In search of Adolf Guttmann. 1. A survey

Two sisters with a friend. Left, the youngest, Salomina Franciska Guttmann, called Myra, and in the middle the eldest, Magdalena Elizabeth Guttmann, called Madge

Family album:
Alba, 1867
Pretoria, 1880
Pretoria, 1885
Pretoria, 1890
Hong Kong, 1897
Marseille, 1900
Paris, 1904
Valenciennes, 1918
Buenos Aires, 1930
Two sisters posing in the photo. We left them in the year of 1900 in Marseille. With the exile that lay before them after the Boer War, a page of history was closed to them: they returned to Europe, the continent their mother’s ancestors had left more than two centuries earlier, in 1685, after the revocation of the edict of Nantes and the expulsion of the Protestants by Louis XIV. They left Motte-d’Aigue of Provence, La Rochelle, Poitou, Normandy, they fled to the Netherlands, and from there in 1688 they were shipped to the colony of the Cape of Good Hope.

Two sisters. Their mother, a descendant of French Huguenots, had died five years earlier. We will not speak about her now.
Their father was born somewhere in Poland – or Germany – in the mid-nineteenth century, and nothing was known about him: neither where he came from, nor where he disappeared.
About this man we had not known anything sure for a long time. He was sometimes German, sometimes Polish, and sometimes – there my grandmother lowered her voice – a Jew. The only Jew in the family, and we did not even know who he was – a Pole, a German? Anyway – the voice of my grandmother turned normal – he converted, so he was not a real Jew any more.
She told me that this man was the father of my great-grandmother, and that later they chased him away by whip – this “they” might have been his wife, but also his daughter Madge, the elder sister of my great-grandmother, or even Myra herself. I do not know, I have heard this story so many times, without really believing it.

About him, we have nothing, not a single picture, no story beyond the fact that they chased him away, no explanation. No date or place of birth or death. Just a name: Adolf Guttmann or Gutmann, born in the mid-nineteenth century somewhere between Berlin and Warsaw, and died after 1900 somewhere in Africa.

Map of the European part of the Russian Empire. Atlas of the World, James Wyld, 1864

For a long time I have not wanted to know anything about this South African story. For a long time, research has produced only very meager clues.
And then gradually the pieces of the puzzle have begun to fit.

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The first path leads to England, Sheffield. In the mid-nineteenth century, the brothers Tobias and Isaac Guttmann embark upon watchmaking and cutlery. Tobias had his shop at 22 High Street, and Isaac’s was at 21 Fargate, where he also had a jewelry store. Both were respected members of the Jewish community of the city. Both had many children: Joseph, Alexandra, Florence, Bertha, Jeannette Marie to Isaac, another Bertha, Leonora, another Joseph, Rosie, Philip and Edith to Tobias – and these are only the children who survived. Probably not everything works marvelously for the two brothers: Isaac unfortunately went bankrupt in 1860 – but then he went into business with his brother, and they founded the Guttmann Brothers watchmaker’s house, this time, a success.

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But neither Isaac, nor Tobias were from England. Although the date of their immigration remains unknown, we know they were born in 1833 and 1835, respectively, in Kalisz, Russian Poland, a few miles from the Prussian border, one of the westernmost shtetls of the Russian Empire.

Kalisz, the Jewish quarter Chmielnik on a postcard sent in 1904 (the double date – 3/16 June – refers to the Russian/Julian and the European/Gregorian calendar). “The Khmelnik suburb”, describes the sender in somewhat confused French, “whose name comes from Russian and Polish khmel, ʻhops’, is a street flanked by cabarets de l’eau de vie [brandy pubs].”

When Adolf, around 1880, arrived in South Africa with a lot of knives to start his small business as a peddler, he came directly from Sheffield, 22 High Street, Guttmann Brothers, watchmakers-cutlers. But then, neither Tobias, nor Isaac had any such son named Adolf, and no Adolf Guttmann figures in the birth records in Britain.

What was, then, the Adolf’s real family? And how was he related to these Guttmanns of Sheffield?
The tracks have long been blurred. So little has been left about Adolf: a document of marriage, a name on the birth certificates of his children, some allusions apropos of a letter, and his death certificate – finally, a clue.
Apparently, he died in Johannesburg in 1922, “at the age of 74”.
Well, then he was born somewhere between Berlin and Warsaw, around 1848.
But then, among all Guttmanns, whose birth certificates have been preserved here or there, from the east to the west of Europe, there is no Adolf Guttmann, either in, or before, or after 1848. None.
Yet Adolf, at a very small scale, became one of the links of the small South African politics on the eve of the Boer War – a small link between the Jews and Afrikaners of Johannesburg, who were convinced of their racial superiority. A link well enough placed to make his daughters in 1902 the heroines of the Boer War in a Hungarian periodical, which wrongly considers them as the granddaughters of President Kruger.

“Boer women in arms.
The combativeness of the Boers from the very beginning is well shown by the fact, that in addition to men, not only old people and children, but even women take up arms.
Namely, an Amazon unit in uniforms was formed in Pretoria. Here we present three of their members, who all are granddaughters of Kruger. They are Mrs. Eloff, Miss Mira Guttmann and Miss Flanagan.
These ladies have now accompanied their old grandfather on his European tour.”

Photo published in the Hungarian journal Vasárnapi Újság on 30 december 1900.
The image is different from, and nevertheless similar to the one above: Madge has just turned her head. But the image quality is much lower, so that possibly a second photo, taken during the same session, was touched and engraved, was used for the publication.


However weak the traces are, you feel good when one day you finally come upon them. A phrase in an article, an allusion which opens new routes, and finally it is there.

This second trail follows a winding path as far as to Poland. It all starts with a letter sent from Warsaw, and stored in an archive file somewhere in Pretoria.
According to this one, Adolf had a sister, Franciszka Goldberg, née Guttmann, who lived in Warsaw, and who, around 1902, at the end of the Boer War, wrote to the South African authorities to obtain news of her two brothers, Adolf and Izidore Olympius.

This Franciszka, the sister of Adolf, was easy to find. She was born in October 1860 in Warsaw, a daughter of Henryk Guttmann and his wife Salomé Redlich. Henryk and Salomé married in 1857 in Kalisz, where both of them were born. This time the archive records are quite clear. Henryk turns out to be the third Guttmann brother, the one who stayed in Poland. He appeared as Henry in the English sources, and as Henryk in the birth certificate of his daughter in Warsaw.

This is, then, the father of Adolf, Henryk Guttmann.

Henryk Guttmann in 1864 – I cannot identify the object in his left hand

Among the three Guttmann brothers, he is the only who does not bear a Jewish first name. In fact, he took the name Henryk at the moment of moving to Warsaw. At his birth, in 1824 in Kalisz, he was registered as Hajman Nuchem Guttman, and it was under this name that he married Salomé Redlich in 1857.
The birth certificate of his daughter, born in Warsaw in 1860, bears the name Henryk – but he had already two sons in Kalisz, in 1858 and 1859, whom he registered under his previous name, Hajman Nuchem Guttman: they are Joseph and Izidore, the two brothers of Franciszka.

And Adolf? Our Adolf, who died in 1922 at the age of 74, and thus had to be born in 1848?

One. This is only a hypothesis, but it may be that Adolf’s death certificate had an error, or it was misread by the one who transcribed it, and that his age at death was 64 instead of 74, and thus he was born not in 1848, but in 1858.

Two. Hajman Nuchem Guttmann and Salomé Redlich had two sons in Kalisz, in 1858 and 1859. This is, of course, also a hypothesis, but as Hajman could change his name to Henryk, he could also choose for his firstborn, Joseph, another, less Jewish, and more modern and European first name, Adolf.

Let us sum it up. Thus, a Jewish child from the shtetl of Kalisz, in Russian Poland, moved to Warsaw at the age of two, and albeit born as Joseph in 1858, he became Adolf for the rest of his life. This Adolf went then to Sheffield to meet there his uncles, Isaac and Tobias, and his cousins, Joseph and Joseph, all of them watchmakers, jewelers and cutlers. From there he set out in the late 1870s, in the company of a cousin Joseph, to South Africa, and there, by virtue of a big jump, about which we do not know much, some years later he became a small link between the Jews of Johannesburg and the Pretorian Afrikaners, closer to the political and economic power. Perhaps also closer to fortune?

A case to be followed.

Continuation: In search of Adolf Guttmann, 2. Towards fortune

2 comentarios:

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...

Absolutely fascinating; detection down the years.

If only these marvellous works were easier to share, bearing in mind their complex nature :-)

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...

Here is the link which validates my point