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October 14, 1966 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1966-10-14

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Fabulous Story of Baron Maurice de Hirsch

Baron Maurice De Hirsch
Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
by Kurt Grunwald

A Review by Lawrence Crohn
Until perhaps the last generation,
the name of Baron _Maurice de
Hirsch was a household word
among Jews everywhere. Chaim
Weizmann saw his picture in his
father's house in Pinsk next to that
of Maimonodes. Today, his mem-
ory is passing. The history books
refer to him, but no full biography
exists of this remarkable man.
This work of Dr. Kurt Grunwald,
long-time resident of Israel, whose
father was the Chief Rabbi of
Vienna, attempts to fill this lamen-
table gap. This study deals pri-
marily with the Baron's extensive
and intricate financial operations,
but the tale of his vast philan-
thropies occupies a good portion
of the book. As an entrepreneur,
De Hirsch is chiefly remembered
as the instigator and builder of
the Oriental Railroad, from Vienna
to Constantinople, and to the rest
of Eastern Europe. The fantastic
story of his dealings with the old
Turkish regime, accounts for his
strange nickname. "Turken-
hirsch." •
Equally amazing is the story
of De Hirschs charitable under-
takings. After having made mil-
lions, (he was richer than the
Rothschilds), he turned his en-
ergies to the solution of the
Jewish problem. He was born
into a noble family, and while
his forebears and contemporaries
were identified with the Jewish
communities of their times,
Baron De Hirsch was not an ob-
servant Jew. He numbered
among his friends princes and
noblemen, and away from his
business he loved horse racing.
His winnings were given away
to the London hospitals.
This strange man emerged from
the group of successful Jews in
Bavaria, whose forbears were the
Court Jews of an earlier period.
From this enclave came the
Schiffs and the Warburgs and the
Strauses. He was, one might say,
born into the banking business.
As a young man he exhibited his
genius for organizing and develop-
ing large industrial undertakings.
These are described by Dr. Grun-
wald. But his fame came with
the initiation of the Oriental rail-
road project. It was a grandiose
plan to draw together the far
reaches of pre-modern Europe,
provide transportation for the
growing industrial centers, which
hitherto depended upon long and
tedious water carriers.
The major part of the book de-
scribes the intricate plans and
dealings with the Turkish Sultan
and his advisors. Baron De Hirsch
eventually acquired the concession
in 1869, for the construction of
the railroad, which was originally
based upon a combined length
of about 1.000 miles. He was to
receive a fixed amount of money
for each mile of construction, ad-
ditional amounts for the railroad
operation, rights to contiguous
To finance this huge under-
taking, De Hirsch devised an
unusual method, which suc-
ceeded despite the very poor
credit of the Ottoman Empire.
He agreed with the government
to issue bonds carrying a low
interest rate of 3 per cent, pay-
able over 99 years, but partici-
pating in bi-monthly drawings of
prizes, three of them as high as
600,000 francs. These highly
speculative bonds were soon
known as "Turkenlose."
One can only imagine the efforts
necessary to publicize and sell this
huge issue. The Turkish govern-
ment issued to De Hirsch 1,900.000
of such bonds. A huge syndicate
was formed and the stock, after
strenuous efforts, was accepted by
the Vienna Stock Exchange.
De Hirsch's profits were enor-
mous. He emerged a multimillion-
aire. When, later on, the Turkish
government suspended payments
on the debts, the Baron was ac-
cused of having obtained his con-
cessions by bribery and other
unorthodox means. The payment of

baksheesh was an inevitable aspect
of any dealings with the Sublime
Port. Yet, in retrospect, the Baron
had embarked on a scheme of
Empire, to draw together the disor-
ganized segments of 19th
Century Europe. It was a gran-
diose idea, carried out by a finan-
cial and organizing genius.
The Baron had many detractors,
competitors who accused him of
unfair dealings and his Jewish
origin was not forgotten. But, as
Dr. Grunwald states, "whatever
the profit was, it was hard earned.
It would be unjust to forget the
greatness of the conception, the
tremendous hard work, diligence,
intelligence, and the persistance."
Nobody before him had the cour-
age to undertake this monster un-
dertaking. A foolhardy promoter
had grown into a leader and a
predominent money power on the
grandest possible scale."
The mere making of money
had now lost it's attraction for
Baron De Hirsch. He turned to
philanthropy on the same gran-
diose scale as he had applied
to amassing of money. No one
knows just how much he gave
away, but most estimates range -
from 100 to 150 million dollars.
Even while he was deep in his
Turkish schemes, he took note
of the wretched condition of his --
co-religionists in Turkey and the
Near East. His first significant
contributions were made to the
Alliance Israelite Universalle,

for the relief of these people.
His benefactions extended to the
Jews of Galicia and Bukawina,
but he soon began to have thoughts
similar to those entertained by
Theodor Herzl. How can the posi-
tion of the afflicted Jewries of
Russia and Poland be permanently
His first major effort in this
direction was the Baron De Hirsch
fund in New York. Thousands of
immigrants were helped by this
fund, with loans and grants, to ad-
just to their new homes. This fund
still exists- But the Baron was
not satisfied with simple charity.
He wished to do something to
solve the Jewish problem. He
desired to help the immigrants
to become farmers and productive
citizens. He established an agri-
cultural school in Woodbine, N.J.,
to train Jewish farmers. And be-
tween 1901 and 1933, the fund's
industrial removal office dispersed
some 74,000 immigrants over many
different localities in the United
But the great industrial
schemer had larger visions. He
had heard of big possibilities for
settlement in Argentina. He de-
cided that this would be his
crowning philanthropy. Thus,
the I.C.A. as it was- known, be-
came De Hirsch's major preoc-
cupation• He envisioned a mas-
sive settlement of Russian and
Polish Jews on the virgin plains
of the Argentine Republic.


20—Friday, October 14, 1966

Over the years, the I.C.A. ac-
quired a large area of land.
Some 20 colonies were established,
in which about 3,500 families were
settled. The entire Jewish popula-
tion in and around these colonies
never exceeded 35 to 40 thousand
people. Many of the settlers and
their children eventually moved to
the towns.
While De Hirsch was deep in
his schemes for Jewish ameliora-
tion, another great Jew had begun
his campaign for Jewish redemp-
tion, Theodor Herzl had come to
the same conclusion as Baron De
H i r s c h. Auto-emancipation was
dreamed of by both. Herzl did in-
deed approach the great philan-
thropist for help. He was turned
down. Hirsch was fearful of any
dealings with the Turks, and he
also felt that eventually, Palestine
would fall into the hands of the
Russians- This is why he seemed
to persist in his choice of the
Argentine as against Palestine. Dr.
Grunwald points out that, at this
time, Dr. H-e r z l's plans were
ephemeral, and he had met with
little success. Herzl wrongly ac-
cused De Hirsch — "You breed
beggars." Zionism was premature
for De Hirsch. As the author
states, "what his reaction would
have been to Herblian Zionism,
had he had a chance to know it,
is a matter of conjecture."
Baron De Hirsch was a man
ahead of his time as a philan-
thropist. He gaye away millions in
an attempt .to do more than mere

charity. He wanted solutions. It
was also not yet the time for the

realization of his dreams. In the
annals of Jewish history, his name
is deeply etched. He would find
satisfaction in the fact that his
benefactions, and not his huge
financial ventures. have made his
name a legend- Dr. Kurt Grunwald
has given us an interesting and
authoritative story of the life of
this most unusual Jew and human


KKK Reported Stronger
Aided by White Backlash

NEW YORK (JTA)—The "white
blacklash" is giving new impetus
to the Ku Klux Klan, it was re-
ported by the Anti-Defamation
League of Bnai Brith.
Research findings show that the
Klan, whose national membership
had plumeted by last January, is
on the upsurge again, holding
rallies and recruitment drives
throughout the South, its tradi-
tional home grounds, and making
new inroads in the North and Mid-
The study estimates current
Klan strength at approximately
29,500 throughout the South, mark-
ing an increase of nearly 10,000
since the beginning of the- year,
when Klansmen were -told to "lie
low" as the House Un-American
Activities Committee
were - launched.

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A Gift to the Nation

In our nation's capital, preserved in the
cornerstone of the famed monument hon-
oring George Washington, is a rare doc-
ument. How it happens to be there is a
rather interesting story involving a
young Jewish newspaper reporter.
Naphtali Phillips, reporter for the
"American Advertiser," saw an ad-
vanced copy of Washington's Farewell
Address and sensed that it would be of
great importance someday. He stood
near the press as the "Advertiser" was
printed and kept the first copy for himself.
When, 50 years later, New ;York City
proposed a memorial to our first presi-
dent, Phillips offered his prized memento
and it was placed in the cornerstone.
This memorial was never completed,
however, but when the present 555-foot
obelisk in Washington was eventually
built, New York State presented its cor-
nerstone and the Phillips offering is part

of that great memorial to this day.
During most of his 98 years of life,
Naphtali Phillips had much to do both
with presidents and newspapers. After
moving from his home town of Philadel-
phia, he became owner and editor of the
"National Advocate," a leading newspa-
per in New York City. As such, he took
a vigorous _interest . in political affairs
both local and national. He also has the
unique distinction of having voted for
every president from Washington, our
first, to Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th.
Naphtali Phillips was also a deeply
religious man, proud of his ancestry.
He was clerk and trustee of the Congre-
gation and was elected to religious office
14 times. Another distinction is a special
honor associated with his burial. During
a period of three centuries, he remains
the only layman whose funeral was held
in the vestibule of Shearith Israel.



First with the Finest Cigarettes
through Lorillard research

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