The Strauss and Bendheim Families

After sifting through the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census data from Alexandria, Virginia and discussing some trends as a class, I have decided to take a closer look at two German Jewish immigrant families: the Bendheims and the Strausses. In looking at these two families, I aim to focus on the relationship between them and how migration to Alexandria either created or maintained family ties.

Looking at “Germany” in 1870 is not a necessarily straightforward task, as the nation of as we know it today did not exist. Instead, the country was broken up into several kingdoms, which often centered around a particular city (see map 1).¹

(Map 1:The German Empire: 1871.)

However, a year later, Otto von Bismarck began the process of unification, a goal that many Germans had embraced in the nineteenth century. Like the majority of German immigrants, the Bendheim and Strauss families did not claim to be from a unified Germany in the U.S. Census. In 1870, the Strausses all claimed to be from Bavaria, the large region encompassing much of southeastern Germany today. Likewise, the Bendheims migrated from the region known as Baden, which borders Bavaria to the southwest. By claiming these regional identities, both families show that most Germans still held to the more local identifiers and did not claim to be from Germany. When the census taker came back in 1880, these same Old World identities were not used by all members of the family. Despite the unification of these former regions and city-states under one German government, the Bendheim and Strauss families still clung to their local identities. In 1870, Emma Strauss claimed to be from Bavaria, but in 1880 the census taker wrote that she hailed from the Darmstadt, a city located in the former territory of Hessen. Similarly, David Bendheim claimed to be from Baden in 1870, but his allegiance also switched to the city of Darmstadt. Fanny Bendheim also switched from claiming to be from Baden in 1870, to claiming to be Bavarian in 1880 (see Table 1). These changing ideas of identity and where exactly they were from tell a lot about the changing nature of ethnic identity among German immigrants, including German-Jewish ones, in this ten year window. A possible explanation for these changing identities could be that the census taker was not very thorough in the recording of his data in one or the other year. Another possible answer could be that these places are close geographically. And–another reason could be that, while Baden and Bavaria still existed as regions in Germany, their cultural, social, and political importance as ethnic identities was drastically lessened after the unification of Germany. The City of Darmstadt still certainly significance, but mostly on the local level.

Table 1: Nation of Origin among the Bendheim and Strauss Families, 1870 and 1880

Name/Year of Census Region of Germany Ward in Alexandria Occupation
Henry Strauss/1870 Bavaria Ward 3 Dry Goods Merchant
Henry Strauss/1880 Bavaria Ward 2 Dealer in shoes & clothing
Emma Strauss/1870 Bavaria Ward 3 Keeping House
Emma Strauss/1880 Hesse Darmstadt Ward 2 Keeping House
David Bendheim/1870 Baden Ward 3 Dry Goods Merchant
David Bendheim/1880 Hesse Darmstadt Ward 2 Dry Goods Merchant
Fanny Bendheim/1870 Baden Ward 3 Keeping House
Fanny Bendheim/1880 Bavaria Ward 2 Keeping House


While looking at these two families and the table above, it is also interesting to note the ways in which the Strauss and Bendheim families moved within the City of Alexandria. The Strausses and Bendheims came from the same region–although different kingdoms–in Germany, and then settled in the same ward.  In 1880, they then moved to the same ward again. Given all these factors, it would seem that the Strauss and Bendheim families either knew each other in Germany, or became fast friends once they arrived in Alexandria. Documents show that David Bendheim and Henry Strauss were members of the same congregation and served on its Board of Trustees.² They were also both members of the Hebrew Benevolent Society in Alexandria. Perhaps, it was these ties that led them to move together from Ward 3 to Ward 2?


(Map 2: Alexandria Country, Virginia: 1878. The area highlighted in green shows the City of Alexandria.)

Still other explanations do exist for the possible movement of the families within Alexandria. The above map of Alexandria in 1878 shows what was then the City of Alexandria in the bottom right corner, highlighted in green.³ The wards are numbered by splitting the City into four quadrants with Washington and King streets serving as the two axes. The bottom right quadrant is Ward 1, the top right is Ward 2, the top left is Ward 3, and the bottom left is Ward 4. The fact that both the Strauss and Bendheim families lived in Ward 3 in 1870 could very well be explained by the occupation of Henry Strauss and David Bendheim. As dry goods merchants, both men would have found a ready market of customers in Ward 3 due to its proximity to the train tracks. People would flow in and out of this part of town frequently, particularly earlier on in the Civil War, providing both men with a broad client base. This would also mean though, that housing in Ward 3 was likely poor, and while proximity to the rail road could be good for business, it is not the ideal spot for your home. The census taker in 1870 valued both David and Henry’s properties at $1,500, very respectable, but fairly poor compared to some of their fellow German Jews. As both families began to grow their businesses and earn more money, this could be one reason why both families picked up and moved to Ward 2 sometime between 1870 and 1880. Another reason could be that moving to Ward 2 and settling on King Street, one of the two major thoroughfares in the City and the hub of Alexandria’s central business district, was a better location for David Bendheim’s dry good business as well as Henry Strauss’s new occupation, selling shoes and clothes.

Whatever the reasons brought the Strauss and Bendheim families to Alexandria, it is clear that these two families were linked to each other somehow. By looking closely at patterns of geography and movement found in the 1870 and 1880 census tables, we are able to pick up on this friendship and the beginnings of a Jewish-German immigrant community in Alexandria.



  1. Anna Sluszkiewicz, “Index of German-Polish and Polish-German names of the localities in Poland & Russia.” Maps: German Empire 1870, accessed September 22, 2015,
  2. 2.  “American Jewish Yearbook.” American Jewish Committee Archives 1 (1899-1900): 264.
  3. 3.  Census Finder. Virginia County Map: Alexandria County 1878 County Map, Accessed September 22, 2015,                                      


Isaac Schwarz

Map of Isaac Schwarz’s Property in Alexandria

Going through data on the City of Alexandria from the 1870 U.S. Census was very fascinating, especially when I tried to trace certain families into the 1880 U.S. Census. The Schwarz family consisted of Isaac (35), head of the household; Lenna (24) (correct name is Lena); Clara (7); Samuel (4); and Eada (1) (correct name is Edith) living in Ward 3 in 1870. I thought nothing else of the family other than they fit the profile of a typical German immigrant family in Alexandria. A quick search of Home of Peace Cemetery through the website, Find a Grave, showed that Isaac, Lena, and Samuel were buried there. Further research showed how the Schwarz family was a well-regarded German Jewish family in Alexandria during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

The Schwarz family represents a unique part of Alexandria’s immigration history. Isaac and Lena Schwarz were both born in Bavaria. Isaac’s brother, Henry, emigrated before Isaac and had established a profitable dry goods business on the 500 Block of King Street in Ward 3 of the city by 1855.[1] The 500 Block of King Street was once owned primarily by Adam Lynn, Jr. who lost the properties due to the 1819 recession.[2] By the 1850s, the street was the epicenter of German Jewish immigrants and their businesses. The 1870 and 1880 Censuses reveal that this street was home to the Bendheim, Strauss, and Hinderstand families among others. Tracing these German Jewish immigrant families shows that many of them were merchants, clerks, bakers, or butchers. The block remained in these families for generations, particularly the Bendheims and Schwarzs.

Isaac Schwarz served in the 17th Virginia Infantry for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was honorably discharged after being injured in the Second Battle of Bull Run.[3] Isaac returned to Alexandria to run his brother’s dry goods store after Henry moved to Philadelphia by 1865.[4] Henry’s reasons for leaving a thriving business are unknown. Perhaps it was to start another goods store in Philadelphia or that, after the Civil War, Henry sought better opportunities in the North and he left the store to his fresh-out-of-the-army brother who could use the money and experience. Henry was an active member of the Jewish community and was a founding member of Beth El Hebrew congregation in 1859 and a part of the Hebrew Learning Society.[5] Isaac filled his brother’s shoes easily after he left. By 1870, Isaac is married to fellow Bavarian, Lena; however, it is also possible that the couple married before arriving in the United States. The couple have three children by this time and they would have a fourth, Fannie, in 1880. The dry goods store was doing extremely well with the Schwarz’s employing Ister Briven, a 22 year old Bavarian who lived with them in 1870, and they also had a white servant. The employment not only of Briven but also a servant demonstrates how Isaac was able to grow the business and maintain a healthy profit even after the Civil War. Isaac and Lena–by allowing Briven to board with them–is a testament to the community aspect among German Jews in Alexandria as they were willing to help a newly emigrated young man get experience in the merchant industry, especially those from the same kingdom.  It is even possible that they knew each other in Germany or were extended kin.

Isaac and Lena Schwarz appeared on the 1880 U.S. Census at 132 King Street as a dry goods merchant and keeping house as their respective occupations. The couple now had four children with 7 month old Fannie. In 1884, Isaac purchased the property adjoining his store at 522-524 King Street.[6] He continues to purchase the surrounding lots on King Street with the 1887 purchase of 102 and 104 S. St. Asaph Street.[7] It is not surprising with his purchases of property on one the most well-known streets in Alexandria that based on taxes Isaac was one the wealthiest residents of Alexandria by 1888.[8] This amount of property would put Isaac as one of the most influential German Jewish immigrants and possible of the most powerful residents in Alexandria.

The close knit quality of the German Jewish community, especially amongst those on King Street, and the status of the Schwarz family in the city was probably a driving force in the marriage of Isaac’s middle daughter, Edith, to Charles Bendheim. David Bendheim was a long time neighbor of Isaac who, by 1880, can be placed at 285 King Street. David was a prominent figure amongst the community and his son Charles was three years older than Edith. In the 1910 U.S. Census, Edith had married Charles, moved to Ward 4 in Alexandria, and had a son Leroy in 1906. Isaac Schwarz’s grandson, Leroy Bendheim, would go to become the Mayor of Alexandria from 1955-61 and a member of the Virginia Senate. Leroy, Edith, Charles, and David Bendheim are all buried in Home of Peace Cemetery.

With $2,000 of property in 1870, Isaac Schwarz made a name for himself in Alexandria. Perhaps that success was in part because of the central location his brother set up his dry goods store. The 500 Block of King Street was the gathering place of German Jewish immigrants, and their success is evident in the wealth of not only Isaac but also of David Bendheim. Isaac died in 1898 and was buried in Home of Peace Cemetery next to his wife, Lena, who passed away in 1893. The successful Bavarian left 518-520 King Street to his son, and the home remained in the Schwarz family until 1960. Leroy Bendheim then sold the Schwarz homestead to the Alexandria Regional Housing Authority (ARHA), and it was demolished in 1967 as part of an urban renewal project.[9] The 522-524 King Street property was passed on in a trust to Isaac’s daughters; it is unclear what happened to the S. St. Asaph Street property.[10]

[1] Amanda Iacobelli, “German and German-Jewish Immigrants: Michael German, Lewis Baar, David Bendheim, Max Pretzfelder, J.H Gerhard, and Henry and Isaac Schwarz,” (2006), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The Gray: Isaac Schwarz,” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City,

[4] Iacobelli, “German and German-Jewish Immigrants,” 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Loyalty to the Union?

The 1870 and 1880 U.S. Censuses allow historians not only to identify the names of families in late nineteenth-century Alexandria, Virginia, but also to see trends regarding occupation and place of origin. One of the most notable groups of immigrants (and their American-born descendants) were those of German-Jewish origin. These immigrants came from territories such as Prussia, Bavaria, Baden, Hanover, and Darmstadt. Many who settled in Alexandria were attracted to the economic opportunities, especially before and during the Civil War.

Alexandria was under Union control by May 1861, and the city served as a transport hub. As supplies and soldiers were sent south, fears of betraying the Union drove the federal government to require all employees and military personnel, and later the general populace, to sign an Oath of Loyalty. Those who failed to sign this oath faced being driven from their homes.[1] For German-Jews who supported the Confederacy, signing this oath was problematic. Jewish tradition taught respect and obedience to the established government, which for pro-slavery Jews referred to the Confederate government.[2] Signing the Oath of Loyalty, which pledged that the signer would support the cause of the Union, would have been a significant violation of this tradition of obedience.

Fig. 1: Charles Magnus, Bird’s Eye View of Alexandria, 1863, hand col, 36 x 59 cm., Library of Congress Geography and Map Division,

Fig. 1: Charles Magnus, Bird’s Eye View of Alexandria, 1863, hand col, 36 x 59 cm., Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, <>



An example of a German-Jewish immigrant who signed the Oath of Loyalty was Simon Blondheim. Simon lived in Alexandria at the time of the Civil War and was listed on the Oath of Loyalty as a merchant.[3] The 1870 U.S. Census listed Blondheim living in Ward 1 of the city with his wife, Bertha, who was American-born. Ward 1 was one of the wealthier sections of Alexandria depending on your address during the mid- to late-ineteenth century.  Blondheim’s presence indicates that he was probably middle-class. However, the 1880 U.S. Census shows the Blondheims and their ten children living in Ward 2, which was predominantly settled by immigrants, including those from German states. Blondheim’s reasons for moving to a section of Alexandria that was predominantly settled by immigrants possibly related to a desire to have stronger connections with other members of Alexandria’s growing German-Jewish community. Blondheim was a clothes dealer in the 1870 U.S. Census, but in the 1880 one, he was listed as a grocer. The reason for his occupational changes are unknown, but he desired to make more money or that groceries was simply a much more prosperous business.

Signing the Oath of Loyalty indicated that Blondheim was one of the German-Jews in Virginia who was prominent enough to draw enough attention to himself that he could have been suspected to be loyal to the Confederacy. Signing the Oath, however, didn’t necessarily mean that he supported the Union or abolitionist ideologies. He may have sincerely believed in southern values regarding race and slavery; he may have only signed the Oath to ensure that he could remain living in Alexandria.  His position on the Civil War is unknown.

German-Jews before and during the Civil War understood the fact that if they wanted to be accepted by southern white society, they had to accept southern customs and values, including slavery. [4]   Many southern Jews at the outbreak of the Civil War perceived northern abolitionists to be anti-Semitic, and these same Jews didn’t want abolitionist efforts to eliminate slavery and jeopardize the hard-earned gains of equality that they had obtained as a result of their acceptance of the southern racial hierarchy. [5] Signing an Oath of Loyalty for some Jews then, can be understood as being a personal conflict between maintaining social equality among their white peers and protecting their homes and livelihoods during a time of political and social chaos.  It could also mean that they recognized that slavery was wrong, and supported the Union.  There are many reasons for signing such an Oath.


[1] “Oath of Allegiance in Virginia, 1862-1865” Alexandria Library,|||1|||0|||true.

[2] Robert N. Rosen. “Jewish Confederates,” in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History, ed. Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2006), 116.

[3] “Oath of Allegiance in Virginia, 1862-1865.”

[4] Rosen 111.

[5] Rosen 113.



Joseph Kaufman

When our class first began to look at census data, I could not understand how it would be helpful to uncover the past. The class looked at the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census for Alexandria, Virginia. For these two years, we focused on looking for German- Jewish Immigrants. It was not until I overlaid information from the Home of Peace Cemetery with data from 1870 and 1880 censuses that I was able to see who were members of Alexandria’s German-Jewish community in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. One of the surnames in the cemetery and census data was Kaufman (NOTE: the census taker also listed the name as “Kaufmann”). In the 1870 U.S. Census, the head of household for the Kaufmans was James, and in the 1880 United States Census his name was Joseph.  It can be concluded that both James and Joseph were the same person because their children had the same names; the census taker must have written down his first name incorrectly.  The census taker also struggled with Rosa’s name.  In 1870, she was listed as “R. Kauffman,” but in 1880, she was “Rosa Kaufman.” We know that census takers did not always care about accuracy, and maybe the 1870 census taker heard their names and, perhaps, even the spellings but put down whatever he wanted.  Joseph was from Baden, a kingdom in the southwestern region of central Europe that eventually became Germany. Rosa was supposedly born in South Carolina based on information in the 1870 U.S. Census, but from New York in the 1880 one. The 1880 U.S. Census also informs the researchers that Rosa’s parents were from Bavaria.

In the American Jewish Yearbook, I was able to find out that Joseph was on the board of trustees for the Beth El Synagogue and the Hebrew Benevolent Society, which helped to establish the Home of Peace Cemetery.[i] He was a part of these boards starting 1878 until Joseph’s death in 1902. The Kaufmann’s have a family plot in the Home of Peace Cemetery. Many of their children can be found there as well. The children listed on the 1870 U.S. Census were Morris (age 8), Estella (age 4), and Sidney (age 2). In the 1880 U.S. Census, the children listed were Maurice (age 17), Estelle (age 14), Sidney (age 12), Aleck (age 5), and Jerome (age 1). Two of the children were buried in the Home of Peace Cemetery who can also be found in the censuses.  Aleck’s name was Alexander in the cemetery, so maybe Aleck was his nickname.  Jerome was the other son listed; his tomb stone stated that he was born in 1876, which would make him 4 years old in 1880, not 1. Maybe the other children moved away, and that is why they are not found in the cemetery.

The Kaufman family had many other headstones in the cemetery. Isaac and Hannah died before the 1870 and 1880 censuses were written down.  Isaac lived from June 1864- July 1864. Hannah lived from November 1875- March 1879. It is–unfortunately–very common for children to die young in the mid-to-late nineteenth-century.

Figure 1: Grave of Joseph Kaufman from Hope of Peace Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia. (accessed on September 24, 2015).

We know that the Kaufman family found some success as small business owners because they took out advertisements in the Alexandria Gazette for many years. In 1889, the advertisements first appeared, about once a month. They always advertised for the same thing and the prices never changed. The two advertisements that ran consistently in the Alexandria Gazette were “Avalanche of Bargains” and “WeWill Make Rome Howl!” [ii] The Phrase “We Will Make Rome Howl!” was from Robert Montgomery Ward’s popular 1831 play The Gladiator, written for Edwin Forrest. Forrest’s memorable rendition of Spartacus’s line, “We will make Rome howl for this,” led to the line becoming a popular catch-phrase in the mid-nineteenth century.[iii] The first advertisement was about clothes rather than shoes, but the second one focused on the various shoe styles and prices in the store. The prices never changed in the advertisements; in fact, they were rerunning the same advertisement on a weekly basis in 1889 without any changes.

The first advertisement was about clothes rather than shoes, but the second one focused on the various shoe styles and prices in the store. The prices never changed in the advertisements; in fact, they were rerunning the same advertisement on a weekly basis in 1889 without any changes.

One of the two ads that Joseph Kaufman ran in the 1889 Alexandria Gazette. accessed September 25, 2015,

Second ad run by Kaufman in the 1889 Alexandria Gazette. accessed September 25, 2015,












[i] “American Jewish Yearbook.” American Jewish Committee Archives 1 (1899-1900): 264.

[ii] “We Will Make Rome Howl!,” Alexandria Gazette, October 19, 1889 and “Avalanche of Bargains,” Alexandria Gazette, June 12, 1894.

[iii] William Rounsevill Alger, The Life of Edwin Forrest, The American Tragedian (Philidelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1877), 649.