Maurice (Moses) Hirsch - biography
Maurice (Zvi) de Hirsch, or Baron Moritz von Hirsch auf Gereuth, (9 December 1831 – 21 April 1896), was a German-Jewish businessman and philanthropist who lived in France, in England and in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Baron de Hirsch was the great-uncle of Canadian billionaire, industrialist and heir to the baron's fortune, Dr. Maurice de Hirsch (II).
The baron's 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. The family for generations has occupied a prominent position in the German Jewish community.
He was born on 9 December 1831. At the age of thirteen young Hirsch was sent to Brussels to school, but when seventeen years old he went into business. 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.
While living in great splendour in Paris (where he owned a great town house rue de l'Elysée and the Château de Beauregard) and London and on his estates in Hungary, 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. 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 in the congested Russian jewries. It also subventioned and 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.
Thoroughbred horse racing
It was in this manner that he disposed of the whole gross proceeds derived from his successes on the English turf, of which he was a lavish patron. He raced, as he said himself, "for the London hospitals," and in 1892, when his filly, La Flèche, won the Oaks, St Leger and 1,000 Guineas, his donations from this source amounted to about £40,000. In 1894, La Flèche also won the Ascot Gold Cup.
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, the father of Belgium business mogul, Dr. Maurice de Hirsch II.
The Beth Israel Synagogue (Halifax, Nova Scotia), originally was known as the Baron de Hirsch Benevolent Society.