Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An anecdote evolves into an 18th century Jew joke.

Frederick II, Emperor of Prussia, was a historian. So he wrote a book called Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire de Brandebourg, published in 1750. (Write in German? Ew. Actually, Moses Mendelssohn would chastise him in a book review of his Poesies Diverses 10 years later, for writing his poetry in French, rather than German.) In 1751 an English version appeared, called Memoirs of the house of Brandenburg.

The following appears in it:

The Jewish Encyclopedia informs us that this Dutch Jew named Schwartzau was actually a Suasso, namely Antonio Lopez Suasso (link):
When William III. undertook his expedition to England in 1688, Suasso advanced him 2,000,000 gulden without interest and did not even ask for a receipt, merely saying: "If you are successful you may repay me; if you are not successful, I will be the loser." Frederick II. of Prussia commemorates this instance of self-sacrifice as the act "of a Jew named Schwartzau."
"Schwartzau" was evidently either a sort of Dutch version of his name, or Frederick himself Germanized it, the same way I Anglicized "Friedrich."

So that's the story: William of Orange borrowed 2 million something-or-other from a Jew named Schwartzau, who told him that he could pay it back if he succeeds in his military campaign against England. If not, he is prepared to lose it.

In 1800 an Encylopaedia of Anecdotes was published in Dublin, and here is how it tells it (under the heading Jewish Liberality):

Now it's almost Jew joke: "If you are fortunate I know you will pay me, if you are not, the loss of my money will be the least of my afflictions."


  1. It seems to me more a matter of "shlach lachmecha" than "liberalities". What's the epilogue - was he ever paid back?

  2. Probably. William of Orange reigned as King William III of England, so he kind of won. He's the William in "William and Mary."



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