any event, Gans left England.
Gans worked with Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe at the Prague observatory,
and translated mathematical tables for Brahe from Hebrew into German.
Uriah Hyam. The second
recorded presence of a Bohemian Jew in America is found in a Last Will
and Testament filed with the Surrogate's Office of the County of New York
In the Name of God, Amen, the first
Day of November, 1740, 1 Uriah Hyam, now resident of the City of New York
Chandler, I give and bequeath unto my brother Enoch, living in Bohemia,
the sum of twenty pounds ...5
Since his will mentions a close relative in Bohemia,
one may presume that Hyam himself originated in that country. According
to his Last Will, Hyam was the owner of a Black slave, a boy whom he left
to his youngest son, Andrew Israel, of the Island of Jamaica. Nothing else
is known about him. Considering that he also left six pounds to the Congregation
of the Children of Israel in New York, one could think that he was in fairly
god financial circumstances.
Elias Wollin. The
next documented reference to an individual of Bohemian Jewish background
can be found in an advertisement posted in Zenger's New York Weekly Journal6
Elias Wollin of Bohemia, who had served
in His Imperial Majesty's Army as Chirurgeon four years, infallibly and
instantly Cures the Tooth Ach to Admiration, also Bleeds without any Manner
of Pain, Cups in the Like Manner; Wounds, Swellings and Sores are lso cured
wonderfully by him in a Short Time, he has made sundry Cures of the Tooth
Achs in Presence of Many ...
Mathias Bush. The fourth
known Bohemian to come to America was Mathias Bush,7
a native of Prague who arrived in New York City in the 1740's and later
moved to Philadelphia or Germantown. He was naturalized in 1749, one of
the first to benefit from the Act of Parliament of 1740 authorizing the
naturalization of foreigners after a seven-year residence in the colonies.
He married into the prominent Simon Gratz family and became a leader in
the synagogue established in Philadelphia in the 1760's. He was a merchant
and ship owner, and during the French and Indian War an army purveyor.
There are numerous records
showing that Bush was a prominent member of the Jewish community in Philadelphia.
He is known to have owned property in Philadelphia and Northampton Counties,
Pennsylvania, and in Fredrick and Hampshire Counties, Virginia. On October
25, 1765, he affixed his signature to the Philadelphia Merchants Non-Importation
Act,8 the first American document of civic
rights on record. During 1782 and 1783 he served as collector of taxes
Bush left numerous descendants,9
some of whom are alive as this is written. The most distinguished of Mathias'
many children was his son Solomon Bush (l753-95),10,11
an ardent patriot. "To revenge the rongs [sic] of my injured country,"
as he stated, he joined the Continental Army at the start of the American
Revolution. In 1777 he was appointed a deputy adjutant general of the state
militia, but was seriously wounded in the fall of that year and was compelled
to retire from active service. When he left the army, he was a lieutenant
colonel, the highest rank held by any Jew during the American Revolution.
After the war, Solomon
Bush, a very devoted Mason, became a grand master for his state. Like many
other veterans of the Revolutionary War, he wanted a government position
rather than go into business. In 1780 he petitioned Congress to appoint
him Secretary of the Treasury. Four years later he applied for the position
of health officer for Pennsylvania, and in 1791 he applied to President
Washington for the "naval office post" of Philadelphia. All these efforts
were unsuccessful. However, Benjamin Franklin, while President of the Pennsylvania
Council, granted him a pension, which is indicative of the importance of
Bush's contributions to the war effort. In 1782 Bush contributed
toward a new building for Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. However,
he also joined the Quaker Abolitionist (anti-slavery) Society and, at his
own request, was buried in the Friends' Burial Ground in Philadelphia.
Mathias Bush's grandson,
Jonas Altamont Phillips (1806-62),12 was
a successful lawyer in Philadelphia. Jonas' son Henry Phillips (l838-95)13
was a numismatist of note. Another great-grandson of Mathias Bush, the
Hon. Henry Myer Phillips (1811-84), was elected to the House of Representatives
in the Thirty-Fifth Congress as a member from Philadelphia.14
The Phillips Family.
There was yet another Phillips family of Bohemian descent, not related
to the above, living in Pennsylvania at that time. The progenitor of this
family, Jonas Phillips (?- 1794),15 a son
of Phineas Phillips, emigrated from Bohemia to London, England, in the
middle of the eighteenth century; several members of his family subsequently
moved to the United States.
One of the sons of this
Jonas, Isaac Phillips (1794-1851), who came to America in 1800 as a member
of the foreign commission and exchange firm of R.I. Phillips, became a
prominent figure in the Philadelphia business world. His firm was the first
American representative of the House of Rothschild. Isaac's son Barnet
Phillips (l826-85),16 a founder of the
American Jewish Historical Society, achieved distinction as a scholar,
soldier and journalist. In 1872 he joined the staff of The New York Times,
and at the time of his death, on April 8, 1905, was in charge of the book
review department. The branches of the family that remained in England
intermarried with the leading families of the British aristocracy. Among
their descendants who gained particular distinction one ought to at least
mention Sir Benjamin Samuel Phillips (l8l1-89),17
who was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1865.
The Gratz Brothers.
Very few individuals attained a greater influence on the growth of business
life in eighteenth-century America than the two brothers, Barnard (1734-1801)
and Michael Gratz(1735-1811).18 Natives
of Langendorf, Upper Silesia, they emigrated at an early age to London
and in 1754 and 1759, respectively, came to America and settled in Philadelphia.
At the time of their birth, Silesia was an integral part of the Lands of
the Bohemian Crown. It is thus appropriate to include the two Gratz brothers
in our survey. It. is noteworthy that the grandfather of the Gratz brothers,
Rabbi Jonathan Bloch (d. 1722), resided in his youth in Prague, the Bohemian
capital, from where he moved to Langendorf in 1664.19
The Gratz brothers were
described as promoters and merchants who, as pioneers, opened up vast territories
to trade and exploration. Their specialty was the fur trade. Their
trade routes extended from the Pennsylvania frontier town of Lancaster,
to the forks of the Ohio River and the present city of Pittsburgh. From
these forks their steamboats plied the river into what was then Indian
territory, and which today constitutes the states of West Virginia, Ohio
and Kentucky. Their routes branched out further into what is now
Indiana and Illinois.
The Gratz brothers were
among the signers of the non?importation resolutions adopted on October
2, 1765, by the merchants of Philadelphia as a protest against the British
Stamp Act, prior to the Revolution. When the final break with England came,
the Gratz brothers cast their lot with the revolutionaries. Barnard took
the oath of allegiance to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to the United
States as a free nation on November 5, 1777. Michael Gratz had moved to
Virginia during the Revolution, and he took the oath of allegiance to that
state in 1783. Barnard is known to have laid the cornerstone of the first
synagogue in Philadelphia, which became Congregation Mikveh Israel in 1773.
He was the first recorded president or "parnas" of this congregation, the
third to be organized in the U.S. In June, 1782, Barnard's daughter Rachel
(1764-1831) married Solomon Ettinger of Baltimore (1764-1847), who became
a champion of Jewish civic rights, and was elected to the Baltimore City
Council, the first Jew to hold public office in the state of Maryland.
Michael Gratz left an extensive
family, including the well-known communal worker Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869),
who helped found the Philadelphia Orphan Society in 1815 and served as
its secretary for 40 years. In 1838 she founded the Hebrew Sunday School
Society, the first institution of its kind in the United States, serving
as its president until 1864. She is reputed to have been the model for
Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe.
The Gratz family business
was continued by two of Michael's sons, Simon(1773-l839) and Hyman (1776-1857).
Of the two, Hyman gained the greatest prominence. He participated in large
commercial enterprises over and beyond the business he conducted with his
brother. He became a director of the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance
on Lives and Granting Annuities in 1818, and in 1837 was elected president
of this corporation, an office he held until his death. A man of culture,
he was keenly interested in art and was one of the directors and later
president of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. He was prominently
identified with the administration of the affairs of Congregation Mikveh
Israel and was one of the leading spirits in the organization of the first
Jewish publication society in the United States in the year 1845. Shortly
before his death, he executed a deed of trust "to establish and maintain
a college for the education of Jews residing in the city and county of
Philadelphia." This led to the founding of Gratz College, the first Jewish
teachers' training institution in the United States.
There is a record of a Bohemian Jew who came to America around 1783/84
and who lived in Philadelphia during 1784/85. He was Joseph Karpeles,20
a son of Wolf Karpeles of Prague. According to a letter that has survived,21
Haym Salomon (l740-85), the famous financier of the American Revolution,
engaged Karpeles as his arbiter to represent him in a legal dispute, which
was supposed to be decided by a court of arbitration, concerning an inheritance
worth 800 ducats. Both parties to the litigation were required to deposit
a personal check in the amount of 4,000 ducats to guarantee that they would
accept the decision of the court. This event shows the responsibility
entrusted to Karpeles and the esteem in which he was patently held.
The Block Family Dynasty.
At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many members of
the Block family from Svihov, Bohemia, settled in America. This is the
first known instance of an entire Jewish family emigrating from Bohemia
to the New World. The original surname of the family was Bloch.22
The family was so large23 that it was considered
the first and most numerous Jewish family to settle west of the Mississippi
River.24 It has sometimes been compared
to the Sheftall family, whose members played a significant role in the
founding of the Georgia colony at Savannah.
One of the first Blocks
to land in America was Jacob Block, who briefly lived in Baltimore, Maryland,
and Williamsburg, Virginia, before settling permanently in Richmond, Virginia.
In Baltimore he had been a grocer; in Richmond he became a merchant. He
was very active in Jewish affairs and, before his death in 1835, he had
served as president of Beth Shalome, the only Jewish congregation in Richmond
at the time.25
Jacob's son, Eleazer Block
(1797-?)26, after completing his studies
at the College of William and Mary, moved to St. Louis, Missouri, becoming
the "first Hebrew lawyer" in that city.
About the time Jacob Bloch
lived in Baltimore, Williamsburg and Richmond, a close relative of his,
Simon Block, resided in the same places. His name appears on the Baltimore
list of retailers who were granted licenses in 1797. In 1804, he was among
the signers of a petition in Richmond. In 1810, according to court records,
he was a resident of Williamsburg. He later moved to Missouri and eventually
to Cincinnati, where he died. The Jewish Congregation of Cincinnati mourned
his loss, as "this venerable gentleman being the oldest amongst us, we
considered him the father of this congregation."
There was another Simon
Block, called "Jr." to distinguish him from "old" Simon Block, living in
Richmond at the time. Like his namesake, he moved to Missouri, establishing
himself as a merchant in Cape Girardeau. Following his early death in 1826,
the court appointed Eleazer Block (probably his brother) as the guardian
of his ten minor children.
Eleazer's brother, Capt.
Abraham Block (?1857), is considered to have been one of the original pioneer
settlers of Arkansas. According to his obituary:
Capt. Block was born in Bohemia, but
emigrated to this country more than fifty-five years ago. He married in
Virginia, removed from Virginia to Arkansas in 1823, and was one of the
pioneers or the Upper Red River country, then almost a wilderness. Resettled
in the village of Washington, where he has since resided loved and esteemed
by all who knew him, and among the commercial community of New Orleans
and the planters of Red River and southern Arkansas he was almost universally
known. He sleeps according to his cherished wish among his people, in the
Portuguese cemetery, on the Metairie Ridge in the city.27
Eleazer and Abraham Block had
a sister, Louisa, who married Abraham Jonas (1801-64), a personal friend
of Abraham Lincoln, whom Jonas had met in connection with the newly-founded
Republican party. In addition to serving as postmaster of Quincy, Illinois,
Jonas was a merchant, lawyer and state legislator. When he died, President
Lincoln appointed his widow, Louisa, to finish his term as postmaster.
They had five sons, one of whom, Benjamin Franklin Jonas (1834-191l),28
a lawyer in New Orleans, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democratic
senator from Louisiana. Benjamin's sister Rosalie Jonas married Adolph
Meyer (1842-1908), who served as a Congressman from Louisiana for 20 years.
The Early Nineteenth Century
Thanks to the personal memoir of the British Jewish historian Lucien Wolf,29
we have a charming account of the circumstances that led one Samuel Kohn
to leave his native Bohemia at the beginning of the nineteenth century
to emigrate to America. As Wolf put it:
Samuel Kohn was known all over the
countryside as a good-hearted, hare-brained ne'er-do-well, fond of the
tavern and the lassies; and fonder still of a game of cards....One day
the news ran through Hareth [Horany, Bohemia] that Samuel Kohn had disappeared.
He had last been seen drinking and gambling with strangers in the Gast-haus.
and, after some high words, had tramped off in the direction of Saaz, a
picture of abject misery . . . It seems that Samuel Kohn, on the day on
which be disappeared from Hareth, had been cheated of everything he had
in the world by a gang of card-sharpers. When he left the tavern with empty
pockets, he felt he could not again go home to the poverty-stricken cottage
in the wood and confess his follies to his long-suffering mother. So he
turned his steps in the direction of the country town and thence tramped
northward all the way to Hamburg. He worked his way on a sailing vessel
to New Orleans.
Although the exact time
of Samuel Kohn's arrival in the United States is not known, we surmise
that it was sometime prior to 1806, since in July of that year the New
Orleans paper carried an advertisement announcing the opening of an inn
at Bayou St. John, owned by one Samuel Kohn in partnership with H. Labruere.30
Kohn subsequently became a hanker, moneylender, investor, and a real estate
promoter. Through wit, grit and acuity, he rose from a penniless immigrant
to become one of the wealthiest financiers in New Orleans. He also built
dwellings and commercial buildings throughout the city and was one of the
major promoters of suburban construction.
When Samuel Kohn visited
his homeland in the 1830's, according to a peasant's account, as related
by Lucien Wolf,31 "the whole of Hareth
was thrown into a paroxysm of the most intense excitement." Wolf
narrated how "there suddenly drove up to the door of the widow Kohn’s cottage
a capacious travailing carriage drawn by six horses and attended by four
black servants in gorgeous liveries. A gentleman of noble presence had
alighted and entered the cottage, and the black servants had followed with
the baggage, which included a mysterious hogshead. The yokel had afterwards
peered through the window and had seen?so he averred?the hogshead opened
in the presence of the widow and - he swore it by all the saints - it was
full to the brim with newly-coined gold."
Samuel Kohn had several
brothers, including Simon and Joachim. In 1819 or 1820, when Joachim32
reached his nineteenth or twentieth year, Samuel brought him to New Orleans
and set him up in the commission brokerage line with several partners.
They owned ships and handled cargoes on the Mississippi River, in the Caribbean,
on the Atlantic seaboard and in Europe. After Samuel Kohn moved to Paris
in 1832, Joachim acted as his agent in America.
Joachim was successful
in his own right as well. He was a member of more corporation boards than
any other Jew in his time. He was a director of the New Orleans and Carrollton
Railroad Co., the Carrollton Bank, the Louisiana State Marine Fire Insurance
Co., and the Mechanics' and Traders' Bank, etc. In 1834 Joachim married
Marie Thalie Martin, the daughter of a fashionable French physician. They
had three children, of whom a daughter, Amelie, married Armand Heine, a
cousin of the poet Heinrich Heine. Armand came to New Orleans in 1842 to
open a concession and banking business.
A third member of the Kohn
family, Samuel's nephew Carl Kohn,33 was
brought to New Orleans by Samuel in 1830 or 1831. He achieved a level of
success and prominence equal to that of his uncles. Like them he became
engaged in merchant banking, commission brokerage and various other business
enterprises, culminating in his election to the presidency of the Union
National Bank. He, too, married into one of the first families of New Orleans,
his bride being Clara White, a daughter of Maunsel White and Heloise de
Levi Collmus. About
the time Samuel Kohn's name was first noted in New Orleans, another Bohemian
named Levi Collmus made his entry into Baltimore, Maryland.34
Although some sources state that he arrived in 1798, as a lad of 15, or
in 1800, a declaration of naturalization he made in 1822 states that he
arrived at the port of Baltimore in September 1806. He gave Prague as his
birthplace and his age as 40 years.
The earliest known public
record of his life in Baltimore is that of his marriage to Frances Williams,
a Quaker, on May 19, 1812. He was inconsistent about the way he spelled
his surname. He is listed in various city directories as Collmus, Calimons,
Colmas, Colmes, or Callimus. He was a dry goods dealer.
Levi Collmus participated
in the War of 1812. According to his application to the U.S House of Representatives
for a pension, he "was engaged in the battle near Baltimore which took
place on the 12th day of September, 1814... in defense of the city of Baltimore
against the British army, which had advanced within a very short distance
of the city. During said engagement, the exertions of the said Colmas,
in the discharge of his duty as an artillerist, were extremely arduous
and violent . . . within three or four days thereafter, the disability,
which has continued upon him ever since, made its appearance...”
Although he had intermarried,
Collmus was one of the electors of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in
1831, and he became treasurer of the United Hebrew Benevolent Society when
it was formed in 1834. He died in Baltimore on March 30, 1856. Though buried
in a Christian cemetery (Greenmount Cemetery), he was given a burial according
to the full Orthodox Jewish ritual.35
Moritz Fuerst. A
year after the arrival of Collmus in Baltimore, an immigrant from Slovakia
by the name of Moritz Fuerst (1782-1840) reached the American shore.36
He was born in Pezinok, near Bratislava, in March, 1782. Having mastered
the art of die-sinking, he was enlisted by the American consul at Leghorn,
Italy, in 1807; and came to the United States to work as an engraver. In
1808 he settled in Philadelphia, where he set up business as a seal and
steel engraver, and a die-sinker. He was subsequently employed by the United
States Mint in Philadelphia and soon received recognition as an early American
medalist. Thirty-three of his patriotic commemoratives and portraits, including
his best-known work honoring heroes of the War of 1812, are still issued
by the U.S. Mint. He struck the official portraits of Presidents James
Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. He also
executed the first recorded American Jewish medal, to commemorate the death
in 1816 of the patriot and religious leader Gershom Mendes Seixas.
Francis Joseph Grund.
In contrast to the humble background of most of the early immigrants from
Bohemia, Francis J. Grund (1805-63) was an educated man, when he came to
America,37 with a degree from the Vienna
Polytechnic. He was a mathematician of note who wrote textbooks on arithmetic,
algebra and geometry, in addition to texts on chemistry, astronomy and
natural philosophy. In 1827, after a year of teaching mathematics in Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil, he settled in the United States. He continued teaching
mathematics in Boston until 1833, subsequently engaging in journalistic
work. In 1837 he settled in Philadelphia, where he served as an editor
of the Whig newspaper, Standard and Grund's Pennsylvanischer Deutscher.
For a short time in 1837, he was American consul at Antwerp, Belgium; in
1841 and 1842 Grund occupied the post of consul at Bremen, Germany, and
from 1859 to 1861, a similar position at Havre, France. In the intervals
between his visits abroad, he was Washington correspondent for several
newspapers. He died on September 29,1863. Grund was the author of an important
historical classic, The Americans in their Moral, Social and Political
Relations (1837), followed by Aristocracy in America (1839) and Thoughts
and Reflections on the Present Position of Europe and its Probable Consequences
to the U.S. (l860).38
Dr. Simon Pollak.
In 1838 Dr. Simon Pollak (1814-1903), a young, brilliant, highly educated
and widely traveled physician from Domazlice, Bohemia,39
arrived in New York. In his colorful autobiography,40
he discusses at length his plans for emigration to America:
I had read and knew by heart the history
of the U.S. I longed for it, and I determined to get there some time. I
never could brook the idea that I am not quite as good politically as anybody
else. The United States of America, where the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood
of man, and the entire quality of political rights prevail, was my land
Pollak came from a family of
11 children, his father having been “a high toned, honorable and much honored
and successful merchant." When the father died he left to each member of
the family the sum of 10,000 florins, which in those days was considered
a generous inheritance. While attending gymnasium, Simon Pollak had a private
tutor; as a result, he was able to enter the department of philosophy at
the university upon completion of his fourteenth year, and the medical
department at the age of 16. He received the degree of Doctor of Medicine
in 1835 in Prague and the degree of Doctor of Surgery and Obstetrics in
1836 in Vienna.
Upon his arrival in the
United States, he practiced general medicine in New York, New Orleans,
Nashville and Louisiana. He eventually settled in St. Louis, where he attained
fame as an ophthalmologist. In St. Louis he organized the first school
for blind children and the first eye and ear clinic west of the Mississippi.
He was also active and successful in the fight against cholera, which was
then raging among the European immigrants.
During the Civil War, Pollak
served as general hospital inspector for the U.S. Sanitary Commission,
supervising the sanitary conditions in the hospitals, camp barracks and
Henry Horner. Henry
Horner (1817-78) was the first Bohemian Jew, and one of the first four
Jews altogether to settle in Chicago.41
He came to America in 1840, and after settling in Chicago, was hired as
a clerk for a clothing house, where he remained until he opened his own
house, Henry Horner and Co.
Henry Horner and Co. started
as a wholesale and retail house at Randolph and Canal Streets. In 1859
Horner built a large store at Nos. 78, 80 and 82 West Randolph Street,
and in 1864 he moved his business to South Water Street. He was very active
in the Chicago real estate market, and in 1869 he engaged in the banking
business, in partnership with Lazarus Silverman. During the great fire
of 1871, both of his business houses, as well as his residence at Jackson
Boulevard and Wabash Avenue were burned to the ground. Horner quickly reestablished
his business at his old store at West Randolph Street, which subsequently
grew to gigantic proportions. Apart from his own business, "Uncle Henry,".as
he was affectionately called by his associates, was also a charter member
of the Chicago Board of Trade.
After his death in 1878,
the business was continued by his widow and his son Isaac H. Horner. Subsequently
three other sons joined in the partnership. The enterprise continued its
rapid growth until it eventually occupied the entire half?block on Randolph
Street between Clinton and Jefferson.
Henry Horner (1878-1940),42
namesake and grandson of the founder of the family, grew to prominence
as a lawyer and politician. His political career began in 1914 when he
was elected probate judge of Cook County, a post to which he was reelected
four times. The younger Horner's ability and impeccable reputation led
the Democratic organization to nominate him for governor of Illinois in
1932. In the election he defeated the Republican nominee by a vote of 1,930,330
to 1,364,043, and became the first Democratic chief executive of the state
in 17 years. During his tenure as governor(1933-40) he made many notable
contributions to the welfare of the state of Illinois. His interest in
Lincoln resulted in the gathering of one of the finest collections of Lincolniana
in the U.S., which he donated to the Illinois State Historical Library.
Colonel Louis Fleischner.
Louis Fleischner (l827-96) came to New York in the early 1840's as a lad
of fifteen, from the village of Vogelsang, Bohemia. He soon moved to Philadelphia,
where he was employed by a horse and cattle dealer for five years. From
there he went to Drakeville, David County, Iowa, where he ran a store.
In 1852, heeding the call of the West, he crossed the plains with an ox
team, heading for Oregon. Eventually, he settled in Portland, where he
purchased a wholesale dry?goods house. In addition to his eminently successful
business career, he was very active in Portland's political and civic affairs.
In 1870 his personal popularity and the confidence he inspired among the
people led to his nomination and election to the post of State Treasurer,
which he held for five years. He was also president of the First Hebrew
Benevolent Association of Portland and one of the most active members of
Congregation Beth Israel.43
The Eidlitzes. Leopold
Eidlitz (1823-1908),44 a native of Prague,
came to New York early in 1843. Trained at the Polytechnic in Vienna; he
was destined to become a famed architect of the Gothic revival; he was
purported to be the first Jewish architect to practice in the United States.
His church designs include St. Peter's at Westchester, N.Y.; the Church
of the Holy Trinity on Madison Avenue in New York City, and the Congregational
Church in Greenwich, Conn. His most successful church was the Christ Church
Cathedral of St. Louis, MO. The most original ecclesiastical building which
he planned was the synagogue Emanu-EI on lower Fifth Avenue, New York City
(1868), which was demolished at a later date to make way for a business
skyscraper. Among Eidlitz's other buildings in New York deserving mention
are the Continental Bank, the American Exchange Bank, the old Produce Exchange,
the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Dry Dock Savings Bank. His most spectacular
work was the redesigning of the New York State Capitol at Albany. Leopold
Eidlitz was the author of an important book, The Nature and Function of
Art, published in 1881.
Leopold Eidlitz's brother,
Mark Eidlitz (1826-92),45 who arrived in
New York City in 1847, was the foremost building contractor in New York
City for many years. Among the buildings that document his skill, some
of which are still standing, are the old Metropolitan Opera House, the
Steinway Hall of the Astor Library, the Presbyterian and St. Vincent's
Hospitals and the private residence of J. Pierpont Morgan.
After Mark's death, his
building operations were continued by his sons, Otto Mark Eidlitz and Robert
J. Eidlitz. The firm of Mark Fidlitz and Son adorned New York with such
notable buildings as the Rockefeller Institute, the New York Stock Exchange,
the Western Union Building, the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, the
J.P. Morgan Library, the Federal Reserve Bank, the New York Academy of
Medicine and the Frick Art Gallery.
son, Cyrus Lasalle Warner Eidlitz (1853-1921),46
was also a well-known architect whose most noteworthy achievement was the
design of The New York Times building, constructed in the narrow triangle
between Broadway and Seventh Avenue and 42nd and 43rd Streets in New York
Charles S. Kuh. One
member of a well-known Prague family, Charles S. Kuh (d. 1871),47
arrived in New York in 1844. While residing there he became a member of
the Board of the "Bohemian Synagogue," Ahavat Hesed, organized by the Bohemian
Jews in 1848, which had its own cemetery in Cypress Hills. The services
of the congregation were initially held in rented rooms, first at 69 Ludlow
Street, then (in 1849) at 33 Ridge Street and (in 1853) at 127 Columbia
Street. Kuh was also one of founders and vice presidents of a Bohemian-Jewish
mutual aid society, Die B6hmischen Brueder of New York.
Little is known about his
life or whereabouts in the United States, except that he later moved to
Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1869 he was elected to the legislature of
South Carolina from Beaufort County, where he was known as a "most honest
man" who favored the emancipation of the slaves. He died of yellow fever
at the home of his brother-in-law, M. Politzer, then mayor of Beaufort.
Among the earliest Jewish immigrants to settle in Milwaukee in 1844 were
two Bohemians, Isaac Neustadtl and Solomon Adler. Isaac Neustadtl (d. l877)48
started out as a retail grocer on Third Street but soon involved himself
in the insurance business. Apart from his successful business, he was very
active in the political and civic affairs of the city. In 1852/53 he was
elected city alderman in the Second Ward, which contained the largest segment
of Milwaukee's Jewish population. However, he was defeated in his campaign
as Republican candidate for county treasurer in 1834. In 1860 he served
on a nominating committee for the Republican city convention and was a
delegate for the Union census of 1861.
Neustadtl sympathized with
the European revolutionary movement of 1848 and headed an association in
Milwaukee for aiding political refugees from Europe. Neustadtl was one
of the founders of the renowned German-English Academy, where his son-in-law,
Henry Katz, served as financial secretary for a long time. Neustadtl's
daughter, Elizabeth Katz, was a founder of the Academy's kindergarten.
Neustadtl was also one of the managers of the Milwaukee Musical Society
during its first decade.
It is also of interest
that on Yom Kippur in 1847, 12 Jewish pioneers held their first services
at the home of Isaac Neustadtl at Chestnut and Fourth Streets, leading
to the establishment of Emanu-El, the first Jewish congregation in Milwaukee.
The Adler Brothers.49
Solomon Adler (1816-?) was the second Bohemian Jew to settle in Milwaukee,
where he arrived in 1844. In 1847 he entered the clothing trade with Jacob
Steinhart, a partnership which continued until 1851.
Following the arrival (in
1852) of Solomon's brother David Adler (1821-1905), who had previously
resided for five years in New York, the two brothers jointly operated a
retail clothing store. In 1857 David Adler bought out his brother Solomon,
whose business volume had reached between $15,000 and $30,000 per year,
and entered into a partnership with another brother, Jacob, as D. &
I. Adler, shifting to the wholesale trade. In 1860 Solomon repurchased
Jacob's interest and the firm continued as S. Adler and Bro. The
enterprise prospered greatly during the Civil War, with sales reaching
as high as $600,000 in one year.
When Solomon Adler retired
from the firm, the company was reorganized as the David Adler and Sons
Clothing Co., which grew to be one of the largest wholesale clothing houses
in the United States.
David Adler was one of
the organizers and directors of the Wisconsin National Bank and one of
the founders of the National Straw Works. He was vice?president of the
Jewish Orphan Asylum of Cleveland, Ohio, and a member of the Emanuel and
other Jewish benevolent societies. He was also an active member of the
Odd Fellows of Wisconsin, serving as Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge
of the State.
Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.
Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, whose life spanned most of the nineteenth century
was an important personality in the religious history of American Jewry.
Perhaps more than any other person, he was responsible. for the development
of Reform Judaism in the United States He was born in Lomnicka (Steingrub),
not far from Cheb (Eger), Bohemia, on March 20, 1819. The Jews living in
the Habsburg monarchy at the time were still subjected to medieval restrictions;
they had to pay a special "Jew Tax," were forced to live in ghettos, and
their marriages were subject to the Familiantengesetz to keep the Jewish
population from becoming too large. It may be assumed that these conditions
impelled Wise to emigrate to the United States with his wife and child
on July 23, 1846.
Shortly after his arrival
in the New World, Wise was appointed to a rabbinical post in Albany, New
York. In Bohemia, he had already become acquainted with the religious reforms
instituted by West European Jewish leaders such as Abraham Geiger (1810-74)
and others, Wise felt that the atmosphere in America would allow more.
freedom for the development of Reform Judaism than the reactionary climate
which prevailed in Europe at the time. However, his Reform ideas were not
appreciated in Albany, and he consequently lost his position. In 1854 he
was elected rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Cincinnati, Ohio. There
his reforms were well received, and he held this pulpit for the rest of
his life. Also in Cincinnati he founded two Jewish newspapers, The Israelite,
later known as The American Israelite (in English) and Die Deborah (in
In 1875 Rabbi Wise helped
found the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which is the national
organization of American Reform Jews today. He subsequently established
a training school for Reform rabbis, the Hebrew Union College (now Hebrew
Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion), which today has campuses
in Cincinnati, New York, California and Jerusalem. One of his daughters,
Iphigenie, married Adolph S. Ochs, the editor and owner of The New York
Times. A son from his second marriage, Jonah B. Wise (1881-1959) was active
as a Reform rabbi and communal leader in New York City.
Isaac M. Wise died on March
On the basis of current
information, we have assembled in Table 1 the names of Jews who had emigrated
and settled in America prior to the revolutionary year of 1848 from the
Czech Lands and Slovakia, in the order of their arrival. The identification
of the listed individuals was not an easy task. Prior to the establishment
of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, the immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia
or Slovakia were hardly ever identified as Czechs, Bohemians, Moravians
or Slovaks, but rather as Austrians, Germans or Hungarians. There is no
doubt that future research will uncover additional names of Jewish immigrants
in America with Czechoslovak roots. In viewing the mosaic of individual
portraits presented here, one is struck by certain characteristics shared
by most of the Jewish immigrants from the Czech Historic Lands and Slovakia,
They were all energetic, enterprising, resourceful, self?made people, with
a sense of purpose and accomplishment, highly patriotic towards their newly
adopted country, yet mindful of their roots and their cultural and religious
upbringing. It is therefore fitting that we conclude this survey with a
quotation from Thomas Capek, the historian of Czechs in America (Moje Amerika.
Prague: Fr. Borovy, 1935, p.41) :
through Who's Who in American Jewry or The Jewish Encyclopedia must be
surprised by the number of the famed names - physicians, jurists,
industrialists, financiers and wholesalers who have originated on the territory
of today's Czechoslovakia.
Although the above citation
was intended primarily for the Immigrants who came to this country after
1848, Capek's characterization fits the earlier settlers equally well.
They have attained
both high economic and social status. You don't find them in the ghettos
among the immigrants from Russia, Poland or Rumania. In learned professions
they have overtaken us by far. Their pioneering spirit is well known.
Some Early, Better Known
from the Czech Lands and
in Order of their Arrival
Place of Birth
||New Castle, PA
||Carroll Co., MS
-Guido Kisch, In Search of Freedom.
A History of American Jews from Czechoslovakia 1592-1948 (London: Edward
-Op. cit. p.5. David B. Quinn, Set
Fair for Roanoke Voyages and Colonies, 1584?1606 (Chapel Hill-London: University
of North Carolina Press, 1985).
-David B. Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoke
Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606 (Chapel Hill-London: University of North
Carolina Press, 1985).
-Gary S. Grassl, "Joachirn Gans
of Prague: America's First Jewish Visitor," in Review of the Society for
the History of Czechoslovak Jews, Vol, I, (1987) pp. 53-90.
-Leo Hershkowitz, Wills of Early
New York Jews (1704-1799) (New York:American Jewish Historical Society,
967), pp. 55-56.
-Zenger's New York Weekly Journal.
No. 390, May 25, 1741.
-The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia
(New York, 1940), Vol.2, pp. 607-8.
-Samuel Oppenheim, "The Jewish Signers
of the Non-Importation Agreement of 1765,'' Publications of the American
Jewish Historical Society. No. 26 (1918), pp.236-237.
-For a genealogy of Bush's family,
see Malcolm H. Stern, First American Jewish Families (New York: KTAV Publishing
House, 1978), p.28.
-Henry Samuel Morais, The Jews of
Philadelphia (Philadelphia: The Levy Type Co., 1894), pp.455-57.
-Harry Simonhoff "Colonel Solomon
Bush," in Jewish Notables in America 1776-1365, (New York Greenberg Publisher,
1956), pp.79-82; Samuel Reznick, Unrecognized Patriots: The Jews in the
American Revolution (Westport, CT:Greenwood Press, 1975, pp.25-27, 171-72.
-Morais, op. cii.. pp.401-2.
-Dictionary of American Biography
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934). Vol. 14, pp.54l-2
-Morais, op. cit., pp. 402;
U.S. Congress, Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1971
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), p. 1540;
-For a genealogy of the Phillips
family, Stern, op. cit., p. 245; Stanford A. Moss, Phillips Family Tree
(Lynn, Mass., 1942); Neil Rosenstein, "Phillips Family of London,” in Unbroken
Chain (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1976), pp. 44-9.
-Universal Jewish Encyclopedia,
Vol.8, pp.490-91; Isidor Levi, “Barnet Phillips;” Publications of the American
Jewish Historical Society 6 (1907), pp. 195-97.
-Universal Jewish Encyclopedia.
Vol.8. p.491; Sir Bernard Burke, "Faudel-Phillips” in Burke's Genealogical
and Heraldic History of the Peerage. Baronetage and Knighthood (London:
Shaw Publishing Co., 1938) pp. 1967-68.
-B. and M. Gratz, Merchants
in Philadelphia. Edited by W.W. Byars (Jefferson City, 1916); Dictionary
of American Biography. op. cit Vol.7, pp, 504-6; Universa/Jewish Encyclopedia.
Vol.5, pp. 85-87; Letters of Rebecca Gratz:, edited by David Philipson
(Philadelphia, 1929; reprinted in New York by Arno Press, 1975), pp. ix-xix.
-Sidney M. Fisk, "The Ancestral
Heritage of the Gratz: Family" in Oral:College Anniversary Volume, 1895-1070
(Philadelphia: Gratz College, 1971), pp. 47-62.
-Kisch, op. cit, pp. 16-17.
-Hyman B. Grinstein, "A Haym
Salomon Letter to Rabbi David Tevele Schiff, London, 1784," Publications
of the American Jewish Historical Society, no.34 (1937), pp.107-16; Grinstein
considers Carpeles, as the name is spelled in American documents, as one
of the most learned men among the Jews of America at the end of the eighteenth
-Kisch, op. cit., p. 22.
-A partial genealogy of one
branch of the Block family is given in Stern, op. cit. p.25.
-Isidor Bush, "The Jews in
St. Louis," Bull. Missouri Historical Society Vol. 8 (1951), pp. 60-70.
-Ira Rosenwaike, "The Jews
of Baltimore to1810," American Jewish Historical Quarterly 64 (1975), pp.
291-320; Herbert T. Ezekiel and Gaston Lichtenstein, The History
of the Jews of Richmond from 1769-1917 (Richmond: Herbert T. Ezekiel, 1917).
-Ira Rosenwaike, "Eleazer
Block-His Family and Career," American Jewish Archives no. 31(1979),
-Kisch, op. cit., pp.22,
-Biographical and Historical
Memoirs of Louisiana (Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1892) Vol.1,
pp. 495-98; U.S. Congress, Biographical Directory of the American Congress
1774-1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), p.
-Lucien Wolf ''The Romance
of a Bohemian Village," in Essays in Jewish History (London: The Jewish
Historical Society of England, 1934), pp.55-59.
-Information of Kohn's stay
in New Orleans is based on the extensive research of Bertram Wallace Korn,
published in his The Early Jews of New Orleans (Waltham, MA.: American
Jewish Historical Society, 1969), pp. 119-27.
-Wolf, op. cit.. pp. 55-59.
-Korn, op. cit.. pp. 122-23.
-Ibid., pp. 125-26.
-Ira Rosenwaike, "The Jews
of Baltimore to 1810," American Jewish Historical Quarterly, no.64 (1975),
-B.H. Hartogensis, “Notes
on Early Jewish Settlers of Baltimore,” Publications of the American Jewish
Historical Society, no.22, 1914, pp. 191-195.
-Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem:
Keter Publishing House, 1971), Vol.7, p.222.
-"Francis Joseph Grund," Publications
of the American Jewish Historical Society, No.26 (1918), pp.234-35; Harry
L. Golden and Martin Rywell, Jews in American History. Their Contribution
to the United States of America (Charlotte, NC: M.A. Stalls Printing Co.,
1950), pp. 378-79.
-His penetrating essay about
America is sometimes compared to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America
-For a brief biography of
Pollak, see Kisch, op. cit., pp.136-38.
-S. Pollak, M.D., "My Autobiography
and Reminiscences," St. Louis Medical Review, Vol.49 (1904), pp.113-16
and ff.; also published in book form under the same title (St. Louis, 1904)
-A.T. Andreas, History of
Chicago (Chicago, 1885), Vol.2, p.698; Paul Gilbert and Charles Lee Bryson,
Chicago and Its Makers (Chicago: Felix Mendelsohn Publisher, 1929), p.724.
-Dictionary of American Biography,
Suppl. 2, pp.318-19; Herbert M. Lautmann, "Henry Horner 1878-1940," American
Jewish Year Book, Vol. 43 (1941-1942), pp. 399-406.
-Joseph Gaston, Portland,
Oregon. Its History and Builders (Chicago-Portland: S.J. Clarke Publishing
Co., 1911), Vol.3, pp. 258-62.
-Kisch, op. cit., pp.157-158;
Dictionary of American Biography. Vol.6, p.61.
-Kisch, op. cit., pp. 158-59.
-Dictionary of American Biography,
op. cit., Vol.6, p.60.
-Kisch, op. cit., pp. 126-27.
-Louis I. Swichkow and Lloyd
P. Gartner, The History of the Jews of Milwaukee (Philadelphia:The Jewish
Publication Society of America, 1963), pp.11, 16, 19, 20, 33, 52, 59.
-Jerome A. Watrous. Memories
of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (Madison Western Historical Association,
1909), Vol.2, pp. 734-36, History of Milwaukee. Wisconsin (Chicago: Western
Historical Co., 1880), p.1241; Andrew K. Aikens and Lewis A. Proctor, Men
of Progress. Wisconsin (Milwaukee: The Evening Wisconsin Co., 1897); Howard
Louis Conrad. History of Milwaukee (Chicago-New York:American Biographical
Publishing Co., 1889), pp. 430-32, 438-39.
-National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography, Vol.92 (1958), p.46.
-National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography, Vol.24, pp.25-26.
-Lehgh H. Irvine, A History
of New California (New York-Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co, 1905), pp.721-22.
-Conrad, op. cit.. pp. 432-33;
History of Milwaukee, p.665; Watrous, op. cit-.pp. 553-54
-National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography, vol. 43, p. 192.
-The Biographical Cyclopaedia
of Representative Men of Maryland and District of Columbia (Baltimore,
Biographical Publishing Cc., 1879), p. 192.
-Conrad, op. cit.. pp. 438-39.
-Watrous, op. cit., pp. 273-75.
-History of Milwaukee, Vol.2,
-Encyclopedia of the History
of St. Louis, edited by William Hyde and Howard L. Conrad (New York. The
Southern History Co., 1899), Vol.4, pp 2217-18.
-National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography, Vol. 10, p. 16; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 10,
-Dictionary of American Biography.
Vol. 18, pp.31l-12; National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol.42,
-Encyclopedia of the History
of St. Louis, Vol.4, pp.2215-16.
-Swichkow and Gartner, op.
cit., pp. 466-67.
-National Cyclopaedia of American
Biography. Vol.26, pp. 364-65.
-Guido Kisch, "A Voyage to
America Ninety Years Ago. The Diary of a Bohemian Jew of this Voyage from
Hamburg to New York, 847," Publications of the American Jewish Historical
Society no.35 (1939). pp. 65-78.
-The Encyclopedia of the New
West (Marshall, Texas: U.S. Biographical Publishing Co., 1881) pp. 274-75.
This study was originally published in Review of the Society for the History
of Czechoslovak Jews Vol. 3 (1990-91), pp. 157-179.
Note to Readers: Inasmuch as the
author is continuing his research, he would welcome any additional information
on this topic. Send your comments to the following address: email@example.com
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