Select Schlesinger Surname Genealogy

Schlesinger is a Germanic surname to describe someone who came from Silesia (Schliesen in German).  Silesia is a region in eastern Europe that has been governed at different times by Prussia and Poland (since 1945 it has been part of Poland).

Schlesinger has been mainly a Jewish name in America.   Their origins in Europe have been more widely spread than just the region of Silesia.  Alternative spellings of the name have been Schlessinger, Shlesinger, and Slesinger.

Asked how to pronounce his name, the American astronomer Frank Schlesinger said:

"The name is so difficult for those who do not speak German that I am usually called sles'in-jer, to rhyme with messenger.   It is of course of German origin.  In that language the pronunciation is shlayzinger, to rhyme with singer."

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Select Schlesinger Ancestry

Schlesinger in Europe has been very much a Jewish name.

That was the case with
Adolf Schlesinger from Silesia who started a music publishing business in Berlin in 1810, capturing the work of composers such as Beethoven and Mendelssohn.   Mordecai Max Schlesinger who lived in the 18th century in Vienna was from a Jewish rabbinical family that began in Prague and continued after Vienna in Frankfurt.

Schlesinger emigrants in the 19th century came from Prussia and elsewhere in Germany and Austria-Hungary as well.  Then there were Schlesingers fleeing Nazis and Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s and 1940s.

.  Schlesingers might have arrived in America as Jews, but some of them hid or turned away from their Jewish faith. 

Bernhard Schlesinger was a Jewish merchant from Prussia and his wife Kate an Austrian Catholic. The two joined together in Protestantism after he met her in Xenia, Ohio in 1872.  And they produced WASP-type Boston offspring: 
  • their son Arthur Schlesinger Sr was a Professor of History at Harvard University from 1924 to 1954.  
  • while their grandson Arthur Schlesinger Jr, also a distinguished historian, was close to the Kennedys and served as a special assistant and court historian during the Kennedy Presidency.  
James Schlesinger meanwhile, born to a Jewish immigrant family in New York in 1929, was Harvard-educated and converted to Lutheranism in his twenties.  Trained as an economist, he served as Secretary of Defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations and Secretary of Energy under Jimmy Carter. 

New York
.  Many Schlesingers came to New York.  New York state in fact accounted for almost 40% of the Schlesingers in America in the 1920 census.

Joseph and Mary Schlesinger were German immigrants who had arrived there in the 1860s.  Their son Frank, educated in New York public schools, became a prominent astronomer at Yale University.

David and Dora Schlesinger came to New York from Berlin with their family in 1884.  Their son Fred became an architect and builder in the city and a distinguished one.  His first work was the Davidora Court building on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, completed in 1923.

Meyer Schlesinger was born in New York City in 1916.  His grand-daughter, born in Brooklyn, is the radio talk show host Dr. Laura, otherwise known as Laura Schlessinger. 

.  Leopold Schlesinger arrived in Chicago from Stuttgart in Germany in 1862.  Ten years later, just after the Great Fire, he joined forces with David Mayer to start a department store.  Schlesinger & Mayer prospered and they commissioned a grand skyscraper for their store.  However, by 1904 they were out of business. 

Leon Schlesinger, born in Philadelphia in 1884, was the youngest of ten children of Albert and Joselina Schlesinger, Jewish immigrants from Silesia.  He started out in show business as a theatre usher and worked his way up to head a company which crafted title cards for silent films.  Later he was the man behind the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, overseeing the creation of characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd.

.  Two Schlesingers came to England in the 1820s Michael to London from Prussia and Hermann to Bradford from Hamburg.  Michael was recorded as a commission agent in the 1851 census.  Hermann was a rabbi.  His son Edward emigrated to New Orleans in the 1840s and was a school teacher in Louisiana and Texas. 

Richard Schlesinger arrived in London from Frankfurt in Germany sometime in the 1890s.  His son Bernard was a paediatrician who worked at various hospitals around London.  He and his wife Winifred set up a hostel for children rescued from Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. 

The story of Bernard and Winifred Schlesinger was recounted in Ian Buremas 2016 book Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War.  In 1975 a family history book of the Schlesingers was presented to them to mark their Golden Wedding.  By that time their son John, born in 1926, had become a famous film director.

South Africa
.  Isidor Schlesinger arrived in South Africa from Silesia in the 1860s, made a fortune in the Kimberley diamond fields and lost it, and ended up running a bar in the town of Klerksdorp.  His son Bruno was an early South African mining engineer.

There was another Isadore, better known as I.W. Schlesinger, who was not so wasteful. 
Born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, he had come via New York to South Africa in 1894, initially working as a salesman for Pepsin Gum.  From there he launched first into theatres and then into the nascent South African film industry.

Between 1916 and 1922 I.W. Schlesinger produced 43 feature films with the themes being primarily about Boer and Britons. An astonishing accomplishment was the procuring of 25 000 Zulu warrior extras!" 

During the 1930's Schlesinger built picture palaces and took bioscope, as it was called, into the far-flung rural areas, thus exposing the magic of cinema to entertainment-hungry audiences.  When he died in 1949 his son John inherited the business.

Select Schlesinger Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Schlesinger Names

I.W. Schlesinger, an entrepreneur and impresario, was one of the most influential individuals to become involved in the performing arts industry in South Africa.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr
was a distinguished American historian who was close to the Kennedys and served as a special assistant and court historian during the Kennedy Presidency.
John Schlesinger
was the English-born film director who won an Oscar for his 1969 film Midnight Cowboy.
James Schlesinger was an American economist who served as Secretary of Defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations and Secretary of Energy under Jimmy Carter.

Select Schlesingers Today
  • 600 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 2,200 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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