The Enigma of the Family Name Souroujon

Moshe Souroujon

 

1. Introduction

The Jews who freely chose to settle in Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey during the time of the Second Temple, established communities along the coasts of these countries in the Mediterranean basin, the Balkans and Asia Minor. After the destruction of the second Temple, the Bar Kokhba rebellion and Hadrianic persecutions additional refugees as well as Jews who were sold as slaves joined them. Together, they formed the group of Jews in exile known as the Romaniots. In addition, another group of Jews arrived in Spain after and subsequent to the destruction of the second Temple. A minority came as slaves while most of them arrived with the waves of spreading Islam from North Africa, Gibraltar to Andalusia. For some seven hundred years, until they were expelled in 1492 they developed into what is known today as Sephardic Jewry. After the Expulsion, those who wished to live openly as Jews spread about in every direction. While some went to Portugal, others chose Amsterdam, Holland, North Africa (Magreb) and the Mediterranean Basin, that is Italy, Greece and Turkey.

 

The majority of the Souroujon family members who are in Israel came from Bulgaria and Turkey. The Turkish branch is almost certainly the older of the two and originates either with Romaniot Jews or those who came as refugees either in the wake of the Expulsion in 1492 or in subsequent smaller waves. While most of the Turkish Souroujons arrived from the city of Istanbul a smaller number came from Adrianople – Edirne. The Bulgarian branch of the family almost certainly arrived in that country after the great fire in 1835 in Edirne (Odrine), which is near todays border with Bulgaria. At first, the family settled in the city of Shumen and from there moved to Varna, Ruschuk and Sofia. As all of this area was under Ottoman rule, it was not difficult to move from one part of the country to another.

Another support for this theory is that both the male and female personal names of the two groups are the same. Commonly used male names are Aaron, Nisim, Judah, Isaac, Raphael, Samuel, Leon, Moses, Abraham (Albert) and David. Womens names include Diamante, Lina, Luna, Sultana, Stella, Rebecca, Flora and Sara.

 

There are a number of theories surrounding the origin of the family name and I will attempt to analyze them in this article. One opinion places its origin in Spain, as there is a town by this name in the Iberian Peninsula. I have not found any support for this idea. A second theory traces the name to Portugal as in the early language of the country the name means surgeon. One of my aunts claims that during her visit to Lisbon a local woman told her that she was going to the Surujon Dentista, that is an oral surgeon. According to Dr. Haim Beinart, the authority on medieval Spain and the Inquisition, the word in Old Spanish means physician. It appears that the English word surgeon also shares the same source. The claim that the family originated in Spain since all branches of the family spoke Ladino is not conclusive. Within a generation or two after the arrival of those expelled from Spain, Ladino became the lingua franca displacing the Greek spoken by the Romaniots. Greek speakers quickly became the minority in their communities. (Rosanes, 1934).

 

2. A Spanish town named Hita

About 80 kilometers northeast of Madrid is a Spanish town called Hita. According to various sources and documentation in an article published in 1972 in the periodical Sepharad, this town had an active Jewish community until the Expulsion. Among the Jews mentioned by name in the article are Moses, Samuel, David and Jamillah Souroujon. The name was spelled urujon or urujano. The S has replaced the Ԃ in modern Spanish. Sometimes the name is written irujano, but this probably refers to the profession and not to the family name. With the Expulsion Edict, the Hita community dispersed and the Souroujon name is no longer found there. It is most likely that this article represents the first proof that the family name originated in Spain and that those who bear the Souroujon name today can trace their origin to Spain.

 

3. The System of Population Relocation Called Srgn

After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the sultans Mehmet II (1451-1481) and Bayazid II (1481-1512) sought to consolidate their control over the cities and territories they now ruled. One approach was to settle amicable populations in them and among those chosen to fill this role were Jews. It can be assumed that these Jews came against their will and one can say that they were expelled from their original areas and forcibly moved to Istanbul, Adrianople and other places.

Here the name Surgun comes into the picture. There is a word in Turkish – srgn, which means expelled or displaced. The scheme of relocating populations, which had its origins in ancient times, and which was chosen by the sultans was known as the surgun system. The historian Salomon Rosanes in his book Histoire des Israelites de Turquie, Part 2 (1934) and Rivka Cohen (1984) in studying Greek Jews, mention the existence of groups of these resettled srgn people in Istanbul. In an expansive article on the Srgn system, Joseph Hacker, who studied Ottoman Jewry (1990), offers the explanation that families that bear the name Souroujon and its variants today are the descendants of those Jews resettled under this system (page 72). However, Jews relocated by the Turks in the centuries following were also called srgn and so the name may include those from a later period of time.

The srgn system, as was common practice in ancient Hellenistic Greece, was also used to expel or exile individuals who violated the law in one way or another and were required to leave their homes. For some of the exiles their classification as surgun became their family name.

Another opinion is that when those expelled from Spain settled in the suburbs of Istanbul they encountered the already established community. The new Jewish arrivals were called exiles or surguns by the veteran dwellers and some of them adopted that term as their family name.

In my opinion, there are three difficulties with these explanations:

A. Nearly all of the Souroujons that I interviewed in Israel and around the world, some sixty families, spell or pronounce their name closer to the Spanish way that is with a Z or J rather than with a hard G, which is the Turkish way. The fact that sometimes the name appears in the telephone book with a G is because of an error on the part of the telephone book that those families have not corrected. Those who use the letter G have told me that their parents or grandparents spelled the name Souroujon or Surujon.

B. Since the names Turkish counterpart has a negative connotation, it does not stand to reason that it was adopted willingly. If it were forced on them, it certainly would not be so widespread.

C. If the Turkish Surgun system were so widespread, one would expect to encounter Christians and Moslems bearing this family name. I have not come across anyone, including an Internet search with this name that was not Jewish.

 

4. Souroujon from 1207?

The Jewish historian Avram Galante (1873-1961) who researched the history of Turkish Jews at the University of Istanbul mentions in his book Histoire des Juifs de Turquie an article published in Izmir in 1901 in the Turkish and Ladino periodical El Messerrett. In it, the editor Alexander Ben Ghiat quotes from a book written in 1240 and published c. 1590, where two Jews, one by the name of Israel Souroujon, left the city of Skalanova, Kushadasi today and traveled to Smyrna (Izmir) to meet a wealthy Jew named Isaac Alfassi in 1207.

This is astounding but it is a pity that Galante did not provide the title of the book or the chapter. Interestingly, the author of the newspaper article in El Messerrett spelled the name Surujo and he apparently meant Souroujon.

Scholars specializing in the Jews of Turkey and Spain that I consulted, were all of the opinion that Jews bearing this name randomly wandered around Turkey during these years. They believe that a three hundred year error occurred in converting the Hebrew date to the secular date. This story is not mentioned in the book of Salomon Rosanes Histoire des Israelites de Turquie.

 

5. Rabbi Aharon Souroujon

Abraham Franco published a Hebrew book in Rashi script of commentaries on the various Torah portions titled Beit Aharon in Istanbul in 5438/1678. It was written by R. Aaron Souroujon (Rosanes 1934). He spelled his name differently in two places. Original copies are located in the JNUL and in the library of Bar Ilan University. Reprints are available in Brooklyn, New York. The introduction mentions nothing about the author or his background. As far as I know, this is the earliest reference to the family name in Turkey.

 

6. The Crypto-Jew Surujon from Tarragona

In my search for any Souroujon in the world via the Internet, one day I ran across a Surujon who was a pharmacist by profession who worked in a drug store in the city of Tarragona, located close to Barcelona, Spain. His full name is Enrique Gheron Surujon. I was quite excited with this find. Who could ask for more than living evidence for the source of the name? That was not all, for he also bore an additional name that indicated a connection to the city of Gerona. A name in itself that was no less well noted among many of the Spanish exiles spread throughout the Balkans.

As great as was my excitement, so was my disappointment. I phoned him to clarify if indeed he was a Surujon although apparently not a Jew or maybe did not know that he had Jewish connections or maybe did not want to reveal his origin. When he understood that I was calling from Israel and that I was a Souroujon too, he showed no further interest in continuing the conversation and sought to end it. The question remains, who is this solitary Surujon in Spain? Is he a descendant of the Marranos that still retains the family name? If he were cooperative I could have learned more from him, not to speak of a DNA test that would shed additional light on a family relationship.

 

7. A Census of the Souroujons in Israel and throughout the World

At a certain stage, I decided that if I were to list all of the Souroujons throughout the world, perhaps I would get an answer to some of the remaining unsolved questions such as the possibility of finding additional sources for the name, locate further family members, group the Turkish branch and the Bulgarian branch under one tree or find the missing link between the two of them.

As a first step, I printed a computerized list of all the names, using every possible variant spelling, of the Souroujons living in Israel along with their telephone numbers. Then I contacted all of them by phone and interviewed those family members who were more prepared to co-operate and to pass on further information. Some were motivated to include me in their endeavors, some were of the optimal age, that is old enough to remember previous generations yet still clear-minded enough not to confuse names and generations. In order to reduce errors as far as possible, I circulated the results among family members. Afterwards, I constructed a family tree for each family grouping and looked to see if there were any connections with previous listings based on interviews. Here and there, I was fortunate and found connections that even family members were unaware of. Locating Souroujons outside of Israel was done via the Internet and I obtained email addresses from various local families who were in contact with families living abroad.

By the end, I was able to chart all of the Souroujons living in Israel and abroad arriving at sixty family units numbering approximately 500 individuals.

I was unable to uncover any new details about the origin of the name or the family; neither was I able to connect the various branches onto one tree or find the missing link to unite the Bulgarian and Turkish segments. Because of a lack of information, I was stuck at 1850, the earliest I could go back. I should also point out that a number of Souroujons in Israel, Hebraized their names choosing Yarden, Yisrael, Zur or Sarid. This fact makes tracing families even more difficult and these people were found in the end through the help of other family members who knew of them and directed me to them.

 

Following is a list of the earliest Souroujons I was able to identify through the help of various families.

 

Turkish Branch

1. R. Samuel*   Souroujon 1800                        Istanbul

2. Raphael        Souroujon 1830                        Istanbul

3. Abraham      Souroujon 1830                        Istanbul

4. Isaac                        Souroujon 1850                          Istanbul

5. Jacob            Souroujon 1850                        Istanbul

6. Samuel         Souroujon 1850                        Adrianople

7. Aaron          Souroujon 1860                        Istanbul

8. David           Souroujon 1860                        Adrianople

9. Joseph          Souroujon 1860                        Adrianople

10. Ben-Zion   Souroujon 1860                        Istanbul

11. Judah          Souroujon 1860                        Adrianople

12. Solomon    Souroujon 1870                        Istanbul

13. Bekhor       Souroujon 1870                        Adrianople

14. Marco        Souroujon 1880                        Istanbul

      It is possible that some of the names in the above list are brothers or cousins. The year is the estimated year of birth.

 

Bulgarian Branch

1. Elijah*         Souroujon 1840                        Shumen

2. Joseph          Souroujon 1850                        Shumen

3. Isaac (Hako) Souroujon 1870                       Shumen

4. Israel            Souroujon 1870                        Varna

5. Joseph          Souroujon 1870                        Shumen

6. Shabtai         Souroujon 1870                        Shumen

7. Jacob            Souroujon 1870                        Shumen

8. Solomon      Souroujon 1870                        Shumen

9. Mirkush       Souroujon 1870                   Varna

10. David         Souroujon 1870                        Varna

11. Isaac          Souroujon 1890                        Ruschuk

12. Solomon    Souroujon 1870                        Varna

13. Nisim         Souroujon 1870                        Varna

 

      It is possible that some of the names in the above lists are brothers or cousins. The year is the estimated year of birth.

 

All in all, twenty-seven heads of families that broke up into sixty independent family units that have no familial or social connections were found. I did not include in this number the women that were born and married since these people changed their names and their descendants no longer bear the family name even though they are an integral part of the Souroujon family.

Today members of the extended family live in Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico and the United States.

 

8. A Souroujon Anecdote

Among the people I interviewed was a woman bearing this name. As usual, I opened by asking her if she came to Israel from Bulgaria or Turkey. On rare occasions I am told that the family came from Egypt or Russia. This time, a surprise awaited me as it turned out that this family came from Poland. It further developed that they were of Ashkenazi origin on both sides. The explanation was as follows: the way that the name was pronounced, Surezon, had a Yiddish meaning, the son of Sara. So, this family had no connection with the Souroujon family but when Hebrew is written without vowel sounds, one can easily make a mistake.

 

9. The Metamorphosis of the Spelling and Pronunciation of the Name

I will now present the variations in the spelling of the name both in Hebrew and foreign languages that I have so far come across. They result from the fact that the name no longer has a contemporary meaning although it did have a meaning in archaic Spanish. The variations in Hebrew can be traced to the postal service, the phone company and the Ministry of the Interior none of whom were meticulous in transcribing foreign names as they were pronounced. On more than one occasion during an interview that resulted from finding the name in a telephone book, my pronunciation of the name was corrected. The older generation who came as Olim from abroad, almost never pronounced or spelled the name using the letters g or j but used z or zh instead. The listing of non-Hebrew variant spellings follow: Surujon, Suroujon, Surojon, Souroujon, Sourigon, Sourijon, Sorojon and Sorogon. The Hebrew text of this article contains the Hebrew variants.

There is an interesting detail concerning the variations in the spelling the name in foreign languages. If the origin of the name were in Spain it would have first been spelled urujon and subsequently Surujon. When it came to the Turkish areas where French was dominant, the name was written showing French influence – the u became ou. With the rise of nationalism in Europe and the displacement of French from its dominant lingua franca position, some Jews changed the ou back to u. Those who settled in Cuba and South America reverted to the Spanish origin of the name while others maintain the French spelling to this day.

 

10. Souroujons and the Holocaust

One of the emotionally charged incidents in the search for the origin of the name came when a young representative of the family approached me from Cherbourg, France. In the copy of his family tree that I asked him to send me, a father and son who perished in the Holocaust were listed. This was my first encounter with the fact that members of the family were among the victims. Until then, I incorrectly thought that since most of the Souroujons were in Turkey or Bulgaria during World War II, they all survived.

When I received this information, I contacted Yad Vashem to see if they had any information on additional family members who may have perished in the death camps. A week later I received a list with ten names. They were all from France and were caught by the Gestapo when Paris fell to the Germans.

The contact from Cherbourg related a strange detail to me. His great-grandfather Judah Sourijon was born in Istanbul in 1860, but his son who immigrated to France in 1925 changed his name with the rise of the Nazis to Moise Sourigon. This change did not help him or his son escape from the Nazi fangs. In retrospect it is strange why he believed this minor change would have saved him.

 

11. Souroujons in the Arts

It is known that the Souroujons have an artistic aptitude. At least two well known personalities have left their mark in this noble area. One was the artist Sultana Souroujon, whose first steps in the field were taken in her native city of Sofia. Later, she studied at the Sorbonne and settled in Israel where she mostly painted portraits of people she met here. She lost her life in an auto accident in 1961. Her works are on display in the Sofia Museum, Tel Aviv Museum and in private homes. Her brother Leon is a noted violinist who still lives in Sofia. Hila and Aram, an actress and disc jockey respectively, represent the young generation.

 

12. Inbreeding or Protect Me and I will Protect You

Among the Sephardic families in the last century and even more so in earlier times, there was a widespread custom for relatives such as first cousins and uncles and nieces to marry each other. There are many examples in my collection of Souroujon family trees. The reason, as explained to me by various family members, was mostly economic, for in this way the family inheritance would be protected. However, there were negative results. We know from the fields of medicine and biology that one consequence of inbreeding is the appearance of certain genetic illnesses and some forms of mental illness. Thus, I have recorded a large number of Souroujon descendants throughout the generations in whom the number of unmarried individuals was proportionally higher than in other families.

 

13. The Importance of Cemeteries

One of the approaches to the study of old Jewish communities is to visit the cemeteries of the Diaspora and record as far as possible the inscriptions on those tombstones that have survived the ravages of time and war. Among the researchers who follow this method, are Professor Minna Rosen of the University of Haifa who has recorded Turkish cemeteries, Professor Daniel Kazez a musicologist at Wittenberg University in Ohio, who focused on the reconstruction of the marriage and necrology lists on the Jews of Istanbul and Mr. Joseph Covo of Herzliya who has recorded the names of those buried in the Jewish cemetery of Shumen, Bulgaria. Data has been published in the past few years that may enable researches to find familial relationships between various branches when there is no longer anyone alive who can verify such connections.

 

14. Various Historical Souroujons in Eretz Yisrael and the World [Full references are found in the Hebrew section]

The researchers Dov Hacohen and Yaron Ben-Naeh have collected for me references to Souroujons found in response and other literature in the library of Yad Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.

A. One of the followers of Shabtai Zvi was Jacob ben Isaac Souroujon whose manuscript is still extant.

B. A wealthy Jewish merchant from Istanbul who served as a diplomat in Calcutta in the first quarter of the 18th century. Mentioned in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Fischel, W. J.

C.  A family that lived in the Istanbul suburb Piri Pasha before 1713.

D.  Zinbul de Souroujon is buried on the Mt. of Olives, c. 1800.

E. The prominent Jilibi Yauda Souroujon from the village of Hasko is mentioned among those who made possible the publication of Yismah Moshe, Izmir 1868.

F.  Nisim Jacob Souroujon who lived in Jaffa in 1852

G.  Isaac Souroujon, who was an emissary from Tiberius 1774-1777.

H.  Hayim Souroujon, a military physician who was part of the Salonica (Thessalonica) community

from 1870 on.

I.  Nisim Souroujon who lived in Istanbul in 1880 and served for a time as a diplomat in Greece.

 

15. Now What?

There are still Souroujons in Istanbul and in spite of the multi-level family and geographic relationship the connection with them is still weak. Some of them are assimilated and continue to be absorbed into the local Moslem population. In a generation or two they will disappear. This is a sad fact that is not unique to the Turkish Diaspora.

Lately, with the warming of relations with Turkey, the universities and the various archives of key cities have opened to Israeli researchers of Jewish history. It is hoped that the current intensive research will shed new light on the enigma of the Souroujon name.

The definitive answer to the origin of the name will be given only if DNA samples are taken from a number of sixty branches from Bulgaria and Turkey that I have collected and will be


Y Chromosome DNA markers compare of three Souroujons (two from Turkey one from Bulgaria) of unknown family relationship

 

 

 

 

Markers

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

User ID

Last Name

 

 

 

For name

Origin

3
9
3

3
9
0

1
9

3
9
1

3
8
5
a

3
8
5
b

4
2
6

3
8
8

4
3
9

3
8
9
|
1

3
9
2

3
8
9
|
2

4
5
8

4
5
9
a

4
5
9
b

4
5
5

4
5
4

4
4
7

4
3
7

4
4
8

4
4
9

4
6
4
a

4
6
4
b

4
6
4
c

4
6
4
d

JH6FY

Souroujon

Jose

Istanbul, Turkey 

13

24

13

11

12

14

12

12

12

13

13

29

17

9

9

11

11

25

15

19

28

15

15

17

18

2UQBZ

Souroujon

Moshe

Istanbul, Turkey 

13

24

13

11

12

14

12

12

12

13

13

30

17

9

9

11

11

25

15

19

28

15

15

17

18

P9ZR3

Surujon

Emanuel

Shumen, Bulgaria 

13

24

13

11

12

14

12

12

12

13

13

29

17

9

9

11

11

25

15

19

29

15

15

17

18

 

Notes:

 

25 different markers were checked for each individual. In this level there was no full identity among anyone of the participants. Each participant differs in only one marker from the rest. In a 25 markers level this identity still indicates a very close genetic family relationship.

A parallel compare among individuals with a different family name will create differences of at least four or more markers.

It would be of course of much more benefit if more Souroujons (or name variants) would join this project.

 

The following URLs give some information on the DNA markers project:

 

  1. http://www.familytreedna.com/Default.aspx?c=1
  2. http://www.ysearch.org/
  3. http://www.familytreedna.com/public/Sephardic_Heritage/default.aspx?section=yresults

 


checked for genetic relationship. Then we will be able to determine the genetic closeness of the Souroujons to some other Jewish families of strict Spanish origin, to find out if there is a common genetic pool that will prove the relationship to the early form of the name in Spain before 1453. This will also separate those with a peripheral link, or those in the Turkish Empire who adopted the name because of the expulsion/relocation system then operating.

 

Acknowledgments:

I am grateful to all of those who aided me in gathering material, translating from Ladino, explaining and elucidating obscure items, referrals to researchers of this period and for providing additional information: Prof. R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Prof. Minna Rozen, Prof. Ora Limor, Prof. Avigdor Levy, Prof. David Nirenberg, Prof. Alisa Ginio, Prof. Jacob Barnai, Prof. Avi Gross, Prof. Daniel Kazez, Dr. Dov Hacohen, Dr. Yaron Ben-Naeh, Mrs. Mathilde Tagger, Mr. Nissan N. Perez, Mr. Alain Farhi, Mr. Miguel Aguirre, Mrs. Debbie Sorogon and to all my family relatives who made every effort to locate more & more family members in Israel and abroad. I am deeply indebted to them.

 

Bibliography:

Ben Ghiat, Alexander. El Messerrett, 5,39, 1901.

 

Burgos F.C. & C.C.  Parrondo. La Juderia de Hita. Sefarad, 32 : 249-305, 1972.

 

Cohen Rivka, Constantinople Salonica Patras Ed. Zvi Ankori. Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv University, School of Jewish studies, 1984.

 

Fischel, W. J. The Jewish Merchant – Diplomat Isaac Surgun and the Dutch-Mysore Conflict 1765-1791. Revue des Etudes Juives, CXXVI: 27-53, 1967.

 

Galante, Avram. Histoire des Juifs de Turquie. Istanbul, Isis, 1942.

 

Hacker, Joseph. The Surgun System, Zion, 55, 1: 27-82, 1990.

 

Rosanes, Salomon A. Histoire des Isralites de Turquie. Sofia, 1934.

 

Souroujon, Aharon.  Beit Aharon. (1678) (Facsimile). New York, Copy Corner Publishers, 1990. 

 

Dr. Moshe Souroujon, a Tel Aviv native born in 1946, is the head of the hematology and coagulation laboratories for general health in the District of Jerusalem. He holds a Masters degree from Tel Aviv University, a Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute and (M.H.A.) degree in health administration from Ben Gurion University. His interest in genealogy stems on one hand from the origin of his family name in that it is not clear whether they descend from Romaniot Jews or exiles from Spain and on the other hand his involvement with molecular biology and the attempt to apply knowledge from this area in the quest to solve the mystery of the origin of the family name.

Moshe Souroujon can be reached at souroujon@clalit.org.il