The Gomperz Family and the return of the book seller

Michael Cahn stepped off the red eye from LA, spent the day in his bookshop then cycled to our house looking somewhat dishevelled. He earned his keep last year by sponsoring us to do a triathlon in aid of the Campaign for Female Education. Little did he know what we had in store for him on this visit.

After the death of my father, and my mother’s move to a care home in Cambridge, my sister and I began the task of clearing our family home. Amongst the myriad of possessions were some 200 copies of a book – The Gomperz Family originally published in 1907. The work was started  by the historian Dr David Kaufmann and completed after his death by his colleague Dr Max Freudenthal. Kaufmann was the son-in-law of Rosa Gomperz who lived in Vienna.  The book traces the history of the Gomper/t/s/z family from the time of their earliest settlement in Germany in around 1550 and follows their diaspora over three centuries from Berlin, Frankfurt, Metz, Vienna, Prague, Holland and England.

My father, Bastien, was made aware of this book by David Gompertz, a colleague at University College London. It was written in academic German and since neither of them were German speakers, they arranged for a couple of the chapters to be translated. It became apparent that this was a significant work concerning not just a history of a family, but a history more broadly, of the Jews of northern Europe. Such an extensive genealogy going back so far and so wide is very unusual. What is more, only a hand full of copies of the original survived the second world war. So it was an important task to have it translated into accessible English, printed and made available once more. Bernard Standring (Centre for European Languages and Cultures, University of Birmingham) undertook the translation as a retirement project and Bastien, who was so impressed and excited by the text, personally funded the publication which rolled off the press in 2003.

At this time, the internet had grown to a sufficient size to make searching for Gomperz family members a profitable task. Bastien set about contacting as many as he could and he invited them all to our house in London to launch the book.

The book is an academic treatise on the first court Jews of Northern Europe. In addition to being a detailed genealogical history of a family, it is also a considered history of perilous but extraordinary Jewish achievement in relation to land, money and royal power. The Gomperz family also later played a significant role in the Jewish enlightenment, indeed Bastien was chuffed to learn that he was a cousin, seven times removed of no less than Felix Mendelssohn! The modern family were largely wiped out of Holland and Germany by Hitler. David Gomperts, Bastien and Earnest Gompertz, who knows most about Gomperz genealogy today in Holland, added illustrations including photographs of the later Dutch Gompertz family members who carried the name from the 19th into the 20th Century.

Natasha and I are now looking to disperse the book. Our friendly book seller offered, with out persuasion, to handle the distribution via Plurabelle. We are selling the books for £24 plus postage and packaging. £12 of this will be donated to Safe Passage, a charity that provides legal routes to sanctuary to refugees.

You can buy your copy of The Gomperz Family here:

A review of the book by Ellen Barman can be found on the Amazon website here.