Biography of Mehmed Emin Pasha

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Eduard Schnitzer (1840-1892)


In 1878, the Governor of equatorial Africa, the southernmost province of the Sudan, was the German Jew Mehmed Emin Pasha, who had been born Eduard Schnitzer in the German town of Oppeln in Silesia on the 28th of March 1840.

On the early death of his father, his mother brought him to the town of Neisse, where he attended the Gymnasium or high school. Thereafter, Schnitzer studied medicine so that he could join the Jewish aristocracy, which then and now consisted of doctors. The reason so many Jews entered the medical field in Europe was that Jews could never be certain that they could remain a lifetime in the town or city in which they were born. Expulsions of Jews from their hometowns occurred constantly, as depicted in the play “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Medicine can be practiced anywhere since the sick are everywhere. Before the 1950s the vast array of instruments now used in that profession did not exist. So the European doctors carried around a black bag which contained all they needed to earn their livelihood.

On graduating as a doctor, Schnitzer moved to Turkey, where he became a district physician in Albania, then under Turkish rule. Thereafter he participated in an expedition to Syria and Arabia.

In 1871 he followed a call by the governor Ismail Pasha to Trepezunt and Erzerum and later to Janina. On the death of Ismail Pasha he married his widow, a Greek woman. Meanwhile he learned French, English, Italian, Turkish, Arabic and Persian as well as numerous Slavic languages. He also adopted the customs and attitudes of the Turks, so that his German Jewish origin could hardly be guessed by someone who did not know him.

Although he visited his home in Germany in 1875, he accepted an appointment as the physician to the English general Charles George Gordon, the Governor of the Sudan. Gordon was a British military hero who had been appointed to defend the capital of the Sudan, Khartoum, in 1885 from the revolting Arabs under the leadership of Muqtadar al Sadr, also known as the Mahdi, the Arabic word for Moshiach. Gordon was killed as the Mahdists overran Khartoum. They ruled there for nearly 14 years until the British General Kitchener retook the city in 1898.

Meanwhile, Schnitzer was advanced to Emir Effendi and later to the yet higher office of Bei. In that capacity he was appointed governor of the equatorial province of the Sudan. From there he undertook numerous journeys into then “darkest Africa”, i.e. areas of the continent unknown to Europeans. The revolt of the Mahdi, however cut him off from his northern allies and his northern base.

In order to rescue the English garrison at Wadelai in the Sudan, Henry Morton Stanley organized an expedition to a land he knew well but which was unknown to almost all Europeans and Americans. Stanley’s book In Darkest Africa had reached a circulation of over one million. In the nineteenth century that was the largest book sale ever.

Stanley organized an expedition along the Congo which proved to be unnecessary, as Schnitzer and the British garrison were in no danger. Not only that English expedition but also a group of Americans and another group of Germans organized military expeditions to rescue Schnitzer, who had by that time been appointed to the title of Pasha, the equivalent of the English titile Sir, by the Turkish government.

In 1889, Schnitzer returned to Germany but was almost immediately appointed by the German government to go to Africa and explore the areas around Lake Victoria and secure them for Germany. There, on the 23rd of October, 1892, Schnitzer entered the town of Kinena where an Arab slave dealer murdered him. His daughter Ferida, who had accompanied him, was sold as a slave.

Today Schnitzer is remembered in Germany as an explorer, German patriot and early opponent of slavery. We Jews do not include him in any encyclopedia nor in our history books. Yet Emin Pasha was a Jew and for that alone we remember him. 

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) &  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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