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MORGENTHAU , U.S. family of public officials. henry morgenthau sr. (1856–1946), financier and diplomat, was born in Mannheim, Germany. His family immigrated to the United States in 1865, settling in New York City. He studied at the College of the City of New York and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1877. He specialized in real estate law and soon concentrated on several highly successful New York City real estate ventures. He relinquished his law practice in 1899 and served as president of the Central Realty Bond and Trust Company and, from 1905 to 1913, as president of Henry Morgenthau Company.

Retiring from active business affairs, Morgenthau entered national politics. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee's finance committee during Woodrow Wilson's 1912 and 1916 presidential campaigns. In 1913 President Wilson appointed him U.S. ambassador to Turkey and told him: "Remember that anything you can do to improve the lot of your coreligionists is an act that will reflect credit upon America." Morgenthau faithfully followed this advice. He was not a Zionist and Zionism as a theory scarcely interested him, but he was deeply impressed by what he saw on a visit to Ereẓ Israel in April 1914: the pioneers appeared to him to be the personification of a new type of Jew.

Morgenthau's good will did much for Zionists during the war. In August 1914, he alerted the Jewish relief organizations in the United States and on October 6 Maurice Wertheim, his son-in-law, arrived in Jaffa on the American warship North Carolina to hand over 250,000 francs in gold ($25,000) for emergency purposes. As the war went on and conditions worsened, more warships and additional funds were sent. Once an entire ship, the S.S. Vulcan, arrived loaded with provisions; it was thanks to his help that the Jewish population in the country remained alive. Persona grata with the Ottoman government, Morgenthau used his influence to prevent the destruction of the yishuv by Jamal Pasha.

In 1916, Morgenthau returned to the United States and assisted Woodrow Wilson in his presidential election campaign. In June 1917, the president dispatched him on a secret mission to explore the possibilities of detaching Turkey from the Central Powers. The British government, for its part, learning about American objectives, dispatched Chaim Weizmann to counter the move. The latter met Morgenthau in Gibraltar (July 4–5) and managed to dissuade him from carrying out his mission. Outwitted, Morgenthau never forgave Weizmann for this maneuver and his attitude towards Zionism consequently soured.

He made his views known in a letter to the New York Times (December 12, 1917) in which he paid tribute to the settlement work in Palestine but branded Zionism a dangerous ideology which could undermine the hard-won civil rights of Jews in countries of their adoption; it provided no solution to the Jewish problem. This was the classic doctrine of the Reform movement, of which he was an adherent.

In 1919 Morgenthau was named by Wilson to head a U.S. commission investigating the treatment of Jews in Poland (see *Morgenthau Commission). A strong advocate of the League of Nations, Morgenthau was appointed chairman of its Refugee Settlement Commission in 1923 and implemented the complicated transfer of over a million Greeks from Turkish territory to Greece and of several hundred thousand Turks from Greece to Turkey. Morgenthau was one of the organizers of the International Red Cross and Near East Relief, Inc. He was a leader of the American Red Cross and a liberal patron of musical organizations. He was also active in Jewish religious and philanthropic work; he founded Bronx House in 1911 and served on the executive committee of B'nai B'rith. He was president of the Free Synagogue of New York, but resigned in 1919 because of his opposition to Stephen S. *Wise's Zionism.

Morgenthau was the author of Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918), an autobiography; All in a Lifetime (1922); My Trip Around the World (1928); and I Was Sent to Athens (1930).

His son henry morgenthau jr. (1891–1967) was an agricultural expert and U.S. cabinet member. Henry Morgenthau Jr., who was born in New York City, studied agriculture at Cornell University. He purchased a large farm in Dutchess County, New York, modernized it, and operated it successfully. During World War i he worked to increase food production and also served as an officer in the navy. In 1922 Morgenthau purchased the American Agriculturist and used this journal to propagate his views on the state of American agriculture. Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, a friend and Dutchess County neighbor, in 1928 appointed Morgenthau chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Commission and in 1930 appointed him state conservation commissioner. In response to the Depression, Morgenthau developed state work projects which were later used as models for national programs during Roosevelt's presidency.

Joining Roosevelt in Washington, Morgenthau served as head of the Federal Farm Board and the Farm Credit Administration, and in early 1934 was named secretary of the treasury. A skillful and dynamic administrator, he thoroughly reorganized the Treasury Department. U.S. national and international monetary policies instituted in the 1930s for the stabilization of the economy owed much to his initiative. In addition, he supported tax reforms emphasizing greater obligations of the wealthy. His humanitarian interests were consistently evident in his concern for relief activities. Morgenthau was one of the early champions of preparation for U.S. involvement in World War ii and of support for the Allied nations early in the war; he promoted foreign purchases, industrial mobilization, and the huge wartime bond drives. In 1943 Morgenthau successfully intervened with Secretary of State Cordell Hull to obtain State Department approval of a plan of the World Jewish Congress to transfer private U.S. funds to Europe to rescue French and Romanian Jews. It was at Morgenthau's suggestion that Roosevelt established the *War Refugee Board as a presidential executive agency in January 1944.

As the end of the war approached, Morgenthau proposed a peace plan involving the partition of Germany and its conversion into an essentially agrarian area. The Morgenthau Plan, presented in his Germany Is Our Problem (1945), stirred much debate and Morgenthau resigned after Roosevelt's death.

While still at the Treasury, Morgenthau worked with such Jewish organizations as Mt. Sinai Hospital, B'nai B'rith, and the Jewish Welfare Board. In 1947–50 he served as general chairman and in 1950–53 as honorary chairman of the United Jewish Appeal; the unprecedented sums raised by the appeal during these crucial years significantly aided the new State of Israel. Morgenthau also served as chairman of the board of governors of the Hebrew University (1950–51) and of the American Financial and Development Corporation for Israel, and the Israel Bond drive (1951–54).

Henry Morgenthau Jr.'s son robert morris morgenthau (1919– ) was born in New York. He served in the Navy during World War ii and engaged in private legal practice in New York (1948–61). In 1961 he was appointed U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York and served with distinction until 1970, winning a reputation for integrity and efficient prosecution. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of New York in 1962. In 1974 he was elected district attorney of New York County (i.e., Manhattan), serving for 30 years and being reelected unopposed in 2005. Among his Jewish communal affiliations were the Anti-Defamation League, the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and Brandeis University.


Adler, in: Herzl Year Book, 5 (1963), 249–81; J.M. Blum, From the Diaries of Henry Morgenthau Jr., 3 vols. (1959–67); idem, Roosevelt and Morgenthau (1970); A.D. Morse, While Six Million Died (1967), index; R.N. Lebow, in: jsos, 32 (1970), 267–85. add. bibliography: I. Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism, 1897–1918 (1977, 19882); idem, The Question of Palestine, 1914–1918. British-Jewish-Arab Relations (1973, 19922).

[Morton Rosenstock /

Isaiah Friedman (2nd ed.)]