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Ehrenstamm Family

Leaders in the textile industry of Moravia. The Ehrenstamm family came to prominence in the early nineteenth century. Its head was Veit Ehrenstamm (1760–1827), son of Salomon Jakob Kolin, a minor Jewish merchant from Prossnitz (Prostĕjov) who during the 1750s had been involved in the wool trade, purchasing fabrics from importers and then selling them piecemeal to hawkers and peddlers. After he lost his fortune as a result of the ban imposed by the Habsburg government on textile imports, his son, who had in the meantime adopted a German name, turned to different economic enterprises.

During the second Turkish War of Emperor Joseph II in the mid-1780s, Veit Ehrenstamm became a supplier to the Imperial (Austrian) Army. During the Napoleonic wars, he expanded his activities, providing a highly diversified range of goods and commodities such as salt, tobacco, wine, horses, carriages, food for troops, and spirits for officers. In particular, he specialized in the supply of uniforms through a partnership with Simon Lämmel, a leading Jewish banker in Prague.

By 1806, Ehrenstamm had secured almost a monopoly on the supply of uniforms to the Austrian army. With the capital he had amassed through this enterprise, he bought a wool garment factory in Prossnitz in 1801. The factory prospered throughout the first quarter of the nineteenth century, becoming one of the primary centers of the textile industry in the Czech lands and throughout the Austrian Empire.

In 1812, in addition to woolen garments, Ehrenstamm’s factory began to manufacture cotton goods while undergoing an accelerated process of automation. In 1826, the factory employed some 3,000 workers. After Ehrenstamm’s death in 1827, his three sons were unable to maintain the factory and went bankrupt after six years, during a period of crisis in the Moravian textile industry.

The history of the Ehrenstamm family constitutes a rare example of Jews who achieved success during the period of industrialization in Bohemia and Moravia in the early nineteenth century. Veit epitomized the economic activity of several Jewish families who had started out as suppliers to the army, won the confidence of Austrian authorities, and so received a kind of “personal emancipation.” These families eventually played a major role in the advancement of the textile industry in the Czech lands—which, in turn, played a major role in the industrialization of the region.

The failure of Ehrenstamm’s three sons, on the other hand, exemplifies the limitations in the evolution of the textile industry for Jews in Moravia during the Vormärz period (the time of Metternich’s rule). These limitations stemmed from three primary factors: the general economic crisis, which proved to be particularly detrimental to the textile industry in Moravia at the end of the Napoleonic wars; the strong opposition of Christian guilds, which dominated the textile industry; and the conservative nature of Moravian Jewish community leadership, which opposed changes in Jewish economic activity patterns as part of its general opposition to the modernization of Jewish society.

Suggested Reading

William O. McCagg, A History of Habsburg Jews, 1670–1918 (Bloomington, Ind., 1989); Gustav Otruba, “Der Anteil der Juden am Wirtschaftsleben der böhmischen Länder seit dem Beginn der Industrialisierung,” in Die Juden in den böhmischen Ländern, ed. Ferdinand Seibt, pp. 209–268 (Munich, 1983).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann