Hirschmann, Ira Arthur

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HIRSCHMANN, IRA ARTHUR (1901–1989), U.S. business executive. He held key positions in several large New York department stores, eventually becoming vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue, 1931–1938, and vice president, Bloomingdale Brothers, 1938–1946. In 1935 he served as the chairman of the board of the University-in-Exile which employed many refugees from Nazi Germany. That year he also joined the New York City Department of Education. In July 1938 he was an observer at the *Evian Conference on refugees, which led him to more intensified action on behalf of those who sought to flee from Hitler. A supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hirschmann was named special assistant to William H. Davis of the National War Labor Board in 1942. The Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe (the Bergson Group) asked him to investigate rescue possibilities in mid-1943.

In February 1944 he arrived in Turkey as the Special Representative of the War Refugee Board. Working with the United States ambassador, Laurence Steinhardt, Hirschmann helped convince the Turkish authorities to allow refugees to pass through Turkey on their way to Palestine. He made a great effort to find a suitable sea-route to Turkey from the Balkans and procure shipping for the refugees. Hirschmann also played a key role in the Transnistria scheme. Through the International Red Cross, he met the Romanian ambassador in Turkey, Alexander Cretzianu, and induced him to press his government to permit the return to the traditional areas of Romania of the remaining Jews, who had been deported to Transnistria. Hirschmann also assisted Hungarian Jewry. After interviewing Joel *Brand, he recommended that the Western Allies enter into negotiations with the Nazis, with the hope that the process would earn valuable time and thereby save their lives. With the help of Monsignor Angelo Roncalli (later Pope *John xxiii), Hirschmann obtained baptismal certificates for Hungarian Jews. He also successfully prevailed upon the Romanians to allow Hungarian refugees into Romania in the summer of 1944. Through the Bulgarian minister in Turkey, Nicholas Balabanoff, he persuaded the Bulgarians to revoke their anti-Jewish legislation.

In 1946 Hirschmann went to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) as a special inspector-general. In that capacity he toured displaced person's camps in Germany and contributed to the improvement of conditions in them. In addition to his other interests, Hirschmann was a talented pianist and musicologist. He established and assumed the presidency of the New Friends of Music in 1946. That same year he became the president of the Metropolitan Broadcasting and Television Inc. Hirschmann published two memoirs, Lifeline to a Promised Land (1946) and Caution to the Winds (1962).


H.L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 19381945 (1980); D. Morse, While Six Million Died; A Chronicle of American Apathy (1968); D.A. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945 (1984).

[Robert Rozette (2nd ed.)]