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Breslau and Central Europe

Many of the events referred to occur in the area of Central Europe in a small triangle with Berlin at its apex, and at its base Schwienfurt at its left corner, and Schwientochlowitz at its right. In this triangle also is Breslau, the place where the Cassirer brothers went initially with work in the timber industry, and later began their businesses.

I have provided two maps showing this triangle. The first map shows it superimposed on Central Europe after the Second World War, when the region had been transected into West and East Germany, Austria, Poland, and the other countries of Eastern Europe. The second map shows the region as part of the much larger German Empire of 1917.

Central Europe (itself a shifting concept established first in the late 19th century) is imply a convenient name for a portion of Europe that has historically been a place of shifting and contested political borders, mixed and moving ethnic and religeous populations, and shifting and multiple identities.

As Davies and Moorhouse point out:

Central Europe became the great haven for European Jewry. In the centuries when Jews were deported from England, persecuted in Germany and excluded from Russia, they naturally congregated in 'The Lands Between'. One rather tenuous movement saw Jews of Chazar origin move into Central Europe from the south and east. A much more substantial one, which reached its peak during persecutions resulting from the Black Death in the mid-fourtheenth century, saw Ashkenazi Jews fleeing from the West to seek refuge in Bohemia, Hungary and especially Poland-Lithuania. These Yiddish-speaking Jews supported thriving communities not only in cities such as Vilnius, Cracow, Prague and Budapest, but in the countless shtetls or 'little country towns' in which they merged as the principal middle-class element and frequently as the dominant ethnic group. In more recent times, large numbers of them migrated further afield first to Vienna, Berlin and Moscow, and later to France, Britain and the USA. In all the countries to which they moved they formed a highly assimilated commercial elite and intelligensia.

(Norman Davies and Roger Morhouse, Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City, Jonothan Cape, London, 2002, pp. 8-9.)

The above is a wonderful thumbnail sketch of precisely the context and modern origin of the Jewish families which are the centrepiece of this site.

Breslau: a brief history

Map of Central Europe after the Second World War, showing key locations

Map of Central Europe under the expanded German Empire in 1917, also showing key locations.


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