Sir Henry Strakosch "a Jew"?

Published: 2003-11-01

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In vol. 5 of his biography Winston S. Churchill, published in 1976, historian Martin Gilbert relates the working relationship that existed during the 30s between Churchill and the South African economist and gold mining executive Sir Henry Strakosch. Most of the figures on German armaments that Churchill brought to the House of Commons and publicized elsewhere were supplied by Strakosch, who wished anonymity in the affair.

Strakosch eventually had to pay heavily for such services. Gilbert relates that Strakosch saved Churchill from financial ruin in 1938 when, due to declines in the New York markets, Churchill's brokerage account went into debt in the amount of £18,000 ($90,000), which Churchill could only begin to cover by selling his house Chartwell. Strakosch picked up the tab for this fancy sum, at a time when a decent American salary was perhaps $2,000 per year. In addition, Strakosch bequeathed Churchill £20,000 when he died 5 years later.[1]

In vol. 1 of his Churchill's War (1987), David Irving repeats this story but adds that "Strakosch was a Jew born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia." While Strakosch was not born in Moravia, a book by Marie-Theres Arnbom published in Austria in 2002 has made it clear that he was at least half Jewish in terms of ancestry.[2] The purpose of this note is to revise, in consideration of the subsequent Arnbom book, my earlier remarks on this problem[3] and to explore whether the classification "a Jew" was appropriate in the context. By that I mean several questions. Did the Jewish aspect motivate Strakosch in this involvement with Churchill? Was Strakosch considered a Jew during his life? Did he so consider himself?

Strakosch was not Considered a Jew

Strakosch died near London on Saturday Oct. 30, 1943, and The Times (London) published a long obituary on Nov. 1, eulogies on Nov. 2, and on Nov. 4 a report of a memorial service for Strakosch. It was clearly a Christian service, held at St. Michael's, Chester Square. Thus Strakosch died a nominal Christian.

From several routine sources we learn the following about Strakosch.[4] He was born May 9, 1871, in Hohenau, Austria, son of Eduard Strakosch and Mathilde Winterberg.[5] Hohenau is on the Austria-Moravia border, and Eduard Strakosch was a pioneer in the Austrian beet sugar industry. Henry was educated at the Wasa Gymnasium in Vienna and then privately in England. He joined the Anglo-Austrian bank in London in 1891, rising quickly to become foreign exchange manager. He then became interested in gold mining and finance and emigrated to South Africa in 1895, joining the gold mining enterprise Goerz and Co. in 1896 as assistant managing director.

The founder of the company, Adolf Goerz (1857-1900), was an immigrant from Germany and not a Jew.[6] Although the company had maintained close relations with Germany and in particular the Deutsche Bank in Berlin, Goerz had incorporated it in England. On the outbreak of war in 1914 five of the eight directors were German subjects. The British forced them off the board and by 1918 both the name of the company (now Union Corp.) and the character of the board had changed.[7] The British would not have distinguished in this purge between Germans and German Jews, and Austrians would have been considered Germans, but Strakosch had become a British citizen in 1907 and survived,[8] rising to chairman in 1924, a position he held until his death. Strakosch was known as "keen on polo, an inveterate motorist, and a bachelor."

He was adviser to the government in the drafting of the South African Currency and Banking Act of 1920, which led to the establishment of the South African Reserve Bank. From 1925 on, India retained him for similar purposes. He was knighted in 1921, and became K.B.E. in 1924, G.B.E. in 1927.

He got married late in life, in 1941, to the widow Mrs. Mabel Elizabeth Vincent Temperley, in a Christian ceremony at St. Andrew's in Kingswood, Gloucester. His wife and Churchill were not the only beneficiaries of his will when he died two years later, as there were bequests to several others,[9] e.g. Field Marshall Smuts and Brendan Bracken, and also an interesting trust fund that he set up to be[10]

"applied by my trustees to a fund for any purpose which in their opinion is designed to strengthen the bonds of unity between the Union of South Africa and the Mother Country and which incidentally will conduce to the appeasement of racial feeling between the Dutch and English speaking sections of the South African community."

The Boer War (1899-1902) had no doubt left a lasting impression on Strakosch.

None of the sources on which the above summary is based, except for Arnbom who is cited only in the matter of Strakosch's British citizenship, gives any indication of a Jewish connection for Strakosch.

The Jüdisches Biographisches Archiv, 1994, a massive database available on microfiche, cites two sources that suggest he was a Jew. The first is a book or pamphlet entitled The Jews' who's who. Israelite finance. Its sinister influence., Judaic Publishing Co., London, 1920. It seems very unreliable because its accusations are based on the character and name of Strakosch's company in 1914, before the changes forced by the British (I have not been able to get a copy of this publication but the Jüdisches Biographisches Archiv quotes from it).

The second source mentioned by the Jüdisches Biographisches Archiv is more credible. In a 1949 article Albert M. Hyamson, a leading Jewish biographer, listed about 2,500 prominent "Anglo-Jewish" people, each getting one or two lines in his 69 pages. One of them was[11]

"Strakosch, Sir Henry (1871-1943). Economist & banker; The Times, 1.11.43; Ann. Reg.; 'Randlords.'"

The first two references are to Strakosch's obituaries, already cited here, which do not say he was a Jew. The third is to the book Randlords, by Paul H. Emden, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1935. The Emden book merely gives some biographical information about Strakosch and mentions his relation to Adolf Goerz thus:[12]

"One of the earliest collaborators of Adolf Goerz (from 1896 on) was the present Sir Henry Strakosch, whose influence and importance extend far beyond the limits of gold production. He is recognized the world over as an authority on monetary matters and exchanges; his influence on the development of currency and the organization of Banking in South Africa was so great that the objection was expressed that 'the Commission seems to have been clay in the hands of Sir Henry Strakosch.'"

Emden does not say that Strakosch was a Jew.[13]

Two more observations should be made on Hyamson's listing of Strakosch. In his introduction to his list Hyamson writes:

"The term Jew has been interpreted in the following list in the widest sense, to include not only men and women connected with the Jewish community, but also those only of Jewish parentage, or half-Jewish parentage, and in a few exceptional instances of more remote Jewish origin."

That is, a person need not have been "Jewish" to appear in the list. Second, Hyamson also published a general (not specifically about Jews) reference work, Dictionary of Universal Biography, issued in 1915, 1950 and (in the USA) 1951. His entry for Strakosch in the last is:

"Strakosch, Sir Hy.; Hung.-Eng. econ. and financ., 1871-1943. S"

The "S" signifies that his obituary is to be found in the Annual Register. In accord with his general objectives in this work, Hyamson does not declare Strakosch to be Jewish, but he does declare him to be Hungarian-English. None of the other sources indicates he was Hungarian and to so classify him is wrong.

Hyamson seems not well informed about Strakosch and his rule of classification begs the question in any case.

Two books that ought to have much about an important man such as Strakosch, if he had been Jewish, do not list him in their indices. They are Jewish Roots in the South African Economy, by Mendel Kaplan, C. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 1986, and The Jews in South Africa. A History, editors Gustav Saron and Louis Hotz, Oxford Univ. Press, London, 1955.

The Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971) mentions two Jewish Strakosches, but not Sir Henry. The death and obituary notices in the four issues of the London weekly (Fridays) Jewish Chronicle for November 1943 do not mention Strakosch.

I conclude that Strakosch did not consider Strakosch a Jew, and neither have the Jews.

The Arnbom Book

In the absence of the Arnbom book, I saw no significant grounds for classifying Strakosch as a Jew. The book establishes that Strakosch was at least half Jewish in terms of ancestry, but does not show that he should be considered "Jewish" or "a Jew" according to my understanding of the meanings of such terms.

The general aim of the Arnbom book is to demonstrate the great business and professional accomplishments of the five named Austrian families. At the outset, the author is evasive or unclear on whether these families should be considered "Jewish", presenting them as having been strongly committed to assimilation, many members sincerely converting to Christianity.[14] Assimilation and religious conversion were commonplace in Germany in the 19th century, and about 60,000 German Jews out of a community of less than 200,000 converted.[15] Arnbom suggests a similar trend in Austria.

Arnbom's history of Sir Henry's line of the Strakosches starts with his grandfather, Salomon Strakosch (1795-1867), and ends with the rise of the National Socialists in the 1930s. The Strakosch family members in Austria, long assimilated and religiously converted, did not initially see any threat to their position but were forced to leave the country after the National Socialist Anschluß of 1938. Sir Henry helped some of them move to England.[16]

The emphasis of the Arnbom book is on the business and professional achievements of the five families treated and not on social history, though the latter seems more interesting and even tantalizing, in view of the remarks about their progressive assimilation. Specifically, assimilating Jews interact with gentile society at all levels (otherwise they wouldn't be assimilating), and yet we are told little of these interactions.

Most important, intermarriage with gentiles is inadequately treated for the Strakosches. For example Arnbom remarks, very briefly, that the opera impresario Karl Strakosch was "manager of, and in 1887 married, one of his singers: Clara Louise Kellogg of the later distinguished American industrial dynasty."[17] In fact Kellogg (1842-1916) was a famous singer in her own day, and Arnbom does not tell us she was not Jewish.[18]

Another example is that of Moritz Strakosch, who managed the even more famous singer Adelina Patti and married her sister Amalia.[19] Arnbom notes these facts but does not tell us that the Patti family was not Jewish.[20]

Sir Henry was born Heinrich in 1871, son of Eduard Strakosch and Mathilde Winterberg.[21] Eduard was 100% Jewish in ancestry but of Mathilde Winterberg I know nothing. The various biographical indices list both Jewish and gentile Winterbergs.

Under the circumstances the problem of whether Sir Henry was "a Jew" or "Jewish" depends on definition. Jews are always quarreling among themselves on this problem of definition, and I am not inclined to try to settle the issue for them, or gainsay them where they agree.

Rabbinic law is clear that failure to practice the Jewish religion has no impact on the Jewish status of a person; a non-observant Jew is still a Jew. A principle Jews traditionally use in their definitions is matrilineal descent: a Jew is somebody with a Jewish mother. That breaks the rules of definition by defining the noun in terms of the corresponding adjective, but is useful anyway. If Mathilde Winterberg was not Jewish (which may or may not be the case), and if Sir Henry was not raised in a Jewish environment (which seems indicated by the Arnbom book) then I do not think anybody should consider him a Jew.

Sir Henry Strakosch

Sir Henry Strakosch

If Mathilde Winterberg was Jewish, then either Eduard and Mathilde converted and raised Heinrich as a Christian, or Heinrich or Sir Henry converted later in life. Under generally accepted rabbinic standards, a Jew who voluntarily converts to Christianity ceases being a Jew.[22] By this standard Sir Henry would not have been considered a Jew by the Jews, and the sources I cited imply that the Jews have not in fact considered him a Jew and neither did he.

That the Jews do not consider him a Jew is a weighty consideration, but it does not quite settle it for me because I am not inclined to accept that a person can stop being Jewish via a religious conversion. It takes more. For example, I consider the French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger to be still a Jew, and evidently so does he.[23] I doubt that the Jews agree.

Then What Was he up to, and Why?

The only significance of the question of Sir Henry Strakosch's Jewish status is in assessing the forces that were at work, during the Thirties, in organizing a war against Germany. While this status remains to be definitively established, it is not correct to designate Strakosch, simplistically, as "a Jew", and Arnbom's book clearly presents his relatives as long assimilated Austrians. Such designation in this context would imply Jewish motivations in his campaign against Hitler.

If he was not acting from Jewish motivations, then what were his motivations? Why was he out to get Hitler? An answer is given in a booklet he published in 1935, in which the gold miner argued for the restoration of an international gold standard for currency.[24] He considered that the cooperation of Britain and other "Sterling countries" was attainable, but it was not possible to[25]

"attain a full measure of recovery unless America and Germany are also brought into the fold [...]. Substantial progress in this direction has already been achieved in America [...]. The German situation, on the other hand, remains hopelessly confused, not so much because her problems are fundamentally so very different and so much more difficult, but because of the manner in which they are being faced. There is hardly a single one of the many and varied measures she has taken which can be said to be of real value for her restoration - indeed, most of them tend to impede it [...]."

It is well known that this judgment of the efficacy of Hitler's economic policies was wrong. The National Socialist economic policies were notoriously successful, and have been called "The Nazi Miracle" which Hitler performed knowing at the outset that "The international financial world would stand on its head and attack our currency with all the means at its command."[26]

The important point is that we see the motivations that Strakosch brought to the campaign against Germany. Hitler was on the way to proving him wrong. Thus to describe Strakosch as "a Jew" in this context is to do more than make a mistake about ethnicity. It is to camouflage a very important dimension of the background to, and causes of, the Second World War. Strakosch should, rather, have been described as "a South African gold miner campaigning for restoration of the international gold standard". If he had been a full Jew, then I still would not have described him as Irving did. I would have written "a Jewish South African gold miner campaigning for restoration of the international gold standard".


[1] The Times, Feb. 7, 1944.
[2] Marie-Theres Arnbom, Friedmann, Gutmann, Lieben, Mandl und Strakosch, Fünf Familienporträts aus Wien vor 1938, Böhlau Verlag, Vienna, 2002.
[3] Arthur R. Butz, "Was Churchill's Gold Bug Jewish?," Journal of Historical Review, 21(1) (2002), pp. 9-13; Also in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung, 6(2) (2002), pp. 212-215.
[4] Annual Register (London, 1943); The Times, August 15, 1941; John F. Riddick, Who Was Who in British India, Greenwood, Westport, Connecticut, 1998; Eric Rosenthal, Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, 6th edition, Frederick Warne, London and New York, 1973; C.J. Beyers, Dictionary of South African Biography, Tafelberg-Uitgewers, Cape Town, 1977; Walter H. Wills and R.J. Barrett, The Anglo-African Who's Who and Biographical Sketch-Book, George Routledge & Sons, London, 1905.
[5] In my earlier papers on this subject (note [3]) the spelling was "Winterburg" because my sources used that form. Arnbom uses "Winterberg" and that appears to be the correct spelling. Also I use the correct "Eduard" rather than "Edward".
[6] Robin McGregor, McGregor's Who Made South Africa, vol. 1, Purdey, Saxonwold, 2000, pp. 138-141. As the Preface explains this is vol. 1 of a projected series on "the positive contributions made by each of South Africa's twenty five odd cultural groups to its development [...] the Jewish contribution [...] comprises the first part of this volume. As a significant number of Jews are of German origin, it seemed appropriate to relate the contribution made by the Germans as the second part."
[7] Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Randlords, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1985, pp. 118, 244.
[8] M.-T. Arnbom, op. cit. (note[2]), p. 118.
[9] The Times, 7 Feb. 1944, p. 6.
[10] The Times, 17 May 1949, p. 6.
[11] Albert M. Hyamson, "Plan of a dictionary of Anglo-Jewish biography," in Anglo-Jewish Notabilities. Their Arms and Testamentary Dispositions, The Jewish Historical Society of England, London, 1949. Hyamson was president of this Society.
[12] Paul H. Emden, Randlords, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1935, pp. 217, 342.
[13] This remark is based on the listings of Strakosch in the index of the Emden book.
[14] M.-T. Arnbom, op. cit. (note[2]), pp 11, 16.
[15] Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Dartmouth College, in the Jewish weekly Forward, 30 Aug. 2002, p. 12. Hertzberg continues with comments on Jewish history in the USA: "Nearly 40 years ago, I was asked to do a study of the founding fathers of the major Jewish institutions. I went back to the 1840s when B'nai B'rith was founded, along with such bastions of Reform Judaism as Temple Emanuel in New York. I could find hardly a single family among the charter members still represented in the Jewish community through their descendants." In a related way, Hilaire Belloc remarked on the ephemeral nature of Jewish dynasties in comparison to the gentile (The Jews, 3rd ed., Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1937, pp. 77, 86f). Such ephemerae should be contrasted to the millennial durability of the Jews. A resurrected ancient Roman would consider déjà vu much of what is said of the Jews today, but Rome is long gone, and the Jews are still here.
[16] M.-T. Arnbom, op. cit. (note[2]), 132-135.
[17] Ibid., pp. 111, 230.
[18] Clara Louise Kellogg, Memoirs of an American Prima Donna, Putnam, NY, 1913. When she was a young girl her family celebrated Christmas and she sang in the church choir (p. 8).
[19] M.-T. Arnbom, op. cit. (note[2]), 109, 230.
[20] John Frederick Cone, Adelina Patti: Queen of Hearts, Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, 1993, pp. 12, 267.
[21] M.-T. Arnbom, op. cit. (note[2]), p. 118.
[22] Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University, writing in the Jewish weekly Forward, 19 Oct. 2001, p. 10.
[23] On a visit to Australia Lustiger was quoted in The Weekend Australian, 4-5 August 2001, p. 9, thus: "I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that's unacceptable for many. [...] For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That's my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it."
[24] Sir Henry Strakosch, The Road to Recovery. With Special Reference to the Problem of Exchange Stability and the Restoration of the International Gold Standard, Economic Forum, New York, and The Economist, London, 1935. 70 pages, of which 27-36 were missing from the copy I read.
[25] Ibid., p. 51.
[26] Alan Milard in the London Review of Books, January 23, 1986, p. 21. Milard reviews several books on the subject.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Arthur R. Butz
Title: Sir Henry Strakosch "a Jew"?
Sources: The Revisionist 1(4) (2003), pp. 412-415
Published: 2003-11-01
First posted on CODOH: June 23, 2012, 7 p.m.
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