Samuel Oppenheimer, the Oberfaktor

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Samuel Oppenheimer was a German Jew who amassed one of the biggest fortunes of all times; he acted as court banker, diplomat, arms trader, patron of the arts and collector.

"Unity of God, unity of the universe and unity of mankind are the spirit which moves Judaism." - Greenberg.

Being a Jew in past centuries was clearly a problem; you could be persecuted, your assets could be taken, and you could be killed; but in the case of Jews who had money and provided for kings and nobles, things were a little bit different: If you belonged to the faktor class, they couldn't get rid of you so easily because they needed your assistance, your money and skills.

For many centuries that is how the Jewish elite interacted with the Christian and Muslim aristocracies; by means of marriages, like it happened with the Sephardi and the Christian kings of Spain and Portugal, both sides profited. Naturally, that brought resentment and envy among many people.

In Germany marriages between Jews and Christians were not so common but rulers, despite being openly anti – Semitic, condoning such actions or even in cases in which they were relatively unable to do anything about racism, still were in need of the financial muscle of the Jewish banking families which, as we have seen in other articles, in many cases were really one large family or clan. Plus, the work of these financiers, bankers or faktors wasn't just their own; they were the visible heads of whole groups of people – almost always relatives – working together. They were sometimes referred to as their "Gesinde" which is a German word for "family" or "service."

The "Gesinde" was always allowed to live with the each faktor in question, in each city, because they were needed as part of the whole business of the faktor. This group comprised the family, the domestic service, employees and trainees. In almost all cases these were highly educated individuals that instead of living in poverty like most peasant migrants to the cities, they lived in wealth, big houses, mansions and palaces.

For rulers of each city that meant the same as attracting investments means to towns, provinces and nations today. With each faktor and his Gesinde, money entered each town. Prosperity was assured. But for less-efficient merchants, artisans, businesspeople and nobles, the appearance of the more competitive Jews often mean an increased instability in their often comfortable positions. For the ignorant, it brought religious worries.

The problem was that anti – Semitism was prevalent from the lower to the higher classes and that conspired against the more earth - centred judgement that the actual political leaders of each town or province had. In general, rulers favoured the presence of Jews, while the lower nobility and the populace were against. When you are in an actual position of leadership, you acquire a different perspective on many issues and so, religion, ideology and prejudices become not so important, but nevertheless, you will feel the pressure of those for whom these things remain more important over practicality.

Such was the context in which Samuel Oppenheimer[1.144][132][134], born on Jun 21, 1630 in Heidelberg went to live to Vienna, around 1665. He was the son of Simon Wolf Oppenheimer[1.145] and Edel Bacharach[1.146]. His paternal grandfather was Loeb Joseph Yehuda Oppenheim[1.147] and his paternal grandmother was Frummet Ballin[1.148]. From the Ballin family, in the XIX century emerged Albert Ballin, the director that turned the Hapag shipping company in the biggest one of its kind in the world.

According to available data as it can be interpreted, Loeb Joseph and Frummet are my 11th great grandparents: One of their sons, named Ephraim[1.149], married Philippina de Schoenberg[1.50], a descendant of Bartholomew van Schoeneberg[1.60] and Ana de Lancastre[1.6].

As in other cases, we know by family lore and descriptions that the Schoenbergs were married to the Oppenheimers at that point in time, and we know that the father of one Schoenberg was named Ephraim, and that there was a marriage of the Schoenbergs with one Ephraim; everything seems to match but we still have to find hard evidence to confirm this particular marriage. It could have been another Ephraim Oppenheimer or Oppenheim (both family names have been used interchangeably, see ">Oppenheim) and thus, if that is the case, the relationship of Samuel's direct ancestors and us might be different; at any rate, were are related since there are other confirmed marriages and familiar links between the Schoenbergs and the Oppenheimers, including family names such as Jaffe, Itzig and Mendelssohn, which link both names to the Gans – Eger and Rothschild families, but the actual links might be reinterpreted. So far, we can say that it is very probable that things are as we suppose they are.

Precisely, the beauty of “the unbroken chain,” the structure of this whole mega family is the survivability of the lineage thorough countless blood links criss-crossing the different branches, linking them close together every time one branch tends to fade or move apart. That's why everybody here is a "cousin."

Samuel Oppenheimer, by Josef Kriebhuber.
Samuel Oppenheimer, by Josef Kriebhuber..
From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia, public domain[131].

The point of mentioning these family names is to show how the Gesinde always kept the same names: All these appear around the Skowronek family in Warsaw forming their own Gesinde in the XIX and XX centuries in Warsaw, and they were all still related: One of the cousins of my great grandmother had the family name Montlak. In the case of almost every faktor, in every city, there was a Gesinde in which yit is possible to find similar family names, and taking a closer look, it is possible to see that the different local groups are all related. In Warsaw, for example, The Montlak Warsaw family was related to Bacharach - even the famous "Kino Femina" from pre-WWII Warsaw belonged to one Bacharach and was located right aside one of the branches of one of the Skowronek banks, in Leszno street -, which was related there to Oppenheim, which was related to Schoenberg, which was related to Blat and Skowronek. There are several more surnames in similar conditions, such as Mendelssohn, Guggenheim, Weil and Gomperz. Those and still other surnames repeat themselves century after century, linked with the same families. In Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam or London, many of those names apear related as well. Such is the "clanishness" of the Gesinde concept.

Samuel became the faktor of the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I and financed to a large extent the war against the Ottoman Empire. Such was the importance of the faktor that Leopold I allowed him to settle in Vienna with his entourage, despite that all Jews had been expelled from that city shortly before. By means of hefty loans and advances of cash to finance the adventures of various nobles, he secured for himself and his clan a very good position: He was named "Oberfaktor" and thus, became the Court Jew of the empire. His family and associates went to live in style in the center of the city, much to the envy of even many nobles who found themselves in a lower position of wealth and status.

It was a clear demonstration of the power and influence of the Jewish bankers, but as usually, that made him quite a bit of enemies, including some aristocrats who then were deeply in debt with Oppenheimer and were trying to find ways to default their payments. He financed many social and cultural activities as well; the Bodleian library at Oxford partially owes its material to Samuel Oppenheimer; such actions, of course, brought people like Samuel Oppenheimer more popularity, but being a Jew, alos brought them even more hatred because there was (and still is) always someone who thought that such social work coming from a Jew had to be part of some conspiracy against the world.

Samuel died on May 3, 1703 in Vienna. The state refused to pay the debts they had with the Oppenheimers and instead claimed money from them; the whole affair ended with some of the successors of Samuel Oppenheimer going bankrupt.

Nevertheless, the Jewish bankers and other states reacted by severely limiting the credit of the Holy Roman Empire, which had quite hard times as a consequence of that. There was also another consequence: while Samuel Oppenheimer had amassed an impressive fortune, as in the case of past faktors he it was highly vulnerable to any sort of arbitrary decision made by the absolute monarchs of the time. His colleagues and relatives began thinking how to avoid the same trap.

The Oppenheimer banking house managed to survive in other cities like Hanover, and some years later one of the members of the Gesinde, Mayer Amschel Rothschild[1.151] began learning the trade. He became aware of the troubles that Samuel Oppenheimer and other faktors had in Germany and other countries, and so developed his own investments trying to prevent a similar situation.

So were the beginnings of the Rotshchild fortune, probably the biggest of all times; Mayer Amschel paid particular attention to the way in which his own bank would actually keep its money safe, in absolute secrecy and moving from one country to another in order to hamper any attempt, by any government, to seize it. It is a strategy followed ever since by almost all Jewish bankers. Together with the characteristic clanishness of the "Gesinde", the whole family, however loose it might appear at first glance, defended its interests by acting like a cartel. When one of the parts of the family was attacked, the rest reacted by declaring financial war on the attackers, and whenever an investment opportunity appeared, the money required quickly appeared, from everywhere, from every Jewish bank.

The influence and effectiveness of the scheme became such that the appearance in one place of anyone named Rothschild, Schoenberg, Bacharach, Schiff, Weil was sufficient for every alarm to sound: In the beginning of the nineteenth century the Rotshchilds were interested in disembarking in the USA, but locals wouldn't allow that. The Rothschild's representative, Aaron Schoenberg, changed his name to August Belmont[1.30] and became a Christian in order to camouflage himself using the ancient surname of the Schoenberg family (see Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte).

Needless to say, Aaron Schoenberg successfully developed the Rothschild business in the United States up to the point that he became influential in the financing of presidential campaigns and amassed a considerable fortune for himself.

The troubles after the death of Samuel Oppenheimer meant a paradigm shift in the organization of the banking business; from then on, banks adopted a more modern form of organization which finally matured with the entrepreneurship of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. The Gesinde, of course, went on despite all efforts to stop it and the same names continued appearing over and over again in every sort of banking and financial venture, even today.

The Battle of Vienna 1663, by Frans Geffels.
The Battle of Vienna 1663, by Frans Geffels; European armies in battles like this one were financed by S. Oppenheimer
and other faktors - often relatives. From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia, public domain[133].

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