The Strange Schmull/Steinhardt Case

By ©Inacio Steinhardt

Sunday, December 24, 2006


In my chase after information to add to my Steinhardt database, I came across many unusual storie.

A typical case would be the rabbi that told me that his family had been Steinhardt only for three generations. They had adopted our surname in order to facilitate their immigration into the United States.

And there was the unusual case of the young married couple who decided to link together the surnames of the husband and the wife and adopt the result as their new family name. He was Stein, she was Hardt, and so they are now Steinhardt.

A case that became famous as an example of anti-Semitism in Prussia,was the Schmuhl-Steinhardt case.

On 8 April 1889two brother merchants of Zerkow, in the Jarocin district, Carl and Joseph Schmuhl, made an application to change their surname to Steinhardt.

Zerkowis located in the Poznan area, which at the time was part of Prussia, under the name of Posen. Before and after the German occupation it was Poland.

The famous painter Jacob Steinhardt was also born in Zerkow.

The Schmuhl brothers had a good case for their petition. They wanted to bear the name of their grandfather – Steinhardt.

Their father, Schmuhl Steinhardt, had been nicknamed "fat Schmuhl", and only for this reason they had been given the surname Schmuhl.

Schmuhl, like many other typical Jewish names, such as Itzik, Levy or Cohen, were considered derisive surnames and consequently bad for business.

Since there were no documents on the grandfather but only four solemn declarations to testify that what they stated was correct, the Minister of Interior rejected this and a second application.

The Schmuhl brothers did not give up and a renewed application to the district president in Posen was actually granted on 3 August 1891, not because of the issue of their grandfather, that could not be proved, but because the term "Schmuhl" "had an unpleasant meaning, was used as a derisive swearword against members of the Mosaic religion with a dirty outward appearance, and was like to arouse an aversion to the bearers of the name everywhere." [I am quoting from a photocopy of some pages of a book, that somebody has sent me, without the actual title and name of the author. I apologize to the author for not mentioning his name and his book, and will appreciate if somebody can give me this important details, allowing me to make the necessary correction. Please send me the information to]

So Carl and Joseph Schmuhl became Carl and Joseph Steinhardt.

But their achievement didn't go without serious protests from the Christian Germans.

Eight years later a protest was sent to the Minister of the Interior from Treuenbrietzen, signed by "G. Steinhardt, Imperial Court Counselor retired and lieutenant of the territorial army, Knight of the Red Order Fourth Class with swords and of the Iron Cross with a black and white ribbon."

He stated that he set the same high value on his name as on his good reputation and felt "this degradation of the name, which was given away here like unclaimed property, to be deeply offensive and outrageous."

The answer from the department head von Kitzing was that 'Steinhardt' was by no means an exclusively Christian name, since it was borne by several Jewish families in Berlin.

Again in 1900 the issue was raised by the Landtag representative Werner, known as an anti-Semite, who raised general laughter by saying: "I don't see at all why someone who bears the fine name Schmuhl, for example, suddenly has to be called Götze or Steinhardt. What always matters is that the bearer of the name is an honest, respectable man".

I have found a similar case in the book "Mein Vaterdeutcher Bürger jüdischen Glaubens [My father, a German citizen of Jewish faith"], by Wolfgang Otto Steinhardt-Berlin, Arcus 1986. ISBN 3-924720-02-09.

(Available for online order from AMAZON by clicking on the book name)

In this book, Mr. Steinhardt reports, with documents, that his grandfather Adolph (Abraham) Schmuhl, born in 1878, in Exin, Kreis Schubin (also in the Poznam district), had changed his surname to Steinhardt in 1905. He doesn't give an explanation for the choice of the new surname.

However the case is so similar to the brothers Carl and Joseph Schmuhl, and the birth places are in the same area, so that I wanted to find out if there was any relation between them. I wrote a letter to the author of the book, to the address of his publisher, but I never received an answer.



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