Circus Blumenfeld: Overview & General History

  • Poster for the Circus E. Blumenfeld Wwe, Guhrau, 1911, at the Circusmuseum.nl

    Directors: Moritz Levi Cerf Blumenfeld, Emanuel Blumenfeld, Jeanette Stein Blumenfeld, Adolf Blumenfeld, Hermann Blumenfeld, Simon Blumenfeld, Arthur Blumenfeld

  • Formed: Germany, 1811
  • Ended: Germany, 1950s

The Blumenfeld family is of Jewish/German descent, originally from the Rhineland, Germany. As early as the 17th century, the family performed as travelling actors — their names are found in Frankfurt and Leipzig city chronicles as acrobats and tightrope dancers. In the 18th century, the family Blumenfeld formed a gymnastics troupe ().

The founder of the official CIRCUS BLUMENFELD was Maurice Levi Cerf (1783-1867), who also went by Moritz Hirsch Levy. He was from a French-Alsatian family and owned a menagerie featuring birds and apes. When he married a Blumenfeld daughter in Beuel (near Bonn), Germany, he applied for (and was granted) official permission by the city to take her last name (Name Adoption Lists).* Beginning in 1811, the family went on tour as “Circus Blumenfeld” with four horses, two bears, and a mix of performers, and quickly became the foremost of the Jewish circuses ().

Many circuses created their own dialects; the Blumenfelds created Blumenfeldsprache, a mixture of French, Yiddish, Romance (Gypsy dialect), and technical circus jargon, reflecting their ethnic and religious background ().

Maurice/Moritz Blumenfeld and his wife had nine children: Moritz, Meyer, Emanuel, Sophia, Nathan, Leopold, Herman, Mina, David, and Simon. Most of these children performed with the Circus Blumenfeld, and many started their own circuses.

Emanuel Blumenfeld

In 1834, founder Moritz Blumenfeld gave control of the Circus Blumenfeld to his son Emanuel. Emanuel modernized the circus, focusing attention on the horses and training his children to be excellent riders. After the death of his first wife (Jetta Hartog), he married Jeannette Stein, who brought her parents’ circus into the marriage, and the Circus Blumenfeld became one of the largest operations of its time.

In 1874, the Circus Blumenfeld bought a permanent headquarters in Guhrau, Germany (now Góra in Poland). When Emanuel died in 1885, his widow continued to run the circus until 1896, during which time they featured 80 horses and imaginative trained animals including a “Wonder Pig.” In one seven month season, the circus visited 120 locations; in 1897, the Circus started using rail to move locations, which meant they had longer stays in fewer locations. At this time, the Circus usually featured six tents, 130 horses, and its own string orchestra, and averaged about 4,000 visitors.

While Emanuel took over managing the main Circus Blumenfeld, many of his siblings performed with that circus or began their own.

Emanuel had sixteen children. The management of the circus passed first to Emanuel’s sons Adolf, Hermann, and Simon, and then to Simon’s sons. World War I interrupted the circus, as many family members joined the German army (seven of Simon’s eight sons enlisted) and animals were often requisitioned for military use or starved to death.

In the 1920s, the Circus Blumenfeld moved their permanent headquarters to Magdeburg, Germany. In this era, the circus featured 45 horses, two elephants, four camels, three llamas, and two bulls. Unfortunately there were difficulties with travel in post-War Europe, and the world economic crisis at the end of the decade proved disastrous — the Circus Blumenfeld went bankrupt in 1928.

With the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s, circuses were closed and Jews were banned from employment. Simon’s son Eugene died in 1937 in Magdeburg, while his daughter Jeannette emigrated to England. Tragically, Simon, his wife, and most of their children were murdered in the Holocaust: Simon and Rosa were murdered in the Theresienstadt concentration camp; two children (Alice and Willy) committed suicide in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, respectively; six (Alex, Alfonso, Alfred, William, Fritz, and Erich) emigrated to France, but like many Jews were deported after the German invasion of France; they were murdered at Auschwitz and Majdanek. One child’s (Betty) fate is unclear, and only Arthur survived, hiding in Berlin.

After the end of World War II, Arthur tried to restart the Circus Blumenfeld with his wife Victoria. In the winter of 1945, they performed for Allied troops and orphans. However, in 1949 he was forced to sell the circus to Circus Busch, and sadly committed suicide in 1951.

However, things came full circle when, in the 1960s, Emanuel Blumenfeld’s great-grandson Jack married Christine Busch and assumed the management of Circus Busch (now owner of the former Circus Blumenfeld).

* According to a fellow Blumenfeld researcher: Maurice Levi Cerf/Moritz Hirsch Levy married Jetta Jonas. Her father was Abraham Jonas (abt 1762 – abt 1786) and mother was Esther Abraham (1766-?). After Abraham died, Esther married again to Isaac Lazarus Blumenfeld (1762-1843). Thus, the name Blumenfeld came from Esther’s step-father.

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6 comments

  1. Jette Goldkette Sørensen · · Reply

    On the list A H B Bonn 1846 city Combahn, Germany you see Abraham Jonas (trader) and his wife Ester Abraham + children Judula and Cathina Jonas. Hirsch Levy new name Blumenfeld, wife and children Meyer and Emanuel Blumenfeld with wifes and children. So Ester Abraham is NOT death 1801 and still married to Abraham Jonas here in 1846. With kind regards Jette Goldkette Sørensen Feb 15th 2016

  2. Carol Boyle nee Bloomfield · · Reply

    Jette Goldkette Sorenson Hi Jette what with getting a new email address and other stuff i havent been able to get back to you You may not remember me . My father told me his grandfather was Hermann Blumenfeld My fathers name was Jack Valentine Cleft Bloomfield and I have found out he was born 17.6.1917 and died18.9.1991 Im hoping you can help me with any further further information please thankyou Carol Boyle

  3. Amy Jacobson · · Reply

    This is phenomenal information. I am writing my MA dissertation on the Circus. I would love to be able to tie this in. I am eager to learn more as I am in my very beginning states.
    Thank you!!!

  4. Jules van Son · · Reply

    Betty Blumenfeld (Blumenfeld-Mark) married in Oss, 1931, the Netherlands, to Alfred Löttel, also an circus artist. Would be nice if some one has a photo of one of them, or both, for a small item in a historical book. A book of remarkable ciyzens of this town. Because they became a cityzen of this town for the marriage

  5. sonia aja farnault (blumenfeld) · · Reply

    message to jette goldkette sorensen: hello willy blumenfeld was my grand father and i saw on géni you put a picture on yansly blumenfeld! this picture is a man and a woman both are my grand parents and not yansly his father but the artist name from my grand parents was” the yansly” i can prove you .and you put that my grand father have one daughter i don’t konw this name i know valeska born in1922 my aunt and karin my mother born in 1935 my grand parent divorced and he married an other wife and he is died in 1981 in berlin

  6. Aaron Trail · · Reply

    Did any Blumenfelds move to the USA and changed there name to Bunfill my grandfather is 105 years old and led the traveler lifestyle claiming he’s grandfather came to America with the circus he also has he’s own jargon and language mixed with Romani dialect and looks very Jewish but doesn’t claim to be.

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