Foreword: Kept ever aware of the Holocaust, it is easy to forget that it did not take shape simply because of Nazi Germany. Anti-Jewish discrimination existed in Europe for centuries earlier. Here are the stories of three Jewish liquor dealers who immigrated to the United States in the 19th Century because of anti-Semitic laws or other troubling situations and found acceptance and success on America’s shores.
The picture above is of the German town called Bingen on the Rhine. Aaron Blade, shown here in maturity, was born in Bingen of German Jewish parents in December 1828 and was educated in the local schools. For all the beauty of its setting and the Germanic romanticism connected with Bingen, over the years the town had proved inhospitable to Jews. During the 13th Century religious officials there are said to have regularly extorted sums from Jewish moneylenders. Jews were expelled from Bingen in 1507 and did not return until the second half of the 16th Century, still subject to discriminatory laws. Seeking freedom, at the age of 20 in 1848 Blade left for America, settling in Miwaukee.
The Wisconsin city in which he settled bore some resemblance to his homeland. Milwaukee, shown above was a German town. The population at that time was predominantly of German ancestry. German commonly was spoken on the street and in homes. There were German schools, German churches, German newspapers German social and sports clubs and a predominance of German lager beers. Blade went work to in a liquor house, eventually founded his own business and was highly successful.
As a purveyor of whiskeys, the man from Bingen was credited with helping change tastes. A book called “Milwaukee - A Half Century,” published in 1896 suggested that in the past whiskey sold in Milwaukee had fallen short of being “harmless and healthful.” The author indicated Aaron Blade was altering attitudes with his flagship label, called “Old Dave Jones,” asserting: “This is a matchless brand of whiskey which has achieved a popularity second to none in the market, and whether for social indulgence or medicinal use it has few equals and no superiors.”
What Aaron Blade found in Milwaukee was real opportunity to make a success through intelligence and hard work. In Bingen it was a different story for the Jewish population. When Hitler came to power in Germany in the early 1930s, the number of Jews in the town was 465. By 1939 as the result of flight and emigration only about half remained. Those who were left became victims of the Holocaust. After the war only four Jews returned. They found that their synagogue had been destroyed in 1945.
Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire, including conquered Poland, were large-scale, targeted, and repeated, beginning in the 19th century. Certain territories were designated "the Pale of Settlement" by the Imperial Russian government, within which Jews reluctantly were permitted to live, and it was within them that the pogroms largely took place. Jews were forbidden from moving to other parts of European Russia unless they converted.
Said by descendants to have been escaping religious persecution as a Jew in Russian-dominated Poland, in October 1867 at Hamburg Germany Max (Mox) Idelman boarded the Steamer Tripoli not knowing what he might discover in America. A sense of adventure eventually took him West where Idelman found prosperity and acclaim in Cheyenne, Wyoming, all the while selling whiskey.
In 1875, after some eight years serving as a clerk in a St. Joseph, Missouri, liquor emporium, Idelman headed west to Evanston, Wyoming, a town that had its origins when the first Continental Railroad arrived in November 1868 and made Evanston, its headquarters. Idelman saw opportunity there at one of the western-most points in Wyoming and opened a liquor store.
Apparently Evanston failed to meet his expectations because two years later in 1877 Idelman moved to Cheyenne, a town that was growing rapidly and had become known as “The Magic City of the Plains.” It also was the state capital. There Idelman was joined by his younger half-brother, Abraham. Together they founded a company they called the Yellowstone Tobacco and Liquor Distributorship and later Adelman Bros. Liquor and Cigars. The business was a success.
Together the brothers built the Idelman Building at the corner of Ferguson (later Carey) and 16th Streets, shown here. Still standing, at the time it was it was considered the finest commercial structure in Cheyenne, incorporating a hotel, saloon and the Idelmans’ liquor house. Max’s success did not go unnoticed in Cheyenne. Considered among the leading businessmen of the town, he was urged to run for local office, agreed, and was elected to a term on the Cheyenne City Council. In his obituary, the Cheyenne Daily Leader wrote: “Mr. Idelman gave liberally to all public benefactions and took an active part in all movements to uphold the city.”
Lazard Coblentz probably knew that when he fled Europe to avoid being forced into the Prussian Army he would head for America and the State of California, there to join the Gold Rush. But he cannot have known that he ultimately would find his mother load following a “North Star,” selling whiskey in Portland, Oregon.
Coblentz was born in 1852 in the sleepy village of Lixheim in the Lorraine region of Northeastern France, near the German border. Lazard’s extended family of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage had originated in the German city of Koblentz, situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. Decades earlier they had migrated into France. When France and Prussia went to war in 1870, Prussia captured Lixheim and conscripted into its army male residents of eligible age. As a result, according to a family history, twenty one Coblentz men, a mixture of brothers and cousins, headed for the New World, scattering out across South, Central and North America.
Lazard headed to California where he initially opened a liquor store in Gold Rush minng town. As gold finds dwindled in 1888 Coblentz, with his family and brother-in-law Ike Levy in tow, pulled up stakes and followed his star north to Portland, Oregon, shown above, a city that was experiencing an economic surge. There, under the company name, Coblentz & Levy, the pair opened a liquor wholesale business at 166 Second Street. For the following 27 years the enterprise was highly successful, its flagship brand “North Star Bourbon.”
In 1915, however, Oregon residents voted the state “dry.” The Coblentz liquor store closed its doors. The 1920 Census found Coblentz and his wife living in a comfortable home on 22nd St. in Portland. Lazard, age 68 and with his whiskey business five years gone, gave his occupation to the census taker as “macaroni salesman.” I detect more than a modicum of sarcasm in his response, appropriate for someone who had ventured in life as far as he had.
Note: More complete stories of each of these three whiskey men can be found on this site: Aaron Blade, June 28, 2014; Max Idelman, June 21, 2018; and Lazard Coblentz; January 18, 2013.