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27 December 2011

The Mosenthal Family of South Africa, London and Kassel, Germany



Recently I was able to attend the annual meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. While there I took the time to again visit one of my favorite places, Willesden Cemetery. Walking the grounds of this beautiful place, always causes me to ponder not only my own ancestors but it also helps me remember all of the Jewish people and the legacies they left behind.


This blog has in the past touched ever so slightly on the history of the Jews of South Africa, however that visit to Willesden Cemetery in London has led me to spend more time studying the area and its great people. As I was walking the grounds, I came across a headstone that I don't recall seeing on my earlier visits. That headstone (shown below) is of Otto Mosenthal, son of Adolph and Henrietta Mosenthal who was born in London on 13 December 1857 and died in Kimberley, South Africa on 17 November 1881.


In the area surrounding resting place of Otto, were the graves of his parents. The headstone of Adolph, not only provides us with his dates of birth, 12 Apr 1812, and death, 21 Jul 1882, but also adds his place of birth, Kassel, Germany. All of the information obtained from these stones intrigued me. I wanted to know what caused a man born in Germany to marry, move to South Africa, where a child was born and then return to London, where he died.

In an earlier post I talked about the earliest Jews in South Africa, people such as Benjamin Norden, in whose house was held the first service in Cape Town. In studying the early history of South Africa, you quickly find that the first Jews, such as Norden, began arriving in the early 1830's. Many of these first Jews were the merchants who built the foundation of many future commercial enterprises. One such group, were the Mosenthal brothers, Adolph, Julius and James. James, was the first to arrive in Cape Town, where he went to work for a relative, Mr. Kilian, as a clerk, but within a few years, after the death of a wife, he returned to Kassel. Then in 1841, he returned to South Africa with his brothers. By 1842 the brothers had set up their first business, Mosenthal and Brothers, in Port Elizabeth.


Trading in many cities in the interior of the country, the brothers became traders in wool,hides and ostrich feathers. In the mid 1850's the brothers travelled to Asia, where upon their return they introduced the first 30 Angora goats to South African. This became another very successful buisness for them.


Over time the Mosenthal's business grew and expanded throughout South Africa. They became a major influence in many cities. They were very loyal to their friends and family, often bringing them in from Kassel to work for them. It has been estimated that almost half of all the Jews who arrived in South Africa between the forming of their business and the early 1870's came for one reason, to work for the Mosenthal's, many of these from Kassel.


The impact left behind by the Mosenthal is incredible. In addition to their business, various members of the family served in politics and civil service. They were instramental in establishing many public services, such as libraries. Later in life, Adolph and his wife returned to London, where they also had families. Many members of the family became quite wealthy, son Henry (Harry) died on 12 January 1915 in London. His will probated on 13 March 1915 at the Principal Probate Registry left an estate valued at over 500,000 pounds.


The records of the Mosenthal family are being added to the Knowles Collection and will be available soon, some in the Jews of Great Britain database, and some in the Jews of Africa and the Orient database.

16 December 2011

Happy Hanukkah






As this time of year, my wish for all is that you and your family will have Peace and Joy. May we never forgot our ancestors who sacrificed so much for us. May you all have a very Happy Hanukkah.

13 December 2011

The Jews of Antigua and Barbuda


There is not a lot to the Jewish history of Antigua and Barbuda. The first Jews to live there were probably some Sephardic families who had arrived in the late 17th century through the early part of the 18th century. The numbers of Jews who lived there during these early times was probably very small, most likely well under a hundred, in fact most were Jewish merchants or traders, who travelled between Antigua and other Islands, such as Nevis. A good example of these travelling Jews can be found in the Knowles Collection-Jews of South America and the Caribbean. Abraham Abudiente (also known as Gideon) and his wife Bathesheba, are both buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Nevis, however they and other members of the family lived at times in Antigua. Many of the Jews who had lived in and travelled to Antigua left in the late 1600's. This was because laws were passed in 1694, that prevented Jew's from being traders in commodities and from being participants in the slave trade. Even though the law was quickly repealed in 1701, most Jews left and became some of those that settled in the early communities of North America.
Since so many of the early communities in the United States were founded by Jews from Antigua and other areas of the Caribbean it is very important to add Antigua and Barbuda to the list of Caribbean Islands that should be searched for ancestral ties for those American families.

03 December 2011

The Jews of Finland

The Jewish history of the country of Finland is somewhat confusing. For well over a thousand years the area we now call Finland was actually part of Sweden. Under the laws of the Kingdom of Sweden, the Jews were only allowed to live in three of the major towns, none of which were located within the area of modern day Finland.


In 1809, during the Napoleonic Wars, Russia defeated Sweden, and Russia gained control of Finland and the Grand Duchy of Finland was established within the Russian Empire. Even though they were now under Russian rule, the Swedish constitution and legal system was maintained, thus the Jews were not allowed to settle within Finland.
Thus, the Jewish history of Finland truly began in the early part of the 19th century, because the Jewish soldiers who had served in the Russian army in Finland were allowed to stay in Finland after being discharged. A decree was issued in 1858, which allowed discharged soldiers and their families to stay in Finland, this decree was not based upon religion, so all were treated equally. In 1869, another decree provided guidance as to which occupations these soldiers could have. This included the Jewish soldiers.


In 1889, the government issued a decree that for the first time was almost entire addressed to the Jewish community. This decree put severe restrictions upon the Jews, such as not being able to work outside their own city, and even then having to work in the same restricted occupations. Children were only allowed to stay in Finland as long as they lived with their parents and only if they didn't marry. Also those Jews who lived in Finland and were drafted into the Russian Army were not allowed to return to Finland after their service.


The Jewish population of Finland in the 1880's and 1890's probably never exceeded more than 2,000 people. It was during this time that the Jews began to work for their independence. Finally, in 1917, Finland gained its independence and the Jewish community began to have rights, and for the first time Jews could become Finnish citizens.


From the time period after World War I up until the beginning of World War II, most of the Jews of Finland continued to work within the clothing and textile industries. As Jews began arriving from Russia, more and more attended university and started working in professions such as lawyers and doctors. After World War II, the Jews were entitle to all the rights of any citizen, they were truly Finnish. The majority of the Jewish population of modern day Finland, lives in three cities, Helsinki, Torku and Tampere, with vast majority in Helsinki. The majority of the Jews in Finland are Ashkenazic.