Bassevi of Treuenberg (Treuenburg), Jacob

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BASSEVI OF TREUENBERG (Treuenburg), JACOB (1570–1634), Court Jew descended from a noted Prague family. He was probably the first European Jew outside Italy to be ennobled. Bassevi and his brother Samuel engaged in large-scale trading and in 1599 obtained a safe-conduct from the emperor exempting them from the restrictions imposed on most Jews. In 1611 Matthias ii confirmed Bassevi's privileges and added the right of settling in Vienna. In 1622 because of the emperor's increased need of money during the Thirty Years War, Bassevi formed a consortium with Prince Liechtenstein and the imperial general Wallenstein, which leased the mint for an enormous sum and issued debased coinage. Bassevi, whose profit per silver mark was the lowest within the consortium, provided the financial expertise, and bought most of the necessary silver abroad. When currency dropped to one-seventh of its former value, the depreciated thaler was nicknamed the "Schmilesthaler," the Thaler of Shmil. In 1622 Ferdinand ii granted Bassevi a coat of arms. This, however, evidently still did not endow Bassevi with unqualified noble rank, for shortly afterward he requested other privileges connected with his new status, which were nearly all granted.

Like other Court Jews, Bassevi took an active part in Jewish communal life. After the imperial troops left Prague in 1620, Bassevi organized a guard to defend the Jewish quarter from pillage. He obtained for the Jews in Prague in 1623 some 40 houses bordering on the Jewish quarter which had been confiscated from the rebels. He also paid 12,000 Reichsthaler toward the enormous indemnity demanded from Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller in 1629. As head of Prague Jewry for several years, Bassevi was largely responsible for apportioning the communal taxes, as a result of which the opposing faction complained about him to the authorities. After Prince Liechtenstein's death in 1627 the authorities took steps against the former members of the consortium, the complaints providing a welcome excuse for confiscating Bassevi's property and arresting him (1631). However, because of Bassevi's privileged status, Wallenstein succeeded in securing his release (1632). Bassevi then lived at Wallenstein's residence in Jicin, as fiscal administrator of his duchies. Bassevi survived the murder of Wallenstein in 1634 by only a few weeks and was buried at Mlada Boleslav. After his death all his privileges were declared illegal and abrogated.

Bassevi, who maintained his Jewishness while holding his high position, was considered a "princely Jew" ("Judenfuerst") by his fellow Jews – a fact which seems to have been of some comfort to them in those dark days.


S. Hock, Die Familien Prags (1892), 61–63, 367; Bondy-Dvorsky, 2 (1906), nos. 734, 818, 824, 948, 1044, 1045; Spiegel in: Die Juden in Prag (1927), 138–45; L.S. Porta, in: Juedische Familien-Forschung, 1 (1925–27), 12–15; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 3 (1955), 234–6; ndb, 1 (1953), 625; Hofmann, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei, 4 (1934), 1–5; Polák-Rokycana, ibid., 1 (1930–31), 253–6; Baron, Social2, 14 (1969), 231–33.

[Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein]