The story of Mehmed Emin Pasha, born a Jew as Isaak Eduard Schnitzer and baptized as Eduard Carl Oscar Theodor Schnitzer, is a multiculturalist’s delight. This Jewish doctor who turned Christian, then Muslim, could be the cosmopolitan poster child, proof that we are all one and that distinctions don’t matter. But universalists beware; this pasha was no Zelig, fitting in chameleon-like at colorful historical moments. This shapeshifter adapted smoothly but stood out boldly, proving that the best way to contribute to the world is to root identities in particular cultures and act on core ideals.
Schnitzer was born in Oppeln, Silesia on March 28, 1840, into a German Jewish family that had already broken from the ghetto’s provinciality. Schnitzer’s father was a merchant, a proper German burgher wannabe. He embodied the Enlightenment delusion that we could, as John Lennon would sing, “all live together as one.” But Schnitzer’s father had made the classic Enlightenment deal with the devil. To become emancipated, to prosper, most Jews felt compelled to abandon much of Judaism—even though they would only be accepted marginally as Europeans.
When Isaak was 5, his father died and his mother ditched her people and purchased acceptance by marrying a Christian. Now baptized as a Lutheran, Eduard Carl Oscar Theodor Schnitzer grew up championing German nationalism as embodying Western humanism at its best. After studying at the universities of Breslau, Konigsberg, and Berlin, he became a physician, to use modern science to save lives.