Monday, 28 July 2014

The Process of Assimilation of the Schiff Family

Samuel Schiff, né Schwalbach, was undoubtedly Jewish and married a Jewish wife, Augusta Fuld at the end of the eighteenth century. Of his children, we know that Leopold and his younger brother Samson, my great great great grandfather, also married Jewish wives. In Samson’s case both his wives were Jewish. Samson is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Milan. We do not know if their brothers Adolph and Salomon married. Their sisters Hänge and Fanny both married Jewish men.

Of Leopold’s many children, we know that the two daughters who married took Jewish husbands, but whose tie with their Jewish faith was weak. Emma married Dr Lazarus of Hamburg, but her own burial took place in a non-Jewish cemetery, as did the burials of her two unmarried sisters Jenny and Virginia. Of the brothers, Ernest never married, and was buried at Brookwood cemetery in the same grave as his brother Alfred. Alfred and Charles both married non-Jewish wives. Their sister Justina married Julius Rodenberg, né Levy. Their daughter Alice converted to Protestantism. Of the two youngest children, Ottavia we know nothing of, and Eduardo became a renowned physician in Vienna but died unmarried and having abjured his Jewish faith: like his sisters and brothers he was "konfessionslos"..

Of Samson’s eight children, the first, Wilhelm, child of his first wife, married an Istrian woman who bore him two daughters, neither of whom married. Friederike died in childhood in Trieste, Octavia suffered the same fate of anonymity as her cousin and near namesake Ottavia; Auguste, Ludwig and Albert we know absolutely nothing of. The other daughter, Pauline, married a non-Jew and does not appear to have had any children, though it is possible, owing to the dual meaning of the Italian word nipotina signifying both a niece and a granddaughter. The other child of Samson, Friedrich, my great great grandfather, took a Jewish bride, Adele Cohen, in the synagogue in Trieste, and is himself buried in the Jewish cemetery at Gradisca.

Friedrich’s only son by his first marriage, Silvio, did take a Jewish bride, Emilia Finzi, but after her death and his marriage to a Christian woman, he too ceased to observe the Jewish faith his son, my grandfather, although totally Jewish by descent, received no Jewish upbringing at all. His half brothers and sister were naturally raised as Roman Catholics.

Since then the path of assimilation has continued. My grandfather’s first wife was Roman Catholic, his second wife an Egyptian Muslim. Jewishness resides in the preservation of the surname Schiff, in a pride in Jewish heritage, a difficult but remaining loyalty to Israel, but very little more. As far as I know I am the only descendant of the family to have returned to my Jewish roots, to have taken a Jewish wife, and to have brought up my three children as Jews. Names survive: my mother’s half cousin Valerio Schiff has named his son Federico, as has my cousin Caterina in Brazil. My cousin Giulio also has a pride in his Jewish origins, and has named his son Samuel, the name of our first-known Jewish forebear, Samuel Schiff né Schwalbach of Hanau and Mannheim.

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