Popular Yiddish term for an unfortunate person. It occurs also in the form Schlimmilius ("Jüdische Volksbibliothek," vii. 80). According to Heine ("Jehuda-ben-Halevy"), it is derived from the Bible name "Shelumiel," owing to the fact that the person transfixed by the spear of Phinehas for incontinence with the Moabite woman (Num. xxv. 6) was so killed by mistake. Others derive the term from a corruption of the expression "schlimm mazzal" (unlucky star).
Many of the most popular anecdotes of the ghetto relate to the experiences of persons who, through no fault of their own, are pursued by misfortune to the end, and endure it without murmuring. They resemble in Jewish folk-tales the Gothamites or "Schildbürgers" of English and German folk-lore. Chamisso used the term as the name of the hero of his popular story, "Peter Schlemihl," but without much reference to its Jewish meaning. He may have heard the term through Itzig, the Berlin banker, to whom Heine was indebted for his interpretation of the word.
- Chamisso, Peter Schlemihl, ed. Jacobs, Preface, p. xii., London, 1898;
- D. Sanders, Deutsches Wörterbuch;
- idem, Kritiken. ii. 137;
- B. Felsenthal, in Geiger's Jüd. Zeit. vi. 60;
- A. Wünsche, in Jüdisches Litteraturblatt, viii. 135.