Photo Credit: Google Maps
Congregation B'nai Zion, El Paso, Texas

Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey R. Downey of the FBI El Paso Field Office earlier this week joined Robert French, Executive Director of Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso, Texas, and the Jewish Community Foundation of El Paso, in urging the public to report any threats or suspicious activity.

Located on the Rio Grande River, El Paso sits on the border between the United States and Mexico. It has been home to a Jewish community since the 19th century.

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On August 3, 2019, a mass shooting erupted at a Walmart store in El Paso, as White Supremacist gunman Patrick Wood Crusius, 21, shot and killed 23 people and injured 23 others. The shooting has been called the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history (Suspected Shooter Named in Mass Casualty Attack at Walmart in El Paso, Texas).

“The FBI El Paso Field Office has a very close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community in El Paso,” SAC Downey said. “I have personally reached out to several Jewish leaders to assure them we will never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. We continue to work with the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso, the Anti-Defamation League, and others to protect members of the Jewish community from all potential threats. Additionally, we will continue to establish and build trusted relationships across West Texas, maintain an open dialogue, and share critical information. We ask that you reach out to us if you see something suspicious or threatening.”

Jewish Federation Director French responded, saying: “We have always maintained a strong and open connection with the FBI El Paso Field Office. Not just the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso, but our local Jewish schools and places of worship, too. They have always made themselves fully available in terms of safety, training, and consultation. This act of terror in Colleyville has only strengthened our resolve to work together to combat hatred, bigotry, antisemitism, and intolerance towards us and other religious, ethnic, and racial groups.”

Referring to the January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day, French said “it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the lessons learned during the darkest stain on humanity are not forgotten.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, the brothers Samuel and Joseph Schutz were among the first Jews in the area. Samuel arrived first, in 1856, and opened a grocery business, and his brother soon followed. Ernest Angerstein settled south of the river in Mexico and opened a general store.

Four years later, when the Civil War broke, the Schutz brothers opposed secession, while Angerstein sided with whichever army was in charge at any given moment. When Confederate soldiers controlled El Paso, Angerstein claimed to support the South. After the Union forces took over, Angerstein expressed his undying support for the North. Eventually, Angerstein got a US Army contract to provide corn for the troops, and his competitors north of the border complained that he was pro-Confederate. The army’s Inspector General studied the charges and concluded that Angerstein, as a foreigner pursuing his own financial interest, was simply trying to avoid being involved on either side of the conflict.

Them Northern Liberals…

In 1872, Angerstein was appointed post trader for Fort Bliss. Samuel Schutz, whose wealth was only around $2,000 in 1860, was worth $80,000 by 1870, in real estate cash. He and his brother opened a flour mill after the war. Angerstein owned a mining operation and a plantation in addition to his retail business. In 1875, Ernest Kohlberg came to El Paso to work for the Schutz brothers, running their branch grocery store across the border in Juarez. In 1881, he opened his own cigar store in El Paso. Five years later, Kohlberg opened a cigar factory in the city, which remained in operation until 1924.

Not long after the town was incorporated, in 1873, Jews moved into positions of civic leadership in El Paso. Joseph Schutz became an alderman in 1873, while Samuel Schutz was elected mayor in 1880. Kohlberg was also elected a city alderman. In 1892, his wife Olga helped start El Paso’s first kindergarten, and in 1895 helped found the El Paso Public Library. She served as head of the public library board from 1904 until she died in 1936. She was also instrumental in building the city’s first charity hospital.

Read all about the Jews of El Paso here: Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities – El Paso, Texas

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