Mendelssohn

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MENDELSSOHN

MENDELSSOHN , family of scholars, bankers and artists. The founder of the family was moses *mendelssohn (1729–1786). His wife, fromet (1737–1812), was a great-granddaughter of the Viennese Court Jew, Samuel *Oppenheimer. (See Chart: Mendelssohn Family).

Moses' eldest son, joseph (1770–1848), had a banking business, at times in partnership with his brother abraham (1776–1835). The bank helped transfer the French indemnity after Napoleon's defeat, and was later active mainly in German and foreign railway issues and state loans, particularly Russian. Mendelssohn and Co. were bankers and correspondents for many foreign commercial banks, central banks, and governments, but did not launch any industrial ventures of their own. After World War i the bank opened an issuing house in Amsterdam. The Berlin house was absorbed by the Deutsche Bank in 1939. Joseph was the friend and patron of Alexander von *Humboldt, the naturalist, and for many years chairman of the corporation of Berlin merchants. He and his brother Abraham were co-sponsors of the enlightened circle of Jewish notables, Gesellschaft der Freunde. His nephew, Abraham's son, the composer felix mendelssohn bartholdy (for the Bartholdy see Felix *Mendelssohn) urged him to go through with his old project of an edition of his father's collected works, on the suggestion of F.A. Brockhaus, the noted publisher; in this he was aided by his son, georg benjamin (1794–1874), professor of geography at Bonn University. Joseph himself contributed to this project, for which he wrote his father's biography. Of Joseph's sons, Georg Benjamin was baptized; alexander (1798–1871), head of the bank, remained a Jew. Through social contacts with the *Hohenzollerns, Joseph's grandson franz (1829–1889) and Abraham's grandson ernst (1846–1909) were elevated to the hereditary nobility.

In 1804, Abraham married Leah Salomon, granddaughter of Daniel *Itzig, and thereby became a naturalized Prussian citizen, ahead of the bulk of his coreligionists. He served for many years as municipal councilor without pay. A deist and rationalist by conviction he brought up his children as Protestants in order to improve their social opportunities. He and his wife embraced Christianity in 1822 "because it is the religious form acceptable to the majority of civilized human beings" (in a letter to his daughter Fanny). This decision to convert was influenced by the current *Hep! Hep! riots (1819).

Later Mendelssohn-Bartholdy descendants include albrecht mendelssohn-bartholdy, editor of the Europaische Gesprache in Hamburg, who died in exile in England. Felix *Gilbert, a historian, at the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey; the philosopher Leonhard *Nelson (1882–1927); kurt hensel, a West German diplomat posted to Tel Aviv in 1968. carl mendelssohn-bartholdy (1838–1897), assisted by his uncle paul (1813–1874), wrote the first biography of his father Felix. Felix's nephew sebastian hensel (1830–1898) was the first family chronicler.

Moses' eldest daughter, Dorothea *Mendelssohn-Veit-Schlegel (Brendel, 1765–1839), was married twice: to the banker Simon Veit (see *Veit family) and to Friedrich Schlegel, man of letters. Her sons, Johannes *Veit (1790–1854) and Philipp Veit (1793–1877), were painters of the Romantic "Nazarene" school. henriette (Sorel; 1768–1831), Moses' youngest daughter, resembled her father in character. She never married, having his deformity. She served as governess and teacher in Vienna and Paris, where she was head of a boarding school. The intellectual luminaries of the age, Madame de Staël, Spontini, Benjamin Constant, and the Schlegels formed part of her salon. In 1812 she became tutor to the French general Sebastiani's daughter. In that year, following her mother's death, she was baptized into the Catholic Church, taking the name Marie (a few years earlier she had rebuked her sister Dorothea for doing the same). Moses' youngest son, nathan, had a son, the physician Arnold Mendelssohn (1817–1850), a supporter and confidant of Ferdinand *Lassalle.

bibliography:

S. Hensel, Mendelssohn Family…, 2 vols. (1882; tr. of Die Familie Mendelssohn, 3 vols., 1879); E. Werner, Mendelssohn; a New Image of the Composer… (1963); idem, in: huca, 26 (1955), 543–65; M.A. Meyer, Origins of the Modern Jew (1967), index; J. Jacobson, in: ylbi, 5 (1960), 251–61; 7 (1962), 279–82; H.G. Reissner, ibid., 4 (1959), 93–110; A. Altmann, in: blbi, 11 (1968), 73–116; E. Achterberg and M. Mller-Jabusch, Lebensbilder deutscher Bankiers… (1963); M. Peez, Henriette Mendelssohn (Ger., 1888). add. bibliography: H.J. Klein, Die Mendelssohns im Bildnis (2004); H.J. Klein, Die Familie Mendelssohn (2004).

[Hanns G. Reissner /

Andreas Kennecke 2nd ed.)]