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Mendelssohn Family Collection

Identifier: AR 7156

Scope and Content Note

The Mendelssohn Family Collection contains mainly photocopies of original correspondence of the Mendelssohn Family. Almost all of this original correspondence is in handwritten German. All papers in this collection are from descendants of Moses and Fromet Mendelssohn. Series V: Correspondence of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Series VII: Correspondence and Papers of Other Family Members contain documents from the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy branch of the family, which began with the marriage of Moses Mendelssohn’s son Abraham to Lea Bartholdy.

Much of the correspondence is between family members, although some is also between friends and acquaintances. Of particular interest to researchers may be the correspondence between Alexander Mendelssohn and Alexander von Humboldt found in Series IV: Correspondence of Alexander Mendelssohn. Extensive correspondence is available in Series III: Papers of Benjamin Mendelssohn and his Wife Rosa, and Series VI: Papers of Franz von Mendelssohn and his Wife Enole. In addition, Series VI contains manuscripts and drafts of Franz’s writings, as well as notes, drafts of his speeches and public addresses, and his personal documents. Two of the most prolific writers of the family were Joseph and Henriette (“Hinni”) Mendelssohn. Letters to and from them may be found not only in Series II: Papers of Joseph Mendelssohn and his Wife Henriette, but also in Series III, VI, and VII. In addition, commentary on their correspondence will be found in Series VIII: Material Relating to the Collection.

Series VII holds papers of other family members who do not have their own series, as well as papers concerning the family in general, such as newspaper clippings and an article on the family. Papers which relate to the collection but which were not photocopies of original material are available in Series VIII: Material Relating to the Collection.

Popular topics among the correspondence include family news and events, greetings, letters between parents and children, health of family members, and travel letters from trips taken by family members. Several family members corresponded with relatives while they were serving in the military away from home.

The finding aid for and arrangement of this collection has been revised several times. This finding aid was prepared with respect for the form of the previous arrangement. Folder numbers in brackets refer to series and folder numbers in the previous finding aid. Papers in this collection are for the most part in German, although French, Hebrew, and English are also present.


  • 1717-1993
  • Majority of material found within 1800-1889

Language of Materials

This collection is in German, French, Hebrew, and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

The Mendelssohn family was an upper-class family in Prussia which rose to prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its most renowned members include the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. The family was also distinguished in banking, and several of the sons of the family were bankers.

Moses Mendelssohn was born in Dessau on September 26, 1729 and died in Berlin on January 4, 1786. He married Fromet Gugenheim, and they had six children: Brendel (later Dorothea after her conversion to Christianity), Joseph, Abraham, Reickel (“Recha”), Henriette (later Marie after her conversion to Catholicism), and Nathan. His eldest daughter Dorothea was first married to Simon Veit and became Dorothea von Schlegel after her second marriage. Joseph was the eldest son of Moses Mendelssohn and founded the banking house of Mendelssohn and Co. together with his brother Abraham. Joseph was born in Berlin on August 11, 1770 and died there on November 24, 1848. He married Henriette ("Hinni") Meyer, who was born in Alt-Strelitz in 1776 and died in Berlin in 1862. Abraham (1776-1835) was the second son of Moses and married Lea Salomon, granddaughter of banker Daniel Itzig. Lea’s brother Jakob changed his name from Salomon to Bartholdy, and Abraham added his wife’s name to his own, beginning the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy branch of the family. They both eventually converted to Christianity. Reickel, Moses’ second daughter was born in Berlin in 1766, married Mendel Meyer, and established a boarding school for girls in Altona. Nathan was the youngest son and married Henriette Itzig, the daughter of Daniel Itzig.

Joseph Mendelssohn had two sons, Benjamin (Georg Benjamin) and Alexander. Benjamin was born in Berlin on November 16, 1794, and took part in the uprising against Napolean. He received his doctorate at the University of Kiel in 1827, taught geography at the University of Bonn, and died in Horchheim near Koblenz on August 24, 1974. Benjamin married Rosa Richter. The banker Alexander Mendelssohn was born in Berlin on September 19, 1798, and died there on October 25, 1871. Alexander took over the banking house after his father’s death and was the last Jewish descendant of Moses Mendelssohn.

Franz von Mendelssohn, a banker, was the son of Alexander and his wife Marianne. He was born in Berlin on January 25, 1829, was ennobled in 1888, and died in Berlin on February 20, 1889. He married Enole Biarnez, who had been born in Bordeaux on October 6, 1827 and died in Berlin on January 3, 1889.

Abraham and Lea Mendelssohn-Bartholdy had four children: Fanny (1805-1847), Felix (1809-1847), Paul, and Rebecka. Both Fanny and Felix were musically gifted and composed music, although Felix became more celebrated for his compositions. In 1829 Fanny married the artist Wilhelm Hensel. Rebecka was born in Hamburg in 1811. She married the mathmetician Gustav Dirichlet, and had two children, Walter and Flora. Paul married Albertine Heine and had one son, Ernst, who was later ennobled. The composer Felix was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809 and died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847. He was musical director of the Lower Rhine Musical Festival in Düsseldorf from 1833 until 1835, and then became conductor at the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig. In 1837 Felix married Cécile Jeanrenaud. Felix died several months after the death of his sister Fanny, and was survived by several children: Carl, Marie, Paul, Lilli, and Felix.


2.8 Linear Feet


This collection provides documentation of the lives and activities of members of the Mendelssohn family. The vast majority of the collection is correspondence, with some other types of documents such as personal papers, manuscripts, and clippings.
Guide to the Mendelssohn Family Papers, 1717-1993 (bulk 1800-1889) AR 7156
In Progress
Processed by LBI Staff
© December 2002.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from MendelssohnFamily02.xml

Revision Statements

  • September 2004.: Converted to ead 2002. Revised as MendelssohnFamily02.xml by Dianne Ritchey Oummia. Removed deprecated elements and attributes, updated repository codes, added language codes, changed doctype declaration, etc.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States