The Baron
Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Nineteenth Century
Matthias B. Lehmann



IN 1891, TWO YEARS AFTER publishing Andrew Carnegie’s famous essay on the “gospel of wealth”—a seminal text in the history of American philanthropy—the North American Review asked the Jewish banker and railroad entrepreneur Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831–1896) for his view on the social obligations that came with great riches.1 Hirsch—a native of Munich, resident of Paris, citizen of Austria, and the owner of one of the largest fortunes in Europe—agreed with Carnegie that “surplus wealth should be considered as a sacred trust,”2 to be employed for the benefit of society, and he shared Carnegie’s disdain for traditional, “indiscriminate” charity. It was not a coincidence that the Review turned to Baron Hirsch, who had just announced the creation of what was, at the time, the largest charitable organization in the world, the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA).3 Unlike Carnegie, who spoke of the creation of parks, free libraries, and public collections of art, Hirsch considered it a luxury to see “the purposes of philanthropy . . . fulfilled in supplying the necessity of aesthetic pleasures.”>4 What was at stake, in Hirsch’s view, was nothing less than the future, perhaps the very survival, of the Jews. That is not to say that Carnegie’s approach to philanthropy was apolitical: his 1889 essay on wealth made it clear that he saw philanthropy as an answer to the “social question,” warding off the threat of anarchism and socialism.5 Baron Hirsch, in turn, saw philanthropy as an answer to the “Jewish question,” warding off the threat of antisemitism, the “socialism of fools,”6 as it was called by some.

Sitting down at the studio of Abdullah Frères in Constantinople in 1888, Baron Maurice de Hirsch had his photograph taken for a carte de visite, an albumen print photograph mounted on cardboard backing and a popular memento and collectible in the late nineteenth century.7 In the photograph, Hirsch appears with his signature mustache, dressed in ostensibly Ottoman garbs, wearing a white turban, a flowing caftan, and baggy sirwal (şalvar) pants.8 He lounges on a divan, one leg folded underneath him, holding the end of a hookah, and a small dog lies at his feet. The Orientalist tableau is completed by the conventional props: a cup of coffee set before him on an octagonal, mother-of-pearl and ebony-inlaid table; a richly patterned rug; and a prayer niche in the background. “Türkenhirsch,” the “Turkish Hirsch,” was how contemporaries referred to the baron, a businessman who built the railroad linking the Ottoman cities of Constantinople and Salonika to the European railway network.9 By the time Hirsch had his photo taken, the first direct trains were traveling the route between Constantinople and Paris, via Vienna. From Paris, one could continue on to Calais and London, as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would do years later, sporting a mustache not unlike that of Baron Hirsch’s.

Abdullah Frères, with locations in Constantinople and Cairo, was among the leading photographic studios in the Ottoman Empire. Run by an Armenian family, it fell in and out of favor with the sultan, serving a high-powered clientele of Ottoman elites as well as foreign tourists passing through town. Abdullah Frères contributed most of the over eighteen hundred photographs commissioned by Abdülhamid II and included in the fifty-one large albums that the sultan dispatched to the World Colombian Fair in Chicago in 1893, showcasing the empire’s modernization. The photographs display schools, harbors, railway stations, hospitals, government buildings, and many an Ottoman official sporting European-style uniforms and the typical headgear of the period, the fez. High school students from around the empire appear in pairs, always in their modern uniforms and fezzes, representing the imperial ideology of Osmanlılık (Ottomanism), of modernity and national unity.10

FIGURE 0.1. Baron Hirsch in 1888. Abdullah Frères, Constantinople, albumen print. Archives Générales du Royaume, Brussels, Séquestre Balser 304.

The Orientalist style of Abdullah Frères’ carte de visite of Baron Hirsch thus seems oddly anachronistic, and even more incongruous when contrasted with the photographs taken by the same studio of other foreign visitors like Mark Twain or “Bertie,” Prince of Wales, who appear in their portraits in Western clothes and no “exotic” accoutrements.11 But as a memento of Hirsch’s final visit to Constantinople before selling his railroad company to a consortium led by Deutsche Bank the following year, the photograph is an apt symbol of the fact that, to his contemporaries, Baron Hirsch would forever remain the “Türkenhirsch,” his name associated with the Ottoman railroads. The portrait’s blatant Orientalism also points to the broader political context of Hirsch’s business career. He was a railroad entrepreneur in the age of imperialism, when Austrian politicians and publicists fantasized about how the railway would open up the Ottoman Balkans as a semicolonized market for central European industry and trade, creating a new link—through the port of Salonika and the newly opened Suez Canal to India—that would turn Franz Joseph’s empire into a major player in an increasingly globalized world. Yet as the railroad got entangled in great-power rivalries and was hobbled by successive crises, from the Vienna stock market crash in 1873 to the bankruptcy of the Ottoman government in 1875 and the disastrous Russo-Ottoman War in 1877–1878, Austrian and German imperialists quickly turned Baron Hirsch into a lightning rod for their frustrated ambitions. For the antisemitic press, Hirsch’s railroad business had been “unique even in these times of large-scale capitalist exploitation and daylight robbery,” and Austria’s reputation among the Balkan nations had been irreparably damaged, as one Viennese newspaper claimed, by corrupt officials intervening on behalf of the “ ‘great power’ that is [Baron] Hirsch.”12

A different portrait of Maurice de Hirsch, evoking different associations, adorned the childhood home of Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the head of the Zionist movement and the first president of the State of Israel, in Pinsk (in what is today Belarus).13 For Jews around the world, the name of Baron Hirsch recalled, not his exploits as a railroad magnate, but his legacy as a celebrated philanthropist. Hirsch spent unparalleled sums on everything from supporting wartime refugees and modern Jewish education in the Ottoman Balkans, to a network of schools for Jews living in the impoverished Habsburg province of Galicia, to aiding Jewish immigrants in places like New York City and Montréal. The culmination of his efforts was the JCA, established in 1891. The association’s goal was to organize the mass removal of Jews from Russia and their resettlement in agricultural colonies in Argentina, in Hirsch’s view, “the true country of the future,”14 whose 1853 constitution included a mandate to “foment European immigration.” By dealing with the predicament of the Russian Jews through colonization in Argentina, Hirsch believed that he could, once and for all, settle the “Jewish question” and defeat antisemitism.

In the Weizmann home in Pinsk, Baron Hirsch’s portrait hung next to pictures of the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Russian writer Anton Chekhov. This juxtaposition, arbitrary as it might seem, expressed the conflicting sentiments of many European Jews at the time. On the one hand, there was their identity as members of an ethno-religious minority, with its distinct historical memory. On the other hand, many shared the desire to break from the confines of tradition and social marginalization, to fully participate in the wider society, and to make its culture their own. Baron Hirsch himself had long been advocating, sometimes in provocative language, for the assimilation—he called it “amalgamation”—of the Jews into their respective European homelands. Yet, by 1890, he admitted to a reporter of the London Times that the situation of the Jews in the Russian Empire—home to the largest Jewish community in the world—no longer held hope for improvement and was quickly deteriorating. The czar’s government, he argued, was “persuaded that Jews ought not to be tolerated within the limits of the Empire,” a conviction “not merely arising from antipathies due to race, but based, at the same time, on a religious belief.” The time had come for Jewish philanthropists to assist in the evacuation of Jews from Russia, for “without such help it would be impossible for the Government to get rid of five millions of Jews except by slaughtering them in a mass.” “The Jewish nation,” Hirsch mused, “has often been compelled to emigrate; let those of the children of Israel who dwell in Russia bow to the same destiny, but let us be allowed time to look about to seek new homes for them in other regions.” Organizing the mass removal of millions of Russian Jews and their settlement in the Argentine pampas, Hirsch believed, would be completed in some twenty-odd years.15

FIGURE 0.2. Portrait of Baron Hirsch on display in Biblioteca Popular Barón Hirsch, Moisés Ville, Argentina. A similar picture may have hung on the walls of the Weizmann home in Pinsk. Photo: Matthias Lehmann.

There was something grandiose, even utopian, about Hirsch’s removal and colonization scheme, though the baron considered that his project was ultimately nothing but “a business like that of constructing and operating a railroad line.”16 While nineteenth-century philanthropy was built, like its premodern precursors, on highly personalized relations of patronage, it was also predicated on a distinctly modern, technocratic, hegemonic planning mentality that assumed that social challenges—even on a scale as vast as the mass migration of millions of Russian Jews, their resettlement overseas, and their transformation into farmers—could be managed by centralized, top-down action. In the absence of their own state, Jews would have to rely on nongovernmental philanthropic organizations, like the JCA, to do the job.

Baron Hirsch’s colonization project was certainly the high watermark of Jewish philanthropy in the nineteenth century, but it also illustrated its limitations. As the settlement enterprise in Argentina stumbled from crisis to crisis, only some twenty-five thousand Russian Jewish immigrants, according to one estimate, would make one of the JCA’s colonies their home in the years before the First World War.17 Thus, when Theodor Herzl tried to win Hirsch over for his own, no less fantastical plan, of creating a “Jewish state” in 1895, he dismissed the baron’s project as a “petty solution.”18 And yet, the following year, publicizing his ideas in an article in the London-based Jewish Chronicle, Herzl was still wondering: “Shall we choose Argentine or Palestine?”19 In fact, Argentina emerged as the second-most-important overseas destination for Jewish migrants from the Russian Pale of Settlement and Poland in the early twentieth century, behind the United States but well ahead of Palestine, and there was little indication before World War I that Herzlian Zionism was any more plausible, and any more likely to succeed, than Baron Hirsch’s philanthropic colonization scheme in South America.

This biography of Baron Maurice de Hirsch, one of the most important yet understudied figures of modern Jewish history, opens a window onto the larger world of the Jewish nineteenth century.20 It presents a trans-national, pan-European story, not that of a “German Jew,” a “French” philanthropist, or an “Austrian” railroad entrepreneur. The Hirschs—Maurice, his wife Clara (née Bischoffsheim), and their son Lucien—lived in an era in which railroad links were more important than borders—as the novelist Stefan Zweig would put it years later in his memoir, “it always gives pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I traveled from Europe to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one.”21 Thanks to the Orient Express, one could travel all the way from London to Constantinople “without any change of carriages and without passport,” as a poster advertising the 1888–1889 winter schedule proclaimed.22 That was, of course, only a partial picture: in the Russian Empire, the law still considered most emigration illegal, and official travel papers were difficult to come by. Nonetheless, railroads carried an ever-increasing number of, especially Jewish, migrants across the empire’s western border in a relentless wave of migration that in the decades before the First World War would lead well over two million eastern European Jews to western Europe and across the Atlantic. Indeed, the story of Baron Hirsch, of the Ottoman railroads, and of the philanthropic work of the JCA unfolds, not primarily within the confines of individual nation-states, but on a transnational, pan-European, and indeed transatlantic stage, in an age of imperialism, global capital and labor markets, and mass migration on an extraordinary scale.

The nineteenth century was a period of rapid and unprecedented transformation in the Jewish world. Baron Hirsch’s life, exceptional as it is, offers a unique window onto this period. This biography therefore is also a book about nineteenth-century Jewish history, and it is, more broadly, a book on how Jews navigated the limits of what it meant to be “European” in the age of empire. The story plays out on the margins of Europe: among Jews, who eagerly remade themselves as “Europeans” yet met with the persistent reality of antisemitism; on the European frontier that was the Ottoman Balkans, in the days of “high imperialism”; and, finally, in the South American pampas, where the Argentine state sought to establish its neo-Europe with the help of European immigrants. The nineteenth century had begun with the promise of Jewish emancipation in the wake of the French Revolution. It ended with political antisemitism on the rise in western and central Europe, and a massive exodus of Jews from eastern Europe underway.

Perhaps the most dramatic change that the nineteenth century wrought, in terms of Jewish history, affected the relation between the state and the Jews. Emancipation—which, by the end of the century, had been achieved across much of Europe, but not in Russia—meant that Jews for the first time were considered citizens with equal rights, no longer aliens to be tolerated at best. Jewish emancipation was, of course, a by-product of the reinvention of citizenship as European countries transformed themselves into nation-states, and it was understood as a contract: in exchange for equality, Jews would integrate, assimilate, and embrace the culture, language, and ethos of the nation-state in which they happened to live. “Judaism” would become a religion, like Protestantism or Catholicism, and Jews would be turned into Germans, Frenchmen, or Italians “of the Mosaic persuasion.” Even in the multinational Habsburg Empire, Jews could not escape the pressures of the competing nationalisms pulling them in this direction or that, claiming or excluding them as “Germans,” “Hungarians,” or “Czechs.”23

Emancipation was only part of the story, however. The rise of modern capitalism and the Jewish embrace of bourgeois values arguably played just as crucial a role in transforming Jewish society, creating new economic opportunities, eroding traditional patterns of religious observance, and remaking gender roles. Thus, even in the Russian Empire, where emancipation remained a distant dream, Jewish society in the nineteenth century underwent a transformation no less profound than that elsewhere on the continent. By the end of the century, the Enlightenment and secularism were challenging traditional religious certainties and hierarchies in Russia as well, and Russian Jews—in the absence of state-sponsored emancipation—embarked on various roads towards self-emancipation, whether in the guise of socialism, Jewish nationalism, or emigration to the West.

The writing of Jewish history in the modern period is often compartmentalized into nation-states and empires, and there is no shortage of books that tell the story of the Jews of France, England, Germany, or Russia. The attention to the diversity of Jewish experiences in different countries is certainly an improvement over the older Whiggish perspective of Zionist historians who, somewhat anachronistically, saw the Jews as a nation apart, with a unified history, destined to create a nation-state (Israel) of their own. But the compartmentalization of modern Jewish history, and the emphasis on nationalism and emancipation, means that historians have paid less attention to a central feature of the Jewish nineteenth century: rather than simply remaining patriotic citizens of one country or another, Jews were seeking to become “civilized,” to become Europeans. Jews across Europe began to see themselves as Europeans, or aspired to become so, and imagined turning other Jews—for instance, in the Ottoman Empire or in colonial North Africa—into proper Europeans as well. The poet Heinrich Heine—born in Germany in 1797, living in Paris since 1831—expressed this feeling when he famously noted that his baptism had been “his entry ticket into European culture.”24

In the eighteenth century, writers like Voltaire still referred to Jews as “Orientals” or “Asiatics.” It was in the nineteenth century that Jews living in Europe began to think of themselves as being of Europe as well. This may have been an intellectual exercise for some, but it was a lived reality for many. Members of the Jewish upper classes, like the Hirsch family, crisscrossed the continent, a habit facilitated by the rapid advance in the construction of railroads in the nineteenth century. At the opposite end of the social spectrum, tens of thousands of East European Jews boarded the railroads and moved to the West, some to study at university to circumvent the anti-Jewish quotas in Russian higher education, others swelling the numbers of Jewish peddlers and trying their luck in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt or London’s East End. Thus, “Europe” became not only the reference point for an elite of intellectuals or a style of life for the Jewish aristocracy but the lived experience for an ever-increasing number of Jews from all walks of life.

For antisemites, of course, Jews remained an alien—a non-European—nation. Tellingly, in the anti-immigrant backlash against Jewish immigration from the East in the 1880s, Heinrich von Treitschke in Germany still referred to Jews derisively as “German-speaking Orientals,” and Wilhelm Marr, who first popularized the term “anti-Semitism,” denounced “the special nature of the Oriental aliens.”25 Yet, remarkably, at the turn of the century, even Theodor Herzl, who had given up hope on Jews ever truly belonging in Europe in the face of persistent antisemitism, still imagined the Jewish state, if it were to be created in Palestine, as “form[ing] a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”26 The transformation of Jews into Europeans had never been more complete than at the moment when Jews were increasingly looking to build a future beyond the shores of the “old continent.”

Jews followed myriad different paths on the road into European culture. The very idea of “Jewishness”—an ethno-religious identity that had hardly been questioned until the nineteenth century27—was now undergoing profound changes, from the rise of Reform Judaism to the emergence of secular Zionism. It also very much continued to be in flux. In his response to Andrew Carnegie, Baron Hirsch professed that nothing was more natural for him than a commitment to the welfare of those who belong “to my own faith,” yet he also spoke of his confidence that “the Jewish race” was no less apt to embrace agriculture and establish an existence rooted in manual labor and tied to the soil than its Christian neighbors.28 The frequent slippage in contemporary writings about the future of the Jews between “faith” and “race” betrayed a deep uncertainty—perhaps anxiety—about just how the Jews fit into modern society and complicates the often-held assumption that Jews in modern western Europe, unlike those of the East, considered themselves exclusively as members of a religious, and no longer of an ethnic, community.29 Baron Hirsch’s own views reflected these contradictions. Ruminating on the future of the Jews in an interview with the New York Herald in 1889, he declared that “the Jewish question can only be solved by the disappearance of the Jewish race, which will inevitably be accomplished by the amalgamation of Christians and Jews.”30 Yet Hirsch never saw his preference for assimilation or “amalgamation” as contradicting his deep-seated commitment to Jewish solidarity. Jewish survival, not the survival of Judaism, was the credo of Hirsch’s philanthropy.

The gilded age of Jewish philanthropy was dominated by international organizations like the Paris-based Alliance Israélite Universelle, the Anglo-Jewish Association, and the Viennese Israelitische Allianz, and individual philanthropists like Maurice de Hirsch. Hirsch’s philanthropy was unique in its scope and scale, but it was also representative of the larger role that philanthropy played in the political economy of the Jews in nineteenth-century Europe. Only a few philanthropists had Hirsch’s international renown; Moses Montefiore, the indefatigable champion of Jewish civic rights from Romania to Morocco, was the most obvious parallel a generation earlier.31 Many other Jewish philanthropists of the period hewed closer to Carnegie’s priorities: German-Jewish donors, for instance, supported the Kaiser-Wilhelm research institutes (today’s Max Planck Institutes) and universities in Germany, laying the foundation for Germany’s scientific prowess in the early twentieth century, while others funded many of the country’s museums and collections of art and antiquities. James Simon helped create the German Orient Society and was instrumental in bringing the famous Nefertiti bust and the ancient Babylonian Ishtar Gate to Berlin, two of the signature exhibits on Berlin’s Museum Island today. The German-born industrialist Ludwig Mond, for his part, left forty-two Renaissance masterpieces to the National Gallery in London, not to mention the fact that about 250 of France’s regional museums received donations of some two thousand works from Alphonse Rothschild in the years before 1914.32 Welfare, poor relief, and education, meanwhile, remained a centerpiece of Jewish philanthropy, from autonomous Jewish welfare systems in cities like Hamburg, Manchester, or Smyrna to the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia (OPE), organized by Russian-Jewish oligarchs in St. Petersburg and Odessa, which established schools, supported teacher training, and created libraries in the Pale of Settlement.33

A central claim of this book is that philanthropy did not operate outside or beyond the realm of politics: it was the principal form of Jewish political action at the time. The book argues against the notion that Jews, in the absence of their own state, had no political history of their own; in fact, in the second half of the nineteenth century, philanthropy was the main vehicle of Jewish political action. Historians have long been fascinated by the intellectuals, the religious thinkers, and the writers who shaped Jewish responses to the promise and peril of emancipation in the modern period. This book, in contrast, focuses on the highly significant role that private philanthropy played, not unlike in our own age,34 and the ideas and ethos that guided it. Philanthropy, properly understood, was ultimately an expression of Jewish self-emancipation, no less so than Jewish nationalism, the emergence of which is usually associated with Leon Pinsker’s eponymous Auto-Emanzipation (published in 1882), and of course Theodor Herzl. The telos of Zionist historiography has created a binary between emancipation from above (granted by European nations in the course of the nineteenth century), and self-emancipation in the guise of Jewish nationalism from below. In this narrative, Jews lack collective political agency until the rise of mass politics at the turn of the twentieth century. But throughout the nineteenth century, philanthropy was the main expression of Jewish politics.35 It was never just a form of welfare and charitable poor relief. Its emphasis on bringing modern education to the Jewish “Orient,” from the Ottoman Empire to Habsburg Galicia, was no less a political project than the schooling networks created by national governments. And Hirsch’s colonization scheme in Argentina was no less political than Herzl’s Zionism: it was Jewish self-emancipation without Jewish nationalism.

Like his famous contemporary, Nathaniel Rothschild, Maurice de Hirsch instructed the executor of his will, in this case the London-based banker Ernest Cassel, to destroy his personal papers.36 This biography, therefore, relies heavily on the baron’s business correspondence, both regarding the Ottoman railroad enterprise and his numerous philanthropic projects. An important resource is of course the papers of the JCA, today housed in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, as well as the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris. Equally important are the numerous documents assembled by Max Kohler (1871–1934), a lawyer; board member of numerous Jewish organizations including the Baron de Hirsch Fund in New York City; and amateur historian who planned but never completed a biography of Maurice de Hirsch. The papers are held today at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York. In addition, I consulted material available at the YIVO and Leo-Baeck-Institute Archives in New York. About Baron Hirsch’s railroad business, we learn a great deal from correspondence and documents in the archives of the Ottoman Imperial Bank, now in the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail in Roubaix, France; diplomatic and other sources in the Austrian State Archives in Vienna; and the Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi in Istanbul. In Argentina, I primarily consulted material in the Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno and in the Centro Mark Turkow at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), both in Buenos Aires. The nature of these sources, in addition to printed material such as the published memoirs of former JCA colonists, and newspapers published in French, German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Spanish, means that we have a very good sense of Baron Hirsch’s public persona, even as there is still much that we don’t know about him as a private individual. There are, however, some family papers from the estate of the Hirschs’ granddaughter, Lucienne, that were sequestered by the Belgian government following World War I (Lucienne was married to a German banker, and thus considered an enemy alien); they are today in the Archives Générales du Royaume in Brussels. We also have the private correspondence between Maurice and Clara’s son Lucien and the British aristocrat Lady Jessica Sykes, with whom Lucien maintained a relationship in the mid-1880s. This correspondence is held in the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives, in England.

The following chapters are organized in only loosely chronological order and are primarily thematic. Part 1 leads from the origins of the Hirsch family in Bavaria to the early years of the baron’s career in Brussels—where he entered into an unlikely partnership with André Langrand-Dumonceau, promoter of an international Catholic banking empire—and on to Paris, where the Hirschs were prominent members of Parisian aristocratic society, the “Tout-Paris.” This first part also explores the story of Maurice and Clara’s son Lucien, his university years, and his relationship with Jessica Sykes, and ends with the fight between Maurice and Clara, on the one hand, and their relatives in Brussels, on the other, over the upbringing of Lucien’s daughter, Lucienne, born out of wedlock. The underlying question, ultimately, is, What was “Jewish” about the story of this European family?

Any biographer has to grapple with how to balance the idiosyncrasies of individuals, their particular outlook, the choices that they make, and the broader, structural conditions that shape their lives.37 Part 2 locates the history of Baron Hirsch’s Ottoman railroads in the broader political, economic, and cultural context of European imperialism. No less important, however, is the recognition that Hirsch’s contemporaries themselves—from Ottoman government officials to European diplomats and journalists to antisemitic publicists and politicians in Austria, Germany, and France—created highly personalized narratives, with Baron Hirsch at center stage, as they tried to make sense of the broader structural and market forces that stood behind the vicissitudes of the Ottoman railroad project. In these narratives, everything from great power rivalries to the ups and downs of capital markets inevitably was presented as the result of the machinations of Baron Hirsch. In the eyes of antisemites, he was the personification of their own conspiracy fantasies.

The Ottoman Empire was not only the site of Baron Hirsch’s most important and long-lasting business venture, the Oriental railroads, but also an early focus of the Hirschs’ philanthropy. Following their sojourn in Constantinople in the early 1870s, Maurice and Clara de Hirsch began to support the Parisian Alliance Israélite Universelle, the most important Jewish philanthropic organization of the modern period. They continued to be its single largest benefactors until the end of their lives. Later in the decade, during the Russo-Ottoman War, Baron Hirsch was the most visible representative of Jewish and, indeed, European humanitarian assistance to the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish refugees in the Balkans. Part 3 explores the main philanthropic projects pursued by Hirsch: beyond the Ottoman Empire, those included a major educational foundation in the Habsburg province of Galicia, where Baron Hirsch and his new schools met with skepticism on the part of the government in Vienna, divided responses among Polish nationalists, and fierce opposition from Orthodox Jews. Part 3 concludes with Hirsch’s attempts to deal with the predicament of the Russian Jews. After he failed to duplicate his Ottoman and Galician schooling projects in the empire of the czars, the baron turned his attention to managing Russian Jewish out-migration. He created the Baron Hirsch Fund, in New York, and endowed the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, in Montréal, to assist Jewish immigrants in North America, and above all, in 1891, he established the JCA, his most ambitious project, to promote Jewish colonization in South America.

Part 4, finally, focuses on the colonization project in Argentina, tying the story of the JCA’s first colonies into their Argentinian context, and the broader context of a global labor market and network of migration that linked the villages and towns of the Russian Pale of Settlement to the republics of South America. The four parts of the book are closely interlinked, of course, but they can also be read separately. Thus, a reader interested in the story of the Oriental railroads—until now a lacuna in the historical scholarship—can turn to part 2, whereas a reader who is most eager to learn of Baron Hirsch’s Argentine adventure will find that story unfold in the last three chapters of the book.


1. Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” North American Review 148:391 (1889), 653–664; Maurice de Hirsch, “My Views on Philanthropy,” North American Review 153:416 (1891), 1–4. On Carnegie and his “gospel of wealth,” see David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie (London: Penguin, 2006), esp. 343–354.

2. This formulation is in Carnegie’s follow-up essay, “The Best Fields for Philanthropy,” North American Review 149:397 (1889), 682–698, at 684.

3. The “largest charitable organization in the world,” according to Richard Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815–1914 (New York: Penguin, 2016), 475. The JCA’s initial endowment of 50 million francs (£2 million) exceeded the 40 million francs that the Rothschilds disbursed in Palestine over an almost twenty-year period, from 1881 to 1900: Haim Avni, “Territorialism, Territorialist Settlement and Zionist Settlement” (Hebr.), Yahadut zmanenu 1 (1983–1984), 69–87, at 81.

4. Hirsch, “My Views on Philanthropy,” 1–2.

5. Carnegie, “Wealth,” 656.

6. The description of antisemitism as the “socialism of fools” is often attributed to the German social democractic leader August Bebel, though it probably originated with the Austrian politician Ferdinand Kronawetter: see Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), 262.

7. Stephen Sheehi, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography, 1860–1910 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), and the literature cited there.

8. Maurice de Hirsch in Constantinople, 1888. AGR Séquestre Balser 304.

9. While the Ottoman railroads were Hirsch’s most important business venture, he also invested in railroad construction elsewhere—for example, in Brazil. See Maurice de Hirsch to Albert Goldsmid, 18 June 1892, CAHJP JCA/Ar 8599.

10. See Sheehi, The Arab Imago, 1–26. The photos can be seen at (last accessed 9 Jan. 2022); a similar collection is in the British Library.

11. The cartes de visites of the Abdullah Frères studio (and their competitors—for example, the Sébah) represent Ottomans—from the sultan on down to schoolchildren—as emblems of Ottoman modernity, or they are portraits of ethnographic “types,” in traditional dress, sold as souvenirs to European tourists. There is another portrait of a “European tourist” by Abdullah Frères, like Hirsch dressed in “Oriental” fashion and reclining on a divan (; last accessed 9 Jan. 2022). Both images are evocative of the Orientalist gaze of European photographers active in the Ottoman Empire rather than the work of indigenous photographers like the Abdullah Frères. See Ayshe Erdogdu, “Picturing Alterity: Representational Strategies in Victorian Type Photographs of Ottoman Men,” in Colonialist Photography: Imag(in)ing Race and Place, ed. Eleanor Hight and Gary Sampson (London: Routledge, 2005), 107–125. The use of the turban in Hirsch’s portrait is particularly incongruous in a period when the fez was the official Ottoman headgear, associated with the modernization of the empire: it plays on the exoticism of the Ottoman “Orient” rather than displaying an alignment with the Ottoman project of modernity, of which Hirsch’s railroad was, of course, a major feature. On Ottoman headdress, see Klaus Kreiser, “Turban and türban: ‘Divider Between Belief and Unbelief’: A Political History of Modern Turkish Costume,” European Review 13:3 (2005), 447–458.

12. “Der Schiedsspruch gegen Baron Hirsch,” Deutsches Volksblatt, 27 Feb. 1889; “Oesterreich und die Orientbahnen,” Neuigkeits Welt-Blatt, 24 Apr. 1896.

13. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error: Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (New York: Harper, 1949), 13.

14. Maurice de Hirsch, “Note concernant le projet de l’émigration russe et de création d’une banque agraire dans la Turquie d’Asie,” 29 July 1891, CAHJP JCA/Lon 379/2.

15. “The Persecution of the Jews,” Times, 27 May 1891.

16. Maurice de Hirsch, “Conférence de Londres: Exposé,” n.d. [October 1891], CAHJP JCA/Lon 302/2.

17. This number is cited by Carl Solberg in Immigration and Nationalism: Argentina and Chile, 1890–1914 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970), 39. According to Sandra McGee Deutsch, Crossing Borders, Claiming a Nation: A History of Argentine Jewish Women, 1880–1955 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 250, the colonies reached a population of just over thirty-three thousand at the peak in 1925.

18. In a letter to Hirsch, as cited by Herzl in his diary: Theodor Herzl, Tagebücher, 1985–1904 (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1922), vol. 1, 130.

19. Theodor Herzl, “A Solution to the Jewish Question,” Jewish Chronicle, 17 Jan. 1896. Herzl’s programmatic book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish state, 1896) likewise contained a chapter entitled “Palestine or Argentina?” Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 1920), 24–25.

20. There are two English-language biographies of Baron Hirsch, both by now outdated and neither written on the basis of archival research: Kurt Grunwald, Türkenhirsch: A Study of Baron Maurice de Hirsch, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist (Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1966); and Samuel J. Lee, Moses of the New World: The Work of Baron de Hirsch (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1970). Two more recent biographies are Dominique Frischer, Le Moïse des Amériques (Paris: Grasset, 2002), which uses some archival materials but none of the JCA’s own records and which is not always reliable in terms of its historical research, and Serge-Allain Rozenblum, Le baron de Hirsch: Un financier au service de l’humanité (Paris: Punctum, 2006), based mostly on the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and thus offering a somewhat narrow perspective. For a discussion of the “biographical turn” in recent historiography and its contribution of a new perspective on modern imperialism and colonialism, see Malte Rolf, “Einführung: Imperiale Biographien; Lebenswege imperialer Akteure in Groß- und Kolonialreichen (1850–1918),” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 40:1 (2014), 5–21.

21. Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (New York: Viking, 1943), 410.

22. (last accessed 9 Jan 2022).

23. See the two now classic essay collections: Pierre Birnbaum and Ira Katznelson, eds., Paths of Emancipation: Jews, States, and Citizenship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); and Jonathan Frankel and Steven Zipperstein, eds., Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). More recently on emancipation, see David Sorkin, Jewish Emancipation: A History across Five Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019); and Abigail Green and Simon Levis Sullman, eds., Jews, Liberalism, Antisemitism: A Global History (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2020). After the Austrian-Hungarian “compromise” that reorganized the Habsburg Empire into the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, Jews in the Hungarian half of the empire underwent Magyarization and adopted Hungarian patriotism. In the Austrian half, a Jewish “tripartite” identity (loyalty to the Austrian state, identification with the culture of one or another people among whom they lived, and Jewish ethnicity) persisted through the end of World War I. See Marsha Rozenblit, Reconstructing a National Identity: The Jews of Habsburg Austria during World War I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

24. See Heinrich Heine, “A Ticket of Admission to European Culture,” in Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinarz, The Jew in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 258–259.

25. Treitschke, cited in Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinarz, The Jew in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 321; Marr, cited in Richard Levy, ed., Antisemitism in the Modern World (Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1991), 81.

26. Herzl, “A Solution to the Jewish Question,” Jewish Chronicle, 17 Jan. 1896.

27. See Shaye Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 1–10. It was arguably the experience of the Iberian conversos, inhabiting a gray area between Jewishness and Christianity, that anticipated the modern differentiation of ethnic and religious notions of Jewish identity. See, for example, Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997); Yirmiyahu Yovel, The Other Within: The Marranos. Split Identity and Emerging Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

28. Hirsch, “My Views on Philanthropy,” 2, 4.

29. On the modern “re-invention” of Judaism as a religion, see Leora Batnitzky, How Judaism Became a Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

30. “The Jews Must Disappear,” New York Herald, 12 Jan. 1889.

31. Abigail Green, Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010).

32. See Thomas Adam, ed., Philanthropy, Patronage, and Civil Society: Experiences from Germany, Great Britain, and North America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); Thomas Adam, Philanthropy, Civil Society, and the State in German History, 1815–1989 (Rochester: Camden House, 2016); Thomas Adam, Transnational Philanthropy: The Mond Family’s Support for Public Institutions in Western Europe from 1890 to 1938 (London: Palgrave, 2016); Abigail Green, “Remembering the Plutocrat and the Diplomat,” Jewish Review of Books (Winter 2020), 41–44; Pauline Prévost-Marcilhacy, ed., Les Rothschild: Une dynastie de mécènes en France, 1873–2016 (Paris: Louvre Éditions, 2018).

33. Rainer Liedtke, Jewish Welfare in Hamburg and Manchester, c. 1850–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Dina Danon, The Jews of Ottoman Izmir: A Modern History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020); Brian Horowitz, Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009).

34. See Lila Corwin Berman, The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The Historical Formation of a Multi-billion Dollar Institution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).

35. See also Jonathan Frankel, “Modern Jewish Politics East and West (1840–1939): Utopia, Myth, Reality,” in The Quest for Utopia: Jewish Political Ideas and Institutions through the Ages, ed. Zvi Gitelman (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), 81–103, whose distinction between “emancipationist” and “auto-emancipationist” forms of Jewish politics is too schematic to explain the politics of modern Jewish philanthropy, such as Hirsch’s. For a critique of the identification of “politics” with the “state,” and thus the neglect of Jewish political history, see Eli Lederhendler, The Road to Modern Jewish Politics: Political Tradition and Political Reconstruction in the Jewish Community of Tsarist Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

36. According to Anthony Allfrey, Edward VII and His Jewish Court (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991), 136, 297, who reports that this information was corroborated to him by Count John de Bendern, the son of Hirsch’s adoptive son, Arnold de Forest Count de Bendern.

37. On biographical writing, see the instructive essay by Simone Lässig, “Introduction: Biography in Modern History—Modern Historiography in Biography,” in Biography Between Structure and Agency: Central European Lives in International Historiography, ed. Volker Berghahn and Simone Lässig (New York: Berghahn, 2008), 1–26.