10 August 1868
Hanover loses Leeser Rosenthal's library
THIS EXCERPT FROM THE Zeitung für Norddeutschland (with the subtitle Hannoversche Tagespost) dated 10 August 1868 and originating from the Rosenthal family archives is perhaps the best illustration of the miraculous fact that the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana is in Amsterdam at all; and that being so, it constitutes the core of an ever expanding collection of Judaic and Hebraic material - a collection that is entirely appropriate for Amsterdam.
Leeser Rosenthal built up his library in Hanover during the first half
of the nineteenth century. That he was able to do so is due to the generosity
of his wife's forebears, who were themselves descendants of the eighteenthcentury
Jewish banker Michael David of Hanover. Another file in the Bibliotheca
Rosenthaliana archives contains documents relating to the eighteenth-century
German Court Jews. They dispatched their bills of exchange throughout Europe
- including Amsterdam, then as now an important trading and financial centre.
When Leeser Rosenthal - presumably in close consultation with his brother-in-law, Commerzrat Meijer Blumenthal - was looking for a good apprenticeship place for his only son George, it is not surprising that he found one in Amsterdam with Jacob Meijer Jacobson, the grandson of a Hanover banker. Leeser's son would have commenced his apprenticeship at his stock broking office in Amsterdam around 1845, and he would certainly have been no exception - at the time there were a great many Jewish bankers in Amsterdam, most of them from Germany.
Despite a difficult start George was later to enjoy a highly successful career with the banking house of Lippman, Rosenthal & Co, which eventually moved to new premises on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. His success may well have been the real reason for the marriage of his two sisters with prominent members of Amsterdam's Jewish community: Dr. Jacques Cohen (b. Düsseldorf 1833, d. Amsterdam 1881), managing director of 'N.V. Nederlandsche Koolteerstokerij', and Mr. Isaac Abraham Levy (b. Doetinchem 1836, d. Amsterdam 1920), lawyer and politician.
Today, quite a few of Leeser Rosenthal's many descendants live in Amsterdam. Several descendants of George Rosenthal's stepdaughter also live in the Netherlands. Almost sixty members of the family attended a meeting in 1990 to commemorate the presentation 110 years ago. Of the direct descendants of Leeser Rosenthal, the library has documentation, including letters and photographs relating to his children, sons- and sisters-in-law and grandchildren. From this it is evident that in the first years of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana (when it was housed at Amsterdam's University Library) a large number of highly noteworthy purchases were financed by George, who had by then been created a Portuguese baron. He also supported many other activities in Amsterdam. For instance, he donated to the university the large marble sculpture of Pallas Athena by F.K.A.C. Leenhoff, which originally graced the university hall. To pay for a custodian for the library, he set up a fund for the city of Amsterdam which still exists and can now be used to finance special purchases. Upon his death his wife bequeathed another, generously endowed fund which, owing to the nature of the investments, unfortunately lost a great deal of its value at the end of the First World War. Although a few of his grandchildren displayed no great interest in their scholarly forebear, most were proud of the collection at Amsterdam University. Some added to it by also donating archive material. This part of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana therefore gives a living picture of the haute juiverie as it was in Amsterdam before the Second World War.
It is a miracle that the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana even came to Amsterdam in the first place because in 1868 and also later (around 1875) definite attempts were made to secure the collection for Germany. This is evident from the newspaper report cited above. The second miracle is that after having been transported to Germany right at the end of the war it was found there practically undamaged and brought back to Amsterdam. Only the posthumous portrait of Leeser Rosenthal, a gift from his son George dating from 1884, failed to re-emerge from Germany. These days, Leeser Rosenthal's grave is again accorded due respect in the entirely renovated Jewish cemetery at "An der Strangriede' in Hanover. NORBERT P. VAN DEN BERG
Peter Schultze, Juden in Hannover, Beiträge zur Geschichte
und Kultur einer Minderheit (Hannover 1989) include.: 'Beth Hachajim
- Haus des Lebens. Der jüdische Friedhof An der Strangriede in Hannover'
p. 102 - 130:114.
N.R. van den Berg, 'Een geschenk aan de stad Amsterdam, achtergronden van de Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Jaarboek Amstelodamum 84 (1992) p. 131 - 185.