Black-bordered notices announcing the death of Nathan Straus were posted here by the Jewish Health Organisation Hadassah, to which Mr. Straus was a generous benefactor, immediately the Director, Dr. Yessky, was given the news by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Hadassah offices have been closed to-day and the nurses’ graduation ceremony which was to have taken place tonight has been postponed. The Nathan and Lina Straus Health Centre, which was built by Mr. Straus, has also been closed for the day as a sign of mourning.
With wounded soul and aching heart I express regret and sorrow at the departure of a knight among the benefactors of Israel and humanity, a treasure-store of mercy and kindness in whose name and tremendous deeds we find consolation, Chief Rabbi Kook says in a message to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here.
SURVIVED HIS WIFE ONLY BY FEW MONTHS: THE STORY OF NATHAN STRAUS’S HUMANITARIAN WORK: “GRAND OLD MAN OF AMERICAN JEWRY”
Nathan Straus did not long survive his wife, Lina Gutherz Straus, who died last May, and who was during the whole of their 55 years of married life his inseparable companion and his colleague in all his activities, business, philanthropic and Zionist. He was prostrated with grief by her death and his health was so affected that he was ordered by his doctors to go on an ocean journey, and he sailed a few days after on board the “Olympic”, recuperating for a time in England.
Nathan Straus was born on January 31st., 1848 in Germany. He came to the United States at the age of six and when he was 18 he joined his father’s business. He retired from business in 1914 to devote himself entirely to philanthropic activity.
He was best known for his work for the cause of pure milk. He founded the Straus Milk Depots for the free distribution of sterilised milk, establishing in 1893 the first infant milk depot in America, and setting up in the course of years other such depots in many cities throughout the world. He also established a number of sanatoriums for fighting tuberculosis. He was one of the outstanding figures in world welfare work, and it has been said of his child-aid work that “he has saved more little children from premature death by his public efforts, his generosity and his intelligence than perhaps any other man in the world”.
The Straus family traces its descent back over a considerable period. Nathan Straus’s great-grandfather, Jacob Lazar, was one of the deputies to the Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon in 1806. After the reaction in Bavaria Nathan Straus’s father, Lazarus Straus, emigrated to America with his three children, Osear Straus, who afterwards became United States Minister to Turkey, and Secretary of Commerce and Labour, the only Jew who has held Cabinet rank in America, Isidore Straus, who was drowned on the “Titanic”, and Nathan Straus. The family settled in Talbotton, in Georgia, where they were the only Jews in the town. In 1865 they removed to New York, where the three sons all entered the firm of L. Straus and Sons, established by their father.
The three brothers all became active in political life, in which Oscar Straus afterwards became a leading figure. In 1889 Mayor Grant appointed Nathan Straus as Park Commissioner. In 1894 the Democratic Party nominated him as Mayor of New York, but he withdrew his candidature. The last political post he held was that of President of the Board of Health of New York City.
During the coal strike of 1892-93, Nathan Straus conceived the idea of providing the poor of New York with coal at cost price. He immediately established and maintained coal distributing stations throughout the city, where twenty pounds of coal were sold for five cents and given free to the poorest families. He secured the co-operation of J. Pierpont Morgan and obtained ten thousand tons from him at a reduced rate, securing from the Dock Department the free use of piers for coal depots. The cost and overhead having thus been brought down to a minimum, Nathan Straus was able to distribute over a million and a half buckets of coal at a price of 5 cents for 25 pounds. During the same crisis in January, 1894, with the help of a gift of 50,000 dollars from Mr. Morgan (which is conspicuous as the only instance in which Nathan Straus ever accepted financial aid for his work) Mr. Straus opened a store in Grand Street, where for five cents, or upon presentation of a Nathan Straus depot ticket, issued free through the charity societies, he supplied twenty-five pounds of coal or foodstuff. At the same time Mr. Straus opened four lodging houses at which he supplied bed and breakfast for five cents or on presentation of one of the tickets. These who did not have the five cents were given some work to do around the lodging house, and thus earned their lodging and breakfast.
In the celebration of the silver jubilee of Greater New York in 1923 Nathan Straus received the greatest number of votes for having in the preceding 25 years done more than any other citizen for the benefit of the public, and he was awarded the flag of the city.
Since the war Nathan Straus had annually contributed more than his income to relieve suffering in the United States and abroad. In 1916 he sold his steam yacht and gave the proceeds for feeding war orphans.
GAVE MORE THAN ONE-AND-A-HALF MILLION DOLLARS FOR PALESTINE
An ardent Zionist, Nathan Straus gave at various times large sums to Palestine work, amounting to a total of over one-and-a-half million dollars, most of it earmarked for health and welfare work. His great achievement was the building of the Nathan and Lina Straus Health Centre in Jerusalem, which he explained was to be for the use of all the inhabitants of the country, irrespective of race, creed or colour.
Mr. Straus made his first pilgrimage to Palestine in 1904 as a tourist. We travelled, he said speaking of himself and his wife, like other tourists, stopping at Madeira, Gibralter, Genoa, Naples, and other points of interest. On reaching Jerusalem we changed our plans. What we saw made such a deep impression on us that we gave up the idea of going to other places. In 1912 we were again in Palestine. Through conferences with leaders of the movement and through visiting the colonies and the institutions in Jerusalem, we gained an insight into the conditions and needs of the people. The first institution we established was the soup kitchen in the oldest part of Jerusalem. We began by giving a free meal daily to 300 persons. A second soup kitchen outside the Wall was later added and both have existed ever since, dispensing 2,000 free meals daily. Other institutions were started, the most important of them a Health Department for Palestine. In January 1913 we again sailed for Palestine and extended the work of the Health Department. We established a Pasteur Institute. The next visit was in 1923. Our visit was full of satisfaction as we saw the great progress made in the numerous institutions, including our own, all working for the building up of Eretz Israel, fulfilling the expectations of a praying and waiting Jewry all over the world. After our return to New York in 1924, we decided on the erection of the Health Centre in Jerusalem.
When the earthquake took place in Palestine in July 1927, Mr. Straus immediately cabled 25,000 dollars to Jerusalem, stipulating that it be used for all the sufferers from the disaster without distinction of race, creed or nationality.
On his eightieth birthday, Mr. Nathan Straus, being honorary Chairman of the New York United Palestine Appeal, contributed 100,000 dollars through the Appeal for the work of the Hadassah, bringing up the amount of his contributions to Palestine to more than 1Â½ million dollars.
After the Palestine outbreak in August 1929, Mr. Nathan Straus gave 75,000 dollars to the Palestine Emergency Fund, his sons Mr. Nathan Straus, Junior and Mr. Hugh Grant Straus, contributing another 25,000 dollars.
His wife, he once related, in order to assist the Palestine undertaking “presented to the Hadassah her collection of jewels accumulated during her lifetime. The Hadassah raised 10,000 dollars for the jewels, and presented them to Lady Samuel, the wife of Sir Herbert Samuel, then High Commissioner for Palestine”.
When all America, not only American Jewry, was celebrating Mr. Nathan Straus’s 80th. birthday, and telegrams of congratulation reached him from all over the world, he issued a statement to the Press in which he said that “no compliment would be more welcome and no testimonial more appreciated than a contribution to the cause of Palestine”.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.