Baron Maurice de Hirsch
(1831 - 1896)
Baron Maurice de Hirsch was born in
Germany in 1831. His mother Karoline Wertheimer ensured that he
received the best instruction in Hebrew and religion. Descended from
a distinguished family of Jewish court bankers, he moved among
European nobility. He was counted among the intimates of the Prince
of Wales, later Edward VII, and of the Austrian archduke Rudolph.
In 1851 Hirsch joined the banking
firm of Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt in Brussels and four years
later married Clara, daughter of Senator Jonathan Bischoffsheim, head
of the firm.
Even before she met Baron de
Hirsch, Clara had been involved with philanthropic activities. Under
her father's guidance, she had worked to relieve the misery of
individuals and supported alms-houses and soup kitchens, distributed
clothes for children, and financed loan banks for traveling hawkers.
She was a major force in guiding her husband in his philanthropic
enterprises. As well as assisting him in founding colonies and
developing schools and farms, between 1892 and 1895 she donated over
200 million francs (about $40 million) of her own money to
Baron de Hirsch did not rely on his
wife or father-in-law for his fortune. Instead, he initiated an
audacious financial scheme, setting up the funding to build the
Oriental Railway, which linked Constantinople to Europe.
Hirsch was granted control of the
railway concession by the Turkish government. By personal supervision
and skillful engineering, he ensured the success of the venture. The
railway project and his pioneer enterprises in the sugar and copper
industries brought Hirsch's fortune to an estimated $100 million by
1890, and gained for him a reputation as an outstanding industrialist
During this period Hirsch became
acquainted with the plight of Middle Eastern Jewry and gave the
Alliance Israelite Universelle one million francs ($200,000) for the
creation of schools. He provided additional sums for the
establishment of trade schools. He eventually consolidated his
donations to the Alliance in a foundation yielding an annual income
of 400,000 francs ($80,000).
Thereafter, he established his own
organization, the Baron de Hirsch Foundation, for educational work in
Galicia. In 1891, he established a New York Baron de Hirsch Fund to
assist and help settle immigrants to the United States and later
Canada. Later that same year, he created the Jewish Colonization
Association to facilitate mass emigration of Jews from Russia to
agricultural colonies particularly in Argentina and Brazil.
Within a few years the Jewish
Colonization Association had a budget of about 180 million francs
($36,000,000). Its objective was defined as the purchase of large
tracts of land for "... establishing colonies in various parts
of North and South America and other countries for agricultural,
commercial and other purposes."
A central committee was formed in
St. Petersburg in 1892 to organize the emigration of Russian Jews
(with the agreement of the Russian government), and a governing body
was set up in the Argentine to direct work in the colonies. Most of
the settlers later drifted to the towns. The accumulated funds of the
Jewish Colonization Association are now largely directed to
agricultural projects in Israel.
It is impossible to assess
accurately the amount of money Hirsch devoted to benevolent purposes.
He donated large sums to London hospitals and a Canadian fund for
helping immigrants. He gave all his horse racing winnings to
philanthropic causes, saying that his horses ran for charity.
On the death of his only son Lucien
in 1887, he replied to a message of sympathy with the words "My
son I have lost, but not my heir; humanity is my heir."
His agricultural projects led the Chovevei
Zion and later Herzl to request Hirsch's support for the Zionist
movement, but Hirsch regarded the creation of a Jewish state as a
fantasy and refused any assistance.
When Baron de Hirsch died in 1896,
his wife Clara took over his philanthropic activities. She continued
her husband's work, turning her home in Paris into her administrative
office. During the three remaining years of her life she donated
$15,000,000 to charitable works in New York, Galicia, Vienna, Budapest,
and Paris. In her will she left a further $10,000,000 to endow
to Jewish Heritage