The Schiff Family

Mannheim, Trieste, Milan, Peschiera

Samson Schiff

Naturalisation Papers of Federico Schiff

Thorn Gent family Home Page

Teglio Family of Modena

Finzi Family of Ferrara

My Mother's Family




Tombstone of Samson Schiff, Jewish Section, Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy

My grandfather Giulio Cesare Schiff belonged to the wealthy, very assimilated European Jewish bourgeoisie. His father's family, the Schiffs, had come from Mannheim around the middle of the nineteenth century. Were they a scion of the ancient family of the Schiffs of Frankfurt, neighbours of the Rothschilds? Probably, but certainly they were proud of their ancestry and achievements, very much removed from the world of the Frankfurt ghetto. Their was a Meir Schiff, known as Maharam Schiff, a distinguished talmudist, 1605&endash;1641. David Tevele Schiff was head of the Frankfurt Beth Din, who came to London as Chief Rabbi in 1765. Jacob Henry Schiff, 1847&endash;1920, born in Germany, became the leading American financier and philanthropist of his time. There was also the chemist Hugo Schiff, 1834&endash;1915, once known for Schiff's Reagent, a chemical test. The surname Schiff is a pun, from a word meaning a boat, as in the English skiff, a pun on the term kahn, also a boat, and, a double pun, signifying a cohen, a descendant of the Jewish priesthood.

My grandfather's great grandfather Samson Schiff was born in Mannheim in 1807, son of Samuel Schiff and Augusta Fuld. After working in Trieste he removed to Milan. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Milan. The inscription on his tombstone is in German - 'im 78 lebensjahre der liebe der seinigen entrißen; im schutze des ewigen ruht deine milde rechtschaffene seele' [Torn from the love of his dear ones at the age of 78; under the protection of the eternal rests your gentle honest soul ] - and bears no sign of Jewishness, being adorned with carved flowers and flaming urn. But they married within their faith. Samson's wife was Babetta Maier. Their sons Friedrich and Wilhelm Schiff settled also in what is now north-eastern Italy. Wilhelm was a sculptor. His daughters were in contact with the family until their deaths. They wrote a brief biography of their father:

"Professor Wilhelm Schiff was born in Mannheim on 23rd June, 1837. He passed several years of his life in Trieste, his chosen homeland. He died in Gorizia, aged fifty four, on 25th March, 1891, and was buried there. He studied Fine Art in Venice as a young man, and became a sculptor. He was a friend of Counts Papadopoli. He later graduated in drawing in Vienna, and taught as professor initially at Pirano then at the nautical College at Pola, and then in state and private schools (Lyceum Olivo) in Trieste. He taught voluntarily at the Workhouse [?] and then in about 1885 he moved to Gorizia where he founded the Craftsmen's Professional Drawing School and was nominated a director. He bore a heavy burden for a brief period and because of excessive work he fell ill and was forced to give up teaching.

Whilst living at Pola he executed several works, including a bust of Admiral Bourguignon. In Venice he sculpted 'The Arms of Rome' (the wolf) in bronze and presented it to King Victor Emmanuel II, who as a sign of his pleasure presented him with a gold pin with a letter of gratitude. [These now belong to my half-second cousin Valerio Schiff] In addition to 'Mephistopheles' which he presented to the museum, other of his works are also at Trieste: the statues of the benefactors Tonello and Bauer in the entrance hall of the Pia Casa dei Poveri [workhouse?] and monuments of the Tonello, Bauer and Faninger families in Section II of St Anne's Catholic Cemetery, and in the Protestant Cemetery there was the 'Angel of the Resurrection' destroyed by enemy action."

The statue of Mephistopheles was presented by his daughter in 1955 to the museum in Trieste. Presumably it is still there. Mince and Guglielmina Schiff (later changed to Sciffi) never married. The king's letter is dated 3rd April, 1872: Wilhelm was thirty five when he made his presentation. Why to the King of Italy? He was living in Trieste, then the only major port of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Its status as an international port was reflected in its cosmopolitan population. I once visited its cemetery, and was surprised by the religious and cultural diversity: Germans, Italians, Greeks, Jews, Slavs and others living and working together. He was German speaking. Italy was only unified in 1861, just eleven years previously, and Rome and the former Papal States were only included from 1870. Did the Schiff family leave Mannheim after the Year of Revolutions, 1848, when revolutionary change was attempted but halted, and liberals faced oppression? Wilhelm Schiff may have been inspired by the Risorgimento, the campaign to unite Italy as a free, independent country. He may also have been inspired by the emancipation of the Italian Jews, and the important role they played in the foundation of the united kingdom and in its government.

Wilhelm's brother Friedrich was an iron founder - many of the railings on the bridges of Venice are purported to bear his name. He was married to Adele Cohen, nicknamed 'La Piccolina' because of her diminutive stature, [this may refer to his maternal grandmother, Emma Teglio] my grandfather told me, and he remembered her still. Adele was the daughter of Salomon Cohen and Gentile Castelbolognese of Trieste. They married in the Trieste Synagogue on 29th June 1873. On 17 February, 1895, Friedrich, aged 49, born 27 June 1845 at Mannheim, Baden, an industrial engineer, and living at Via S. Celsa 30, Milan, he became a naturalised Italian subject. On his death Friedrich was buried at Gradisca, just within Austria-Hungary, and close to Gorizia. I recall seeing a photograph of him, now lost, many years ago. My recollection is of a square-bearded, dark-haired, handsome man, much like images of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. I do not know how many children they had, but there was certainly one son, Silvio Schiff, a naval engineer by profession, who must have been born about 1875, probably in Venice. All that I know of his life are snippets: he worked in Tripoli installing an electrical generator and was presented with a large brass plate by the Emir, and that he was bankrupted by a scheme to use naphtha as a fuel. At the turn of the century he married Emilia Finzi, daughter of one of Italy's oldest Jewish families, members of Ferrara's Jewish community, a community since made famous by the novels of Giorgio Bassani. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was later made into a film by Vittorio de Sica, capturing the lifestyle of these assimilated, wealthy, Italian-Jewish families.

[Friedrich Schiff must have had other relations, as in 1946 my grandfather attempted to write to a Eugenio Schiff in Throgmorton Street, London, but the letter was returned.]

Silvio Schiff as a schoolboy - or is this his father Federico?

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