A surprisingly large number of Jews who emigrated from the Bavarian town of Reckendorf, Germany, were very successful in America. Even they remarked on the number who had made good — at least nine “skinny shy boys who left with but a few dollars in their pockets had become millionaires in California.” In later years, they started to refer to themselves as the “Reckendorf aristocracy.”
One of them was Isaias Hellman, and this book by his great-great-granddaughter details how Hellman made it to the top. His was a combination of intelligence, daring, and perception set during a time when California was raw, but ripe with possibilities. Dinkenspiel begins with the conquest of the land from Mexico in 1848, the discovery of gold near Sacramento and the influx of prospectors from around the world. They had to be supplied, and here is where the Jewish immigrants gained their foothold. Speaking German or Yiddish with a smattering of English, and with little money, Hellman learned about getting goods on credit and methodically built a business empire that ranged from stores to banks and many businesses, including trolleys, oil, and wine. He played a large role in the development of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and indeed — California itself. This bookadds to our understanding of American Jewish history, especially of the West, but there is also enough of the personal to make it enjoyable, as well as interesting, reading.