Selig Goldschmidt, Part IV: Tributes to the Man—Family Man, Entrepeneur, Philanthropist, and Patron of the Arts

Selig Goldschmidt

What made Selig Goldschmidt such an adored figure in the Frankfurt Jewish community? When he died in January 1894, there were many obituaries and tributes singing his praises and mourning his death. Many of these were collected by his son Meyer and then translated by later generations in 1996 and published in Israel in the book I’ve been referring to as the Selig Goldschmidt book.1

One characteristic of Selig was his benevolence and generosity to individuals in need and to charitable organizations. There are many letters in the book describing various donations he made or asking him for help. For example, he and his wife Clementine donated 20,000 Marks to establish an orphanage for Jewish girls in 1882.2 When he died, the letters and obituaries all mentioned his philanthropy.

Selig was also generous in his support of the arts. Much of his generosity was made possible because of the remarkable success of his arts and antiques business. There is not a great deal of detail about the business in the Selig Goldschmidt book, but some of the tributes to Selig provide insights. One man wrote a tribute that was published in the Frankfurt newspaper Finanzerhold as part of its obituary for Selig:3

Mr. Selig Goldschmidt, together with his brother Jakob who long predeceased him, founded the prestigious art business, J&S Goldschmidt which, from modest beginnings, rose to a dominant position in the world of art.

…The importance of the current art and antique trade with its close contacts with arts and crafts… is today well known and appreciated. This is due, in no small measure, to the merits of the departed. Forty years ago interest in art treasures of the past was still nebulous. Often these lay hidden, covered in dust, in most unlikely corners. It was then the task of intelligent dealers to track down such treasures, recover them from their hiding places and turn them into models for imitating the former arts and crafts industry to benefit the living generation.  It was not often easy to do justice to this task. Often it meant waging a campaign against the ignorance and limited understanding of the owner as well as against forgery. This required firm knowledge of the trade, energy, sensitivity and understanding—in short, genius. These qualities can be ascribed to the deceased to a high degree, and they earned him rare success. However, this success did not dazzle him, when—much as his reputation, and that of his firm, grew—whatever lasting reward acquired by his efforts in furthering the high aspirations of the art market, he remained the modest businessman and friend of humanity. He never put the materialistic side of his profession above its ideals.

Among Selig’s most famous clients were members of the Rothschild family. Baron Edmund de Rothschild sent a condolence note to Selig’s family. In its obituary of Selig, the Frankfurter General Anzeiger mentioned that Baron Mayer Carl von Rothschild was one of Selig’s loyal clients, thanks to Selig’s “highly developed understanding of art.”  Another obituary mentioned that “Rothschild only wanted the most rare and the most beautiful, so that the buying demanded the highest circumspection and skill. In this respect the high level of knowledge, which the deceased had acquired on his own, was quite remarkable.” 4

Selig’s firm not only acquired and dealt with secular works of art and antiques; they also specialized in Judaica, and the book about Selig includes many photographs of the Judaica he collected and traded. That is not surprising, given what an observant Jewish life Selig lived. In his letters to his children and grandchildren as well as to others, he almost always mentioned his gratitude to God and the importance of Jewish values. His letters frequently mention Shabbat and Jewish holidays, including Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukah, and others. His support of his synagogue and of Jewish educational institutions was based not just on his charitable instincts but on his commitment to tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (healing the world).

These values were expressed by Selig explicitly in his Last Will and Testament dated July 1889. Unlike most wills, Selig did not merely identify how his assets should be distributed. He also wrote to his children about the way he hoped they would live their lives after he was gone. Today we would call this an ethical will, but back then I think this must have been quite unusual.

Selig wrote, in part:5

May G-d always be with you and bless you with all that is good and noble….Do not be too sad and upset when I have been called to rest with my forefathers, but thank G-d who has allowed me till now to fulfill my mission on earth so well. … Above all, my dear and good children, I beg of you to remain firm and strong in the faith of our fathers. Cling firmly to the laws of G-d and you will have the surest and safest guidance for your entire life. At the same time, don’t be over pious, do not condemn a person who does not share your views. Above all, keep your firm brotherly and sisterly friendship. Help each other with advice and action, and never forget those relatives who need your help.

He then wrote about how he grew up poor and was grateful for the financial security he attained as an adult because it allowed him to take care of them all as well as other relatives and to provide charity for others.  His requests of his children were that they take care of their grandmother, Caroline Schuster Fuld, for the rest of her life and that they continue to support the institutions that he and Clementine had supported including the Jewish schools.  After listing the specific bequests (not included in the book), Selig’s will concluded with these words:6

My purpose here on earth is now fulfilled, thanks to G-d’s kindness. If now it would please the Almighty to unite me again with my Clementine, I would call eagerly, here I am. I can calmly leave the beloved circle of my dear children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, since I am quite sure that you will bless our memory by attempting to complete with your noble efforts and Divine help, what we have always endeavored to do.

Now, my good children and grandchildren live cheerfully and happily. May Almighty G-d bless you and make you happy, just as you will strive to make each other and those around you happy. Then you will enjoy a long and happy life, just as your grateful and ever loving father, father-in-law and grandfather has done up to the present day.

That was quite a loving and hopeful legacy that Selig wished for his descendants. In the posts to come, we will learn whether their lives lived up to his hopes and dreams for them.


  1. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies) 
  2. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p. 107. 
  3. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p. 152. 
  4. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp. 149, 151. 
  5. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p. 119. 
  6. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp. 122-123. 

Selig Goldschmidt, Part I: Loving Son, Husband, and Father

If you have a really, really good memory and have been reading this blog for over a year, you may remember that back in October 2019—before COVID!—I wrote my first blog post about my 4x-great-uncle, Meyer Goldschmidt, and relied heavily as a source of information about Meyer and his family on a book created in honor of his son Selig Goldschmidt.

The book, Selig Goldschmidt: A Picture of A Life,  was published in Israel by Selig’s descendants in 1996 (hereinafter referred to as the Selig Goldschmidt book),1 and it includes remembrances, letters, and obituaries that were originally compiled by Selig’s son Meyer and that were then translated from German to English by the later generation in order to preserve and honor the memory of Selig Goldschmidt.

Last year I relied on the Selig Goldschmidt book to tell the story of Selig’s parents, Meyer Goldschmidt and Lea Katzenstein, and about the childhood of Selig and his siblings, but now I am returning to the book to focus more exclusively on what it reveals about Selig himself as he grew from a child and spent his adult life in Frankfurt, Germany.

First, some background. Selig was born on March 16, 1828, in Grebenstein, Germany, the fifth child and second son of his parents Meyer and Lea. (I have already written about the first four: Ella, Sarah, Jacob, and Amalie.)

Selig Goldschmidt birth record, Arcinsys Hessen, HHStAW, 365, 375 Jüdische Personenstandsregister von Grebenstein: Geburtsregister der Juden von Grebenstein, p. 36

As described in the book, the family was quite poor when Selig was a child, and his father Meyer suffered from poor health, exacerbating the precariousness of their financial position. Then Selig’s mother Lea Katzenstein Goldschmidt died on September 28, 1839 (after having given birth to two more sons after Selig, Joseph, who died when he was six in 1836, and Falk, who was born in 1836). Selig was only eleven years old, and as I wrote about here, he and his siblings had to take on a lot of responsibility for each other and for the youngest sibling, Falk, who was only three.

Once the older siblings began to marry and have households of their own, the financial pressure was reduced. After the youngest sister Amalie married Juda Katzenstein in 1853 and her father Meyer moved with them to Eschwege, Selig and his brother Jacob sold the family home in Grebenstein and moved to Frankfurt,2 where the two brothers established the firm J&S Goldschmidt, which grew to be one of the most famous and successful art and antique dealerships in Germany and perhaps in Europe. More on that to come. But it’s important to remember that Selig and his siblings grew up in poverty before building their business to what must have been unimaginable success.

According to the civil record below, on May 27, 1857, Selig married Clementine Fuld in Frankfurt. She was born in Frankfurt on January 8, 1837, to Herz Fuld and Caroline Schuster, and, as I noted in my prior post, she was the sister of Salomon Fuld, who would later marry Selig’s niece Helene Goldschmidt, daughter of Selig’s brother Jacob Meier Goldschmidt.

Marriage of Selig Goldschmidt and Clementine Fuld, Certificate Number: 30
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

However, it appears that Selig and Clementine had been married under religious law nine months earlier. The Selig Goldschmidt book includes a facsimile of their ketubah as well as a translation in English of their marriage contract, and it indicated that they were married on August 20, 1856.3

A letter written by Selig to Clementine on August 31, 1856, reveals that this was a love match; it also suggests how busy Selig was and how often he had to travel for work. Selig, who was away on business in Dinkelspiel at that time, wrote in part:4

Dearest Clementine

I have received your most welcome letter just after my arrival here. [He then described how he spent Shabbos in Dinkelspiel.]… The afternoon passed pleasantly in conversation until after the evening service in the synagogue when I was alone once again. I missed you very much, dear Clementine, and would have gladly paid a lot of money in exchange for half an hour’s conversation with you, if that could have been instantly arranged. Since that was impossible, I did the same as Friday night and went to bed at eight o’clock. I dreamed I was with you, dear Clementine, and I had such a pleasant talk with you and was so happy to be near you that the time passed very quickly. [Selig then wrote that he would be delayed returning to Frankfurt because of business.] … However, early in the following week, please G-d, the happy day of our reunion will arrive. Then, dear Clementine, we will enjoy ourselves and chat enough to compensate for everything we have missed. Yet that joy can only last for two or three days because then I must set out on my journey to Leipzig. Thus man’s happiness is always limited, just as his existence is only brief. However, of what use is such nonsense? After all, that is part of my occupation and you yourself have told me not to neglect my business. We must utilize properly the short time allotted to us, for such is life! If only one would use this time assigned to oneself well, surely the whole world would be a happier place. …

Dear Clementine, please accept sincere greetings and kisses from your affectionate and faithful

               Selig

Selig and Clementine had six children—five daughters and one son, all born in Frankfurt. First born was Helene, born on February 28, 1858.

Helene Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8812, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

A year later Flora was born on March 17, 1859.

Flora Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8814, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Hedwig was born two years later on February 27, 1861.

Hedwig Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8818
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

And Recha followed two years after Hedwig. She was born on June 11, 1863.

Recha Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8824
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Selig and Clementine’s only son Meyer Selig Goldschmidt was born on October 6, 1865. He was obviously named for his grandfather Meyer.

Meyer Selig Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8830
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

The last child, Johanna, was born on December 18, 1867. Johanna grew up to marry her first cousin Abraham Stern, the son of Selig’s sister Sarah, and her story has already been told in great detail when I wrote about Abraham and their family so I will not tell it again.

Johanna Goldschmidt birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8837
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

In the preface to the Selig Goldschmidt book, Selig’s son Meyer described what his childhood was like and how the family was bound in love:5

The ideals of children, grandchildren and the wider family circle were all in tune; thus an incomparable, blissful harmony prevailed in our family. It was constantly sustained by love, affection and enthusiasm for all that is noble and good which emanated from the head of our family. Before meals on Friday evening in winter and on Shabbos evenings after the meal, a large number of the more distant family would assemble in our home. There were so many people that it is difficult to understand, in view of the relatively small size of the rooms, how comfortable and happy everyone felt. It may have been due to a certain simplicity which was deliberately cultivated there. In the main room a big bowl of fruit stood on the table at which we sat, and anyone who wished could help himself.

Imagine if all children were as blessed as the six children of Selig Goldschmidt and Clementine Fuld and able to grow up surrounded by so much joy and love.

This portrait of Selig and Clementine’s children appears on page 37 of the Selig Goldschmidt book. It appears to have been taken in 1872 based on the ages of the children (the daughters are identified by their married names).

Selig Goldschmidt’s children

 

 

 


  1. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies) 
  2. “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.22 
  3. “The Man,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp. 34-39 
  4. “The Man,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp. 32-33. 
  5. “Preface,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp. 4-5.