Skowronek the Horse and Skowronek the Bank

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Pablo Edronkin

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If you like horses, perhaps you have already heard of Skowronek, the stallion bred by Count Józef Potocki in Poland and later purchased by Lady Wentworth; what you probably don't know is that at the time the horse was foaled, in 1909, my family was in apparently making a deal for a contract marriage between my grandmother, born in 1908 and the family of the Count.

"There is no fruit without a tree." -Nofet Tsufim[250].

Skowronek was an Arab stallion from the Antoniny stud, owned by Count Potocki[32]. The horse was then sold and became a foundation stallion at the Crabbet Park Stud owned at the time by the 16th Baroness Wentworth[33]. The business had been started by her parents but at the time Lady Wentworth got it, it was in a state of neglect[35].

Because of the state of things there, she needed to improve many aspects of the stud and spent years on that task. Then she began investing in new horses, and so she bought Skowronek.

At that time, Skowronek, the horse was no longer in the hands of the Potocki family. The Count had sold it to Walter Winans[34], the American artist and Olympic marksman gold medallist who actually made some sculptures using Skowronek as a model. Then he sold it again and in a somewhat confusing way, it was finally bought by Lady Wentworth.

The horse became famous. It was even called "The horse of the century;" It is said that later, Lady Wentworth turned down an offer of a quarter million dollars for Skowronek[33].

Among his many properties, Count Potocki had one of his palaces in Warsaw, a mere hundred metres away from the Wielki Teatr; the Skowronek family and others related to it by familiar links, like Kronenberg and Schoenberg had living premises at the same city quarters. In fact, they were neighbours. One of the branches of one of the Skowronek banks ended being very near the Count's palace, at Fredry street, number 4. By the way, this practice extended to other families of the high nobility (see Bcia Wolf i Icek Schoenberg) so it was a pattern rather than an isolated case.

The Skowronek bank branch began functioning there apparently in 1929, about the time when Skowronek, the horse, died, but before that, a bank that belonged to the Nathanson family operated there. It went bankrupt during the 1929 world crisis. The thing is that the Nathansons were cousins of the Blat family - i.e. some Blats married some Nathansons that, by the way, were related to other family names that in turn, were related to Blat and Skowronek.

There are actually stories – although not proven – describing how one legendary member of the Catholic Potocki family - Walenty Potocki, a.k.a. Abraham ben Abraham[32][36] - during the eighteenth century might have converted to Judaism, only to end being burned at the stake for that. There is actually no credible proof of the existence of that person in question but according to the legend he kept in close contact with the Gaon of Vilna, and in turn Eliash Vilner – the Gaon – was certainly related to the Skowronek banking family[1.19].

Skowronek Horse of the Century.

There was at least one member of the Potocki family who was also a banker: Antoni Protazy Potocki, whose mother's family name was Szembek, which sometimes has been found written as a Polish-phonetics variant of the name Schoenberg[37], which is found among the Skowronek bankers. Whether the Potocki Szembek has anything to do with the Schoenberg – Belmonte name linked to the Skowronek family is yet to be seen, but at least the coincidence is there, and as we said elsewhere, bankers in Europe tended to be related in most cases.

Just in case you have not read all the articles about the history of the Skowronek family, let me add that my grandmother was the daughter of Hersz Josek Blat and Hena Skowronek - this is important in order to understand this story (see Hena Skowronek).

Today Fredry 2 and 4 are part of the building of the Teatr Narodowy and the short street is located right aside the Ogród Saski – the Saski park -; across it, about 200 metres to the east, lies the Potocki palace. In those days Fredry street was different: Across it numbers 2 and 4 was a palace, called Palac Brühl, where the foreign affairs ministry had its offices. When the Nazis invaded Poland, they ran their nasty dictatorship from that palace, and after the Warsaw uprising in 1944, they decided to blow it up to punish the Polish people, aside from about the 30% of the city that by then remained standing.

Another important thing to consider is that in the Skowronek family almost all – if not all – marriages were considered business matters and as such, were arranged by means of strategic planning negotiations - no namby-pamby love things here. This didn't mean that those marrying had no say in the matter, but the idea of "the happiest day" of the lives of the bride and groom as prevalent in today's culture was something that made everyone frown. It still does that to me and others in my family: We have been grown up under the assumption that a nuclear family is at least a company in the market sector of human production and real – estate investment.

You can have a great time at it – or not –, you can love your wife and kids, but still, that's what families do after all – breed and move into houses -, right? So let's be realistic, or that's how we generally thing, but it has worked for centuries.

We know that the Skowronek bankers in different incarnations of names and related families – Blat, Nathanson, Skowronek, Schoenberg, Kronenberg and so on – had dealings with the Potocki family possibly dating back to the early XVIII century (see The Tale of Walenti Potocki) even if the Szembek hypothesis is not considered, and we know that my grandmother had been targeted by the family for marriage with a Count. This was not the only association that the Skowronek family had with the families of the royal dynasties of Poland; for example, the building at ul. Piekna 62 belonged to our family, while number 64 on the same street, right aside, was the property of Antoni Zamoyski[186.15]; the same pattern repeats in other cases and there was a long-standing relationship with the Radziwill family as well (see The Rabbi, the Prince and a Promise Kept for Five Hundred Years). There are some indications that there were blood links between the names Blat, Skowronek and Potocki as well thorough the Hirsch family; this isn't really surprising since Christian nobility and Jewish bankers were indeed related in centuries before (see The Royal Josephs and Fuerst).

Anyway, my grandmother married my grandfather instead, which was a love affair and indeed made everybody frown but ultimately proved to be a good investment, since ours was the only branch of the Skowronek family to survive intact the Holocaust, and that happened due firstly to the fact that my grandmother was very good at fast decision-making, probably due to her activities related to the Blat's arms dealings (See Hersz Josek Blat), and my grandfather was by the beginning of WWII already a combat-experienced officer, and secondly, because they were not in Warsaw when the Nazis captured it but in Slonim, and got away from there before the Nazis got there too.

No member of the family present in the city in October 1939 survived the war. The last ones were murdered in Auschwitz, in 1945, likely after escaping the ghetto and returning to where they lived, at Marszalkowska street number 101 to hide. There are testimonies that describe how two members of the Skowronek family were shot by the Nazis right in front of their home there, in 1943 while the rest were taken to the extermination camps[1.51][1.52][1.53].

Nevertheless, grandmother told us that among others, her sisters tried to convince her to marry the Count. We don't know for sure what Count was that, but given the facts, we think that it was the successor of Count Józef Potocki, the breeder of Skowronek, the horse, and that the name that the horse received might have been a dedication, given the fact that apparently they were conceiving the marriage contract while grandmother was one year old.

We might never know but anyway, the fame of Skowronek the horse was among the proper social circles terrific advertising for Skowronek, the bank.

Marriage contract between Hersz Josek Blat and Hena Skowronek.
The marriage contract between my great grandparents Hersz Josek Blat and Hena Skowronek, from 1892,
typical within the family and possibly what they had in mind for my grandmother.

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