The Abolitionist Jew who fought to free the American Slaves
By Jerry Klinger
as a child, I decided to dedicate my life to the ideals of progress
and freedom. I never deviated from this decision during the course of
my long life, a life rich in stormy events. I have remained faithful
to the principles that I swore to uphold during the stormy days of
the 1848 revolution.” - August Bondi
At the heart of all things is
self-interest. - Judith Rice
- The bullets flew with a vicious singularity, wasps
ready to sting death upon contact. August Bondi and two other
Jewish friends , Jacob
Benjamin and Theodor Weiner, tucked
their heads down a bit deeper. They edged forward, closer to the
pro-slavery enemy firing at them.
- The Battle of Black Jack, Kansas
raged on, August 2, 1856.
Bondi, Benjamin and Weiner were willing followers of their
commander, who fearlessly surged twenty feet ahead of them. They
would follow him to Hell if he asked them to stop the slavers.
Captain John Brown
waved them onward. Bondi was the first to jump up
The opening battle of the American Civil War, to save the Union
and end the evils of slavery, was on.
- Years later Bondi described the scene in his
autobiography. It was a strange scene on the Kansas prairie,
fighting men calling to each other in Yiddish.
“We walked with bent backs, nearly crawled, that the tall
dead grass of the year before might somewhat hide us from the Border
Ruffian marksmen, yet the bullets kept whistling... Wiener puffed
like a steamboat, hurrying behind me. I called out to him,
"Nu, was meinen Sie jetzt" Now, what
do you think of this?).
His answer, "Sof odom muves" (a Hebrew phrase
meaning "the end of man is death," or in modem phraseology,
"I guess we're up against it").
John Brown was a descendent of a Mayflower refugee family. They
came to the wilderness of present day Massachusetts in 1620, seeking
religious freedom. They desired to worship God, and live in their own
way. Brown was a deeply religious man. He was a Fundamentalist
Christian, a Puritan’s Puritan, a warrior in the Cromwellian
A Northern newspaperman defined Puritanism as that “ which
demands religious freedom, as the birth-right of Heaven, in matters
spiritual, is the nourisher of that civil liberty which releases the
body from secular despotism in matters temporal.” He was
a man ready to fight his fellow man violating God’s fundamental
laws. Brown’s faith, and willingness to fight for it, echoed
that of another Fundamentalist 2,000 years earlier, Judah Maccabee.
Brown’s conservative bible centered Christianity flowed
naturally into his love and respect for all of God’s creations.
He did not distinguish between the Blackman, Redman or White.
Abolitionism was a natural, logical extension to his Puritanism. To
Brown, slavery was a dark blot on God’s blessed destiny of
America as the land of the free. Slavery was an evil sin. The men who
supported it had to be stopped or even wiped out.
Three years after the Battle of Black Jack, Brown was hung by the
United States as a traitor. He and his supporters attacked the U.S
National Armory at Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia.
His goal was the weapons stored and manufactured there. Brown wanted
to arm the slaves. He wanted to help the slaves defend themselves, to
make them free.
Brown, defiant against slavery to the gallows, was hung in
Charlestown, (West) Virginia. He had been tried in a slave state
court. Brown’s body was transported to his small farm in
upstate New York. The farm was located in a Black agricultural
training community he helped establish.
Southerners saw Brown as a wild eyed radical. He eventually
became a martyr, when he was iconicized in northern media, poems and
Brown failed to free the slaves. But he succeeded in beginning the
tide that would eventually free them. Oliver Cromwell,
the British Puritan revolutionary leader in Britain, like Brown, was
eventually defeated. It was Cromwell who overrode the bigotry of his
own Parliament and permitted the readmission of the Jews to Britain.
Cromwell began the long road in Britain to Jewish emancipation.
More than four hundred years earlier King Richard I (the Lion
Heart), the King of children’s stories and Robin Hood, banished
the Jews. It was a Puritan Christian, a Fundamentalist, who opened
Britain to the Jews again.
Bondi wrote about Captain Brown.
“We were united as a band of brothers by the love and
affection toward the man who, with tender words and wise counsel ...
prepared a handful of young men for the work of laying the foundation
of a free Commonwealth.... He expressed himself to us that we should
never allow ourselves to be tempted by any consideration, to
acknowledge laws and institutions to exist as of right, if our
conscience and reason condemn them.”
Captain Brown, and his men, defeated the
slavers at the Battle of Black Jack, Kansas. It was an opening
victory but a victory that presaged much blood yet to be lost.
Nearly 500,000 men from the North and the South would die in the War
to Make Men Free . The war had been
renamed by the victorious North to make clear the meaning of the
sacrifice. In the South it remained the War
of Northern Aggression . But for
Bondi, it was from the beginning and to the day he died, the War to
Make Men, all men ,
August Bondi, Anshel
Mendel Bondy , was born July 21, 1833
in Vienna, Austria. His father was Herz Emanuel Naphtali Bondy. He
was born in Prague, Bohemia about 1788. His mother was Martha Frankl,
a member one of the oldest and most respected families in Prague.
She too was born in Prague. Both families relocated to Vienna for
economic opportunities as privileged Jews.
The name Bondy is not a Jewish name. It is
Italian. There is a tradition in the Bondy family that the name
Bondy originated with a 17 th
century ancestor, Yomtov Landscreiber. Yomtov’s job was a
privileged, administrative position in the Bohemian kingdom. He was
responsible to record the Jewish communities’ census, and
report the assessment and payments of taxes to the central
government. His name was a combination of Hebrew, Yomtov –
good day, and the German for his occupation – Landscreiber –
official record keeper.
Because of his close working relationship
with the Christian authorities in Bohemia, Yomtov was strongly
advised, he Christianize his name. Having traveled in Italy and
being familiar with the Italian langue, Yomtov adopted the Italian
translation for good day, Bondi. He Germanicized the spelling of his
name to Bondi.
- Anshel’s education in Vienna was somewhat
typical of the Jewish elite seeking access to mainstream Austrian
education and opportunity for their children. He was educated in
Catholic schools, specifically the Catholic College of the Order of
the Piarists. At school, he was regularly exposed to Catholic
religious guidance. He was never obligated to convert.
- To balance out his Jewish identity his parents sent
him to Jewish congregational schooling separately. He was exposed to
his Jewish heritage, his religious values and with an emphasis on
Pirke Avoth, (Ethics of the Fathers), Psalms, Kohelth, and
Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.
- The Bondis hired a private tutor for Anshel to
continue his studies and prepare him for the University. For six
years, Moritz Stern, a Jewish Hungarian medical student from
Presburg was Anshel’s private tutor. There was a heavy focus
on secular studies and Hebrew, German, French,
Hungarian and Latin.
Anshel’s father formed a deep
impression upon his son’s character. Herz Bondi had become a
Mason. He joined the Masonic fraternity in Frankfurt am Main (1811).
Though a secretive society, the Masons were well known for their
mutual aid and assistance to fellow Masons when life took a difficult
turn. He learned from his father the Masonic values of love and
respect of all men. Anshel later described these high moral
teachings as having been bred into him.
It was in combination and the example of his
parents, his Jewish faith and an understanding of other faiths he
that he formulated is own very Jewish identity.
“ My parents always impressed upon
their children that Jews or Christians, high or low, all are children
of a common Father. These principles affected my conduct all through
life. While keeping a strictly Jewish house, my parents favored my
knowledge of other religions. I had read the “New Testament”
before I was eight years old…I could not, under these
conditions, help forming
my mind according to the command of Moses, “Thou must love the
Eternal, thy God and thy neighbor as thyself.” Enthusiastic Jew
and lover of humanity.”
His father told Anshel of a very unusual
charitable organization for a Jew to be included in. During the
Napoleonic wars, Herz, as part of the charitable organization,
searched the battlefields of 1813-1814. They would care for the
wounded, Christian or Jew. They would help the non-combatants caught
in the fighting or when their homes were burned and their communities
Herz told young Anshel how he personally saw
Napoleon on the Bridge over the Elbe issuing orders during the
battle. Herz, and many Jews, admired Napoleon. The Jews admired
Napoleon because he and the French revolutionary forces contributed
so much to the extension of religious liberty and toleration for the
Jews. Many Jews volunteered to fight for Napoleon and France. Some
rose to very high rank in the French army. Andrea Massina ,
one of Napoleon’s greatest field marshals, was reputed to be of
Jewish origin. Anshel never forgot the stories.
In 1847, Bondi was 14. He enrolled in the
Academic Gymnasium and excelled in his studies.
Throughout Europe something was changing. It
grew in Vienna where students no longer tolerated the arbitrariness
of academic restrictions. By 1848, a willingness to challenge the
authority of the state seethed just below the surface.
Bondi wrote, “Then
followed those glorious days of March, 1848, glorious for those young
spirits who arose as one man, burning with desire to kindle the light
of freedom of ‘Liberty’ in priest-ridden,
The spark that lit the Revolution of 1848 in
Austria began innocuoulsy. It was so seemingly innocent that it
logically should not have caught the tinder to spark the fire of
“ On the evening of the last day.
(Tuesday) of the Carnival of 1848 (February), seven young men,
mostly medical students, enjoyed a merry making in the Wieden suburb
of Vienna. Only a few weeks before the French expelled
Louis-Phillipe. They argued over the event and expressed their
preference for a free government in Austria; at last one called out.
‘ Lets have some fun and play Vienna
revolution and the expulsion of Metternich”, prime minister of
Austria for 25 years, who with Nesslerode, was the chief support and
and sheet anchor of European despotism.
One of the students repsented Metternich
and the others, with their knotted pocket handkerchiefs, expelled him
from the room.
The next day the students sobered up and
thought about what they had done the night before. The thought, this
is no game. We must try and make this real.
From Small Acorns
Large Oaks do grow
- On March 12, 10,000 students had a assembled to
petition the government for academic reforms. They couched their
reforms with idealistic goals, more bombast than understood. The
one thing they all understood was the desire to not have the
government control their studies and their voices. They called for:
Freedom of conscience
Freedom of the Press
Freedom to teach and learn”
- Monday, March 13, the students marched to present
their petition of grievances to the government. Prince Metternich
had alerted his secret police and the military. Bondi was in the
front ranks of the protesting students. His mother knew of his
revolutionary interests. She, even with the normal trepedation of a
parent, encouraged him to participage.
- Before the unarmed students could present their
petition, the soldiers opened fire. A dozen students fell around
Bondi. Heinrich Spitzer, 18, a Jewish student from Voisenz, Austria
fell on top of Bondi.
- The soldiers fixed bayonets. They charged. Bondi
attempted to rise but was clubbed down. Luckily he was only grazed
by a bayonet thrust. The Austrian peition for change had turned
into a bloody revolution.
- The Austrian Revolution of 1848 was one of a series
of revolutionary movements that arose across Europe from France to
Russia. Their seeds were not as simple as student academic protests
in Vienna but were almost universal in their demands to shake off
the oppressiveness arbitrary Aristocratic rule, linked with Church
control. Freedom, freedom as was expressed in the American
revolutionary ideals, like an infection, had gripped revolutionary
France in the late 18 th
century. Napoleon spread the ideals of liberty, equality,
fraternity until it decayed into his megalomaniacal Imperial
- The infection set in was ruthlessly put down. It
was not put away. The American infection would reemerge in country
after country throughout Europe. It kept reappearing from the end of
the Napoleonic era until it exploded, aggressively demanding human
liberty, in 1848. Human liberty also meant toleration of different
views, faiths, and goals. It meant a limit to Aristocratic tyranny,
it meant freedom of speech, it meant a Constituion that defined the
limits of governmental power and emancipation of the people. It
meant the removal of legal, social, political and religious
limitations on the citizens of their respective countries.
- It meant emancipation for all, emancipation of the
Serf from feudal slavery, emancipation of the Jew….
- Emancipate the Jew?
- Freedom for the Jew?
- The struggle for Jewish freedom, equality under the
law, equality of opportunity free from legal restrictions,
discriminations, abitrary religious control was radical .
In two thousand years of European Jewish life, freedom for Jews,
toleration of Jews, barely existed. Jewish life was tenuous. Jews
were not entitled to the legal protection of the countries of their
birth. Jews were foreigners permitted to be (temporary) residents
only by suffrence of the Crown with the agreement of the Church.
Jews were not citizens of the countries they had lived in for
generations. They could be and were expelled for virtually any
reason once their usefullness was finished.
- From the late 18 th
century and through the nineteenth, even into the 20 th
century, the struggle for Jewish emancipation continued. There
were three distinct periods of Jewish emancipation. In all three
periods, without the fundamental support of idealistic Christians,
Jewish emancipation would not have happened.
- The first period lasted fifty years, from 1740-
1789, just prior to the French Revolution. The second period, longer
in duration, and deeply influenced by the radical experiment across
the Atlantic in America, stretched from 1789-1878. The third period
of Jewish European emancipation extended from the 1878 Congress of
to the rise of Nazi power in 1933 .
- The movements for Jewish emancipation parraleled
and were coincidental with European national liberation movements.
At times, the movement to liberate the Jews were seen as
fulfillments of the ideals of domestic national movements. Many
efforts to emancipate the Jews traced their roots to the Napoleonic
- The French Revolution, and the initial idealism of
the Napopleonic liberation movements, spread legal Jewish
emancipation to wherever the Napoleonic armies were victorious. In
the Low Countries, the Germanies, Eastern Europe, Italy, legal
restrictions on Jews fell. The Medieval Ghetto walls crumbled
before the cannons of French artillery. Most Jews within the Ghetto
walls looked outside with confused trepedation. Some joined the
Napoleonic armies tired of waiting for the Messiah. The majority of
Jews, from a long history that invading armies come and go, remained
neutral. Some Jews even remained loyal to the old regimes thinking
it might help them someday.
- Jews responded to the possible new Napoleonic
freedoms with caution and a historic awareness of reactionism if
Napoleon left. Napoleon was defeated. The old ways returned.
Jewish emancipation had made inroads but the inevitable anti-Semitic
reaction developed. Jews were not citizens but fifth columnists,
always potential enemies of the state, living at tolerance in
Christian lands. They had to be forced out or strictly controlled
was heard in the salons and streets of Europe again.
- Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo but the ideas of
human liberation and the seeds of future change were planted if not
dormant. The seeds germinated yet again in the violent revolutions
of 1848. Tragically, for Christian and Jew alike, the Revolutions
of 1848 were again defeated.
- The idea of human liberation could not be defeated.
Keeping the Jew down, discriminated against legally, a second class
temporary resident, was inconsistent with general national
liberation. How can you discriminate against the Jew without the
power of the government being able to discriminate against anyone it
chose. Deprevation of the natural rights of the Jew were, despite
anti-Semitic feelings toward the Jews, were the deprevation of
rights to all.
- Jews, outside of the Ghetto walls, understood their
emancipation meant identification with their Nation State. It meant
assimilating their language, dress, culture and even “modernizing”
their religion as the price of emancipation. The conflict within
Judaism, Jewish ethnic identity, Jewish messianic identity, even
Jewish national identity became centered in emancipation. Who is a
Jew? Can a Jew be emancipated and remain a Jew? How did Jewish
national and messianic identity blend or conflict with the Natural
Rights of all men . How did all this mesh
with the benefits and risks of Jewish emancipation?
- The third period of Jewish emancipation extended
from (1878-1933), when it was completed in some parts of Europe.
Rumania in the 1920’s and Poland in the 1930’s were the
last to grant Jewish emancipation.
- Emancipation of the Jews went with the sudden
societal and economic upheavals that characterized the 19 th
and early 20 th
century European National movements. The suddeness of the change
created instability, fear, anxiety for many Europeans. Fear created
reactionism, a desire for stability with what was. The reaction
- For centuries, the Jew was a subclass in European
life. For centuries the Jew was a reviled, barely tolerated,
resident of Europe. Suddenly, disruptively, the Jew was thrust as
an equal into European life. The changing status of the Jew was a
direct challenge to the Church’s anti-Semitic millenial
teachings. The Jew was the eternal, acursed witness to and the cause
of the murder of Jesus. The destruction of traditional European
life in the industrializing 19 th
century needed a scapegoat. The scapegoat was the Jew.
- A new form of anti-Semitism arose with a ferocity,
a depth and durability that found nuturing in the soul of historic
European life – scientific anti-Semitism. Nazism and the
Holocaust was to be its natural, horrific extension.
- Most Jews, basked in the sun of the rise of man,
democratic, egalitarian, constitutional principles of emancipation.
They did not willingly recognize the changes that were occuring.
The ideals of the French Revolution were clearly trampled with
anti-Semtic hatred which seethed just below the surface in the
- One Austro-Hungarian assimilated, very marginal
Jew, who believed that Jewish conversion would be final step to
Jewish emancipation and equality, distressfully witnessed the
reality of his own delusions.
- He was a journalist by profession. His Viennese
paper sent him to Paris to cover the Dreyfus treason trial. Captain
was a Jewish French military officer. The journalist, at first,
believed that Dreyfus was in fact guilty of passing French military
secrets to the Germans. After sifting the evidence himself and
observing the French reaction, he came to believe that Dreyfus might
not be be guilty.
- Dreyfus might have been accused because he was a
- It was an incredulous observation for the
journalist. For himself, he wanted to believe it could not happen in
modern France? France…France was the land of the Revolution,
the land of Napoleon. It was a country that Jews believed gave birth
to European freedom, toleration and equality and emancipation.
- The trial progressed. Dreyfus was convicted. The
journalist saw something different happening. Anti-Semitism, he was
sure before the trial, had been fading. The ancient hatred would
eventually die away, he had convinced himself. It would inevitably
die in the new enlightened, scientific age. In his own country,
Austria-Hungary, anti-semitism would die away as well; he so wanted
to believe it. The Austro-Hungarians and less modern European world
just needed time.
- Could the Jews be deluding themselves, he wondered?
Could he and they be wrong? The man’s growing awareness
shocked him. He was horrified. The pain of dissalusionment
penetratred his soul.
- The vicious French anti-semitic reaction to the
Dreyfus trial… he finally understood the Jews faced a new,
very old, virulent enemy. The Jews so wanted to believe the dreams
of European universal brotherhood. He knew the Jews were so, very,
- The Jew, no matter how loyal a European, how
assimilated they might become, was still a Jew. In what can only be
described as an epiphany. it came to him. He knew not from where
the answer grew within him or how it got there.
- Life came to his pen. Locked in his room for weeks
on end, he outlined his answer for true Jewish emancipation, for
true Jewish freedom. His solution was simple. His solution was for
the Jews willing to do so, to physcially return to the land that the
Jewish soul had never, ever left, Palestine.
- The man was Theodor Herzl.
- ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
- Young August Bondi stood on the barracades of the
Austrian Revolution that March day in1848. For months during a
spring of terrior and fighting, Bondi was there. He joined, shoulder
to shoulder, arm to arm, with his Christian comrades, ready to
support the ideals of human equality.
- “ On Corpus Christi Day the National Guard
and the Legion took the place of the regular troops during the
exercises of the day and in the procession... It was the custom for
the clergy, headed by the archbishop, coming from the cathedral, St.
Stephen’s to march in procession through the kneeling ranks of
- The Jewish students, with one voice, decided to
do just as their comrades did, so we Jewish members of the Legion
knelt with our Catholic and Protestant comrades before the Christian
host. We did this also at a field mass celebrated in honor of our
martyred dead, July 29, ’48, by the legion Chaplain, Father
- They were no longer Christians or Jews. They were
- Hundreds would be dead by October, 1848.
- It seemed a shadowy moment of memory to him, just a
year before in school, Bondi had sat mesmerized. His teacher read
to his class the stories and dreams of men from a distant land, the
words of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. His young spirit
dreamed of freedom and on the barracades of Vienna as he stood to
fight for it. Bondi was only 15.
- “ Prof. Podlaha, of the 5 th
and 6th gymnasium classes, taught me Poe[try] and Rhetoric. He often
read to us of Washington, Jefferson and the American Revolution from
translations of the
American authors…The friars, as teachers,
paid no attention to the creed of their scholars.”
- Bondi had a strong sense of economic justice. He
felt deeply for the workingman and poor.
- “ One evening while on guard at the
university, in a heated discussion, I defended the laboring classes
of Vienna, then struggling for a slight increase of wages to ward
- Bondi was imbued with more than just the ideals of
the rights of man. He understood what the rights of men were as
equals if they controlled their own destinies. Free men earned the
right to the fruits of their labor. No one owned the right to sell
their labor, the sweat of their own brow, except themselves. Free
men were free when what they worked for, that which was theirs, they
could keep or sell as they chose. Labor did not belong to the
State, the Aristocracy or the Church. It belonged only to free men.
It was their God given right, – their unalienable right.
- The equality of men had been taught to him from the
- “ My tutor, Moritz Stern, was liberal
minded, yet an enthusiastic Jew, and whenever we walked for an
airing, conversed with me on Judaism and religious subjects from a
liberal standpoint. I could not, under these conditions, help
forming my mind according to the command of Moses, “Thou must
love the Eternal, thy God and thy neighbor as thyself.”
- The Austrian Revolution of 1848 initially went
well. Quickly the tide of war changed. The Conservative forces,
allied with the Aristocracy, the Church and the army, crushed the
revolt. In a year, it was over.
- Leopold Kompert, the famed German writer and
enthusiastic supporter of the 1848 Revolutions wrote:
- “ The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved” Jeremiah 8:20
- The sun of freedom has risen above the
fatherland, but for us it is nothing but a bloody northern light.
The larks of redemption warble in the sky; for us, however, they are
the screaming harbingers of a terrible storm….
Because slavish hordes and petty merchants have
failed to understand the spirit of freedom, we Jews just suffer….
- To stand still and to wait, to wait patiently,
until all who are now opposed to us will make peace with us, until
the spirit of humanity is victorious? Or, since “we are not
saved,” to seek salvation elsewhere – and to move to
- But to all the others, the oppressed and
persecuted, those who have been driven from their homes and
plundered in the notorious communities, all those who have gained
nothing but calamity from this “freedom,” all those who
feel in their hearts that it will take a long time before there is
peace for them in the fatherland…to all those we cay: we are
not saved. Salvation can only be sought in America!”
- Economic calamity befell the Bondi family during
the spring of 1848. Their business failed as the conditions in
Vienna deteriorated significantly. The Bondi family read the
handwriting on the wall. They knew that the Revolution was doomed.
The best they could hope for was to go to America.
- Bondi was reluctant to leave.
- “ All my closest and best friends, old
classmates and chums agreed that the time was near when the
revolution in Vienna and Hungary would be drowned in blood, and that
I should not oppose the decision of my parents.”
- September 23, 1848, via Bremen, on a bark of 800
tons called the Rebecca ,
the Bondis sailed for New Orleans.
- The Bondi family had a private cabin and passed the
voyage uneventfully. After a six week journey, August Bondi and his
family arrived in America, the land of freedom. He saw for the
first time, African slaves. Not fully comprehending what he was
seeing and not understanding the culture that could take dark
skinned human beings and convert them into animal servants, he tried
to process what he saw. He had just come from the European world
where thousands of men had died and more were still dying for
freedom. Seeing African human beings made into chattel, degraded
into slaves, was something he did not expect to see.
- “ We arrived at Balize on the 7th day of
November, were taken in tow, with two other vessels, by a tug on the
evening of the 8th. On the 9th the tug stopped at a plantation for
wood; I went ashore and there saw, for the first time, Negroes at
the sugar mill. They were late imports from Africa, men and women
clad only in coffee sacks, open at both ends, slipped on and tied
around the waist.”
- They continued upriver, arriving at their new home
late in November, St. Louis, Missouri.
- Ironically, they rented very modest rooms on 3 rd
Street between Market and Chestnut, not far from the waterfront.
- Today, the former site of that modest brick
building in the German immigrant section of St. Louis is part of the
greenway of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
- The Gateway Arch is better known as
the Gateway to the West . It was built as a
monument to the westward expansion of the United States.
- On the opposite side of the greenway where the
Bondis lived, was the Missouri Federal Court house where the
infamous Dred Scott
trial would took place in 1857.
- Scott was an American slave and the “property”
of Dr. John Emerson. Emerson had taken Scott to a free state during
his travels. Scott claimed he and his wife were free.
- “ The United States Supreme Court decided 7–2
against Scott, finding that neither he nor any other person of
African ancestry could claim citizenship in the United States, and
therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under
diversity of citizenship rules”.
- Dred Scott, though born in Virginia, had been taken
to a free state. Scott’s going to a free state did not
emancipate him. He remained property. The court considered him
property and returned him to slavery. Scott’s new owners, the
Blow family, became abolitionists. Scott was emancipated by them
three months after the trial, May 26, 1857.
- Life in St. Louis was difficult for the Bondi
family. Each member of the family did what they could to survive
economically. Bondi’s father did a little peddling. His
mother and sister tried to teach needlework. August, now 17, took a
menial job with the Ruthenberg Brother’s Dry Goods for $8.00 a
- “ When first ordered to sweep the store I
broke out in tears. A late member of the Vienna Legion to do such
menial work—but I soon came to it, but never became a
- Bondi tried various jobs, even a small business
partnership in St. Louis. None were successful .
What did attract him was the feel of
political life in America. The ability to protest, to parade, to
argue, to assemble, to petition gripped him and the other 48’er
German immigrants like him. It was a new experience to be able to
do peacefully in America what could only be done with blood in
- Bondi, still a teenager, already had seen more than
most men in a lifetime. He began to enjoy life. He began to feel
life and purpose in St. Louis.
- “ I had a good time swimming, fishing and
on excursions. I joined the Society of Free Men ( Freier
Männer-Verein ), where I became
acquainted with Dr. Henry Börnstein editor of the Anzeiger
des Westens , and Prof. Franz Schmidt,
late president of the Frankfort Parliament…
- “ We youngsters from the barricades and
struggles of the revolutionary movements of Germany, Austria and
Hungary, who had there been initiated into politics, were eager to
grasp the opportunity which would prove our important political
influence in our new home. It was not sympathy with the Negro slave;
it was antipathy against the degradation of labor which made us a
solid unit to back Thos. H. Benton…”
- “ We had no votes, as it required five
years residence for full citizenship and only full citizenship could
vote at that time, but we could argue, tall: and discuss, and while
some stood aghast at the cheek of the exiled youngsters, the crowds
listened, were led to consider, were influenced to vote. Then and
there was planted the seed of which Gen. Lyon reaped the harvest.
The young exiles of ’48 kept Missouri in the Union. They
furnished the brains to the physical forces of German workmen. By
them united St. Louis was firmly held in the grip of loyalty to the
- He did not understand his political activism would
have future long term implications for freedom. It was beyond
anything he understood at the time. Bondi was barely 18 years old.
- In the fluid American culture, his impressions and
comprehension of slavery was evolving. He had not been born with
racial prejudice against Blacks. He encountered it in America. The
only racial prejudice he knew was anti-Semitic, anti-Jew. He and
many Jews had joined the idealistic liberal revolutions of Europe to
fight all hatred against any European. It was in their own self
interest to find a way to a make better world for all people.
- In America, Bondi was experiencing something new
and different. He was a young impressionable man, little more than
a teenager. He was adrift in an aggressive frontier world.
- During his first few years as an immigrant, Bondi
struggled to form his opinions, his responses to the justice or
injustice of the parallel American slave and free economic systems.
He was trying to adjust to his new world, to his new chosen home and
its values. He had to take the values that were implanted in him by
his family, his Jewish identity, his own idealistic humanity and
come up with a livable synthesis. All people go through the same
generational struggle to find how and where they fit in with whom
they were. Bondi was no different. He needed to go out into the
- Bondi left St. Louis and secured a job on a river
boat, the Brazos , out
of Galveston, Texas.
- “ During my stay in Texas I gathered a
great deal of information on southern life. When in Galveston the
howlings of the slaves receiving their morning ration of cowhiding
waked me at 4 o’clock a.m. I found the Yankees the most cruel
masters. The native southerner had a full knowledge of the Negro
character and treated slaves with regard to their dispositions, so
different from whites. Hospitable to any white man, no matter how
poor, they yet had no consideration for the poor white laborer. The
sick slave received attention, the sick white laborer none. I make
these statements from my personal experience and observation. Every
good-looking young man from the north could have his pick of
southern young ladies of first families. I was only 18years, yet if
I had been willing, several of these young ladies would have fallen
in love with me. I disliked to marry a woman with slaves. Had I
stayed south I would have joined the Confederate army, but while
really I did not have much sympathy for the Negroes, I felt that my
father’s son was not to be a slave driver.”
- Bondi did not have much sympathy for the Negro. He
did not understand the Negro. He had even less for the slave owner
and even less for the hypocritical cruelty of Yankee economic
exploiters. He was conflicted by the currents of American life, on
the one hand a Jew and on the other hand a young man living in a
cruel world that oppressed white and black together. He struggled
to find his path.
- Bondi’s experiences with slaves and whites,
ultimately directed him. There was something in his character,
something in his soul that did not sit well with human cruelty to
- While on a duck hunting trip with the young son of
the Brazos ’
pilot, Bondi spoke out.
- “ While lightering over Redfish bar on the
first trip of the Brazos to
Trinity River, the bay was black with swans, pelicans, geese and
ducks, and Col. Morgan’s 18-yearold son was close to our boat
engaged in duck hunting in a skiff managed by a colored boy, who let
one oar drop, scaring the ducks. Young Morgan, mad, his gun ready
for the ducks, deliberately emptied the load into the shoulder of
the colored boy. I loudly condemned such cruelty. (Of course, I put
into my remarks all the vinegar of an 18 years smart aleck), when an
old man, Rev. Roach, a minister of the southern M. E. church, father
of our pilot, stepped up and reproved me, finishing his remarks
thus: “We have no use for northern abolitionists, and only
your age protects you from deserved punishment.”
- Young Bondi continued working on the boat until he
experienced how the life he was leading was corrupting his soul. He
was slowly becoming hardened to what was going on about him.
- Bondi was put in charge of supervising a tired and
overworked slave work crew unloading the ship. To get the men to
work harder, though they were exhausted, he used a piece of cord
wood on them.
- “ The Negro crew had been up two nights.
Capt. Chubb ordered the boat unloaded at once... By 4 o’clock
a.m., May 11, the crew tired, having been up three nights hand
running, and some, trying to skulk, I poked them up with cord wood,
when one of them, ”Ike,” turned on me and said, “M’assa,
I didn’t think dat of you.” This cut me to the heart. I
finished having the boat unloaded by 7 o’clock a.m. The
captain came aboard at 9 a.m. I asked for my pay.”
- Bondi had never abused the slaves before. They saw
him as a different kind of white man, different from most of the men
that drove them. Ike’s spirit was deeply injured, more so
than his body.
- “ M’assa, I didn’t think dat of
you.” Ike’s words stayed with
Bondi the rest of his life.
- Bondi was disgusted with himself and disgusted with
what he did. He vowed he would never do anything like that again.
Finishing the unloading, he collected his pay and left the slave
world that very morning. Bondi headed back to St. Louis and tried
various jobs again. The same pattern emerged. He could find
nothing in the life of a clerk that attracted him.
- “ About the middle of March,(1854) I
happened on a Greeley leader in the New
York Tribune , appealing to the freedom
loving men of the states to rush to Kansas and save it from the
curse of slavery to be fastened on it by the “squatter
sovereignty” principle contained in the Kansas-Nebraska Bill.”
- Popular sovereignty is a central tenet of faith in
a Democracy. The people have a right to choose who will rule their
lives by a representative government elected by the majority of its
citizens. Majority rule is also one of the major imperfections of
Democracy. The majority of voters can vote for a candidate, a
political or social direction. It does not mean that their choice is
the best, the right one long term or the moral one. Democracies
have frequently made good choices and very bad ones.
- Underlying the central tenet of faith in a
Democracy is the belief that mistakes of popular sovereignty can be
corrected in the next free election. The principle assumes a
fundamental belief in the inherent goodness of the American people.
Amoral decisions of popular sovereignty can and have lasted over
many elections. Slavery was a compromise decision between the
States needed to enable the American revolutionary experiment to
begin. It was a distasteful, necessary and amoral compromise
between two competing economic systems that deferred the decision on
slavery for a later time.
- The Kansas-Nebraska Act
was one of those moral decisions for a later time. It was a raw
struggle of popular sovereignty for the dominance of one American
economic system over the other, slave or free. The majority of the
citizens of the territories would have the right, after an election,
to choose the form of government that they believed best for
themselves. The principle flaw in the democratic process was the
naïve assumption that people voting in the Kansas election were
legal residents and entitled to vote.
- Pro-slave Missourians flooded into Kansas
temporarily. They came specifically, to vote, establish a majority
and control the election. Free soil Kansans were intimidated,
terrorized, not to vote. The pro-slave majority was declared the
winners. Kansas was declared a slave state. A pro-slave constitution
- The election was stolen. Fraud, illegal voters,
corruption and terror made the slave victory possible. The stolen
election was overturned later but only after more blood had been
- Kansas was admitted to the Union as Free State,
January 31, 1861.
- With his St. Louis business partner, Jacob
Benjamin, Bondi squatted on a piece of farm land on the Mosquito
branch of the Pottawatomie (Creek) in Franklin County (1855). The
two Jewish partners raised pigs. They became friendly with a Free
farmer and his sons not far from their land; John Brown and his
sons. When Border Ruffians ,
pro-slavery thugs, burned Bondi’s homestead, it was the Browns
who rode to his support.
- Bondi joined up and rode with John Brown through
Six months after the
Battle of Black Jack, February 1857, Bondi was appointed the
postmaster of Greeley, Kansas. For the next four years, until the
outbreak of the Civil War, he ran the secret Underground Railway
there. Underground Railway stations were dangerous endeavors, hiding
escaped slaves and aiding their journey north to freedom. It was
especially dangerous as Bondi had married a Jewish girl, Henrietta
Einstein and began raising a family.
December 23, 1861, two
days before Christmas, with his wife’s encouragement, Bondi
enlisted in Company K of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry. He served for
three years, fighting in almost all the engagements his regiment took
part in. He advanced to the rank of first sergeant.
A number of times Bondi
was slightly wounded, but he stayed on. Pine Bluff, Arkansas,
September 14, 1864, Bondi was seriously wounded in the groin. He was
taken prisoner by the Confederates but because of the seriousness of
his wound, he was left for dead. Bondi survived and was cared for by
returning Union forces. He was discharged two months later, November
10, in Leavenworth, Kansas .
Bondi tried to open a
small store in Leavenworth. It did not work out. He relocated with
his growing family to Salina, Kansas in 1866 where he remained for
the rest of his life. Most of his ten children were born in Salina.
Bondi opened another small business in Salina that was modestly
successful. He became a postmaster in Salina and later a Judge in
Saline County. Bondi busied himself with charitable and historical
projects in Kansas. He was a thirty-second degree Mason, belonged to
the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Benevolent and
Protective Order of Elks.
Bondi began his
privately published memoirs in 1903. He finished them in 1905. Two
years later, he suffered a massive heart attack walking in St. Louis
and died. Bondi is buried in the public cemetery of Salina alongside
his wife. A Rabbi came from Leavenworth to officiate at the funeral
service. Hundreds of local citizens mourned his passing.
identity is somewhat of an enigma. He said he grew up in a
traditional Jewish home yet he freely admitted eating pork throughout
his autobiography. He never mentioned going to synagogue but he
insisted on being married by a Rabbi and his burial was conducted by
a Rabbi. He even had one of his daughters married by a Rabbi. His
education was in Hebrew and Yiddish with an emphasis on the moral
teachings of Judaism such as the Pirke
Avoth, Sayings of the Fathers .
Yet at the same time he was exposed to and read the New Testament.
He had little problem being blessed by Holy Water and kneeling before
the Eucharist in St. Stephen’s Square in Vienna as part of the
blessing of the troops by the archbishop. Bondi moved easily between
the non-Jewish and Jewish world. He took pains to specifically
identify Jews in his life.
side was a Frankl. The family originated in Moravia/Bohemia the last
stronghold of the Jacob Frank heresy in the 18 th
“ Jacob Frank was
an 18th century Jewish
religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the
self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai
and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob .
The Jewish authorities in Poland excommunicated Frank and his
followers due to his heretical doctrines that included deification of
himself as a part of a trinity and other controversial concepts such
as " purification
Frank arguably created a new religion, now referred to as Frankism ,
which combined some aspects of Christianity and Judaism.”
Frankists were Jewish
pseudo- militarists. Bondi’s family were among the elite Jews
permitted to live in Vienna. Though only 15, his mother gave August
her blessing to go out and fight as a soldier for liberty. Many
Jewish Frankists, marginal descendents of the Shabbtai Tzvi heresies
of the 17 th
century, maintained nominal, superficial, associations to Judaism and
strong identifications with the Jewish people. The Frankists
maintained contact with each other. They were ready and willing to
help another Frankist family.
The Bondis had a close
association with a probable Frankist family that they turned to for
help, more than once, in Louisville, Ky. and in New Orleans, the
Dembitz family. The Dembitz family was the matrilineal line of later
Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis. Brandeis reportedly
kept a picture on his desk of the family of Jacob Frank. Brandeis
used associations with Reverend William Blackstone of Chicago to
provide the key influence to have President Woodrow Wilson throw
American support behind the Balfour Declaration and Jewish freedom.
Was Bondi a descendent
of the followers of Jacob Frank? The evidence is coincidental. He
and his family were no more followers of the false Messiah than the
thousands of Jews who followed Bar Kochba fighting for Jewish
freedom. Jews fought under the Maccabees to free the Temple.
Chanukah, the story of the eight candles which developed hundreds of
years after the defeat of the Hasmonaeans ,
is a positive link to a past with a common theme. Jews were and are
always willing to fight for freedom.
Judaism met with severe challenges in America. Bondi was no
different from many Jewish immigrants. To live on the frontier, away
from Jewish communities, meant for many, losing their Jewish
identity. Bondi, living in Salina, Kansas, a community too small to
have a synagogue or a Rabbi, required his family to know of their
Jewish identity and heritage. He may not have kept Kosher, or
attended synagogue but his family knew they were Jews. Bondi could
have been buried in the Jewish cemetery in Leavenworth. He preferred
to rest with his wife in the Salina cemetery with his non-Jewish
friends and comrades. Bondi was a Jew but he was also an American
and an idealistic fighter for freedom whenever a defender was needed.
The Jewish American
Society for Historic Preservation, www.JASHP.org ,
has proposed to the city of Salina and the Smokey Hills Museum
to sponsor a historic interpretive maker honoring the memory of
Jerry Klinger is president of the Jewish American
Society for Historic Preservation.
from the January 2013 Edition of the
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