Bankers and industrialists in Warsaw. Jakub Epstein (1771–1843) was a merchant, Polish army officer, and Freemason. His sons Josef (1795–1876), Adam (1799–1870), Jan (1805–1885), and Herman (1806–1867) all played leading roles in the economic and social life of the Polish Kingdom. Herman’s sons Mikołaj (1831–1902) and Mieczysław (1833–1914) continued in these roles as well.
Born in Pilica, Jakub Epstein settled in Warsaw during the era of the Four-Year Sejm (1788–1791). He married Henriette Glickson and amassed a fortune in candle manufacturing. He took part in the Kościuszko uprising of 1794 and was one of a few wealthy Warsaw Jews to promote both philanthropy and religious reform. Epstein increased his fortune by provisioning the Russian, Napoleonic, and Polish forces during the Napoleonic wars. He chaired the founding committee of Warsaw’s first Jewish hospital, belonged to numerous Masonic lodges, and was a founding member of Warsaw’s first Reform synagogue (Daniłowiczowska Street, 1802). In 1840 he became a hereditary citizen of Warsaw.
Josef Epstein established a countrywide private bank, served as adviser to the Ministry of Finance of the Kingdom of Poland, and, in 1825, was a member of the advisory board of the State Committee for Jewish Affairs. With Antoni-Edward Fraenkel, he floated a 150-million zloty government bond issue. He succeeded his father as chair of the Jewish hospital, initiating construction of an extension (1837) and the establishment of a Jewish convalescent home (1845). He also chaired the Praga burial society.
Adam Epstein also worked in banking and was a member of the Warsaw Merchants Association from 1828. In 1845, he founded a candle factory that exported its products. A member of the Warsaw Jewish community board from 1844, he became chair in 1859 and also headed the supervisory board of the Jewish elementary schools in the capital. Like his father, he was a leading member of the congregation of the Daniłowiczowska Street synagogue. Two of Adam Epstein’s sons participated in the 1863 uprising against Russia. Mikołaj Epstein (b. 1833) was killed; Władysław (1838–1910) was imprisoned for a year.
Jan Epstein trained at various European banking houses, and served from 1848 as trade adviser to the State Bank of the Kingdom of Poland and from 1853 as a commercial judge. In 1859, he was appointed to the senate of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. In 1842, he took over a paper factory, which he equipped with steam power, making it the most modern of its kind in Poland. Jan Epstein converted to Protestantism.
Herman Epstein, the most financially successful son of Jakub and Henriette Epstein, married Eleonora Glücksberg, daughter of a well-known Warsaw family of publishers and booksellers. As early as 1836, he began leasing the customs and lottery revenues of the Kingdom of Poland. From 1841, he advised the Ministry of Finance on general economic and trade matters. A founder of modern sugar refineries, Herman was among the pioneers of the Polish food processing industry. He played a leading role in constructing railroad lines between Warsaw and Vienna (1845) and Warsaw and Bydgoszcz (1857), brokering loans from the Rothschilds in Frankfurt. From 1857 to 1865, he was chair of the board of these lines; for these achievements he was awarded hereditary patents of nobility. He also served as an honorary board member of the Polish philanthropic council.
Herman’s son Mikołaj Stanisław Epstein belonged to a group of young Jewish residents of Warsaw who protested publicly in 1859 against antisemitism in the city’s press. The ensuing debate was known among contemporaries as wojna żydowska, “the Jewish war.” For his participation in the January uprising of 1863, he received a death sentence, later commuted to banishment to Siberia until 1870. In 1873 he settled in Lemberg with his second wife; he became a convert to Catholicism.
Mieczysław Epstein (1833–1914) trained as a banker in Berlin, Brussels, and Paris, and married Leonide Lambert, daughter of a Brussels private banker and Rothschild representative, in 1855. His bank specialized in industrial and agricultural investments. In 1871, he founded Warsaw’s first discount bank and in 1876 was elected to succeed Leopold Kronenberg as president of the Warsaw Stock Exchange, serving until 1906. In this capacity he was involved in all major economic policy decisions in Congress Poland. In addition, he continued to run the business of his father, Herman. Mieczysław Epstein was involved in a number of manufacturing enterprises in both textiles and heavy industry. His numerous estates were models of modern farming and animal husbandry. He also helped to found educational and charitable institutions, and was among the initiators of a museum of agriculture and industry. He served as consul general in Belgium (from 1857) and Italy (from 1875).
Artur Eisenbach, Kwestia równouprawnienia Żydów w Królestwie Polskim (Warsaw, 1972); Kazimierz Reychmann, Szkice genealogiczne (Warsaw, 1936); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 1–3 (New York, 1947–1953).
Translated from German by Deborah Cohen