Nagykanizsa – Early Years of Samuel Weisz

We cannot be grateful enough to the registrar who meticulously recorded every last detail regarding the birth of Ferenc Dezső Weisz, a.k.a. Dash.

Besides mentioning all usual information, such as the name and address of the newborn, he added very unusual little details too, including the exact time of birth (2 p.m.) and also the birthplace of the father – Nagykanizsa.

Among the birth records of the Weisz children, this is the only place where the birthplace of Samuel Weisz appears. Indeed, to the best of our knowledge, this appears to be the only original document extant where the birthplace of Houdini’s father appears. In the second half of the 19th century, when the Weisz children were born, all data of the birth records were based on self-declaration so Samuel Weisz himself would have named Nagykanizsa as his birthplace. We have made an effort to find other documents in Nagykanizsa that can be connected to Samuel Weisz.

This is the photo of Samuel Weisz’ grave

The birthplace is not given, only the date of birth: August 27, 1829

The US 1880 Census gives 1830 as his birthdate, as an estimation

We believe that Samuel Weisz was born sometime between 1828 and 1830.

In attempting to research the birth records of 1828-30 at the Jewish Congregation in Nagykanizsa, we found that none of the records survived. Therefore, the most important document regarding the birth of Samuel Weisz is missing.

However, we have found some interesting records in the records book of the Secondary School of the Piarist Fathers in Nagykanizsa. Children above the age of ten could learn at this school, after finishing primary school.

There was a student named Samuel Weisz who attended this school for four years, from 1840/41 until 1843/44. His father was P. Henricus, merchant; his rabbi was Leopold Löw.

Here are the photos:

Weisz S. 1840-41_1000


Weisz S. 1841-42_1000


Weisz S. 1842-43_1000


Weisz S. 1843-44_1000


In the first block the name and age of the student is given as Weisz Samuel.

The second block gives his religion: izraelita (Jewish) or simply nationality = Hungarus. Below the religion there is the name of the town: Kanizsa or N(Nagy)Kanizsa, and the name of the County: Zala. The third block gives the name and profession of the father: P. Henricus, mercator, and the word „ibidem”, which means „at the same place” –this could be the address of the father. The name of the student’s rabbi is also given, Leopold Löw, who was a famous rabbi of Nagykanizsa.

We cannot say with 100 percent certainty that this student was Houdini’s father; further corroboration is needed. However, Houdini always referred to his father as a scholar. Samuel Weisz himself claimed to be a legal advisor in Houdini’s birth record so we can assume that he had some kind of legal training. Was it at a university or somewhere else? We do not know, but if he did attend a legal school, it probably would have been at the Secondary School of the Piarist Fathers in Nagykanizsa.

In a future post we will introduce the town of Nagykanizsa and the Secondary School of Piarist Fathers.

Special thanks to Erzsébet Csomor, Senior Archivist at the Archive of Zala County.



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