My Mother’s Family — Part 2

In 1881 Romania was visited by Sir Laurence Oliphant. Sir Laurence was a well known writer and traveller. During a certain period he was a Member of Parliament and then served as secretary to several important British politicians. In1861 he was appointed as First Secretary to the British Embassy in Japan. The Embassy was raided one night by Japanese nationalists who murdered several of the British diplomats. Oliphant, however, escaped. Gentile historians who praise Oliphant for some of the books which he wrote argue that the murderous incident in the Embassy turned him into an eccentric and mystic. Jewish historians praise him as one of the righteous men who rose to convince the Jews to return to their homeland, Israel and rebuild it as their rightful homeland. In 1879 he visited Israel (which was then a “vilayet” (district) of Syria) quite thoroughly and then went to the Ottoman (Turkish) Sultan in Constantinople (Istanbul) and tried to convince him to sell the land of Israel to the Jewish People. When this failed he went traveling throughout the East-European countries trying to convince the Jews to go to Israel. He spent a lot of time in Romania and the Jews treated him seriously, many actually leaving and going to Israel.

Oliphant visited Iasi as well and delivered several speeches at the Great Synagogue of Iasi. His speeches were translated to Yiddish. The Schönberg family was at the Synagogue during these speeches and were very impressed by his words. They were intelligent people who belonged already to the Jewish Enlightenment Movement and Oliphant’s arguments made quite a lot of sense to them. They discussed his arguments at home. These discussions did not last very long. They decided to sell what little property they had and send forward as the family’s pioneering detail my grandfather Moritz and his father Dov Schönberg to investigate what should be brought along and make the first arrangements before the rest of the family arrives permanently.

My grandfather who was 22 years old and his father left Iasi in north-east Moldavia shortly after Passover, April 1882, and traveled by train to Galati in south-east Moldavia. Galati was the largest port on the Danube river. They took a boat which sailed south to Sulina. Sulina was a small port at the exit of the Danube to the Black-Sea. There they boarded a ship of the Austrian Lloyd which was sailing to Alexandria, Egypt.

Although it was already spring the Black-Sea was very stormy and the voyage to Constantinople (as Istanbul was then called) took longer than usual.Leaving Constantinople they sailed to Izmir and from there to Rhodes with Beirut next, finally arriving in Alexandria in May 1882.

Egypt at that time was an important part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by a Khedive who was no less corrupt than his Sultan. As soon as the Suez Canal was completed and purchased, lock, stock and barrel by Great-Britain ad France Egypt became of political interest to these two European Powers. They decided that they could not leave the Suez Canal under the corrupt domination of “the sick man of Europe” (as the Ottoman Sultan was then nicknamed) and therefore appointed,in 1879, two diplomats of their own who resided in Egypt and actually led the corrupt and impoverished Khedive by the nose. This went on for two years and was disliked by the Egyptian people and army who wanted independence. Ahmed Arabi the Egyptian succeeded in raising a revolt against the tyranny and despotism of the Turks, British and French. The Khedive, so as to appease him appointed him as Colonel of the Egyptian army and later as Deputy Minister of War and finally gave him the title of Pasha and made him a member of the Egyptian Cabinet.

The British and French were worried by this development and sent a fleet of warships to Alexandria in May 1882 and on the very same day that this fleet arrived so did the ship of the Austrian Lloyd which carried my grandfather and great-grandfather. Several cannon shots were exchanged between the British warships and the Egyptian coastal fortifications but did not develop to a major incident until later and so grandfather and his father disembarked.

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