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Toeplitz, Teodor and Henryk

Financiers and supporters of the Haskalah in Warsaw. Teodor Toeplitz (1793–1838), advocate of the work of Moses Mendelssohn, was the grandson of Juda Leopold Toeplitz (who had emigrated from the Czech lands to Leszno) and the son of Samuel (Szymon) Toeplitz (1766–1838), a wealthy merchant from Warsaw. Teodor’s son Henryk Toeplitz (1822–1891) was an industrialist, politician, and patron of Jewish education.

Teodor (also Tewel; Tewje) Toeplitz served on the Warsaw Jewish community board and was appointed in 1825 to the Izby Doradczej (Advisory Board of the Committee for Jewish Affairs) for the Kingdom of Poland. In 1817 he had married the well-to-do Franciszka Oesterreicher, a granddaughter of Szmul Zbytkower. In the early 1830s, he was one of a few Jews whom the tsar gave permission to purchase land. Encouraged by the poet Mojżesz Tanenbaum in 1836, Toeplitz helped finance a Polish version of the German translation of the Pentateuch by Moses Mendelssohn; though this work was popular in Western Europe and among Haskalah followers, the Orthodox community in Poland tried to block its distribution. Toeplitz in turn tried to get backing for its circulation from the authorities; his widow Franciszka took similar steps in 1859.

Teodor’s son Henryk was a merchant, manufacturer, landowner, and promoter of the Haskalah. He studied at the Institute of Agronomy in Marymont and was the first major exporter of sugar from Poland to the Russian market. He also was a member of the Warsaw Society of Sugar Manufacturers, a cofounder of the commercial bank in that city, and a manager of the Southwest railway. In November 1855, he served on a committee to formulate laws for the stock exchange; he was one of the few Jews elected by the Merchants Association to do so. He was also one of just four Jews admitted to the Agricultural Society in 1860.

Henryk Toeplitz took an active stand against antisemitism in Warsaw. He, for example, engaged in polemics with the Polish writer Józef Ignacy Kraszewski over the latter’s anti-Jewish publications, and signed a letter in 1859 to Antoni Lesznowski, editor of Gazeta Warszawska, opposing the paper’s anti-Jewish campaign. Toeplitz’s own house was a gathering place for Jewish intelligentsia, and by the end of the 1850s he had created an informal school there, attended by more than 50 university and high school students under the auspices of the progressive preacher Markus Jastrow. Members of this circle became politically active before the insurrection of 1863, and formed a nucleus of Jewish assimilationist leaders.

In 1861 Toeplitz was accused of spreading propaganda to decrease the gap between Jews and Christians in the western guberniias (administrative territories) of the Russian Empire; he was arrested but soon released. The next year, he was voted onto the city council of Warsaw in the first election that allowed Jewish participation. As a member of the elite bourgeoisie, he was a patron of artists, a founder of the Society for Support of Impoverished Artists, and a cofounder of the Music Society (1870). He also translated Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan der Weise from German into Polish.

Suggested Reading

Majer Bałaban, “Polnische Übersetzungen und Editionen der Werke Moses Mendelssohn,” Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland (1929): 262–268; “Henryk Toeplitz,” Izraelita 10 (1891): 95; Kazimierz Reychman, Szkice genealogiczne, series 1, pp. 187–192 (Warsaw, 1936); Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, Rodzina Toeplitzów: Książka mojego ojca (Warsaw, 2004).



Translated from Polish by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov