A HEBREW HAMLET IN THE CATSKILLS
Where did early 20th Century Jewish shopkeepers earn so much that they wintered in Paris’ most elegant hotel? In Fleischmanns, a summer home for wealthy German-American Jews, founded in the Western Catskills, in 1883 by Charles Fleischmann of the yeast company fame.
These wealthy summer residents drew lots of Jewish entrepreneurs, many of Hungarian origin, who set up stores, hotels, and camps to service this affluent community. Beginning in the second decade of the 20th Century Eastern European Jewish farmers, storekeepers, and summer visitors also added to the area’s population.
Did Baron Hirsch assist these farmers or contribute funds for the synagogue the Fleischmanns’ Jewish community built in 1920, Congregation B’nai Israel? The answer will have to wait until I can visit the Baron Hirsch archives in New York sometime this year. But meanwhile here is some history of this community taken from a presentation at Congregation B’nai Israel I made in July 2021 which you can watch here.
How did Fleischmanns become a Jewish village? It all started with Joseph Seligmann, a Jew from Bavaria. He arrived in the US in 1837 at the age of 18. By the late 1870s, he was a multi-millionaire, his family having made a fortune clothing the Union army. Years later they even helped finance the Panama Canal.
In the summer of 1877, Seligmann took his family to Saratoga, NY a very fashionable resort, to stay at the Grand Union Hotel where they had stayed before. But this time he and his family were turned away because they were “Hebrews”. As we shall see, it could be said that this act of anti-Semitism was what caused Fleischmann’s founding.
The Seligmann affair became a major scandal widely reported, including in the NY Times. 1. There was even a song written about it which can be seen in the illustration above. It had a mighty chorus:
“The Hebrews they need not apply; the reason we do not know why; But still they do say, it’s a free country; where the Hebrews they need not apply!“Continue reading
- New York Times, June 19, 1877, p. 1. [↩]