From Hamburg out into the World—Jewish Emigration and the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden [Aid Organization of German Jews]

David Hamann

Source Description

The business reports of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden [Aid Organization of German Jews] were published annually since 1902 and documented in great detail the emigration trends among eastern European and especially Russian and Galician Jews. In the appendix to the sixth business report presented here, the Hilfsverein gives an overview of Jewish emigration from eastern Europe for the calendar year 1907 and illustrates the association’s extensive support for Jewish emigrants by means of statistics, tables, and reports. Between 1901 and 1918, the Hilfsverein became the leading organizer of Jewish emigration from eastern European and, as part of the network of Jewish aid organizations cooperating internationally, primarily took charge of Jewish emigrants’ transit through Germany. In addition to a description of the activities of its Berlin headquarters and the Berlin-based “Zentralbureau für jüdische Auswanderungsangelegenheiten” [Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration] founded in 1904 (pp. 103-105; p. 116f.), there are sections in the appendix to the business report dedicated to the Hilfsverein’s Hamburg (pp. 113-115) and Bremen (p. 115f.) chapters, which clearly emphasizes their importance within the association’s structure. The local Hamburg chapter was headed by Paul Simon Laskar (1857-1926), who had been a member of the Hilfsverein’s executive committee since 1901. As one of the largest North Sea ports, Hamburg was an important transit point for Jewish emigrants from eastern Europe on their way to the United States.
  • David Hamann

The Hamburg chapter of the “Zentralbureau für jüdische Auswanderungsangelegenheiten” [Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration]


This document, the appendix to the sixth business report, describes the aid organization’s organizational and financial support for eastern European emigrants, with particular consideration being given to the Hamburg and Bremen branches. Not only were the eastern European emigrants received at the Russian-Prussian border by the aid organization’s local committee or representatives, the migrants’ entire transit through Germany, from the train trip and tickets for the ship passage—mostly with HAPAG and Lloyd—to everyday needs such as provisions, clothing, medical care, accommodation, and providing kosher food (pp. 117–119) was taken care of by them. A total of 400,000 Mark were spent on this in 1907 (p. 117). According to the report, the two port cities of Hamburg and Bremen “naturally […] had to engage in the most extensive activities” (p. 113) apart from its Berlin headquarters. The significance of the port of Hamburg “for Russian and thus also for Jewish emigration” (p. 113) explains why the Hamburg chapter also operated a branch of the “Zentralbureau für jüdische Auswanderungsangelegenheiten” [Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration] founded in Berlin in 1904. Under the “thoughtful and experienced leadership” of its chairman, Paul Simon Laskar (18571926), the aid organization’s Hamburg staff had to manage a considerable workload (p. 115). In 1907, a total number of 155,982 emigrants left Hamburg. 29,007 of them were Russian Jews. In addition to the 8,000 Jews migrating from Austria and Romania, the number of individuals cared for in Hamburg by the aid organization totaled 35,007 (p. 115).

The foundation of the “Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden


The Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden was mainly initiated by liberal Berlin journalist Paul Nathan and founded in Berlin on May 28, 1901. The well-known arts patron James Simon, who was personally acquainted with Kaiser Wilhelm II, became its president. With the founding of this organization, Nathan and Simon hoped to focus German support for the oppressed Jews of eastern Europe and to unite it in one efficient umbrella organization. Previously, the usual practice of German aid organizations in cases of humanitarian crises such as the pogroms in Russia had been to collect donations. Despite support from the French (AIU), this form of aid often proved to be slow and complicated and reached victims far too late.

The mission of the Hilfsverein


Like the AIU founded in Paris in 1860, the Hilfsverein’s primary goal was the political emancipation of eastern European Jews and the improvement of their living conditions in order to render emigration unnecessary for them in the long term. The main focus of its work was on local opportunities for education and professional training. As the report emphasizes, “encouragement to emigrate” was not at all what the organization had in mind (p. 117). Furthermore, western European Jews often were quite prejudiced against their eastern European fellow believers. “Ostjuden” [eastern Jews] often were very devout, and in the eyes of the liberal, bourgeois Jews active in the Hilfsverein, they had too much sympathy for socialist ideas. Moreover, they hardly spoke any German and were mostly poor and therefore required additional support. Emancipated German Jews also feared the “myth of Jewish mass immigration” might further fan the flames of antisemitic tendencies already rampant within German society. This concern was also shared by established organizations such as the CV [Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith].

The Hilfsverein network


In just one year, the Hilfsverein managed to establish a nationwide network of local chapters and local committees and was thus able to access a broad base of donors in order to raise the urgently needed funds for its activities in eastern Europe. This network was used to organize the migrants’ transit through Germany. This source names Hilfsverein chapters in 23 large German cities as well as in four cities outside of Germany (see table, p. 111) which were involved in the transportation of eastern European Jews.

The Hilfsverein’s crisis relief


Thanks to numerous representatives and informants in crisis areas, the organization’s Berlin headquarters quickly found out about local conditions and was able to react accordingly. Thus donations often reached the right place preemptively, for example during the Balkan Wars of 1912/13. Moreover, the Hilfsverein had excellent connections to other international organizations such as the French AIU and the British Anglo Jewish Association since its founding.

Precursors of the Hilfsverein


Western European Jews were made acutely aware of the European dimension of modern Antisemitism by the violent excesses in eastern Europe and the large flow of refugees mainly from Russia and Romania. In 1881, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, severe pogroms broke out in the area of today’s Ukraine, and thousands of Jews fled across the western borders. In many German cities, but also in Austria, Great Britain, France, and the United States, relief committees were established, and on April 23, 1882 they united as the “Hülfs-Comité für die nothleidenen russischen Juden” [Relief Committee for Destitute Russian Jews] under the chairmanship of Berlin attorney and congregation representative Hermann Markower (18301897) in order to coordinate donations and the flow of refugees. Between May and September 1882, the committees collected 642,274 Mark in donations, and between October 1881 and October 1882, more than 10,000 Jewish emigrants left from Germany by ship. After 1901, many of these committees were integrated into the Hilfsverein or closely cooperated with it. Despite concerns among some local committees, especially in Frankfurt am Main, about establishing the Hilfsverein as an umbrella organization and successor to the AIU, the vital combination of humanitarian work and organizational efficiency had priority.

The emigration of eastern European Jews


Since 1900 the number of Russian and Romanian Jewish emigrants had grown significantly. Nathan and other influential Jewish European philanthropists continued their efforts to effect political and civic equality for eastern European Jews, particularly in Russia and Romania. At the same time, the Hilfsverein made efforts to support emigrants with practical advice before they went on their journey by means of its “Correspondenzblätter,” newsletters published monthly since December 1904, which contained background information on their countries of destination and their immigration law, price charts for Germany’s train system, and bibliographical information on dictionaries. The number of information offices in the countries of emigration, whose purpose was to improve advance coordination, had also grown “in increasing measure” (pp. 105 ff.). Following the violent riots of the 1903 Kishinev pogroms, Nathan engaged in intensive talks with liberal Russian Minister President Sergei Yulyevich Witte and later with his successor, Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin. Looking back in 1906, he called these negotiations an unsuccessful “farce,” however. Both the Russo-Japanese War breaking out in 1904 and the subsequent Russian Revolution of 1905/06 eventually made promising efforts of this kind seem a remote possibility. Now the priority was to save as many Jews from Russia as possible.

Cooperation with other relief organizations


The management of both the Hilfsverein’s headquarters and its local chapters was in the hands of liberal, bourgeois dignitaries who guaranteed the organization’s influence in political and economic circles. Commitment to social causes was widespread among Imperial Germany’s bourgeoisie. Many of the Hilfsverein’s members were active in other relief organizations as well and thus there was close cooperation between many of these charities. The Hilfsverein’s Hamburg chapter headed by Paul Simon Laskar, who was also a board member of the Hamburg CV chapter, closely cooperated with Hamburg’s Israelitischer Unterstützungs-Verein für Obdachlose [Israelite Association for the Support of the Homeless] founded in 1884 by the director of Hamburg’s Talmud-Torah-Realschule, Daniel Wormser (18041900). As the report mentions (pp. 121 f.), the association provided clothing for 4,100 emigrants transiting through the city in 1907. The local “Hülfs-Comité für die russischen Juden” [Aid Committee for Russian Jews] headed by Jewish businessmen Hermann Gumpertz (1851-1938) and Gustav Gabriel Cohen (18301906) also cooperated with Laskar and Wormser. Chief Rabbi Markus M. Hirsch (18331909), banker Paul Moritz Warburg, attorney Hermann Samson (dates unknown), and the editor of the Israelitisches Familienblatt and Zionist Moses Deutschländer were all members of Hamburg’s Hilfsverein chapter.

The Hilfsverein and the Lodges


The report stresses the extremely good relations between the Hilfsverein and the U.O.B.B. Großloge Deutschland [Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, Great Lodge of Germany], the first European lodge district of the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith established in Berlin in 1882. This benevolent society saw its mission both in the general promotion of humanity and tolerance and more specifically in the “welfare and modern cultural education among Jews.” The Order’s German lodge played a major part in the founding and financing of charitable organizations. Its president, Berlin State Councilor of Justice Berthold Timendorfer (18511931), was a close confidant of Paul Nathan’s and was appointed a member of the Hilfsverein’s executive committee upon its founding; Nathan and Simon joined the lodge in exchange. The Hilfsverein’s local chapters closely cooperated with the local lodges for donation drives, and many of its members belonged to both organizations. Both Laskar and Deutschländer were active members of Hamburg’s Henry-Jones Lodge as well. Transatlantic shipping companies, especially HAPAG and Lloyd, for whom the emigration to America was a lucrative business, were another important partner for the Hilfsverein. “Good relations with German shipping companies” enabled the Hilfsverein to save 135,000 Mark in 1907 (p. 109).

Preparing for emigration


The report also illustrates the close cooperation between the Hilfsverein and the countries of immigration, the United States being the most important among them. In 1907, transatlantic migration had decreased due to an economic recession in the United States. Nevertheless, 106,968 Jews migrated to the United States that year, which was 80% of all Jewish migrants. According to this report, 80% of all Jewish migrants who immigrated to the United States between July 1906 and July 1907 came from Russia (p. 103). In 1907, an estimated 35,007 people left Germany via Hamburg (p. 113). In light of suspected mid- and long term restrictions on U.S. immigration, Palestine emerged as another important destination for Russian migrants since 1907. Despite the wide-ranging educational work the Hilfsverein carried out in Palestine, Nathan remained convinced that the United States were irreplaceable as the destination for emigrants, however (p. 104).

Hamburg and the Hilfsverein


The appendix to the sixth business report illustrates the immense importance of the port city of Hamburg as an organizational and logistical center of Jewish emigration from eastern Europe as well as the significance of the Hilfsverein’s Hamburg chapter within the Europe-wide network of Jewish aid organizations.

Selected bibliography


Tobias Brinkmann (ed.), Points of Passage. Jewish Transmigrants from Eastern Europe in Scandinavia, Germany and Britain 1880-1914, New York et al. 2013.
Salomon Goldschmidt, Daniel Wormser. Eine biographische Skizze. Dem Andenken seines Begründers und langjährigen Vorsitzenden Daniel Wormser gewidmet vom Israelitischen Unterstützungs-Verein für Obdachlose, Hamburg 1900.
Festschrift anlässlich des 25jährigen Bestehens des Hilfsvereins der deutschen Juden, gegründet am 28. Mai 1901, Berlin 1926.
Paul Laskar, Über Aus- und Rückwanderung, Vortrag gehalten am 17. September 1902 in der Henry-Jones Loge Hamburg, Hamburg 1902.
Louis Maretzki, Geschichte des Ordens Bnei Briss in Deutschland 1882–1907, Berlin 1907.

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About the Author

David Hamann, M.A., born 1981, is a PhD student at the Free University Berlin. He is writing his dissertation about Paul Nathan and the work of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden. http://www.geschkult.fu-berlin.de/e/fmi/arbeitsbereiche/puschner/puschner_uwe/paul_ina/Doktorand_inn_en/David_Hamann.html

Recommended Citation and License Statement

David Hamann, From Hamburg out into the World—Jewish Emigration and the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden [Aid Organization of German Jews] (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-159.en.v1> [September 24, 2017].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.