Hirsch, Baron Maurice de
HIRSCH, BARON MAURICE DE
HIRSCH, BARON MAURICE DE (Moritz Freiherr von Hirsch ; 1831–1896), German financier and philanthropist. Born in Munich, Hirsch was the son of Baron Joseph von Hirsch auf Gereuth (1805–1885, from 1869 Baron) and grandson of Baron Jacob von Hirsch (1765–1840, from 1818 von Hirsch auf Gereuth), founder of the family fortune and the first Jewish estate owner in Bavaria. His mother, Karoline Wertheimer, ensured that Maurice de Hirsch received the best instruction in Hebrew and religion. 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. He did not, however, become a partner; instead, he pursued his own business interests, mainly the Oriental Railway scheme linking Constantinople to Europe, which was financed by the Turkish Lottery Bonds (1869 concession). Hirsch was granted control of the railway concession by the Turkish government and by personal supervision and skillful engineering ensured the success of the venture. The railway project and pioneer enterprises in the sugar and copper industries brought Hirsch's fortune to an estimated $100,000,000 by 1890, and gained for him a reputation as an outstanding industrialist and financier.
During this period Hirsch became acquainted with the plight of Oriental Jewry and gave the *Alliance Israélite Universelle one million francs for the creation of schools. He provided additional sums for the establishment of trade schools and eventually consolidated his donations to the Alliance in a foundation yielding an annual income of 400,000 francs. Thereafter, he established his own organization, the Baron de Hirsch Foundation, for educational work in Galicia and Bukovina (1888); the *Baron de Hirsch Fund, in New York, for assisting and settling immigrants to the United States (1891) and later Canada; and the Jewish Colonization Association (ica) to facilitate mass emigration of Jews from Russia and their rehabilitation in agricultural colonies particularly in *Argentina and Brazil. With these foundations (with a capital of several million U.S. dollars), Hirsch became the first Jewish benefactor to plan large-scale resettlement of Jews. The ica was formed in 1891 after the czarist government had refused Hirsch's offer of 50 million francs to alleviate the miserable conditions of Russian Jewry by establishing a modern education system for the Jews because it was not given complete control over the allocation of the funds. Within a few years the ica capital stood at about 180 million francs. The objective of the ica 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 Argentina to direct work in the colonies. Most of the settlers later drifted to the towns. Later the accumulated funds of the jca were largely directed to agricultural projects in Israel. In 1955 the jca was therefore renamed the Israeli Colonization Association (ica). The foundations in the former Habsburg Empire had lost most of their fortunes after World War i and were dissolved by the successor states.
Countering widespread antisemitic prejudice, Hirsch was firmly convinced of the ability of Jews to be successful in agriculture if they were provided with suitable conditions. In an article in The Forum (August 1891), he wrote: "My own personal experience, too, has led me to recognize that the Jews have very good ability in agriculture … and my efforts shall show that the Jews have not lost the agricultural qualities that their forefathers possessed. I shall try to make for them a new home in different lands, where as free farmers on their own soil, they can make themselves useful to that country." The main concern of his idea of philanthropy was less relief than improvement through education. Thus he maintained a certain autocratic approach and preferred to guide his donations through the ica, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and a few other organizations that had his confidence. His agricultural projects led the Ḥovevei Zion and later *Herzl to request Hirsch's support for the Zionist movement, but Hirsch, who regarded the creation of a Jewish state as a fantasy, refused assistance. 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, and 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 generous donations were made possible by his outstanding economic and personal skills, assets which had made him a central figure in European society; he was counted among the intimates of the Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand, of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and of the Austrian archduke Rudolph.
[Hanns G. Reissner /
Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]
His wife, clara (1833–1899), was a cultivated woman and accomplished linguist. As a niece of Solomon H. Goldschmidt, the president of the aiu, and a daughter of Jonathan Bischoffsheim, she was conversant with business affairs and philanthropic organization already in her youth. She worked as a secretary first for her father and, after her marriage to Moritz von Hirsch, for her husband, in whose charity interests she played a guiding and counseling role. As well as assisting in the work of founding colonies and developing schools and farms, she 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. Between 1892 and 1895, she donated over 200,000,000 francs. When her husband died in 1896 she became sole administrator of his vast fortune. 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 philanthropic foundations.
[Moshe Catane /
Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]
J. Prys, Die Familie von Hirsch auf Gereuth (1931); S. Joseph, History of the Baron de Hirsch Fund (1935); S. Adler-Rudel, in: ylbi, 8 (1963), 29–69; K. Grunwald, Tuerkenhirsch (Eng., 1966), incl. bibl. add. bibliography: H. Avni, Argentina, the Promised Land (1973); D. Frischer, Le Moïse des Amériques (2002).