Did Lazarus Morgenthau elope?

“Almost ninety years ago, on November 2, 1843, Lazarus Morgenthau married Babette Guggenheim of Hürben; whom he had known as a child and whom he had watched grow to womanhood.”

Thus Louise Heidelberg begins a biographic sketch of her grandfather, Lazarus Morgenthau in April of 1933. The sketch was to round out Lazarus’ own autobiography of his early years in Bavarian Swabia. The purpose of this blog is to explore blatant discrepancies between various Morgenthau biographies and local records.

Lazarus Morgenthau was not just anybody. He is the legendary patriarch of one great Jewish American family, prominent in public service and philantropy over several generations. His journey from rags to riches, from Kleinwaldstadt in Bavaria to New York has been described amply in several biographies and an on-line exhibition, all emanating from the family [1], [2], [3], [4].

Unfortunately, there is no trace of the celebrated marriage in the Hürben records [5], neither for 1843, nor before or after. Both, the list of Jewish marriages kept by the rabbi, and the official copy maintained by the catholic priest show only two Jewish marriages for 1843; neither involved Lazarus Morgenthau or Babette Guggenheim(er). Maybe, Lazarus and Babette married somewhere else? There is no record of such a marriage in any Jewish community of Bavarian Swabia.

Babette Guggenheim or Guggenheimer (the exact spelling was somewhat fluid) descended from a prominent Hürben family. Her father, Joachim (Chaim, Hayum) Guggenheim was a merchant. Her uncle Samuel Guggenheimer was the ritual circumciser (mohel) of the community. Babette’s birth name was actually “Seline” according to her birth record. Babette’s great-grandfather Marx Guggenheimb had arrived in Hürben around 1725 from Endingen, one of two Jewish villages in Switzerland.

At the time of her presumed marriage in 1843, Babette was 17 years old, five years younger than the average age  at marriage of her peers. Her father and mother would have been in their seventies and sixties respectively. Babette was the youngest, possibly second youngest of 12 or 13 children.

Since Lazarus’ parents had been dead for over 10 years in 1843, a traditional wedding outside of Hürben, the bride’s home, would have been unthinkable given the customs of the time.

But there are other inconsistencies. Although the only published chapter of the autobiography is entitled: “First Period from the Year 1820 to 1826”, it takes us well into 1838 or possibly 1839. Nowhere are Babette or Joachim Guggenheim mentioned, even once. There is, however, a prominent mention of one Isaac Hirsch Ottinger [6], a religious scholar who gave Lazarus private lessons. Lazarus was very grateful to Mr. Oettinger “.. for other services that he rendered when I settled in Hürben which I will describe later.” He never did! But we do know quite a bit about Lazarus applying and finally receiving a residency permit in Hürben. There exists in fact a record at the Krumbach district office describing the application for and the granting of a permanent residency permit for  ‘journeyman tailor Lazarus Morgenthau’ [7]. By 1841, therefore, Lazarus was a legal resident of Hürben. In the mean time, he had also acquired an apartment on Heinrich Sinz St. 6. He sold the apartment again in 1843 and a further chamber in 1844. It would have made a perfect home for a young married couple.

The version of Lazarus’ autobiography available at the Library of Congress, as mentioned before, ends in 1838 or 1839, and the town of “Speyer” is not mentioned at all. In the version cited by Henry Morgenthau III, Lazarus had lived and worked in Speyer for several years prior to his marriage. Speyer is situated some 250 Km from Hürben, a world apart before the advent of railways. This was also, where the couple actually made its home.

Thus, we have documentary evidence that Lazarus had settled down in Hürben shortly before his marriage, that a Morgenthau – Guggenheim wedding did not take place in Hürben,  and that he didn’t weigh anchors in Hürben until 1843/4. It just raises the possibility that the wedding wasn’t the grand affair described in “Mostly Morgenthaus”.

  1. The Diary of Lazarus Morgenthau, N.Y. 1933. LoC CT275.M625 A3 []
  2. Mostly Morgenthaus. Henry Morgenthau III. New York : Ticknor & Fields, 1991. ISBN: 0899199763 []
  3. Morgenthau Family: Henry Morgenthau, Jr. Books LLC. ISBN-10: 1156290821 []
  4. http://www.mjhnyc.org/morgenthaus/ []
  5. jgbs.org []
  6. actually, Oettinger []
  7. 1839-1841; Ansässigmachung des Schneidergesellen Lazarus Morgenthau in Hürben (Nr.2814.) []
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