99. The Pasha from Upper Silesia

By Peter Fraenkel

He was born at Oppeln in Upper Silesia (then Germany) in 1840 and was named Eduard Isaak Schnitzer. The world, however, knows him as Emin Pasha.

The British sent a mission deep into the “Dark Continent” to rescue him but Emin had no wish to be rescued. Books about him appeared in the 1880s and later but several got his origins wrong. Alan Moorehead, for example, says he was of German Protestant origin. Wikipedia, on the other hand, asserts he was from a German Jewish family. Wikipedia was right as I can confirm because my family were friends of his family. As a child I addressed his nephew as “Uncle Guttfreund”. He was not a blood relative but what, in German, they call a Wahlverwandter – a relative by choice. 

Guttfreund was a friend of my parents in Upper Silesia. He owned and managed a big brewery there. By the later 1930s, with the Nazis becoming ever more aggressive, it was dangerous being a prominent businessman and a Jew in a small provincial town, Guttfreund sold up and moved to Berlin. 

My father had been acting as head of the Income Tax department at Kosel in Upper Silesia. He too decided, rather belatedly, that we had to leave and in 1939 we set out for Northern Rhodesia [Zambia].On our way we stopped some nights with Guttfreund at Berlin. 

I, aged 12, boasted I knew all about America – I had read the thrillers of Karl May about Sioux and Apaches and Cherokees. Yes, I also knew there were some palefaced Americans but I had not found them very interesting. Africans? Alas, since we were heading for Africa, it was unfortunate that I knew so little about Africa and Africans. 

Guttfreund went to his bookshelf and pulled out an illustrated book. It was about Emin Pasha, governor of the Equatoria province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. 

“He was my uncle”, he explained. 

My parents and I expressed astonishment. 

“Yes, he came from Oppeln, only a few kilometres from Kosel where you Fraenkels used to live. By profession he was a medical doctor, but by temperament an adventurer. He had worked in the service of the Ottoman pg. 2 

Sultans – in Anatolia and Albania and later in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. He was a great linguist speaking (according to Moorhead’s book “The White Nile”) French, German, English, Italian, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, demotic Greek and several Slavonic language. However, he saw himself mainly as a scientist. He studied botany and zoology though his chief interest was in ornithology. He identified several species of previously unrecognised birds and sent carefully prepared skins and feathers to European collections – always accompanied by precise and scholarly notes. By 1876 he was chief medical officer for the Equatoria province of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. There Eduard renamed himself Emin – the Faithful one. Later they even appointed him governor for that province. Don’t ask how this came about. I – said Guttfreund – only met him once, briefly. I suspect there were not many applicants for the job. It looked dangerous. The title Pasha must have come with the post. 

In the book was a picture of a man sporting a bushy black beard. He was wearing a fez with black tassels. 

A very dangerous post it did turn out to be. There was an Islamic rising against foreign invaders. It was led by the Mahdi, a Moslem fanatic who claimed to be a reincarnation of the prophet Mohammed. His men murdered General Charles Gordon at Khartoum. Next the Mahdi’s men overran the entire Equatoria Province. They would almost certainly have murdered Emin too but he saved himself … probably by accepting conversion to Islam. However, once out of the clutches of the Mahdi’s men, Emin would never admit to such a conversion. The British government who had, earlier, suffered fierce criticism for abandoning Gordon did not enquire too closely into how Emin had managed to stay alive. 

Junk, a German writer, refers to the “undeniably oriental stamp” of Emin’s features and speculates this must have helped him among Turkish officials. An oriental appearance is, of course, also sometimes found among Jews. 

Emin got a German tutor for his little daughter, Ferida, the daughter of an Ethiopian wife who had died young. If he were to come to a sticky end, he wanted her taken to Germany to be brought up by his family there. Most of the time while he was campaigning against Arab slavers in East Africa, the little girl was with him, carried in a hammock. 

His scientific work eventually came to be recognised in Germany and the Kaiser awarded him a medal and referred to him as “a great son of his people”. pg. 3 

Most of his career Emin had served the Sultans of Turkey or the Khedive of Egypt, but he now worked increasingly to advance German colonial interests in East Africa. The British, who had sent an expedition to ‘rescue’ him, were irritated to find that the Germans were becoming the main beneficiaries. 

Frequent bouts of malaria with very high temperatures undermined Emin’s health. He suffered a fall from a balcony which lost him hearing in one ear and broke several of his bones. However, he continued to lead military campaigns against Arab slavers in East Africa. It was said of him, however, that he was far better as a medical man and scientist than as a military commander. 

In 1892 his luck ran out. A group of Arab slavers surprised and overwhelmed him in his tent and slit his throat. This happened in Uganda, at a place variously referred to as Kanema or Kinema –but no longer on maps today. He was 52. He has been rated as among the great African explorers. The last German Kaiser referred to him as a “great son of his people.” 

Among Emin’s last diary entries: “Caught a red mouse at last. Collected 25 fresh species of birds.” 

His little daughter Ferida was taken into the care of relatives in Germany. In the numerous books that refer to him there is no mention how the child fared there.