Schlesinger Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Schlesinger Meaning
Schlesinger is a Germanic surname to describe someone who
came from Silesia (Schliesen in
German). Silesia is a region in eastern
Europe that has been governed at different times by Prussia and Poland
1945 it has been part of Poland).
Schlesinger has been mainly a Jewish name in
America. Their origins in Europe
been more widely spread than just the region of Silesia.
Alternative spellings of the name have been
Schlessinger, Shlesinger, and Slesinger.  Asked
how to pronounce his name, the American astronomer Frank Schlesinger
name is so difficult for those who do not speak German that I am
usually called sles’in-jer, to rhyme with ‘messenger.’ It is
of course of German origin. In that
language the pronunciation is shlayzinger,
to rhyme with ‘singer.’

Schlesinger Resources on

Schlesinger Ancestry

Schlesinger in
Europe has been very much a Jewish name.

That was the case with Adolf Schlesinger
from Silesia who started a music publishing business in Berlin in 1810,
capturing the work of composers such as Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Mordecai Max Schlesinger who lived in
18th century in Vienna was from a Jewish rabbinical family that began
in Prague
and continued after Vienna in Frankfurt.

Schlesinger emigrants in the 19th
century came from Prussia and elsewhere in Germany and Austria-Hungary
well. Then there were Schlesingers
fleeing Nazis and Nazi concentration camps in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

America. Schlesingers might have
arrived in America as
Jews, but some of them hid or turned away from their Jewish faith.

Bernhard Schlesinger was a Jewish merchant
from Prussia and his wife Kate an Austrian Catholic. The two
together in Protestantism after he met her in Xenia, Ohio in 1872. And they produced WASP-type Boston

  • their son Arthur Schlesinger
    Sr was a Professor of History at Harvard University from 1924 to 1954.
  • while their grandson Arthur Schlesinger Jr, also a distinguished
    historian, was close to
    the Kennedys and served as a special assistant and court historian
    during the
    Kennedy Presidency.

James Schlesinger
meanwhile, born to a Jewish immigrant family in New York in 1929, was
Harvard-educated and converted to Lutheranism in his twenties. Trained as an economist, he served as
Secretary of Defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations and
Secretary of
Energy under Jimmy Carter.

New York
. Many Schlesingers came to
New York. New York state in fact accounted
for almost
40% of the Schlesingers in America in the 1920 census.

Joseph and Mary
Schlesinger were German immigrants who had arrived there in the 1860’s. Their son Frank, educated in New York public
schools, became a prominent astronomer at Yale University.

David and Dora
Schlesinger came to New York from Berlin with their family in 1884. Their son Fred became an architect and
builder in the city and a distinguished one.
His first work was the Davidora Court building on East Tremont
Avenue in
the Bronx, completed in 1923.

Meyer Schlesinger was born in New York City in 1916. His grand-daughter, born in Brooklyn, is the
radio talk show host Dr. Laura, otherwise known as Laura Schlessinger.

Elsewhere. Leopold Schlesinger arrived
in Chicago from
Stuttgart in Germany in 1862. Ten years
later, just after the Great Fire, he joined forces with David Mayer to
start a
department store. Schlesinger & Mayer
prospered and they commissioned a grand
skyscraper for their store. However, by
1904 they were out of business.

Leon Schlesinger, born in Philadelphia in 1884, was the youngest of ten
children of Albert and Joselina Schlesinger, Jewish immigrants from
Silesia. He started out in show business
as a theatre usher and worked his way up to head a company which
crafted title
cards for silent films. Later he was the
man behind the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1930’s and 1940’s,
overseeing the
creation of characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd.

England. Two Schlesingers came to
England in the 1820’s
– Michael to London from Prussia and Hermann to Bradford from Hamburg. Michael was recorded as a commission agent in
the 1851 census. Hermann was a
rabbi. His son Edward emigrated to New
Orleans in the 1840’s and was a school teacher in Louisiana and

Schlesinger arrived in London from Frankfurt in Germany sometime in the
1890’s. His son Bernard was a
pediatrician who worked at various hospitals around London. He and his wife Winifred set up a hostel for
children rescued from Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s.

The story of Bernard and
Winifred Schlesinger
was recounted in Ian Burema’s 2016
book Their
Land: My Grandparents in Love and War
. In 1975
a family history book of the
Schlesingers was presented to them to mark their Golden Wedding. By that time their son John, born in 1926, had
become a famous film director.

Africa. Isidor Schlesinger arrived in South Africa from
Silesia in the
1860’s, made a fortune in the Kimberley diamond fields and lost it, and
up running a bar in the town of Klerksdorp.
His son Bruno was an early South African mining engineer.

There was
another Isadore, better known as I.W. Schlesinger, who was not so
wasteful. Born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, he had
come via New York to South Africa in 1894, initially working as a
salesman for
Pepsin Gum. From there he launched first
into theatres and then into the nascent South African film industry.

1916 and 1922 I.W. Schlesinger produced 43 feature films with the
themes being
primarily about Boer and Britons. An astonishing accomplishment was the
of 25 000 Zulu warrior extras!”

During the 1930’s Schlesinger built picture
palaces and took bioscope, as it was called, into the far-flung rural
thus exposing the magic of cinema to entertainment-hungry audiences. When he died in 1949 his son John inherited
the business.


Schlesinger Miscellany

Adolf Schlesinger, German Music Publisher.  Adolf Schlesinger was Jewish and was born Aaron Moses Schlesinger in Silesia.  He began in the book
business in Berlin in
1795, operating from his house, and founded a music-publishing house there,
the Schlesinger’sche Buchhandlung,
in 1810.  The firm expanded over the next
decade to include leading composers such as Beethoven and Mendelssohn.  It also published military music for the
Prussian state.

A contemporary description of him ran as follows:

“He was a
short, stout, portly gentleman, whose energy, entrepreneurial spirit
business sense one immediately noticed when he fixed one with his
single eye
(the left one was missing).”

And he was Jewish.
Beethoven once characterized him in his correspondence as “a
beach-peddler and rag-and-bone Jew.”  Despite
these comments, Beethoven was perfectly happy for
Schlesinger to publish subsequently his late quartets and sonatas.

He died in
1838 a rich man.  His son Heinrich took
over his Berlin business.  Another son
opened successfully a branch in Paris. 

The Schlesinger & Mayer Skyscraper in Chicago.  The dry-goods merchant house
was founded in Chicago in 1872 by Leopold Schlesinger and David Mayer,
immigrants from Germany. The company soon opened branches in New York

In 1899 the company commissioned architect Louis Sullivan
dramatically redesign its large downtown Chicago department store at
State and
Madison Streets, where it employed nearly 2,500 people.

However, when the
refurbished structure was completed in 1903, Schlesinger & Mayer
was no
longer financially able to operate there. Rival Carson Pirie Scott
moved in
immediately, attaching its name to the ornate building that would
become an
architectural landmark for decades.

Isidor Schlesinger – Back and Forth from Silesia to South Africa.  Isidor Schlesinger left Silesia
for South Africa in the 1860’s and made his fortune in the Kimberley
fields.  He returned to Silesia and
married.  His daughter Leontine later
that time.

“Emma’s marriage had been
adventurous.  At the age of twenty she
made the acquaintance of a handsome and rich young man who had come
from the
Kimberley diamond fields.  They fell in
love and were married.

Silesia was my father’s home country and in the small
town of Troppau, where he set up a saw-mill, my parents began their

But in the years to come my
father lost his money in unlucky circumstances.
He and mother roamed from one place to another and finally came
Budapest, where I, the youngest, was born, and where the last of the
wealth was lost.

Father never liked Europe and the wish to get back to his
beloved South Africa grew so strong that he decided to return alone.  When he had retrieved his financial losses,
he would come back to us, or we could follow him.”

In 1881 he returned alone to
South Africa, leaving Emma and his four children to try to regain his
(which they never did.)  When Emma with
Valerie, Feodor and Leontine arrived in 1899 Isidor was living in
where he owned and ran the bar at the Freemason Lodge in the new town.  Isidor died in Johannesburg in 1920.

Bernard and Winifred Schlesinger in England.  Bernard and Winifred
Schlesinger were devout anglophiles who had assimilated gratefully into
English rituals of roast beef and empire. In their grand north London
house in
Hampstead they spoke an exceedingly old-fashioned kind of English
sporting”, “by Jove”), and in many ways were more English than the

trappings of Jewish Orthodoxy – Old Testament beards and sidelocks
– were
disdained by them because assimilation promised an escape from the
sorrows and
derision suffered by their Jewish forebears.  Unlike their German
parents, indeed, the Schlesingers were not immigrants and therefore had
no need
to “seek the security of an émigré milieu.”

Bernard was a pediatrician who worked at
various hospitals around London.  During
the Hitler terror in the late 1930’s they sheltered twelve Jewish
children from
Germany.  In old age they tended an
idyllic garden in Berkshire.

Arthur Schlesinger and the Kennedys.  By the 1950’s the
historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr had become part of the powerful circle
that surrounded
the journalist Joseph Alsop.  It was at
an Alsop soiree that he first met John F. Kennedy, then a senator.

On Jan. 9,
1961, President-elect Kennedy dropped by Schlesinger’s house on Irving
in Cambridge.  He asked the professor to
be a special assistant in the White House.
Arthur Schlesinger replied: “If you think I can help, I would
like to

The notes he took for President
John Kennedy, for the president’s use in writing his history, became,
after Mr.
Kennedy’s assassination, grist for Mr. Schlesinger’s own account, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the
White House
. It won both the Pulitzer and a National Book Award in
1966.  His 1978 book on the president’s
brother, Robert Kennedy and His Times,
lauded the subject as the most politically creative man of his time.

worked on both brothers’ presidential
campaigns.  Some critics suggested he had
trouble separating history from sentiment.
Gore Vidal in fact called A
Thousand Days
a political novel.  Many noted that the book
ignored the
president’s sexual wanderings.

wore a trademark dotted bowtie, showed an acid wit and had a
magnificent bounce
to his step.  He was a lifelong
aficionado of perfectly blended martinis.
Between marathons of writing as much as 5,000 words a day, he
was a
fixture at Georgetown salons when Washington was clubbier and more
elitist.  In New York, he was a man about
town, whether at Truman Capote’s famous parties or escorting Jacqueline
to the movies.


Schlesinger Names

  • I.W. Schlesinger, an entrepreneur and
    impresario, was one of the most influential individuals to become involved in
    the performing arts industry in South Africa. 
  • Arthur Schlesinger Jr was a distinguished American historian who was close to the Kennedys and served as a special assistant and court historian during
    the Kennedy Presidency. 
  • John Schlesinger was the English-born film director who won an Oscar for his 1969 film Midnight Cowboy
  • James Schlesinger was an American economist who served as Secretary of Defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations and Secretary of Energy under Jimmy Carter.

Select Schlesinger Numbers Today

  • 600 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 2,200 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)


Select Schlesinger and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.



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