Monday, January 2, 2012

The Legend of Shael "Samuel Lowenstein" Efron of Amdur and Frankfurt

I've spent quite a bit of energy trying to determine the genealogy of the family of Shael (Saul) Efron. He's quite interesting for a few reasons, but mostly because of the legend that is told about his business dealings in the mid-1800s in Russia, his jailing and escape from jail, and his exile for more than 40 years in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His interest to me is because his father, Chaim Efron son of Leib and Tsine of Amdur, is my ancestor. That is, Shael's brother, Avraham Efron, was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. I am especially hopeful that there is more information to find out about Shael's mother, who is also my ancestor, because she is supposed to be a member of the famous Katzenellenbogen family: possibly, Chaim is mentioned as a son-in-law in some early 19th century text.

I first learned of him from Sam Effron of Poughkeepsie's 1954 genealogy of the Effron family. In it he wrote:

There was in the city of Grodno, a man by the name of Bregman who, with Shael Effron, was in the fur business. They would go all over Russia buying furs, even as far north as Siberia. The Russian government had gold mines in that section. They still have them in operation today. In Russia, vodka and the rub1e always worked wonders. Shael Effron got acquainted with some officials in charge of the gold mine operations, and a smuggling of gold developed.

The government found out what was going on and the whole gang, including Shael Effron, was put behind bars in prison, awaiting trial. But Bregman was working to get Shael out; Bregman was a wealthy man, so he used vodka and money. Shael escaped from prison. The government placed a reward on his head, if he should get caught, but he went over the border to Germany. Two men came into Germany and started a fur business. They knew where Shael was and got in touch with him, and he engaged in business with them. After a time they had him over the border in a deal, and then revealed themselves as detectives. And he was in prison again! Then the sensational news appeared in the Russian newspapers that "Effron was caught again." But Bregman and all his friends started to work hard again with vodka and money, and he walked out of the prison disguised as one of the officers of the guard. Again he was over the border into Frankfort an Main, where he remained until his death. His wife and one daughter were living in the city of Vilna.

The story of Shael is also told in Yedidia Effron's book about Amdur (pages 68-69), where he wrote:

[T]he wealthy Shael Efron... Reb Shael used to deal with gold in the time of Alexander II, a business forbidden to Jews. He was arrested and spent a long time in solitary confinement, in the Grodno Citadel. A guard was bribed, and Reb Shael’s body was exchanged with that of an executed prisoner’s. He was carted out of the fortress like a corpse. Then he escaped to the other side of the border. The story shook up the entire government, but without results. Reb Shael lived in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, for more than forty years. He was always rich, but rigidly fanatic. He would not touch meat in Germany because he did not trust the ritual slaughterers in Frankfurt, even thought they were devout and strictly orthodox. He died in 1897, leaving a rich inheritance to his sons Moshe, a county judge, and to Leizer.

Leizer Efron, son of Shael, also wrote about his father. Leizer's book, HaMishan Alphin ( ) has been partially translated. The story of Shael's jailing is supposed to have been repeated there.

 Many years ago I received revision list information for Efron families living in Amdur, including this family:

In 1858, Shoul Efron, the son of Chaim, is age 36 (1850 he was 28)
his son Leyzer-Arel, 14 (6 in 1850)
son Chaim, absent (not born in 1850)
wife Sora, 33
daughter Taiba, 5
daughter Chaia-Pesia, 1 ½
mother, Lea, 68

1 comment:

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