Romania, as an independent state, emerged only in 1881. Up to that time its three main districts were ruled mainly by two existing empires: Transylvania in the north-west was part of the Austrian Empire while Moldavia and Walachia were under the suzerainty of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire until 1829, when as one of the results of the Russian-Turkish war they became Russian protectorates.
In early nineteenth century a Jewish family who took the name of Schönberg lived somewhere in Transylvania and thus were citizens of the Austrian Empire. They must have moved east for by mid-nineteenth century we find them well-established in the city of Iasi,district of Moldavia (eastern part of Romania). At the head of the family were Yoseph and Zivia Schönberg.They had two sons and a daughter: Dov, Leib and Hana. When Dov, who was the eldest, had his 14th birthday his parents, without telling him, engaged him to Henya, the daughter of Rabbi Apotheiker of Piatra-Neamt.
Two years later the boy was resentfully moved from Iasi to Piatra-Neamt and married to Henya. Shortly after the marriage her father, the Rabbi found out that both his Son-in-law and his Father-in-law were enlightened Jews who were part of the Jewish Enlightenment Movement, they read all the German and French classic literature of the period and knew both these languages well besides Yiddish and Romanian. This made them odious Jewish heretics. Therefore the Rabbi decided to divorce his daughter from this freethinker even though it was not yet a year since he personally married them and despite the fact that his daughter Henya was already pregnant. The divorce contract stated that the baby will remain with his mother until it is two years old during which it will be breast-fed and as soon as it gets to be two years old it will be turned over to his father.
The baby which was born in 1860 is my maternal grandfather Moritz (Moshe) Schönberg. As soon as he was two-years old he was taken from his mother in Piatra-Neamt and sent to his father who was already in Iasi since the divorce and not wasting any time – got married again so that the baby had a stepmother as soon as he arrived. Although his stepmother was a good hearted woman who treated him as her own born son it was decided to place him with his grandparents Yoseph and Zivia and it is they who kept him and educated him. At 4 years he went to the Heder (Jewish kindergarten) and at 6 he entered the State elementary school from which he graduated at age 14.
The Schönberg family were civil-engineering contractors who built public, state and religious buildings, as well as roads and bridges. Moritz went idle for a year and at 15 he received a minor job in a Bank. His job was to check the accounts and mark any mistakes found. He used to be paid by mistake – meaning that for every mistake which he discovered he used to be paid a pittance. This did not suit his character and aspirations and when he discovered a goldsmith-workshop close to the bank he asked and was accepted as an apprentice.
When my grandfather, Moritz reached his 18th birthday his grandmother, Zivia,told him that his father’s wife was not his biological mother. She gave him his mother’s name and address and he went there to meet her. He found his mother Henya daughter of Rabbi Apotheiker living in a small and neglected house and barely making a living from a haberdashery shop. She did marry once more but her husband was murdered one night by bandits while returning home from a day at the fair. The meeting between my grandfather and his mother was very moving. He remained with her for 6 months. So as to help her he quickly found work and was handing her the money he earned. In his spare time he started repairing and reconditioning her house which was leaking and in a very bad state. When his mother’s family saw that he found work as a goldsmith and in his spare time was climbing on the roof, repairing it thoroughly and then painting the whole house inside-out, they raised hell and begged him to stop doing manual-work for if he would go on like this the townspeople would realize that they raised a workman, which would bring shame and contempt on the family. But none of their stupid screaming and crying had any effect on him and as long as he did not finish repairing his mother’s house and helping her out slightly with her financial situation he did not stop. Six months later he returned to Iasi.
In Iasi he was asked by a silversmith to come learn and work with him. The man was a famous silversmith and my grandfather accepted his offer and worked with him for a full year thus becoming one of the few who was both a goldsmith and a silversmith. This came as a great help to him during the following years which turned out to be most difficult ones.