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April 21: Baron de Hirsch

April 20, 2016

baron_hirschBaron Maurice de Hirsch, the German Jewish philanthropist who, before the Zionist movement was launched, took great interest in turning the Jews into an agricultural people, died at 65 on this date in 1896. Baron de Hirsch was the founder and funder of the Jewish Colonization Association, which brought thousands of mostly impoverished Jews from Russia to Argentina and Brazil, and also established Jewish agricultural settlements in New Jersey, Connecticut, Canada, and elsewhere. With funding of more than $36 million, it was probably the largest charitable trust in the world in its day, and also sponsored technical schools, cooperative factories, savings and loan banks, and numerous other programs for the uplift of immigrants. De Hirsch funded the Oriental Railway, which linked Constantinople to Europe and expanded his fortune to $100 million by 1890. He was a major support of France’s Alliance Israelite Universelle, to which he provided 400,000 francs annually. When the baron died, his wife Clara took over his philanthropies and donated $25 million to charitable works over the course of three years.

“In relieving human suffering, I never ask whether the cry of necessity comes from a being who belongs to my faith or not; but what is more natural than that I should find my highest purpose in bringing to the followers of Judaism, who have been oppressed for a thousand years, who are starving in misery, the possibilities of a physical and moral regeneration?” —Baron Maurice de Hirsch