O R IGINS O F THE

H ECKSCHER F AMILY

based upon research gathered over many years by

F RANK H ECKSCHER
Yateley, United Kingdom

February 2013

ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

A number of accounts of Heckscher family history exist today. Most of these accounts are written in German and offer family details from the early 1600s. These several accounts appear to have been written sometime between 1920 and 1930 and by the same author, a Rabbi Eduard Duckesz (1868 - 1944) in Hamburg. Not surprisingly then, the accounts mostly confirm each other, at least as far as the early family is concerned. One differing version of our family history can be found in the United States.1 This version attempts to relate a line who emigrated to the USA after 1830 to a different and earlier source. However, there is virtually no supporting evidence provided in this account, and it appears to be based on suspect material obtained from a library official in Vienna in the late 19th century. This U.S. version of our family history is almost certainly fictitious, as some of the American members of the family have acknowledged2. Rabbi Duckesz, the author of the apparently more reliable accounts, clearly had genealogical skills and access to key data records. His services were required by many Jewish families who, after about 200 to 300 years in the Hamburg area, were beginning to lose sight of their origins and various details about how the many branches of their families joined together. Family data was well-documented and available in the 1920s. It included the very early tax records of the Jewish community and the circumcision books for boys. Many of the circumcision books were privately owned, including some that had been in the hands of one or two early Heckschers who were authorized to carry out these operations. Also available at that time were marriage records and death records. Death records were particularly well kept and were correlated with inscriptions and numbers on

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

tombstones in several Hamburg cemeteries. I have photographs of some of these early family tombstones which are inscribed only in Hebrew script. Fortunately, enough material survived the Second World War to build up a reasonably good family picture. In my own line, I discovered that my great uncle Caesar Heckscher (1876 - 1945), a lawyer in Hamburg before the Second World War, spent time checking much of this data. This adds to my confidence in its validity. Caesar Heckscher's daughter Hannelore (ca. 1920-?) kindly gave me many written details that tie in remarkably well with separate accounts obtained from Alexander Heckscher (1908 - 1997), whose line meets mine back in the 1600s. The written details also align well with accounts and genealogical data from Helmut Heckscher (1921 2008), Kurt Heckscher (1926 - 2004), August Heckscher 2nd (1913 - 1997) and the Danish/Swedish side of the family. The Hamburg State Archives contain a great deal of material collected by local civil authorities, especially from about 1800 onwards. This includes material that relates specifically to Jewish heritage. During the latter part of the 1800s, it became compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths with the civil authorities and to participate in census returns. City address books appeared in Hamburg from about 1780 and they also contain some helpful information -- even if few people were listed in them in those days. Nonetheless, it is not easy to find some of the links back from Heckscher lines in Hamburg in the 18th century, and more research needs to be done here. The records for Altona were kept by the Danish authorities, in Schleswig (Germany) or Copenhagen (Denmark).

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

Tracing Heckscher family members as they moved to other places within or outside of Germany has proved to be quite difficult. I have found evidence of Heckschers who lived in Berlin from the early 1800s onwards. Similarly, evidence is found in Regensburg at about the same time. Some of the migration was probably the result of the many wars fought in Europe in which Hamburg became involved. Perhaps even more of the migration is related to the taxation system imposed on Jewish people at that time. The taxation system restricted the number of Jewish family dwellers in any one place. Certainly it is clear that in the mid-1700s, members of the Heckscher family moved to parts of Denmark where the taxation system was more lenient towards Jews. This migration continued during the era of Napoleon. Shortly after 1800, there is evidence that some lines in the Heckscher family abandoned their traditional Jewish beliefs and became Lutheran. More rapid migration occurred during the 1800s as the so-called New World opened up and became more easily accessible, especially the Americas and Australia. This more rapid migration was made possible in part by the advent of new and faster steamships that crossed that Atlantic from Germany, France and England. There were Danish and German Heckschers who became involved in this opportunity. Today, one can find members of the Heckscher family in many parts of the world including the United States, South and Central America, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and England. They also can be found in Australia and South Africa.

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

Origins of the Family and Name The Heckscher family came to the area of Altona soon after 1600. Now the westernmost borough of Hamburg, Altona then was part of the Danish province of SchleswigHolstein under the rule of King Christian IV. A few Jewish families then had permission to settle in Altona. In return, they had to pay an annual tax that provided 'protection' status granted by the King. Altona then was outside the walls of the City State of Hamburg, which did not accept Jewish settlement until later in the 17th century. Before arriving in Altona, the family had come from a village near Hoexter, then a small town northwest of Gottingen. Hoexter is very near to a large monastery at Corvey that was well-known in the Middle Ages as a religious centre as well as a 'seat of learning'. Hoexter, too, was a place where travelers could pause for several days on their journeys and exchange news of whatever was happening in the larger world. It is very likely that in the 16th century, the Heckscher family learnt a great deal from such traveler exchanges in Hoexter, including information about opportunities that were then increasing rapidly around the Baltic ports. From a letter written to Helmut Heckscher in 1995 by a Hoexter town official, we know that the name 'Hoexter' is derived from an old German word 'Heckenscherers.' This translates into 'hedge-cutters' in English. This may point to the origin of our name, even if there is no more direct evidence to say that it happened like this.

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

The same letter to Helmut Heckscher states that the town records for Hoexter do not show any Heckscher living there in the 16th century. However, the records do show references to a Jewish family named Meier living there at that time. Ephraim Meier born ca. 1580 was the original name of the first member of our family to move to Altona. It is interesting to note that those with a knowledge of Hebrew can write our surname using only 3 letters. It was quite normal in the middle-ages for people not to use a surname when they lived in small communities or townships. Instead they used the older format of name and patronymic e.g. in our family, the oldest traceable member, Ephraim Meier, meaning Ephraim son of Meier. An additional identifier was often added when people moved locality. Then, place names were commonly used to differentiate between people living in the same new place with otherwise similar names. So, for example, we see our Ephraim Meier (from Hoexter) married to Reine, daughter of Samuel Sanwel (from Ansbach). Occupational or trade names were also used to provide differentiation. Ephraim Meier did not use the current Heckscher spelling when he first came to Hamburg. Caesar Heckscher noted that the circumcision record book of a Samuel S. Heckscher (ca. 1640 - 1714) states that Ephraim’s surname was written Heckschir in order to differentiate the name from the present version which has other possible meanings in the Hebrew language. Duckesz had also noted the sons of an early Reuben Heckscher (? - ca. 1714) changed their adopted surname to Hoexter to avoid this confusion.

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

Although there remains an element of doubt, my conclusion is that our family was known as Meier immediately before leaving Hoexter, and that the name Heckscher evolved from the middle-age name of the place they left. I have tried to locate the whereabouts of early records of the Jewish people who lived in the town of Hoexter but have found nothing of value. The early Hoexter Cemetery in which some of our ancestors might be found dates back to before 1640. However, the cemetery was closed in 1847 when it became full and a replacement site was opened. All records appear to have been destroyed during the Second World War so, unfortunately, this line of research is closed.

Historical Background Influences on Family Development Looking at the early Heckscher family tree, one sees at each generation that there were many Heckscher children. It also is clear that not many of these lines seem to have survived through to modern times. There are a number of possible reasons for this. The most obvious one is quite simply that I haven’t traced the leads. However, there are other possibilities for the 'shortage' of lines. These could include deaths in childbirth of either the Heckscher mother or child and/or children, as well as Heckscher children who did not marry are all. The special protection tax system in Altona probably had a greater effect as, apart from the first child, the tax system generally removed the rights of other married siblings to reside (and be protected) in that location. Therefore, many children had no option but to move away to other places when they reached adulthood.

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ORIGINS OF THE HECKSCHER FAMILY

The restrictions placed on the occupations available to Jewish people also made life very difficult for many in our early Heckscher family. We can assume that there must have been many who lived in conditions of poverty.

Summary of Research I have concentrated my efforts mainly on identifying the ‘male’ line of the Heckscher family. Tracing the female lines is more complex, introducing many different family names as each girl married and had children who again married, etc. Occasionally I include females, for example where there were marriages between cousins. I have been able to trace my own line back to the original Heckscher family in Altona and a number of other lines, too. These include the lines to some of the larger collections of Heckschers in New York, Florida and Philadelphia; also to other groups who settled in Brazil, Mexico, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and England. I also have partially complete links for a number of other lines which miss an early connecting name. Included in my data collections I also have lines of Heckshers (without the second ‘c’) and where many of them tie into our tree.

Footnotes: 1. Heckscher, Stevens, “Memoirs and Letters of the Heckscher Family”, Prepared between 1916 and 1925, Privately Printed, pp. 4-5.

2. Letters to Frank Heckscher from August and Maurice Heckscher (1907 – 2001)

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