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December 21, 1990 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-12-21

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And So It Was

A search for Butzel memorial leads
to surprises in Detroit history.

Editor's note: Due to an er-
ror in composition last week,
M7: Simons' story is being re-
run today in the correct order.


Special to The Jewish News


ome new tales, very
interesting and sur-
prising, have come to
light about early Detroit
Jewish history. Some go back
to the beginning of our local
Jewish community around
1850. Perfect examples of
This article pertaining to
the Butzel family started
when a Robert Steiner of
Washington, D.C., introduced
himself in a letter to me and
made a simple request. Could
I get him an obituary of his
relative, former Chief Justice
Henry M. Butzel of Michi-
gan's Supreme Court? He was
working on a family tree of
the Butzels, tracing their
relationship to a mutual
ancestor, Hannah (Johanna)
Butzel Bamberger, his great-
great-grandmother, and the
great aunt of the Justice.
Hannah Butzel was the on-
ly sister of Moses Leo Butzel
from whom the Detroit
branch of the Butzel family is
descended. She had seven
brothers. Moses (born Moritz)
Leo Butzel was the grand-
father of Henry, Fred and Leo,
the three most prominent
members of the Detroit
Butzels in relatively recent
I thought I knew a great
deal about the history of the
early Jewish families in town,
especially the Butzels. I did

not anticipate finding any
surprises in the Henry Butzel
obituary. But, I was wrong;
not one but two surprises
awaited me. We had located
an autobiographical report
written by Magnus Butzel,
Henry and Fred's father.
Before his death in 1900,
Magnus, for 40 years, had
been one of Detroit's most
prominent citizens in social,
political and business circles.


It was quite well known

feat biologically impossible by
the same mother. Next, I
checked the Temple Beth El
Cemetery records. David and
Henry were twins . . . David
dying in infancy and Henry
dying 91 years later in 1963.


When some members of the
family began to emigrate to
the U.S.A. from Bavaria as
early as 1830, their name in
Germany was not Butzel. It
was Putzel.
The names of the great-

Twins Henry and David Butzel from a photo taken in 1871.

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Dec. 21, 1990


that the Magnus Butzel fami-
ly had four sons, Maurice,
Henry, Fred and Lawrence.
The Magnus report men-
tioned a fifth son, David, but
no date of birth. He died at
the age of 10 months and 15
days, on April 10, 1872. That
looked familiar, as if it were
around Henry's birth date.
I started counting back-
wards from the date of
David's death. I came up with
a birth date only several
weeks after the date of
Henry's birth . . . obviously a

grandparents of Henry,
Fred and Leo were Leopold
Mayer and Fanny (Fradela)
Hellmann Putzel. From what
I have been told there are and
were no Butzels in Bavaria,
spelled with a "B", prior to
coming across the ocean to
the United States. When
those first pioneering im-
migrants came to our country,
some of them changed their
family name to Butzel, while
some kept the old name.
That's why, today, in
Philadelphia, Baltimore and

across the continent there
still are many Putzels as well
as Butzels, all related.
Our Fred Butzel, in a con-
versation with a member of
his family about the name
change, said it was his
understanding that when the
first Putzel spoke his name
for the immigration officer,
the official wrote it down as
he understood it — with a "B"
— and that spelling stuck.
Robert Steiner tells about
John L. Butzel of Saugerties,
N.Y., the first of the family
to come here. He had a
daughter, Mathilde, who mar-
ried Jacob Putzel. "A Butzel
married a Putzel" — and that
became a family joke.
Why was it so important to
some of the family to make
this minor change of a "P" to
a "B"? Could it possibly be
because the pronunciation of
the name often sounded like
a Yiddish vulgarity or a
disparaging word? One guess,
in a situation like this, is as
good as another. Dr. Jacob R.
Marcus wrote me, "One never
knows what goes through the
mind of an immigrant who
arrives here and modifies or
rejects his original name."
In the German dictionary,
the word putz, pronounced
pootz as in boots, means
finery — putzen means clean
— putzmacherin means
milliner or dressmaker.
I recalled, when I was a
youngster, the folks at home
would comment or compli-
ment someone who had on a
new suit or a lovely dress.
They'd say, "You sure look far-
putzed (farpootsed) . . ." mean-
ing all dressed up so nicely.
That word was Yiddish —
taken from the German .. .
not surprising because the
majority of Yiddish words
(about 80 percent) are derived
from the German language.
History tells us, in 1830,
the first of the Butzels began
to come to America.
There were many powerful-
ly good reasons for the mass
exodus at that time. They
were coming here as the
climax to centuries of harsh
Jewish discrimination and
persecution. They were leav-
ing the old country to anx-
iously start a new life in the
Continued on Page 20


Magnus Butzel

David Heineman

Martin Butzel

Leo Butzel

Fred Butzel

Henry Butzel

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