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The Jews of Butte County
Part Four
By Shlomo Phillips © February 01, 2016
(Originally published in the CBI Newsletter, February 2016)

(The Waterland-Breslauer Building, corner of Fourth and Broadway, Chico, CA.)

The “German” Jews of Butte County

Most of the original Jews of Butte County said they came from “Germany” and considered themselves to be German, although a notable minority cited Russian or Prussian origins. Few are known to have claimed Poland as their Old World home.

A surprisingly large percentage of these pioneer Jews came from the town/province of Posen, and most of these identified strongly with Germany and its culture. This is relevant to our understanding of the early Jews of Butte County because the political instability of the day, coupled with the reformed mind-set of Die Aufklärung and Haskalah as discussed previously in this series, led to the contemporary independent paradigm we find among many Butte County Jews today.1 This is a significant part of our collective heritage.

The Diggin's article2 records a conversation with Rita Breslauer-Stock, a descendant of the early Chico Breslauer family. Ms. Stock recorded that:

“She [her grandmother] told [her] often that her family hated the Poles and would scrub the floor on which a Pole walked in their home. They also looked down on Polish Jews.” In another correspondence with the Diggin's Professor Rosaline Levenson, Ms. Stock emphasized the German origin of her family, stating that her grandmother and granduncle, Isadore Breslauer, were “all Germans” who shared firm connections with that country's culture, rather than with that of Poland. When we consider the troubled history of that region, Ms. Breslauer-Stock's recollections of her family's German self-identification, and more significantly their extreme rejection of any possible Polish ties, may reveal why most Butte County Jews downplay their likely Old World Polish connections. American frontier family Jews seeking information on their European origins will want to look first not to Germany but to Poland for many of their European ancestors.

Posen/Poznan has a long and complex political history. Today Poland's fifth largest city, it is also one of the country's oldest towns. Poznan has been an important political and religious center dating back to the early 10th century Polish state.3 During the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 the area was absorbed into the Second German Reich.5 Until the end of the First World War, Posen was part of the kingdom of Prussia, and was then absorbed into Prussia, Germany. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1918, the city again became part of Poland. When the Third German Reich6 conquered Poland in 1939, Poznan again became the German city of Posen. With the redrawing of the borders of Germany and Poland at the end of the Second World War, Posen was restored as Poznan Poland.

Today Poznan is located in west-central Poland. Fifty-five percent of its inhabitants speak Polish as their primary language, while 45% speak German.7 There is no Jewish population there today.

This raises an interesting question. Why didn't these early Butte County Jews identify more with Poland? Given the usurpation of Poland by Prussia and the subsequent history of the area during World War II under Germany, that would have seemed preferable, in hindsight.

Although most early California Jews, including those of Butte County, considered themselves to be German, historian Norman B. Stern believes that most were actually Polish and neither German, Russian, nor Prussian. His view is that there seems to have been more status from connections with Germany than with Poland for the Jews of this area.8

Another likely reason for this committed German self-identification and loathing of all things Polish as expressed above by Ms. Breslauer-Stock, was the fierce antisemitism then existing in Poland. These former Polish Jews, we may reasonably assume, favored entry into Germany's Second Reich as a way to escape antisemitism. Germany at the time was more cultured and accepting of its Jewish population than was Poland.

Preußen or Prussia was a kingdom that became the largest state in the Second German Reich (or empire). Other German kingdoms included Württemberg and Bayern (Bavaria). Greater Germany consisted of several diverse political factions at this time and was in a state of significant transition.

The kingdom of Prussia flourished after it united with the other states into the Second German Reich in 1871. This was good for the Jews of the day and most supported it. It was just before and after this period that Jews began arriving in Butte County from this troubled region of Europe.

Prussia became one of 17 German states. It consisted of 12 provinces, plus the "Reichsland" Elsaß-Lorraine. Preußen was abolished in 1947 following the Second World War. The following list demonstrates the diversity of Prussia and the Second German Reich. It was more specifically from these Prussian lands that most of the original Jews came to our area, especially from Posen/Poznan, as stated above.

The Kingdom of Prussia included the following provinces:

As we can see, most of the initial Butte County Jews came here from the crossroads of Greater Germany, but more specifically from Prussia, and more specifically still, from Poland. Because of the rampant antisemitism in Poland during this period, and the fast-paced political upheavals brought on by the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, most Jews identified with Germany and viewed that nation as a Jewish refuge from the already growing threat of Judenhass (“Jew hatred”).

Part Five

References consulted:

The German Reich or Empire:
Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good


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