Baron Hirsch, An Amazing New Biography

Mathias Lehmann, professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Irvine has just published The Baron: Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Nineteenth Century. a biography of Baron Hirsch that fills a major gap, the lack of biographies of the Baron in English. 1

And Lehmann also provides us an eyewitness view of so much of Baron Hirsch’s life, based on Lehmann’s extensive archival research in Austria, Belgium, England, France, Israel, Turkey, and the United States.

The Embankment, Ostend, Belgium 1890s , the resort to which Baron Hirsch was summoned by King Leopold II, Library of Congress.

Readers will enjoy this very readable and delightfully detailed text that describes human beings, not just historical figures. We are able to see the building of transcontinental railroads and the formation of huge refugee projects from the details of the daily activities that led to these achievements, as exemplified by the book’s first paragraph ” At seven o’clock one summer morning in August 1895, Maurice de Hirsch, accompanied by his twenty-nine-year-old son Lucien, set out from Boitsfort, on the outskirts of Brussels, to catch the express train to the Belgian seaside resort of Ostend. The reason for that morning’s journey was a summons by King Leopold II, who was eager to convince the prominent Jewish banker and businessman to invest in the construction of a new railroad in the Belgian Congo.” 2

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  1. Other biographies include Grunwald, Kurt, Turkenhirsch: Study of Baron Maurice De Hirsch, 1966; Frischer, DominiqueEl Moises de las Americas: Vida Y Obra Del Baron De Hirsch (trans from French), 2004; Lee, Samuel,  Moses of the New World: The Work of Baron Hirsch (1970); Rozenblum, Serge-Allian Le Baron De Hirsch: Un Financier Au Service De L’humanite2006 []
  2. Lehmann, Mathias (2022). The Baron: Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Nineteenth Century, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 19. []

Baron Hirsch’s Brazilian Jewish Farming Communities

This post contains a short history of the first Brazilian Jewish farming communities supported by Baron Hirsch’s legacy and some references. You can read about eyewitness descriptions of these communities here.

Available on Amazon or at archive.org.

Baron Hirsch established the Jewish Colonization Agency (JCA) in 1891  “to assist and promote the emigration of Jews from any part of Europe or Asia… and to form and establish colonies in various parts of North and South America ….”. And during the Baron’s lifetime, the Agency supported farming communities for Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Argentina, the United States, and  Canada.

But after the Baron died in 1896, bequeathing seven million pounds sterling (equivalent to $US 1.12 billion in today’s dollars) to the JCA,1  a newly elected board of trustees voted to use some of this windfall to expand JCA’s colonization activities to southern Brazil,2where the JCA purchased land in 1902.3

For those willing to emigrate to these colonies the JCA offered to ” cover travel expenses and provide each settler with 25-30 hectares [60-75 acres] of land, a house, agricultural implements, two teams of oxen, two cows, one horse and an allowance that varied in accordance with the size of the family, payable once it had become self-sufficient.”  4

Philippson (Filipson), 720 miles south of São Paulo

Homesteaders first reached the JCA’s first Brazilian colony, Philippson, or Filipson in Portuguese, in 1904. Philippson was located near the city of Santa Maria in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The JCA had not yet built the houses they had promised, so the thirty-seven families were housed in barracks. It took months for the settlers to be assigned land and, once assigned, they discovered it was very hard to farm.

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  1. LESSER, Jeff (1991). Jewish Colonization in Rio Grande Do Sul, 1904-1925, São Paulo: Centro de Estudos de Demografia Historica da America Latina, p. 24 []
  2. GRITTI, Isabel Rosa (1997). Imigração judaica no Rio Grande do Sul: a Jewish Colonization Association e a colonização de Quatro Irmãos, Porto Alegre: Martins Livreiro-Editor, p. 19. []
  3. NORMAN, Theodore (1985). An outstretched arm: a history of the Jewish Colonization Association, London: Routledge & K. Paul, p. 90  Also read an account of the status of the JCA in 1906 here []
  4. Falbel, Nachman. “Jewish agricultural settlement in Brazil,”  Jewish History (2007) 21, p. 329. []

Baron Hirsch Genealogical and Historical Archives

BREAKING NEWS:

Online searching is available for Baron Hirsch related genealogical records available through the Center for Jewish History in New York. See the video at this Facebook link below for instructions. Some complete records are online, and when only a reference to a record is online you can request the full document from the Center.

Baron Maurice de Hirsch

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=524793465186555&ref=watch_permalink

More Archives

In addition, the genealogical and historical archives described below (alphabetized by city) contain reports and correspondence relating to Baron Hirsch-funded Jewish farming projects and individual immigrants who received aid from the Baron Hirsch charitable organizations. These archives are scattered around the world. Some of the holdings have been uploaded digitally – see the links below – but most are only available on-site.

For texts in French, Spanish and Portuguese I suggest copy-pasting into google translate. It really works.

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On a Clear April Morning

A Brazilian Jewish Journey

Cover of On a Clear April Morning, A Brazilian Jewish Journey of Immigration

The first literary work to reflect the Brazilian Jewish community has finally been published in English. It is now available.

Read about it here, check out the preface and first chapter here and book the translator, Merrie Blocker, to speak to your group.

On a Clear April Morningby Marcos Iolovitch, is a lyrical and riveting coming- of-age story. It is set among early 20th Century Jewish settlers brought to an unknown farming experiment in an isolated corner of Brazil.

Drama, joy, disaster, romance, and humor fill this autobiographical novel. The young hero travels from a farm, where the crops wouldn’t grow, to towns where this Yiddish-speaking youngster falls in love, studies philosophy with the Jesuits, and becomes an important member of Brazil’s literary world.

This first English edition includes elucidating historical notes by the translator, Merrie Blocker, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer. They cover the origin of Jewish farming communities in the U.S., Canada, and South America and the contributions of Jews and other immigrants to the development of an avant-garde intellectual center far off the beaten path.

Brazilian Jewish Farmers Tell Their Stories

Israelitas no Rio Grande do Sul

This post gives a description of the novels and memoirs left to us by early 20th Century Southern Brazilian farmers.  They offer fascinating portrayals of Jewish immigrant life. The post includes visuals, links to more information and a list of references. We also  include how to find both the original and secondary works  in libraries worldwide.
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