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Dobruschka-Schönfeld Family

Prominent Moravian family that took its name from its patriarch, Jacob Moses Wimer (d. 1763), who came from Dobruschka, a small town near Königgrätz (Hradec Králové) in Bohemia. In 1730 Wimer moved to Brünn (Brno) as a widower with two children, and despite the fact that Jews were forbidden to live in that city, was given permission to settle and to deal first in precious stones and jewelry, and later in spices and tobacco. In 1750 he was granted a monopoly on the tobacco trade for the royal cities of Moravia. Dobruschka’s daughter Esther married Adam Oppenheimer of Vienna, a relative of the court purveyor Samuel Oppenheimer. Dobruschka’s son Solomon (1715–1774) married Schöndl, daughter of Löbl Hirschl of Rzeszów and Güttel Jacobi of Prossnitz.

Schöndl and Solomon Dobruschka had 12 children, the most talented of whom was Moses, born in Brünn in 1753. In 1775 Moses married Elke Joss, an adopted daughter of Joachim Edler von Popper, the primátor of rural Bohemian Jewry. At that point, Moses completed several literary projects in German and Hebrew, including Sefer ha-sha‘ashu‘a (Book of Pleasures; 1775), a commentary on the Beḥinat ‘olam (Examination of the World) of Yeda‘yah Bedersi. Some eight months after their wedding, on 17 December 1775, Moses, Elke, and their daughter Maria Anna converted to Roman Catholicism in the Prague cathedral of St. Vitus and were given the names Franz Thomas, Wilhelmine, and Marianna. Other children of Schöndl and Solomon Dobruschka quickly followed suit; ultimately, only two remained Jewish.

In 1778, Moses and Elke were granted titles of nobility by Adolf Ferdinand Edler von Schönfeld, a Prague Freemason and publisher whose name the family adopted. Moses Dobruschka, now Franz Thomas von Schönfeld, associated with a circle of reformers surrounding Emperor Joseph II, to whom he dedicated most of his poems. Dobruschka served as an assistant to Michael Denis (who translated James Macpherson’s forged epic, Songs of Ossian, into German); he also became acquainted with a group of former Jesuits who now practiced Freemasonry. This connection resulted in his involvement with the creation of the Order of Asiatic Brethren, a Masonic organization founded in Vienna in 1780 or 1781 with the avowed purpose of accepting both Jews and Christians into its ranks. Dobruschka devised a syncretic Masonic rite, introducing into it elements of Kabbalah as well as the fashionable ideas of the philosophes. After a quarrel with the other leaders, however, he left the order in 1785.

Moses Dobruschka ultimately settled in Vienna, where he furnished supplies for the Austrian army in the Balkans. He praised the ascent of Leopold II to the throne in 1790 and traveled with the court to the meeting at Pillnitz opposing the French Revolution in 1791. However, he apparently swiftly changed sides there, and moved, with his brother Emanuel and sister Léopoldine, to Strasbourg, where he joined the local Jacobin club and started to use the name Sigismund Gottlob Junius Brutus Frey.

In 1792, Moses, Emanuel, and Léopoldine Dobruschka went to Paris, where the National Assembly bestowed honorary citizenship on them. The brothers Frey took part in the storming of the Tuileries; and Moses wrote a number of anti-Girondist works, including the tract Philosophie sociale, dediée au peuple français (Social Philosophy, Dedicated to the People of France; 1793). He also served as a chairman of the dechristianization committee of the Paris region. In October 1793, Léopoldine Frey married the influential radical Jacobin, François Chabot. Through this connection, Dobruschka became involved in the French East-India Company affair. When his past was discovered, he was arrested as an Austrian spy, accused of corruption and bribery, and sent to the guillotine, together with Chabot, Danton, and others on 5 April 1795.

The Dobruschka-Schönfeld family was also associated with the Sabbatian movement. Schöndl Dobruschka was known as a patron of Moravian Sabbatians and was a close friend of Wolf Eybeschütz. Rabbi Ya‘akov Emden, who reserved for her the epithet “the great whore of Brünn,” portrayed her as the spiritus movens of Sabbatianism in Moravia. She was a maternal cousin of Jakub Frank, who reportedly sometimes used the name Dobruschka himself. An anonymous denunciation against the Bohemian Frankists sent in 1799 to the mayor of Prague states that during Frank’s funeral in Offenbach in 1791, Moses Dobruschka was offered the leadership of the sect but declined and instead went to France to take part in the Revolution.

Suggested Reading

Josef Karniel, “Jüdisher Pseudomessianismus und deutsche Kultur: Der Weg der frankistischen Familie Dobruschka-Schönfeld im Zeitalter der Aufklärung,” Jahrbuch des Instituts für Deutsche Geschichte 4 (1982): 31–47; Arthur Mandel, The Militant Messiah: or, The Flight from the Ghetto: The Story of Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1979); Gershom Scholem, Du frankisme au jacobinisme: La vie de Moses Dobruška alias Franz Thomas von Schönfeld alias Junius Frey (Paris, 1981).