The Odyssey of a Jewish Glassmaker

Fact Paper 33

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

Summary: David Bezborodko, of a Jewish glassmaking family with glassworks in Poland and Russia, found in selling glass through Europe that a major part of the glassmaking industry had been founded by Jews, including Baccarat, Lalique, Trois Fontaines and other prestigious glass houses.
David Bezborodko, whose grandfather, Zvi Hillel Bezborodko, emigrated from Samarkand to Slutzk (then in Russia and subsequently in Pokand), where he founded a glass factory in 1860. It was the first of many glassworks established by the family in Poland, Latvia, Moscow and St. Petersburgh. As David traveled throughout Europe for his business, he documented the Judaic origins of major glassworks in Germany, France, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. His records were unfortunately lost when he fled Paris before the Nazi invasion of the city. After the war, he attempted to retrace his steps, only to find that most of the records had disappeared. In a monograph, and in a series of interviews by Samuel Kurinsky shortly before his death, much information about the establishment by Jews of the glassmaking industry throughout Europe has come to light.

David Bezborodko, Glassmaker

David Bezborodko, a member of an important European glassmaking family, took it upon himself to reconstruct European glassmaking historiography. He had written a small pamphlet, a monograph entitled An Insider's View of Jewish Pioneering in the Glass Industry. It records his travels through Europe over a period of several decades as salesman for his family's glassworks. In the course of those travels he documented the unique role of Jews in the history of the European vitric industry.

Bezborodko's monograph is in two parts; the first is devoted to the ancient role of the Jews in the art of glassmaking, the second to Bezborodko's discoveries in Europe. The monograph was edited by Professor David Adan-Bayewitz, an HHF board member. David consulted with me about the ancient history cited, which included information published in The Glassmakers; an Odyssey of the Jews. Inasmuch as only a few copies of Bezborodko's monograph are extant, we publish herewith the bulk of its second, germane portion.

Much of the information in the second half of Bezborodko's monograph is a revelatory insight into the vital role Jews played in the development glass industry of Europe up to the time of the genocidal Nazi period.

Chaim Nachshon, Glassmaker, Zionist.

In eastern Europe glassmaking was exclusively a Jewish art before the Nazi period. The glasshouses were owned by Jews, and virtually all the masters were Jews. The Bezborodkos established a number of glasshouses in Russia, and operated glass factories along the Nieman River near Vilna in Lithuania, in Latvia, on the Finnish border in Jarelia, one outside St, Petersburg and two in St. Petersburg itself. The tradition of allowing only Jewish masters and their relatives to work at the furnace was strictly observed.

I had already learned some of this history from my cousin, Chaim Cherches, who may well be one of the Jewish lads who sweated at the furnace of a Bezborodko glassworks. He was employed at a Jewish-owned factory near Vilna in the early 1930's. We spent much time in Israel reviewing his glassmaking experiences. His recollection was that all the glasshouses in Lithuania and Poland were Jewish-owned, and glassmaking was considered a Jewish art.

Chaim left his job in the Vilna glasshouse to make aliya (emigrate to) Israel, where he changed his name to the Hebrew Nachshon, became an officer in the Haganah, and then became an accountant.

Chaim's recollections were confirmed by Bezborodko. Additionally, the experiences Bezborodko recounted to me in a series of interviews, confirmed that virtually all the glassmaking industries of Europe, if they were not in Jewish hands, were at least founded by Jews.

Unfortunately Bezborodko's documentation of that history was lost in the holocaust, and we are left with his memories, recorded in his monograph and related to me in our interviews, and of the memories of the few Jewish glassmakers who, like my cousin, survived.

A Glassmaker's Odyssey

David Bezborodko describes the tragic loss:

"Age has forced me to abandon the hope of finishing a job I started more than half a century ago, a job which I had been working on sporadically for about fifteen years: accumulating photographs of archival documents for a study of the Jewish contribution to the glass industry. I had drawn on three kinds of archives, those of the glass companies themselves, Jewish communities of the towns or near the towns in which the companies were founded, and the local City Halls."

"I had accumulated all these documents, including two large four-drawer filing cabinets with photographs in my home in Paris during the years 1920-1935. But alas, they disappeared - together with my other belongings - during the Nazi occupation."

"I am motivated by a fervent belief in the importance for Jewish history of documenting Jewish pioneering in the glass industry - both in Asia and throughout Europe. Jews can take pride in this facet of their past, especially now when distortions are being perpetrated in certain countries..."

"To illustrate, I would mention one such distortion - concerning the origin of polished plate-glass. The Romance of Glass is a pamphlet published by a large Pittsburgh firm, formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company... Instead of indicating the name of the inventor of plate-glass, the pamphlet reports that the inventor is "unknown." The name Abraham Thevart, however, appears in all the textbooks of the glass industry, At the International Exposition in Paris, 1936, I personally saw the patent-letter issued to the refugee from Venice... It bears a later seventeenth century date, and is signed both by Louis XIV and his minister Colbert. I was allowed to photograph my wife standing under the framed Lettre de Patent."

Intrigued by the wealth of information packed into his small, significant work, fearing the loss forever of further information only he could supply, I met Bezborodko at his residence in Riverdale, New York, where he was under the care of a nurse. He was in his mid-nineties, a frail, dignified figure of a man, hardly able to utter a sentence without pausing a minute to recuperate enough strength to utter another one. I interviewed him on four occasions, taping our conversations. It was a timely undertaking; David Bezborodko passed from this earth shortly thereafter.

Chaim Nachshon, a glassmaker who made Aliyah to Israel before the Nazi incursion into Poland, leading the celebration parade for the creation of the State of Israel, passing by Ben-Gurion, Israel's first president and other dignitaries in the reviewing stand. Chaim was honored to hold aloft the flag of Israel at the head of the parade in recognition of his extraordinary service against the British occupiers of Palestine, and against the subsequent Arab onslaught. Chaim left his job in a Polish glasshouse as a Zionist pioneer, narrowly escaping being caught up in the holocaust, as were 34 of the 37 members of his (and Samuel Kurinsky's) immediate family.

Bezborodko's family originated from Samarkand, a Central Asian trading center in which enterprising Jews were active from as far back as the second century before the Common Era. The Jewish population burgeoned into a sizable community in that central post along the "Glass, Spice, Linen, and Silk Road." The route had been pioneered by Babylonian Jews, who traded Judaic-produced glassware and linens for the silk and spices of China and India.1

The linens were manufactured in Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. The glassware was likewise produced in Eretz Israel, as well as in Babylonia.

The great halachic sage, Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba is among those mentioned in the Mishnah as involved in shipping merchandise to and from the East. R'Chiyya is registered as dealing with three of the basic goods traded into the Far East - glass, silk, flax, and the products thereof.

The Mishnah thus reflects the involvement of Jews like R'Chiyya in the various elements of the trade with the Far East. It was this tradition of travel that expanded into a world-girdling network of Judaic traders, Persian Jews known as the Rhadanites.

"These merchants speak Arabic, Persian, Roman, Frankish, Spanish and Slavonic," wrote an Arab chronicler, Ibn Khurraddhbih in the ninth century/ He described how they traveled from East to West and from West to East by land as well as by sea.2 The Arab might well have added Aramaic and Hebrew to the lan-guages spoken by these intrepid travelers.

Jews were involved in glassware production in and around Samarkand. Having learned sericulture (silk production) from the Chinese, Jews also introduced this important industry into the Middle East, and eventually, into Europe. David Bezborodko's ancestral family in Samarkand was involved in the silk and glass industries from those ancient times. David's grandfather, a silk merchant, decided to emigrate to White Russia. Since sericulture was not feasible in its climate, he turned to the other traditional occupation of the Jews of Samarkand, manufacturing glass products.

In 1860 the elder Bezborodko established the first of many glassworks in what is now Poland and Lithuania, in Moscow, and near Russian St. Petersburg. It was not the first time that the art was practiced in the region. Glassmaking appeared over the Caucasus after the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism. The ruins of glassworking and jewelry workshops were found within the confines of a mighty Khazar fortress defending the Khazar city of Sarkal, on the lower reaches of the Don. Thereafter, the Khazars and the Persian (Babylonian) Jews established trading centers and industries up the Volga, Don and Dnieper Rivers. They established themselves in Kiev, on the Middle Dnieper, and made it a major commercial center, trading manufactured goods for fish and furs with the primitive northern Russ tribes.

The very first ancient glassworks to be uncovered in the region was at Kiev in 1907. Two more glassworks were subsequently excavated in the environs of the city in 1950-51. By 1964 eleven glassmaking sites were confirmed as having existed in and around Kiev during the time of Khazar/Judaic hegemony.3

The Khazar/Judaic traders extended their activities as far northeast as Grodno, Lithuania, where they established a glass factory in the late ninth or early tenth century. Nearby Novogrudok became a center of glass production second only to Kiev.4 The documentation for those events is contained in the archives of the famous libraries assembled by the (Jewish) Barons Gunzburg and Polakoff, Both libraries were confiscated by the Bolsheviks and are now in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Until now these libraries are locked away and unavailable to scholars. They were delved into by David Bezborodko's father before the Bolsheviks made them inaccessible. It was David's father who inspired David to investigate further into the intriguing and largely unknown debt the art of glassmaking owes to Jewish artisans and entrepreneurs.

David stated, "My father implanted in me the love of Torah and a love for humanity and science. I was born to glass..."

[In a letter to me dated March 12th, 1989, David Bezborodko added details of his family background. They illuminate the circumstances of his grandfather's move to Poland, and provide a poignant view of Jewish life of the times]:

"I finally feel strong enough to dictate to my companion the letter which I told you on the phone..."

"My paternal grandfather, Zvi Hilel, in the business was called Gregory Chaimovitz Bezborodko, founded the first glass factory around 1860 near Slutzk. A few years later, he founded a sheet glass factory in Hanczewitzhe which was existing until after the first World War, and which I liquidated in 1922 because melting glass with wood was not profitable any more. I knew that in the second half of the nineteenth century a few other factories in Russia had been founded by him and [later] nationalized by the Bolshevik government."

"The latest origin of our family, Bezborodko, I found out by accident from a very old man I met in the library of Merkaz Harau which as a little boy he remembered my great grandfather Chaim Bezborodko, who accidently settled in Slutzk while it was still Russia as a silk dealer who arrived by the following circumstances:"

"He came in the beginning of the nineteenth century (if I remember well, in 1802), to learn in a yeshiva for the goal to be ordained as a rabbi, and return to Samarkand where his father had the ambition that he should become the chief rabbi of the Middle Asian region under the protectorate of the Russian government at that time. For your information, a chief rabbi in Samarkand was also the same for the provinces which included Bukhara, Chiva and Tashkent. But it looked that in the duration of four years of study, he fell in love with his teacher's daughter, then married her and decided to stay in Slutzk. So his father, being a rich silk dealer in Samarkand, made him his importer. My grandfather Gregory was the third son and it looked to me that he did not want to stay in business with his father who made his older brother as manager, so he looked for other trade and landed on glass production. This was the period when they started to use [the] kerosene lamp, chimney and also the container that held the kerosene, what they call [the] magazine. [At that time all] were imported."

"Two of his [David's grandfather's] sons, the oldest Liev Gregorovitzh and my father, who was 21 years younger than his brother, went also in the glass industry. When the laws in Russia became strict against the Jews and especially they were not allowed to own land, that means forests included, they had hardships to continue as official owner and they lost many factories in the western and northern part of Russia where the factories were in the forest. They put all their energy in mirror manufacturing and had mirror factories in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw and Czestochowitz. [In the Polish sector] they were managed by my father."

"In the year before he passed away, I began my 100% activity in the factory in Poland from where I was expelled in 1925 because I was a Russian citizen. After six months wandering in Europe I worked for one year in an optical glass factory, where I installed the optical mirror department, and after six months invented the large size reflector which resisted up to 25,000 candles [lumens] and this gave me my first gold medal..."

"After one year I organized my own mirror factory in a little city names Saverne.."

"Sincerely Yours,"

"David Bezborodko."

The Bezborodko's glassworks were nationalized by the Bolsheviks. In the 1920's and the early 1930's David pursued a consultative career as an engineer whose inventions and development of revolutionary processes won him many honors, including a gold medal for the invention of a silvering system on mirrors. The process was incorporated in movie projectors and of special optical lenses for the navy. David's rounds of Europe, at first as a salesman for his family enterprise, and then as a consultant, put him in touch with the principals of the major European glass manufactories. His odyssey ended with the Nazi onslaught.

In the course of his travels David accumulated a great store of documentary material concerning the Judaic involvement in the glassmaking art. He was forced to abandon his irreplaceable files in Paris in the face of imminent Nazi occupation, intending to return afterward to resume his work and to publish the material.

Unfortunately for David, the Jews, and the world, upon his return he found no trace of the mass of material he had so diligently and painstakingly gathered over a score of years. On returning after the war to retrace his odyssey and replace the lost documents and photographs, he found that the genizas, (stores of archival records) of the synagogues from which he had gathered much of the data, had been put to the torch by the Nazis. He found that most of the files of companies founded by Jews were now voided of any hint of the company's origins. In many cases, the records were destroyed by the descendants of those founders, in an attempt to remain unnoticed. Tragically, many of the persons David interviewed disappeared in the holocaust.

In 1987, at 90 years of age, David published his monograph, his best recollection of his research. A digest follows, a poignant description of his experiences and discoveries:

"An Insider's View" — The Monograph

The Venetian refugee Abraham Thevart - had received a royal permit to manufacture glass, issued and signed by Louis XIV and his minister Colbert. This permit, which I saw at the museum of the Compagnie St. Gobain, entitled Thevart to open a glass factory near the Chateau of St. Gobain.... It was Thevart who made the mirrors for the famous Palais de Versailles. After his son-in-law Lucas de Nehou, took over the management, no Jewish name appears in the records. The famous crystal factory, Cristallerie de Baccarat, whose products are well-known the world over, was founded at the beginning of the eighteenth century by a Jew, Shimon Behr - in association with the Bishop of Nancy. This strange association came about to provide work for the local population. This part of France was then covered with forests, and the sand of the soil was good for glass manufacturing...

The pinkas [archival journals kept by a Jewish community] of the neighboring Jewish community of Luneville5 - then home to a well-developed Jewish community, even having its own Yeshiva, bears witness to the kind of support the community received from this great philanthropist, Shimon Behr, owner of Cristallerie Baccarat. Included here are details regarding the amount of wood he sent them for the winter, the quantity of potatoes and other foods, as well as the sum of money he contributed for Pesach and for the Yeshivah.

I was friendly with the president of the Consistoire Juive in Nancy, Simon Behr, a (non-lineal) descendant of the same family. He showed me various documents indicating that a small glass factory had been founded in Nancy itself at the beginning of the eighteenth century by another Jew, one Villiard. By this time, however, the owners were no longer Jewish.

I was also on good terms with one of the youngest members of the Longfellow family, owners of the Verrerie d'Arques. When I asked him how such and old, established French family came to have an English name, he revealed that his origin was Jewish, but he could not recall the precise Jewish name.

An interesting museum artifact should be mentioned here. At the beginning of the 1930's, I saw in the Museum of Strasbourg a glass vase which had been discovered when construction workers were excavating the foundations for a new building near the Cathedral of Strasbourg. The vase was of clear glass, richly ornamented. Among the ornaments was a menorah and two palm branches (lulavim). On the bottom of the vase was the signature of the glassmaker, Judah, in Latin and Jehuda, in Hebrew. I was informed that the same type of vase, bearing the same signature, had been found at Cologne some decades before.6

An antique Baccarat paperweight. The Crystalerrie de Baccarat, one of the world's most prestigious glassworks, was founded by Shimon Behr at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Many other glassworks were established by Jewish artisans and entrepreneurs in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The secrets of the art of glassmaking had been kept closely guarded within families over centuries. The antiquity of Judaic involvement in the art of glassmaking is evidenced by the number of great glasshouses founded in Europe by Jews.

[Editor's Note: The glassmaking historian, Axel von Saldern, states: "Glassmaking was first introduced into Cologne in the Roman period by Jews... Naples, Rome, Northern Italy, southeastern France, Cologne and other cities along the Rhine could... claim an efficient industry established mostly by Jewish glassmakers emigrated from Palestine in the first century."6

Another glassmaking historian, Frederic Neuberg adds: "The oldest [Judaic] settlement in Germany was in Trier (a ghetto and the first glasshouses of the Rhineland were founded there. After Trier, the oldest ghettos are in Cologne and Andernach, and it is significant that the oldest established glasshouses in Germany are likewise those in Cologne and Andernach."7

In the Middle Ages, artisans guilds were placed under the "protection" of Christian saints. Jews were obliged to convert to continue their trades. Glassmakers were the only exception, for no Christian was knowledgeable in the art. Salo Baron points out that the Jewish glassmakers of Cologne were particularly exempt].8

In the city hall of Sarrebourg, I saw various acts of registration of the glass factory Verrerie des Trois Fontaines dating from the beginning of the eighteenth century. Two Jewish citizens of Sarrebourg, brothers-in-law named Hirsch and Hammel, were the founders. I had the opportunity of meeting the general manager of the glass factory, a Mr. Lambert. He and his family knew and acknowledged the descent from Mr. Hammel.

The Crystallerie de Vallerysthal, a factory which made crystal exclusively, was located in the same neighborhood. Indeed, it began as a branch of the Verrerrie des Trois Fontaines, but later changed hands. The manager of this firm, Mr. Guillemot, told me that his name was derived from that of his great-grandfather Ze'ev, who came to this region from southern France. His cousin, who was living in my home town of Saverne, was the editor of the local newspaper and co-owner of another glass factory, the Verrerrie de Meisenthal, which had been founded by their forefathers.

I also visited the Crystallerie Lalique crystal factory - famous for their perfume bottles - in Wingen, five kilometers from Hagenau. In the archives of the Hagenau City Hall I found that the registration of the factory dates from the end of the eighteenth century. Of the three owners listed here, I recall only two names: Levy and Kahn. It seems that the owners of the firm decided to leave the country following World War I, when Wingen, part of Alsace, was returned to France. The factory was bought by Renè Jules Lalique, a famous designer who made a fortune marketing perfume bottles to the famous factory of Coty. Lalique called the factory by his name. The firm is now managed by his son Marc, under the name Cristallerie Lalique et Cie.

Gauged in personal terms, one of my most significant revelations regarding the Jewish origins of glass companies came from my senior boss, the chairman of an optical glass company in the Vosges mountains, founded in 1815. This was one of the biggest producers of eyeglass lenses and watch crystals.

[Editor's Note: The first producers of optical lenses at the beginning of the seventeenth century were two Jews, Moses Chorev and his brother-in-law Aaron Cherevin]

This company was the first to produce a reflector of large diameter with silvering resisting heat of 25,000 lumens. This silvering was invented by myself; the earlier silvering peeled away after its first use. Later the company used the same process to manufacture movie projectors for the movie industry. Prior to that double convex glass was used in that industry, but the production of this glass was difficult to regulate. More recently it also began to produce optical mirrors for Navy use, as well as glass lenses and reflectors for movie projectors for the film industry. I had already earned a good name after some six months in the company due to the French Navy's selection of my process of heat-resistant silvering for the replacement of an older reflector. My company was honored as a result, and I was awarded a gold medal.

One Sunday, I was working in my laboratory preparing chemical solutions for the following week. Only my department was open on Sundays, by the way, used by myself and my non-Jewish assistant. My boss, then seventy-five, appeared quite unexpectedly in my laboratory. He wanted to warm himself because, due to a blizzard, his friends had not shown up for a planned hunting outing in the surrounding forest. Resting in a chair, he silently observed my work, but eventually started to question me. First, he wanted to know if there were many Jews in the glass trade in my native land. I told him about the industry as I knew it in White Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland: there were indeed many Jewish-run glass factories run by Jews, many of which still employed Jewish workers. After complimenting me on my invention, he apologized for the hardship he had caused me from the time I started work six months earlier - because of my stubborn refusal to work on the Sabbath. He proceeded to explain: "Fifty years ago, in 1874, I myself became a refugee for not wanting to serve in the German army (since this part of France had been annexed by the Germans after the War of 1871). " He had spent five years in the United States where he worked in different glass factories, but never met a Jewish glassmaker.

When I started to tell him what I knew about the origin of the glass industry, he said he wanted to reveal a secret to me: he himself was of Jewish origin. His great-great-grandfather had come to France at the beginning of the nineteenth century and founded this company at its present location. The site had been chosen because the supply of labor, sand and fuel as well as hydraulic power, were very advantageous for this industry. Even the rocks of the region were used for glass beveling. This rock, known as "Meule des Vosges," was famous throughout Europe for glass beveling until the advent of artificial grinding stones.

... My boss' great-great-grandfather also invented a machine to cut round glass, the principle of which is still in use in mechanical production today. Subsequently he married the daughter of a nobleman of the area and converted to Christianity. He changed his name from Nissan to the French equivalent.

He also informed me that all the factories in the area of Lorraine and Meurthe-et-Moselle, such as the Verrerrie de Meisenthal, the Verrerrie de Sarrebourg, and the Verrerie de Gotzenbrueck, had been founded by Jews.

I kept my boss' secret, but from time to time when we were alone, we discussed the history of different glass companies in France, and of their Jewish origins.

After I finished my contract with this company, I lived in the town of Saverne, which was also home to the company's main office as well as my former boss and his sons. I became acquainted with the Jewish community of Saverne, some seventy families out of a total population of 11,000. Many of my Jewish friends were astonished to learn of my friendship with this family because they believed them to be anti-Semitic. I can only look back, however, at the friendship shown me by the whole family, a friendship which lasts to this day - more than six decades later -between my former boss' children, myself, and my brother in Paris. I will never forget the practical advice they gave me when I established my own company, and their extremely useful guidance as a newcomer to France. The only promise they expected in return was that I not create competition and that I remain their technical consultant permanently.

I might add that after I established myself and became active in a Zionist organization in Strasbourg, my former boss sent me a sizable contribution for the Jewish National Fund.

A glassblower of the late seventeenth century, as depicted in a work by Kaspar Luyken, Der Glasmacher (1695).

... A few years later, my former boss recommended me to the Verrerie de Goetzenbrueck, to help them set up an installation for the silvering of Christmas bulbs. The chairman of the company, Mr. Alexandre Paoli, took considerable interest in me. After spending many days at the firm, the installation was operating to Mr. Paoli's satisfaction. He then invited me to his home where we had a good, private discussion about the Kashruth observance. I mentioned that I had heard that the Verrerie de Goetzenbrueck had been founded by Jews. Smiling, Mr. Paoli replied that he belonged to the fifth generation of the founder's family, but could not remember if his father was a Jew. Perhaps hi grandfather had been, but he himself was a freethinker. I remained in touch with this company, and with Mr. Paoli who was always friendly, until his death in 1948. ...A few years later I had left my position with the optical company, and had established my own company, my former boss recommended me to a mirror manufacturer in Strasbourg. The latter needed help because of his considerable difficulties in the silvering process - even though his company was well over a hundred years old. My work, on the reorganization of the plant in accordance with my instructions, took several weeks. When the silvering at this factory was preceding well, with the quality of the silvering acceptable to the testing laboratory, the senior owner, Mr. Martin Kuhn, invited me to his house for dinner. Here too, I had to discuss my observance of the Jewish dietary laws, and after a lengthy and friendly conversation, he finally acknowledged, "I am of Jewish origin, and my ancestors, named Kohn, came from Italy. They were a glazier and flat glass dealer by the name of Kohn." Later on, he opened a mirror factory, married a non-Jewish girl, converted to Christianity, and changed his name to Kuhn. He told me that Kuhn Freres, the big foundry in the town of Saverne, belonging to his cousins, also grandchildren of his great grandfather.

Even in the mirror business in France, I found out accidently, many companies had Jewish origins. One was the Compagnie Troncy in Lyon, whose senior head was president of the Mirror Manufacturers Association of France. In a private conversation at his home - again resulting from my explanation about the dietary laws - he told me that his ancestors were Italian Jews.

In 1951, I had the opportunity to again visit three French glass companies where I found very rich archival material in the course of my research in the 1920's. These archives were nearly empty, as a result of World War II. I had the feeling that the young did not want to advertise their Jewish origins.

Judaic Glassmaking in Switzerland

My discovery about Jewish pioneering in the Swiss glass industry came about without any conscious effort on my part. During a business trip in Lausanne, one of my long-term customers - a glass dealer and processor, an inventor of tempered glass - invited me to his home for dinner. While I had been friendly with this man since the beginning of our business association, I was now pressed to explain my observance of the Jewish dietary laws. After asking me questions about my private life, he said that he too was of Jewish origin. His ancestors, named Reuveni, had come from Italy at the end of the eighteenth century and had settled [among] Switzerland's glaziers and mirror makers. They had previously established companies in all of Switzerland's large cities, and had founded two companies in France.

My customer later introduced me to one of his friends, Samuel Borel, of Verrerie de Romont, the only window glass manufacturer inj Switzerland. Mr. Borel told me that he, too, was of Jewish origin. His grandfather was the first to make window glass in Switzerland, Mr. Borel himself is the pioneer in using all-electric furnaces for the melting of glass, once the only such operation in the world. The improvement of this furnace by Penberty in the United States prompted many glass factories to convert to electric melting, or to use electric resistance in addition to oil fuel.

Jewish Glassmaking in Czechoslovakia

I made my biggest find in Czechoslovakia. My interest was triggered by the many glass items in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Many glass products, such as cups and carafes, bore Jewish emblems, such as the Menorah or the Two Tablets of the Law with a lion framing them on each side...

In Prague I was introduced to a Mr. Zichert, deputy to the general manager of the Czech flat glass Cartel, Vitrea. Mr. Zichert showed me documents signed by the Emperor Maximillian XII which conferred the title of Baron upon a Jew named Isachar. This Isachar was honored for the invention of artificial diamonds (rhinestones) and for introducing their production into Bohemia. Known subsequently as Baron von Kaspar, he was a very great philanthropist of the Jewish community in Prague...

One of my suppliers in Czechoslovakia, Gebruder Naschauer, eventually told me that their company had been founded at the beginning of the eighteenth century by and ancestor from Italy named Nachamu. The name was later changed to Naschauer. Incidently, Naschauer's was then (in 1928) the only flat glass products company in Czechoslovakia still owned and managed by Jews. Many years after the War, in 1960, I met one of their sons in London who had established himself as a mirror manufacturer.

In their private museum, the Naschauers showed me various old documents written in German, Italian, and Hebrew, and some in medieval Italian using Hebrew letters. These included written permission granted their ancestors by government officials allowing them to open a window glass factory in Tachau, near Pilsen.

The archives of Fischman & Sohne in Pilsen, the only manufacturers of polished plate glass in Czechoslovakia at this time using the Bicheroux system, also turned up revealing documents from Lombardy in northern Italy. Like Mr. Naschauer's their ancestors also came from Italy. Their name appeared in some of the documents as Dayag, but the official permit written in Latin showed the name Dagi.

When I came to the United States as a refugee in 1941, I met a member of that family in New York, then employed by the American Window Glass Company. He had come there also as a refugee in 1939. He had married a Baroness Rithoff and had converted to Christianity shortly before Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.

I asked what these actions had gained him, inasmuch as he had ended up a refugee like myself. Now named Rithoff-Fischman, he answered, "I am the last of my family still alive after 1938 as a Jew, but my wife is not Jewish and I have no connection with Jewish families." It was really a pity to see his face!

I also had the opportunity to see the archives of Engels and Sohne in the town of Billing, Moravia. This company was famous for their colored flat glass, especially their ruby-colored glass then heavily in demand by railroad companies for their signals. One of the Engels showed me their archives and told me that he himself was born a non-Jew, the third generation of non-Jews. But he showed me that his company had been founded by an ancestor named Malachi. The documents were similar in style to the Naschauer's: the official permission in Judeo-Latin (with technical expressions in German.)

One of my few opportunities to look into the hollow glass industry arose in Karlsbad, headquarters of Moser Kristalwerke. Mr. Moser informed me that the company, a very old one, had been founded by his Jewish ancestors. He himself was still a Jew, I later met him in France, fleeing from Hitler.

Quite by accident I had the occasion to learn the history of the largest window glass manufacturer in Czechoslovakia, Max Muhlig. His company based in Bleistadt, dominated the glass cartel, Vitrea. Muhlig was the first company to introduce machine-made window glass, based on the Fourcalt system. Their own improvements enabled them to draw heavy glass also, up to 6 mm. They sold this glass for store windows at a very high profit because it was still much cheaper than windows made from polished plate.

... One of the youngest Muhligs, who was my assistant during this training period, once drove me to Karlsbad. In Ad (now Karlovy Vary), he invited me to dinner in a fancy restaurant. After explaining that I was an observant Jew, however, we had dinner at a kosher restaurant and became very friendly - more than just business friends. In our conversation he disclosed his Jewish origin, his ancestors having come from Lombardy at the beginning of the eighteenth century. There they went by the name of Malachi. In the company archives, I later saw an official grant written in Latin, and letters in German, Hebrew and Judeo-Italian. These were mainly family papers and instructions from somebody still [then] living in Italy, and were addressed to a certain Mordechai Malachi. One letter written in Hebrew opened: "My dear brother..." The remainder of the letter was written in Hebrew characters which I was unable to understand. Sometime later I discovered that the language was medieval Italian written in Hebrew characters (as Yiddish is medieval German in Hebrew characters).

Max Muhlig's distributors in countries including Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Rumania, and Yugoslavia - many of whom I knew personally since they were my customers - were Jewish. 90% of them religious. Ironically, they bought from Muhlig despite their feeling that the firm was anti-Semitic. It simply offered them the best quality at the lowest prices.

Judaic Glassmaking in Germany

... My first discovery about Jewish glassmakers in Germany occurred in the city of Markt-Redwitz, on the Czechoslovakian border. The mayor, a friend of one of my suppliers, showed me archives dated from the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. These contained registrations of glassmakers and of glass polishers with Jewish names, mostly Sephardic. Of approximately forty names, those which I still remember were the same, phonetically, as names I had encountered in Czechoslovakia. Some were even exactly the same, such as Nachamu and Gady, all of Sephardic origin. Other names I recall were Askenazi, Bendit, Bach, Bechman, Kupfer, Shrenk, and Bichenbacher. Companies bearing those names could still be found in Furth, Bavaria, until the rise of Hitler. One such, Bach of Furth, founded a branch in New York in 1918, which still operates today under the name of Simon Bach and Company.

Long-established companies were also located in Furth-im-Wald (Bavaria) where glass is ground and polished. The silvering and beveling, however, were done in Furth, one of the largest mirror manufacturing centers in Europe up to the first World War. The owners of these factories were Jews.

In Germany I also discovered that a long-established Christian manufacturer (of mirrors and wood products) were descended from Jews. Wiederer, the only non-Jewish mirror manufacturer in Furth, ran a factory founded by his Jewish grandfather who had converted to Christianity. He told me that when he started working in the company with his father, they were still making a mirror called "Judenspiegel," known in France as "Mirroir Job."

Many of the documents on glass companies in Furth's City Hall dated from the end of the seventeenth century. These also included grants of permission to refugee families from France - Huguenot mirror makers - to settle in the area, Most of them settled in Zirndorf. In the archives in Zirndorf itself, I found many Sephardic-sounding names of mirror manufacturers, along with some French and German ones... In the library of Nuremberg... I saw a special collection of some twenty dissertations relating to glass. The library of Cologne contained a very large collection of dissertations on the glass industry.

[Editor's Note: In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when Jews could carry on their trades only as Christians, they took on a "Huguenot" veneer as a means of "passing." Declaration of being a Huguenot provided entry into countries such as England where Jews were banned. Glassmakers of Lorraine in France, of Altare in Italy, and Sephardim from Spain, uniquely declared themselves either as Huguenots, or "of no church."]

These authors generally report not only the places and dates of the founding of glass factories, but also the names of the founders. They even reproduce copies of the contracts between the various owners of the forests - mostly the nobility or the clergy - and the glassmakers who bought the right to use wood from these forests. Although the authors do not make reference to the Jewish origins of these manufacturers, many had Jewish-sounding names such a Hoffman, Bauer and Ackee.

The dissertations also contain copies of contracts between, the glassmakers and their employers who came mostly from Moravia and Bohemia (Czechoslovakia). Contracts ran for one year or more, and covered everyone from the wood-choppers to the glass melters and glass blowers. The glass refiners, i.e., the mitre-cutters engravers and enamelers - were the only exception. These latter had a different kind of contract: they were paid by the design or the piece, and also had the privilege of taking some jobs home. Further, they had the right to determine their own work schedule. It is quite possible that these people were Jews. Their working on a piece-time basis enabled them to take off on Sabbaths and festivals.

Some of these contracts, in addition to giving the names of the workers, also mention their origin. Some even bear the word "Jude" (Jew). I remember two such notations: "Jude aus Karlsruhe," and Jude aus Mannheim."

[The scores of leads left open to further research by David Bezborodko offers students a golden opportunity to follow in his footsteps and to recreate the glorious history of an important facet of the Judaic contribution to the evolution of civilization].


  1. Samuel Kurinsky, The Glassmakers; An Odyssey of the Jews, 1991, New York. 251-297.
  2. Ibn Khurraddhbih, al-Maslik wa 'l-Mamlik, (The Book of the Routes and Kingdoms), ed. M.J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1889, pp. 153-55.
  3. "Glass and Salt Works of Eleventh Century Kiev," Brief Reports of the Archaeological Institute of the Ukrainian S.S.R. no. 4, 1955; For five subsequent Kievan archaeological reports, see Samuel Kurinsky, The Glassmakers; an Odyssey of the Jews, Hippocrene Books, 1989, pp, 356-7, notes 36-9.
  4. Dan and Ward Klein, The History of Glass, 984, Orbis Press, London, p. 53.
  5. Note: Luneville is not to be confused with another city famous in Franco-Jewish history, Lunille. Lunille is in southern France, whereas Luneville is in the east, near Nancy.
  6. Axel von Saldern, Glas von der Antike bis zum jugendstil, Philip von Zabern, 1980, p. 19.
  7. Frederic Neuberg, Ancient Glass, Barrie and Rockcliff, London, 1962, p. 56
  8. Salo W. Baron, Arcadius Kahan and other contributors, ed. Nachum Gross, Economic History of the Jews, Keter House, Jerusalem p. 40.