Sephardic Jews in Central and Northern Poland
by Kevin Alan Brook

in ZICHRONNOTE, newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society,
volume 37, number 1/2 (February/May 2017)
on pages 18-20

      The historian Bernard Weinryb denied that Sephardic immigrants had a lasting impact on Polish Jewish communities, asserting, “Few of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497, and few of the Marranos (crypto-Jews) later, made their way to Poland. Of the ones that did, few remained there. . . . Some individual Sephardim who reached and settled on the Polish lands may later have . . . been assimilated among the Polish Jewish population, but only a very small number of people were involved.” In a previous article, I summarized evidence of extensive Sephardic settlement of southeastern Poland, whose descendants are widely dispersed among Ashkenazim today. The present article contains equally decisive evidence for Sephardim in central and northern areas of Poland.

      A number of Sephardic businessmen moved from Amsterdam, Netherlands and Hamburg, Germany to Gdańsk, a city along the Baltic coast in northern Poland. Some stayed and raised families there, while others moved back west.

      The Portuguese Jewish merchant Paulo de Millao (called Mosche Abensur in the Jewish community), son of the converso Enrique Dias Millao from Lisbon, escaped from Portugal in 1610 and lived in Gdańsk later that decade. According to Susan Sherman, some members of the Dias Millao family, descendants of Paulo’s sister Beatriz and her salt-trading husband, Álvaro Diniz, still lived in Poland in the 1700s and 1800s, including in Bakałarzewo, a village in northeastern Poland, where some continued to trade in salt, although doubts have been raised by other expert genealogists about their claim of descendancy.

      Several [additional] Sephardic merchants were found living in Gdańsk. Francisco Dias Nunes lived in Gdańsk as of 1618-1623, where he dealt with goods such as rye, cinnamon, and fabrics. Gabriel de Valenca also lived for a time in Gdańsk in the early 1600s. Jacob Abensur from Denmark lived part of his life in Gdańsk in the late 1600s. Brothers Joshua and Isaac Palache, members of a Spanish Jewish family, temporarily resided in Gdańsk in 1618-1619 but later left Poland. Sephardic merchants bearing the surnames Abenjacar, Castiel, de Lima, and Dubetent lived and worked in Gdańsk between the 1620s and 1640s.

      According to Frank Meisler, the horse-trader Louis Boss (1855-1940) was born in Gdańsk into an exiled Spanish Jewish family originally named Boaz and died there too. His great-grandfather had moved from the Netherlands to Gdańsk.

      Moses Zacuto, a Portuguese Jew living in Amsterdam, bought 38 cloths and in 1622 requested they be sent to the city of Poznań, in west-central Poland, where his sons Mordechay Zacuto and Abraham Bensamerro lived and were waiting to trade these goods. I assume that the Polish Jews named Zakuta descend from the Zacuto family. In Szczuczyn, a town in northeastern Poland in Łomża Gubernia, Elia Zakuta was married in 1886 and Israel Zakuta was born in 1900.

      The Sephardic physician Isaac de Lima, born in the Portuguese village of Ponte de Lima circa 1479, died in Poznań. Isaac’s son Judah ben Isaac de Lima was born in Poznań circa 1512, and Judah’s son Samuel ben Judah de Lima was born there around 1545. Samuel’s son Judah ben Samuel de Lima was a physician in Poznań like his great-grandfather and died there in 1641. This younger Judah’s son Moses ben Judah de Lima (born circa 1611 in Poznań) was likewise a physician there and was the father of Juda de Lima Pozner Norden (born circa 1644 in Poznań), whose son was born in the Netherlands and had descendants there. Judah’s daughter married Rabbi Solomon Calahora (1580-1650) from Łęczyca in central Poland, grandson of the Sephardic physician Salomon Calahora from Italy. Rabbi Solomon’s son, Rabbi Yosef Calahorra (1600-1696), and Yosef’s son, Arye Kalifari, were preachers in Poznań. Some descendants of these people stayed in Poznań, and some live as part of the Ashkenazi population today.

      Many Jewish individuals with the surname Portugal lived in these regions. For instance, the siblings Berla, Abrahm, and Majer Portugal were born between 1832 and 1842 in the city of Sierpc in north-central Poland. Majer was married there in 1860, and his son Rubin Portugal (named after his grandfather) was born there in 1861. Other children with the surname Portugal were born in the central Polish town of Zakroczym in 1880 and 1884 and the north-central Polish town of Mława between 1860 and 1870. In the 19th and 20th centuries, marriages of Jews surnamed Portugal took place in central Poland, including in the cities of Warsaw and Łódź, the town of Rawa Mazowiecka, and the village of Kuczbork. As of 1907, Zelik Portugal was a registered voter in Sochaczew, a city in Warszawa Gubernia in central Poland.

      Aharon Portuges was buried in 1906 in the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw. Hersz Szpanier and Ludwig Szpanier were buried in a Jewish cemetery in Łódź in 1935 and 1941, respectively.

      Szewach Sfard was born in 1867 in Suwałki, a town in northeastern Poland, to Kołef Sfard and his wife, Szejna Blankicka. The Yiddish writer Dovid Sfard (1905-1981), originally from western Ukraine, lived in Warsaw during some years in the 1920s and 1930s and returned again to Poland after World War II, where he became involved with the Warsaw-based publisher Yidish-bukh.

      Hiszpański means “Spanish” in Polish. Stanisław Hiszpański was a Jewish homeowner in Warsaw in the 1850s-1870s. The Jewish peddler Antoni Hiszpanski was a registered voter in Radomsko in south-central Poland as of 1918. A Jewish Hiszpanski family also lived in the Dobrzyń-Golub area of northern Poland in the 19th century where, for instance, the siblings Ozier and Michla Hiszpanski were born in the 1810s.

      Szaja Algoze, a member of the Algazi rabbinical family that originated in the Sephardic Mediterranean, was born in 1887 in the town of Andrzejewo in Łomża Gubernia. A son of Maryjem Algaze, Fiszel Rozenberg, died in 1909 in Warsaw.

      Five children with the Sephardic surname Dylion were born in Łódź between 1888 and 1902: Dwejra, Fiszel Dawid, Adam, Cywiia, and Zbignew. In the nearby town of Zgierz, immediately north of Łódź, Berta and Hinda Dylion were born in 1861 and 1864, respectively. Chana Dylion was born in 1857 in the village of Wizna in Łomża Gubernia in northeastern Poland. Multiple marriages and deaths of Jews from Dylion families took place in Warsaw.

      Some members of the Sephardic Bondy family that also inhabited southern Poland lived in Warsaw.

      Alfus is a variant spelling of the Sephardic surname Alfasi. Many Jews with the surname Alfus were born in Warsaw between 1908-1913, in Tomaszów Mazowiecki in central Poland between 1891-1904, in Rawa Mazowiecka in central Poland between 1847-1890, in Opoczno in south-central Poland between 1829-1862, and in Radom in east-central Poland in 1885. Marriages involving Alfus family members took place in Łódź in 1890 and 1902. Some Jews with the original form of the name, Alfasi, also lived in Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries. Moshe Simcha Alfus, a 19th-century religious judge and rabbi in Opoczno who also resided for years in Rawa Mazowiecka and Ujazd, was alternatively known as Moses Alfasi. Moshe’s son Abraham Alfus alias Alfasi served as a rabbi in Drzewica, a town in Opoczno County. Moshe Yitzhak Alfasi from Drzewica died in Otwock in 1922 and was buried in its cemetery.

      The Spanish surname Alba was also held by Jews in Poland. Some of them lived in Raciąż, a town within Płock Gubernia in central Poland. For instance, Josek Alba’s daughter Basja Alba, born there in 1833, was still living in Raciąż, under the married name Pestka, near the end of the 19th century, as were her sons Josek and Jakow Pestka, who were born there in 1858 and 1872, respectively. Basja’s sister Zlata Alba, born in town in 1837, was still a resident under the married name Rubin as the end of the century approached, and Zlata’s children Sura and Ginan Rubin, born in Raciąż in 1866 and 1868 respectively, remained late in the century. Albas also had a presence in Płock, a city on the Vistula River in central Poland, where Lejb Alba was married in 1897 and Ryfka Laia Alba was born in 1902. Zanwel Alba, born in 1902 in Warsaw, moved to Lublin and survived the Holocaust.

      Abugow is the Polish spelling of a surname of Sephardic origin that was spelled Abugov further east. Five Jewish children surnamed Abugow (Sasza, Zalmen, Wolf, Hersz, and Mejer) were born in Łódź between 1897 and 1903. Mejer was registered as a student there nearly two decades later. Zelik Abugow and Mendel Abugow were buried in Łódź’s Jewish cemetery in 1931 and 1940, respectively.

      Alexander Beider believes that the surname Rynaldo is probably of Sephardic origin. Some Jews with this surname lived in Płock and Łódź. Beider thinks Domingo is also probably Sephardic. The Jew Khemiya Domingo married Laya Monka in 1897 in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki in Warszawa Gubernia. Saul Domingo was buried in the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw in 1933.

      Beider speculated that Eastern European Jews with the surname Abarbanel didn’t inherit it from the Spanish Jewish family of that name: “It is possible, for example, that at the beginning of the 19th century, its progenitor adopted artificially this Sephardic name, due to the fame attributed in Jewish history to Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508).” Cecil Roth asserted that those carrying the name in Poland and the southern Russian Empire were authentic members of the Abarbanel family. Majer Abarbanel was born in 1849 in Wohyń, a village in Siedlce Gubernia in eastern Poland, and Chana Leia Abarbanel’s son Srul Ofenhejm was born in 1870 in Biała Podlaska, a city in the same gubernia. Avraham Abarbanel was buried in the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw in 1937.

      Jews were born with the surname Majman (often representing descent from the Sephardic Maimon family) in such central Polish locales as Warsaw, Żyrardów, and Piotrków Trybunalski.

      Paula Firestone Spiro’s recent ancestors were Jews who lived in Warsaw and Łódź and had typical Ashkenazi surnames. Her paternal uncle had informed her that it was believed that her Feuerstein family from Łódź, owners of a prosperous import/export business, had originated in Spain before moving temporarily to Germany. Paula shares a triangulating identical-by-descent autosomal DNA segment with not only me, my mother, and other Eastern European Jews but also with multiple non-Ashkenazi Latin Americans including a New Mexican Hispano, a Cuban, and a Dominican, and with one Moroccan Jew, two Syrian Jews (at least one of whose ancestors recently lived in Aleppo, where some Spanish Jews had settled), and a half-Ashkenazi person whose other parent came from a Ladino-speaking Sephardic family from Thessaloniki, Greece. The common ancestor for this cluster of DNA matches must have been Sephardic.

      Matches between North African Jews and Mexican Catholics are routine. I made a similar discovery recently on Joshua Weinstein’s segment that he and my mother share with some Mexicans and a Costa Rican that I discussed in my article about Lithuanian Sephardim. After its publication, I found a new Algerian bearer of that segment who is the grandchild of an Algerian Jew with a Spanish surname and a known Sephardic family history.

      I have obtained the consent of all the named DNA testers for whom I made discoveries using GEDMatch to have their results discussed, and they have seen and approved the paragraphs I wrote about them.


      vital records from the Russian Empire and Poland transcribed for Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, and JewishGen’s All Poland Database,
      The Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland, The Database of the Jewish Cemeteries in Poland,
      Yitskhak Alfasi, Sefer Opots’nah: yad va-shem la-kehilah she-kharvah, Irgun yots’e Opots’nah-veha-sevivah, 1989.
      Alexander Beider, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland, Avotaynu, 1996.
      David Corcos and Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, “Palache”, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
      Joel S. W. Davidi, “Calahora, a remarkable Sephardic family in Poland”, The Jewish History Channel,
      Gennady Estraikh, “Sfard, Dovid”, in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, electronic edition, 12 November 2010,
      Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, Volume 2: From the Ottoman Conquests to the Present Time, 2nd edition, Brill, 1981.
      Frank Meisler, On the Vistula Facing East, André Deutsch Ltd., 1996.
      Peter Norden, “Judah ben Isaac de Lima”,
      Peter Norden, “Judah ben Samuel de Lima”,
      Peter Norden, “Moses ben Judah de Lima”,
      Peter Norden, “Samuel ben Judah de Lima”,
      Cecil Roth, “Abrabanel, Abravanel”, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
      Randy Schoenberg, “Rabbi Yosef Hadarshan Calahorra (Kalifari)”,
      Susan C. Sherman, “Sephardic Migrations into Poland”, Avotaynu, Summer 1990, pages 14-18.
      Bernard Dov Weinryb, Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100-1800, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973.
      “Notarial Records Relating to the Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam up to 1639”, Studia Rosenthaliana, August 1981, pages 245-255; May 1985, pages 79-90; Spring 1988, pages 58-67; Autumn 1988, pages 189-196; Fall 1989, pages 203-209; and Fall 1991, pages 176-189.
      “Opoczno”, in Pinkas ha-Kehillot Polin, volume 1, Yad Vashem, 1976.

Kevin Alan Brook is a historian in Connecticut, U.S.A. who has written on Eastern European Jewish themes, the Karaites, and the Khazar kingdom in books and journals and on his site His previous articles in the Sephardic series appeared in the May 2016 and August 2016 issues of ZichronNote.

Other articles in this series:
Sephardic Jews in Galitzian Poland and Environs
Sephardic Jews in Lithuania and Latvia
Sephardic Jews in Belarus
Sephardic Jews in Central, Eastern, and Southern Ukraine

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