I offer this rumor to the participants of this forum for their insights and,
perhaps, for their confirmation.
In the family of my maternal grandmother, for at least a century, there were
whispered rumors of illegitimate descent >from some member of the royal
Since this branch of my family was living in what then was the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, I must assume that the "royal" person referred to was a Hapsburg.
When I was tiny, my mother's older brother mentioned the rumor that their
maternal grandmother had been the Emperor's illegitimate daughter.
This seems hard to imagine about an Orthodox Jewish girl raised in the town
of "Kosice" in what then was Hungary and, today, is part of the modern nation
of Slovakia. (Kosice has alternately been called "Kassa" and "Kashau," among
Then, there was one of my mother's aunts, the eldest daughter of the
putative illegitimate princess. She, too, insisted that she was, herself, an
I have pondered this for years now, since I first heard these whispers as a
little girl. As an adult woman, I am wondering if, when there's this much
smoke--albeit metaphorical--whether there had been some sort of fire.
Any question I had asked as a girl about this topic had been shushed and,
except for my mother, anyone capable of answering those questions now
is long dead; sadly, my mother no longer is able to respond lucidly.
There are some curiosities here, however.
My grandmother always told her children that she had been born in
Budapest but, recently, purely by chance, I found her application for a
teaching license with the New York City Board of Education in which--
in her own handwriting--she gave her birthplace as "Hunfalu." Hunfalu,
also called "Huncovce" and "Hunsdorf" also is in modern Slovakia, quite
near to Kosice.
My grandmother's next younger sister wrote "Kosice" on her application
for the same license; actually, she wrote "Kashau."
Now, there is no crime in having lived in a small town rather than a big
city and there also is the possibility that the family had, indeed, lived in
Budapest for a period before emigrating to New York.
I do think that it is curious, however, that my grandmother and her
siblings--six in all--kept the names of the small towns in which they had
been born >from their own children. It seems to have been a deliberate act
and it seems clear that they did not want their children to know >from exactly
where they had come.
More curious is that this branch of my family arrived in New York with what
had to have been a comfortable amount of money. They traveled first class
on the ship to the USA, according to the family history, bringing maids and
nannies with them on the voyage. In New York, they immediately bought a
four-bedroom apartment on Central Park West, which is where my great-
grandmother lived for the rest of her life. They always had a live-in maid.
Obviously, this was not the typical experience of the recently arrived Eastern
European Jewish immigrants of 1890.
Ah, but there's more. My grandmother was the second of four sisters. The
three younger sisters all attended college, and they each married.
The oldest sister, however, was not allowed to attend college, and she never
Remember, this was an era during which no family would have been ashamed
to have arranged a marriage. There really is no reason that I can discern,
after this passage of years, why they family would have hesitated to employ the
services of a professional matchmaker, particularly since money issues never
were their problem.
I have been told by people more learned than I am that, under Jewish law, an
illegitimate child is not permitted to marry a Jew. There is no doubt but
that my grandmother's parents remained observant Jews for their entire lives.
Could my maternal grandmother's parents, then, have held back this young
woman >from marriage because she was illegitimate?
Could they have received money >from someone--someone royal?--to take this
girl out of the town of her birth?
My great-grandmother would only have been about 18 when this daughter was
born. While I well understand that, by the standards of 19th Century Hungary,
this would not have been too young to have been married and given birth to a
child, motherhood here also could have happened in another fashion. What if
some rich, perhaps noble, man had impregnated a Jewish girl >from some small
town and, to prevent a scandal, arranged for the child of this union to be
adopted by suitable parents? And what if the rich man (or his agent) endowed
the adoptive parents with enough money so that they could relocate easily, and
raise the child in a certain amount of comfort?
Or there's even the possibility that my great-grandmother was, indeed, the
biological mother of this girl. Yet perhaps my great-grandfather was not the
girl's father; rather, he could have been someone to whom she hastily was
married off--and, quickly afterward, effectively banished >from their families.
Oddly, this one aunt looked nothing like her five younger siblings, not the
least bit. The other five all were short--barely five feet--and fair, as
were their parents. This one sister was quite tall, particularly for their era,
and dark. I am sure that there are biologists and geneticists on this forum
who can confirm that this does not seem to be biologically possible.
Of course, I have tried to do some research on this topic. I have discovered
that Crown Prince Rudolf, the "Mayerling" prince, left at least 75 known
bastards at the time of his mysterious death. I also discovered that Prince
Rudolf was great friends with the renowned Jewish philanthropist, the Baron
Moritz DeHirsch, who also served as his banker. The first thing that the
Emperor Franz-Josef did on learning of his son's death was repay the debt
that Rudolf had owed to DeHirsch.
I am sorry to send such a long letter, but I would be interested to get opinions
about this mystery, and to learn whether others have similar rumors in
their own families.
New York City
BAYERN, HERSKOVITS (alternate spellings), RAPAPPORT (alternate spellings),
KOHN, HABER, ROSENBERG/ ROZENBERG, perhaps POMERANTZ, AXELROD, of "Huncovce"
and "Kosice" (now Slovakia, then Hungary), Budapest, New York City and Ohio.