Maurice de Hirsch
Maurice de Hirsch / Moritz von Hirsch
Baron Moritz von Hirsch auf Gereuth
Born 9 December 1831
Died 21 April 1896(aged 64)
Nationality German-Jewish Occupation banker and philanthropist
Maurice (Zvi) de Hirsch (9 December 1831 – 21 April 1896) was a German-Jewish philanthropist who set up charitable foundations to promote Jewish education and improve the lot of oppressed European Jewry. He was the founder of the Jewish Colonization Association which sponsored large-scale Jewish immigration to Argentina.
Maurice de Hirsch was born on 9 December 1831. His grandfather, the first Jewish landowner in Bavaria, was ennobled with the appellation "auf Gereuth" in 1818; his father, who was banker to the Bavarian king, was created a baron in 1869. For generations, the family occupied a prominent position in the German Jewish community. At the age of thirteen, Hirsch was sent to Brussels to school. He went into business at the age of seventeen. In 1855 he became associated with the banking house of Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt, of Brussels, London and Paris. He amassed a large fortune, which he increased by purchasing and working railway concessions in Austria, Turkey and the Balkans, and by speculations in sugar and copper. He lived in great splendour in Paris, where he owned a town house on rue de l'Elysée and the Château de Beauregard. He also had residences in London and Hungary.
Baron de Hirsch married on June 28, 1855 Clara Bischoffsheim (born 1833), daughter of Senator Bischoffsheim of Brussels, by whom he had a son and daughter.
Maurice de Hirsch died at Ógyalla, near Komorn, in Hungary, on April 21, 1896. The baroness, seconded her husband's charitable work with great munificence — their total benefactions have been estimated at £18,000,000. She died at Paris on April 1, 1899 leaving the remaining family assets to her nephew, father of Belgium business mogul Maurice de Hirsch II.
He devoted much of his time to schemes for the relief of his Hebrew co-religionists in lands where they were persecuted and oppressed. He took a deep interest in the educational work of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and on two occasions presented the society with gifts of a million francs. For some years he regularly paid the deficits in the accounts of the Alliance, amounting to several thousand pounds a year. In 1889 he capitalized his donations and presented the society with securities producing an annual income of £16,000. On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the emperor Francis Joseph's accession to the Austrian throne he gave £500,000 for the establishment of primary and technical schools in Galicia and the Bukowina.
Jewish resettlement schemes
The greatest charitable enterprise on which he embarked was in connection with the persecution of the Jews in Russia. He gave £10,000 to the funds raised for the repatriation of the refugees in 1882, but, feeling that this was a very lame conclusion to the efforts made in western Europe for the relief of the Russian Jews, he offered the Russian Government £2,000,000 for the endowment of a system of secular education to be established in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. The Russian Government was willing to accept the money, but declined to allow any foreigner to be concerned in its control or administration.
Thereupon Baron de Hirsch resolved to devote the money to an emigration and colonization scheme which should afford the persecuted Jews opportunities of establishing themselves in agricultural colonies outside Russia. He founded the Jewish Colonization Association as an English society, with a capital of £2,000,000, and in 1892 he presented to it a further sum of £7,000,000. On the death of his wife in 1899 the capital was increased to £11,000,000, of which £1,250,000 went to the Treasury, after some litigation, in death duties. This enormous fund, which was in its time probably the greatest charitable trust in the world, was managed by delegates of certain Jewish societies, chiefly the Anglo-Jewish Association of London and the Alliance Israelite Universelle of Paris, among whom the shares in the association have been divided.
The association, which was prohibited from working for profit, possessed large agricultural colonies in Argentina, Canada and Palestine. In addition to its vast agricultural work it had a gigantic and complex machinery for dealing with the whole problem of Jewish persecution, including emigration and distributing agencies, technical schools, co-operative factories, savings and loan banks and model dwellings. It also assisted a large number of societies all over the world whose work was connected with the relief and rehabilitation of Jewish refugees.
Besides this great organization, Baron de Hirsch founded in 1881 a benevolent trust in the United States for the benefit of Jewish immigrants, which he endowed with £493,000. His minor charities were on a princely scale, and during his residence in London he distributed over £100,000 among the local hospitals.
The Beth Israel Synagogue (Halifax, Nova Scotia), originally was known as the Baron de Hirsch Benevolent Society.
- Short biography for Baron de Hirsch Knesset website (English)
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- "Hirsch, Maurice". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
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