No, Peter Freuchen Wasn’t Jewish by the Forward

No, Peter Freuchen Wasn’t Jewish

Dear Editor;

Putting aside the age-old question as to who is a Jew, it is unlikely that Arctic explorer and adventurer Peter Freuchen was Jewish (See February’s “Who Knew” column). It may be adventurous to explore the possible Jewish background of the towering, red-bearded Dane, but without anything more substantive than apocryphal anecdotes such as Freuchen claiming to be a “Yehudi” or twirling Hitler’s filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl above his head, all we really have is a very tall tale. Pointing to an article in the 1934 Jewish Daily Bulletin where Freuchen is described as being “Eight feet tall, weighing close to 330 pounds…” is neither journalistic or accurate, especially when numerous photos refute that unlikely height.

That same 1934 article describes Freuchen as “the most unique Jew alive.” While of course each person can only be unique and not more or less unique than anyone else, this particular human being was as likely Jewish as he was likely eight feet tall.

As a book dealer specializing in nautical topics, I came across his books many times, but while researching Jewish sailors and Jewish maritime history, I never came across any evidence that he was Jewish…until this article. However, there have indeed been many notable and Jewish (or at least probably Jewish) sailors and adventurous mariners such as Cristobal Colon (aka Columbus, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas and a son of Genoese wool merchants and likely Conversos), Robert Mossbacher, Lin Pardey, Bob Bitchin, David Hays, Charles Rubin, Louis Rubin, Uriah Levy, Abraham Palache, The Henriquez Brothers, Jean Lafitte and more, possibly including explorer John Cabot (Caboto of Venice and Genoa). Some of them may not be widely known outside of sailing or maritime history circles but the “Jewish” angle to them is much more likely, substantive or confirmed than is that of Freuchen.

Freuchen was not likely a modern day Bar Kochba or Samson. One can intuit that the native Inuits of Greenland with whom he lived and intermarried (he also married a Jewish woman), was more likely a member of that tribe. A video which calls him “The most interesting man in the world” claims he was Jewish and also jokingly says he did not die but replaced God because he could do a much better job. [ ]

That’s quite a twist on replacement theology that resurrects Freuchen in yet another manner, also unlikely.


Paul Foer

Edgewater, MD


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