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Baron De Hirsch Centenary

December 10, 1931
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A hundred years ago, on December 9th., 1831, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the great philanthropist who created the Jewish Colonisation Association (Ica), was born in Munich, the eldest son of Baron Joseph von Hirsch, banker to the King of Bavaria, and grandson of Baron Jacob von Hirsch, the first Jewish landowner in Bavaria, and the founder of the family for tunes.

When he was 24, Hirsch married Clara Bischoffsheim, the eldest daughter of Senator Raphael Bischoffsheim, of the banking firm of Bischoffsheim and Goldschmidt, of Brussels. He inherited a considerable fortune from his father and grandfather, and this was largely augmented by the dowry of his wife. With this money he embarked in railway enterprises on his own account in Austria, the Balkans and Russia. He secured a concession from the Turkish Government for the building of an important railway to connect Europe and the Near East. The great success which he achieved gained for him the reputation of being one of the leading captains of industry and financiers of Europe.

The late Oscar Straus, the only Jew to sit in a United States Cabinet, who met Baron de Hirsch when he (Straus) was United States Ambassador to Turkey and Hirsch was in Turkey in connection with his railway construction, described him as having ” a large view of affairs, and clear and quick in judgment”, as “a remarkable man, gifted with extraordinary powers, with a genius for large affairs” and as “enterprising and aggressive in his plans”.


Before he was forty Baron de Hirsch was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and it was about this time that he began to interest himself in the alleviation of Jewish distress.

“You are richer than the French, the entire French nation in 1871, and how many Jews were among them”, Dr. Theodore Herzl wrote to Baron de Hirsch on one occasion when he was trying to enlist his aid for the Zionist movement.

Baron de Hirsch’s municificent gifts for Jewish welfare purposes have been said to have been prompted by the death of his son, Lucien, in 1887, at the age of 31 (he is quite unlike me. He is very respectable and hates money, Baron de Hirsch said of his son to Lady Oxford and Asquith, according to her autobiography). My son I have lost, but not my heir humanity is my heir”, Baron de Hirsch has been quoted as replying to a message of condolence at the time of his son’s death. It was, however, about fifteen years before the death of his son that Baron de Hinsch had begun to give large sums (a million francs at a time) to the Alliance Israelite for its work among the Jews of the Balkans and the Orient, and for years he regularly paid the deficits of the Alliance, amounting to thousands of pounds a year.

In 1882, still five years before the death of his son, he offered the Russian Government two million pounds for the establishment of schools in the Jewish Pale of Settlement, but the Russian Government, willing enough to take the money, refused him the control of the administration of the schools that he wanted. It was this attitude of the Czarist Government that finally brought Baron de Hirsch to the realisation that the only helpful way of assisting the Jews of Russia was to enable them to emigrate from Russia and resulted in the formation of the Ica, through which in his lifetime and since he has taken millions of Jews out of Russia and built up the great Jewish settlements of the Argentine and Brazil, and important Jewish colonies in Canada and in the United States (Woodbine Agricultural Colony, for instance).

Lucien Wolf has estimated the total benefactions of Saron de Hirsch and his wife at eighteen million pounds. And of this eleven million pounds went to form the capital of the Ica, making it, as Lucien Wolf suggested, probably the greatest charitable fund in the world. Oscar Straus put Baron de Hirsch’s benefactions alone at an even greater figure, exceeding 100 million dollars.

“In relieving human suffering”, Baron de Hirsch wrote in an article on his charitable work, “I never ask whether the cry of necessity comes from a being who belongs to my faith or not; but what is more natural than that I should find my highest purpose in bringing to the followers of Judaism who have been oppressed for a thousand years, who are starving in misery, the possibilities of a physical and mental regeneration?”.


Theodore Herzl did not succeed in winning Baron de Hirsch for the Zionist movement, and when he died on April 21st., 1896, Herzl commented in his diary: “The Jews have lost Hirsch, but they have me, and after me they will have someone else. It must go forward. I conceive the same matter differently, and I believe better, more strongly, because I do it not with money but with the idea”.

According to an article published a few years ago by a sleeping-car attendant named Husserl, who among many other notabilities travelled at various times with both Herzl and Baron de Hirsch, Baron de Hirsch, differed, however, from Herzl only in being a Territorialist instead of a Zionist.

Baron de Hirsch was in agreement with Dr. Herzl’s basic idea, that the Jews should establish a country of their own, but did not join him in his plan only because Dr. Herzl had bound himself to Palestine as the place of Jewish settlement, Husserl wrote in recalling a talk on the Jewish question which he had had with Baron de Hirsch in 1895, during his journey to Rome, shortly after Hirsch’s conversations on the subject with Dr. Herzl. Although in agreement with Dr. Herzl, Russerl claimed, the Baron considered the selection of Palestine unadvised, because of the big sea of Arab population in Palestine and the adjoining countries, which he believed would bring about the failure of any Jewish settlement scheme in Palestine. He felt that the Jews would always remain a minority people in Palestine, without being able to become self-governing, and he therefore took the view that it was not desirable that the Jews should leave the countries in which they were resident. But if Dr. Herzl would succeed in finding an unpopulated country where Jewish self-government would be possible, he said, according to Husserl, I am ready to give my whole fortune in order to bring about the realisation of his idea.


A few years ago (in 1926) it was suggested in a number of Jewish papers that the Ica was not doing what Baron de Hirsch had intended it to do with his millions. The publication of Baron de Hirsch’s will, however, showed that it makes no stipulations as to the methods in which the Ica is to administrate the funds entrusted to it, and the only statement of the purposes for which the Ica has been established is contained in Article 3 of its Charter (the Ica being incorporated in London under the Companies Acts), which was drawn up by Baron de Hirsch himself, and which reads:

“To assist and promote the emigration of Jews from any parts of Europe or Asia and principally from countries in which they may for the time being be subjected to any special taxes or political or other disturbances, to any other parts of the would, and to form and establish colonies in various parts of the world, and to form and establish colonies in various parts of North and South America and other countries for agricultural, commercial and other purposes”, as well as ” to establish and maintain or contribute to the establishment and maintenance in any part of the world of educational and training institutions, model farms, loan banks, industries, factories and any other institutions or associations which in the judgment of the Council may be calculated to fit Jews for emigration and assist their settlement in various parts of the world, except in Europe, with power to contribute to the funds of any association or society already existing or hereafter formed and having objects which in the opinion of the Council may assist or promote the carrying out of the objects of the Association”.

Dr. Louis Oungre, the Director of the Ica, pointed out at the time in the same connection that “Baron de Hirsch founded the Ica during his lifetime. He was its first President, retaining that post right up to the day of his death. So there was no need for him to have waited for his will before he laid down the Ica’s principles and programme of activities”, adding that” the publication of Baron de Hirsch’s will has confirmed this”.

“The Ica’s work of colonisation and credit-aid”, a prominent Jewish journalist wrote a few weeks ago, “is carried on in seven overseas countries-the Argentine, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Cyprus, Turkey and Palestine, and also in several European countries like Russia, Poland, Roumania, and Latvia, and if we add the activities of the Joint-Ica Foundation, which is at work in Lithuania, Bessarabia, Transvlvania, Esthonia, Austria, and Bulgaria, and of the Hicem Committees, which are functioning in all the countries of emigration and immigration, we find that the Ica actually encircles the globe, or at least the Jewish portion of it”.

Before the war, when Russia was still the greatest centre of Jewish life in the world, “it was the Ica”, Advocate Sliosberg, who was then one of the great figures in Russo-Jewish life, has written, “which created the Jewish co-operatives in Russia, and in that way consolidated the whole of Jewish life prior to the Revolution. And it was the Ica also”, he added, “which promoted the Jewish agricultural colonies in Russia”.


It is incontestable that in the domain of colonisation we are progressing every where, Sir Leonard L. Cohen, the President of the Ica, said in presenting the annual report to the 1930 general meeting of the Association. The prosperity of our groups in the Argentine is certain, he declared. We have set up in this country an agricultural Jewry, flourishing and free. To-day, our colonists are citizens (180 received their papers in 1929 and 1,250 held citizenship papers by the and of the preceding year). The development of the co-operatives, which play so great a part in the life of the Argentine groups, has been wonderful. They continue to progress.

In Brazil, too, in Canada and in Palestine, he went on, our colonists are working, becoming agriculturists, and improving their position with every year. We have fought against the elements, sometimes against a certain pessimism which is understandable after the sufferings and the disillusions in which Jewish history is rich.

But if it is sometimes difficult to show year after year that degree of progress which we should always like to exhibit, yet we are happy to say that we no longer have to record any cruel set-backs and mortifications. It is consoling in speaking of Palestine to be able to state that our colonies were affected only very slightly by the disturbances of last year (1929) and that our colonists did not suffer in person.

The success attending our work in the overseas countries, Sir Leonard continued, has enabled us to proceed with our search for new areas for our colonisation activity. We have been impelled to this by the results of the war and the devastation of the Jewish settlements of Central and Eastern Europe. In this way we have come to engage in colonisation on the spot, that is to say, to consolidate the existing populations where they are living. That is the reason for our work in Poland, Russia, and Roumania.

There is in Poland a very thickly populated Jewish agricultural area of hard-working people, especially in the Eastern zones and in Galicia. We brought help to 35 colonies, which were severely tried by the economic crisis and the destruction of the harvests. There were in particular important advances made in 1,413 Jewish farms. This activity is carried on in the pre-war Russian territory. There are also in Eastern Galicia, in the districts of Stanislav, Lemberg, and Tarnopol, about 8,000 families of Jewish peasants who have equal need of our aid. In order to be able to engage in this work we are compelled to conduct activities in countries where the price of the land and the poverty of the colonists render our work more difficult, but at the same time it is work of the greatest benefit in the fullest sense of the word.

In Roumania we have also given assistance to large numbers of Jewish colonists. There are nearly 4,000 Jewish colonists in Bessarabia in 31 colonies, cultivating more than 27,000 hectares of land. We have endeavoured to raise their standard of living, to instruct them in the working of the land and to help them to expand the area of land they have under cultivation by buying new plots.

I shall not dwell upon our work in Russia, Sir Leonard proceeded, which is so difficult and so necessary. I only want to say something of what is termed the New Colonisation. By December 31st. last 2,362 families have already taken firm root in the Ica colonies. They have become veritable land-folk and are creating a new class of Jewish cultivators of the land whose future may be regarded as assured, unless something happens to take them out of our control.

This is what we have accomplished in the matter of colonisation.


In other countries outside Europe, he proceeded, we have placed at least 20,000 families of Jews on the land. At this very moment, as a result of the efforts of the Ica, there is a Jewish peasant population in existence of at least 100,000 persons, without counting those who have come on the land without our direct aid and who have equally received facilities from us in the practice of agriculture. I ask you, Sir Leonard said, is it possible to say after this that Jews do not know how to become agriculturists?

From its very inception, Sir Leonard continued, the Ica has engaged in the training of skilled workmen and technicians in the attempt to reduce the large numbers of our people who have no profession in hand. This work rests on a really solid foundation, and is no longer talked about, because we have grown accustomed to its regular work and the services which it renders. Thanks to our schools, our professional courses, and our patrons (who take in the apprentices trained in the particular branches of work) in Poland, Ressarabia and Russia, we have snatched thousands of young Jews from idleness and from poor and uncertain labour and misery.

There remain two important enterprises, Sir Leonard said, our credit-aid work and emigration. It will always be one of our finest titles to virtue that our Association introduced the huge masses of the Jewish proletariat of Eastern Europe. to the inestimable benefits of co-operation, under one of its most successful forms, the Credit Mutuel. In Russia we are pursuing the reconstruction of our pre-war achievement and each year we register some new progress there. In this one country alone, the cassas maintained by us have given assistance last year to 89,785 people. I recall that 28 years ago, when I became a member of the Ica, we maintained in the vast Russian Empire, including Poland, only 13 cassas, with 7,600 members.

In subordinating our participation to the effective local contributions made in the form of subscriptions, to the establishment of depots, and the creation of reserves, Sir Leonard said, we have gradually come to the significant result that our actual financial participation represents in many cases only a third and sometimes only a quarter of the total funds engaged in this enterprise. In the near future the cassas will expand beyond all bounds. They will themselves be rich enough to dispense with our capital sums. And when that happens we shall be able to revive popular credit in other countries, and thus continue our work of releasing the Jewish masses from misery.


The world knows what we have achieved in the Argentine, Sir Leonard said. It is less informed of the results we have achieved in Brazil. Judaism did not exist in Brazil before the war. Always engaged in seeking new openings for Jewish emigration, our Association endeavoured over a period of seven years to prepare the ground, to help the formation

The Ica has achieved a recognition, Sir Leonard concluded, of which we have a right to be proud. We have a mission to fulfil. We shall do our task and seek always to go forward.


What Baron de Hirsch’s vast bequest and his establishment of the immense machinery of the Ica has meant in the lives of many thousands of Jewish families was brought home graphically a few weeks ago in a report headed “A Nephew Of Baron de Hirsch”, appearing in a number of Jewish papers in America, in which Dr. Weinstein, described as the most important Jewish communal worker in Chile, one of the South American countries in which the Ica has been building up Jewish life, who is now President of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Committee of Chile, explaining why he has taken on this job, wrote: “Forty years ago my father became a man, thanks to Baron de Hirsch. My father succeeded admirably, and when he died he left behind him a large family of respected citizens of Chile. What would have happened to me if Baron de Hirsch had not helped my parents to leave Russia? I want to pay back my debt. As a Jew, I think it is my duty to help others to escape misery and persecution and settle in our country. In that way I gratefully repay the debt contracted as a nephew of Baron de Hirsch”.

In the Argentine, where the number of “Baron de Hirsch’s nephews” is immeasurably greater than in Chile, the Jewish farmers of the Argentine at their last Congress at San Salvador decided to erect a monument there to Baron de Hirsch, and to commemorate his centenary by publishing a history of the Jewish colonisation of the Argentine and raising a fund to buy land in the Argentine on which to settle more Jewish families from Eastern Europe.

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