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’s Jewish Farmers Dream

Where did it come from?

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, White House Historical Association

Dreams of turning Jewish tradesmen into farmers date back to the mid-eighteenth century and feature some strange bedfellows. Besides Baron Hirsch, these utopian efforts involved Polish patriots, Russian Czars, German Mennonites, and of course, the Zionists. Like Thomas Jefferson, these Europeans and many other eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century thinkers believed that “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens . . , the most vigorous. . . [and] the most virtuous.”1

The idea of turning Jews into farmers to make them vigorous and virtuous was first proposed In Eastern Europe in the mid-eighteenth century when Austria, Germany, and Russia were trying to gobble up Poland. To ward off this national decapitation the Polish government sought to strengthen Polish society.  One concern was the large number of non-assimilated Jews who had settled in Poland since the 12th Century because of the relatively liberal environment that allowed them to prosper and practice their religion. Many of the Jews worked for the nobles, managing estates and selling crops.   

By the late 18th century, half of the world’s Jews, about 1.5 million, lived in Poland. The Polish bourgeoisie considered this large community of Jews to be unwelcome competitors and the general populous put the Jews in the same basket as the nobles, resenting both.  Polish leaders saw these conflicts as one more cause for the weakness of the country. They thought that if Jews would become farmers they would be like everyone else and the conflicts would cease. Plans were drawn up but were never implemented.  And Austria, Germany, and Russia did gobble up Poland. 

The areas of Poland annexed by Russia are shown in mauve, lilac, and gray.

The majority of the Polish Jews, approximately 1 million, lived in the areas of Eastern Poland that were annexed by Russia between 1772 and 1795. (Listen to a discussion on how this annexation affected these Polish Jews.)

 So when Czar Alexander I rose to the throne in 1801 he faced a dual dilemma. First, how could he populate New Russia and Crimea in southern Russia, lands recently conquered from the Ottomans following the Russo-Turkish Wars? In addition, how could the Czar integrate the one million Jews who had recently come under Russian rule through these partitions of Poland

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  1. JEFFERSON, Thomas. Letter to John Jay, Aug. 23, 1785, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (DLC) Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters, Thomas Jefferson, Monticello. []

On a Clear April Morning Highlights

Preface and Chapter 1

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Academic Studies Press

Series: Jewish Latin American Studies June 2020 | 146 pp.

9781644692981 | $22.95 | Paperback

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SUMMARY

On a Clear April Morning, by Marcos Iolovitch, is a lyrical and riveting coming of age story set among early twentieth-century settlers brought to an almost unknown Jewish farming experiment in an isolated corner of Brazil. This autobiographical novel is filled with drama, joy, disasters, romance, and humor. It travels from farms where the crops won’t grow to towns where the Yiddish-speaking protagonist falls in love, befriends sons of German immigrants, studies philosophy with the Jesuits, and becomes an important member of Brazil’s literary world. This first English edition includes elucidating historical notes on the origin of Jewish farming communities in the U.S., Canada and South America by the translator, Merrie Blocker, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer.

About the author and translator

Born in a small Ukrainian village, Marcos Iolovitch was raised in southern Brazil among poor Jewish farmers and peddlers. He became a noted poet and essayist and practiced law. A fighter for social justice, he dedicated his autobiographical novel to “all those who suffer and dream of a better world.”

Merrie Blocker is a former U.S. diplomat who served as Cultural Attaché in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the setting for On a Clear April Morning, as well as in Central Asia, Romania and throughout Latin America.

Translator’s Preface

Marcos Iolovitch, author of On a Clear April Morning, was an avid student of the great philosophers. But he believed that to reach “true wisdom” we need to open our windows and observe the “subtle shades of reality that envelope” us. In this autobiographical novel, in which a young man seeks to find a righteous and fulfilling path, we watch this charming and caring protagonist discover his own wisdom through the realities that envelop him, the realities of Jewish immigrants in southern Brazil during the first decades of the twentieth century.

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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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The Baron Hirsch Jewish Farmers Community

Maurice_de_Hirsch_-_Tableau.jpg

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the builder of the Vienna-Constantinople Railroad, and his friends, sponsored the settlement of Eastern European Jews in many lands.  They spent the equivalent of $2 billion in today’s dollars, working primarily in North and South America.

This blog was established to collect and tell the stories of the Jewish farmers that Baron Maurice de Hirsch supported in both North and South America and the follow-on stories of their descendants worldwide.

Maurice de Hirsch Vanity Fair July 26, 1890, National Portrait Gallery, London


We present written works and visuals depicting the original immigrants and relating the achievements of the descendants of these immigrants.  And there are many achievements. Our forebears were courageous and ingenious people as are their grand and great-grandchildren.

We hope you will send us your stories and permission to publish them.  Click here to contact us.   And if you have a particular question about this immigration phenomenon, let us know.  We will research the answer and write a post.

MORE ON BARON HIRSCH

For the whole story, read the official history of Baron Hirsch’s  Jewish Colonization Association, An Outstretched Arm.

For information on Baron Hirsch’s work in the United States through the Jewish Agricultural Society see this post by Professor Emeritus of North Carolina State University, Gary Moore.

Here you can find over 50 different books on the life and work of Baron Hirsch.

Also, check out this short summary of Baron Hirsch’s work with Jewish farmers.

Here is a 1910 report from the U.S. Government on “Hebrews in Agriculture”. including many of Baron Hirsch’s projects.

Click here for a list of the archives worldwide of Baron Hirsch-related documents, including correspondence with individual immigrants.