Thursday, 26 January 2017

Mussolini, Trieste and the Jews

My mother heard this speech from Piazza Unità in Trieste by Mussolini on 19th October, 1938 when he first announced the Race Laws. It was broadcast live on the radio and they were in Palermo, of course. It was the day her life changed for ever. I believe that he mentioned in his speech the New York Schiffs and my grandmother pulled a face at the suggestion that the Schiffs were millionaires. Well actually he wasn't far wrong: Nonno's cousins in London had indeed been millionaires, even if my grandfather wasn't.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tracing my Mother's Family: the early attempt

It was always in my mind to trace my mother's family. There was the letter from my grandfather to my mother written in August, 1946, describing how the letters of introduction he had written for her to his Schiff relations in England had been returned except for one, which had not been answered. When I went to live in St Albans in the autumn of 1974 I wrote to several people in London with the surname Schiff with a copy of my mother's outline family tree and several kindly replied, and I have just found their replies as I go through my papers from that period. A S. Schiff of 27, Regents Park Road wrote courteously to say their ancestor came from Poland. Dr Charles Schiff of Cortleigh in NW11 wrote similarly to say on 13th November, 1974 that his family came from Poland, from Tarnow. He added, however, that
"I was acquainted with, and indeed somewhat friendly with, a Schiff named Sydney Schiff (who was a writer, under the pen-name of Stephen Hudson, and was a friend of Proust). He wrote a long, veiled autobiography entitled 'A True Story', the first part of which outlines the family story: he came of a wealthy family, cultured and international, of bankers, distantly related to the leading bankers in the U.S.A. These Schiffs came from Frankfurt, I believe.So, too, did two brothers Otto and Ernst Schiff: prosperous bankers and philanthropists. I knew otto who was prominent in Anglo-Jewish philanthropic causes. His brother, Ernst, died before him; but Ernst's widow is still alive, I believe, and yu may find her address and telephone number in the telephone book, S-Z..."
I received a letter a week later from Mrs Betty Schiff of Sloane Street, who was Ernst's widow, saying that she did not think that we were related but that she would check with her late husband's niece in Switzerland. She wrote again on December 2nd to say that her niece in Switzerland had written that morning to say she was unaware of Samson Schiff, but that the same day she had received a visit from her late husband's second cousin from New York who was also unaware of a possible connection.
I did not follow these letters any further, and of course the writers were quite right that we are unrelated, but Dr Charles Schiff's mention of Sydney Schiff was in fact spot on, though it has taken me forty-two years to unravel it.

Monday, 23 January 2017

22, Lowndes Square

22, Lowndes Square was the home of Charles Schiff, the eldest son of Leopold Schiff. I was fortunate three years ago to purchase from the Devon bookseller Paddy Pollak a remarkable document, the very detailed 'Inventory and Valuation of Furniture, Fixtures, Fittings, Linen, China and Glass, Silver, Electric Plate, Cutlery, Ornamental Items, decorative China, Bronzes, Books, Pictures, Wines, Wearing Apparel, Jewellery and Household Equipment' taken in March, 1908. He kindly and generously gave me a 25% discount, perhaps because he appreciated that a few years ago I officiated at his mother's funeral. I asked if he remembered its provenance, and was told "I bought it from the widow of a doctor in Norwich  -  we had bought the medical books some years ago, and as she was moving house, she called us in again to offer for the remainder.  Her husband had been quite an eclectic buyer of 'nice' books on all subjects, either in Cambridge where he was a student or in Norfolk when he was working.  I don't know precisely where he got it nor why he chose it; I would guess he just liked it." I wonder if one of Charles Schiff's children ended up in Norfolk.
Postscript, January 2017:
One extraordinary coincidence you need to know about. The inventory of 22 Lowndes Sq which you recently blogged about, came to my father Martin after his father Charles died. My parents moved to Norwich in 1976, when I started my clinical training as a medical student. Dad died two years later, but my mother Rosetta stayed there until her death in 2009. For ten years she shared a house with a great friend of hers, Jenny Rack, who was a doctor, after her husband, another doctor, died. You can begin to guess the rest… that book must have stayed behind in her library after we cleared the house of Mum’s effects (when she moved into a Residential Home in 2006), and hey presto! it made its way to you!

Gustav Wertheimer: 'Sirenen Küss'