The Hamburg chapter of the Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration
The foundation of the Aid Organization of German Jews
The mission of the Aid Organization
The Aid Organization’s crisis relief
Precursors of the Aid Organization
The emigration of eastern European Jews
Cooperation with other relief organizations
The Aid Organization and the Lodges
Hamburg and the Aid Organization
This document, the appendix to the sixth business report, describes the aid organization’s Hilfsverein 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 Hilfsverein 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 Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration Zentralbureau für jüdische Auswanderungsangelegenheiten founded in Berlin in 1904. Under the “thoughtful and experienced leadership” of its chairman, Paul Simon Laskar (1857–1926), the aid organization’s Hilfsverein 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 Aid Organization of German Jews 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.
Like the AIU founded in Paris in 1860, the Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein 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 Aid Organization 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 Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith CV.
In just one year, the Aid Organization 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 Aid Organization 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.
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 Aid Organization Hilfsverein had excellent connections to other international organizations such as the French AIU and the British Anglo Jewish Association since its founding.
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 Relief Committee for Destitute Russian Jews Hülfs-Comité für die nothleidenen russischen Juden under the chairmanship of Berlin attorney and congregation representative Hermann Markower (1830–1897) 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 Aid Organization Hilfsverein or closely cooperated with it. Despite concerns among some local committees, especially in Frankfurt am Main, about establishing the Aid Organization Hilfsverein as an umbrella organization and successor to the AIU, the vital combination of humanitarian work and organizational efficiency had priority.
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 Aid Organization 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.
The management of both the Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein 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 Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein members were active in other relief organizations as well and thus there was close cooperation between many of these charities. The Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein Hamburg chapter headed by Paul Simon Laskar, who was also a board member of the Hamburg CV chapter, closely cooperated with Hamburg’s Israelite Association for the Support of the Homeless Israelitischer Unterstützungs-Verein für Obdachlose founded in 1884 by the director of Hamburg’s Talmud-Torah-Realschule, Daniel Wormser (1804–1900). As the report mentions (pp. 121 f.), the association provided clothing for 4,100 emigrants transiting through the city in 1907. The local Aid Committee for Russian Jews Hülfs-Comité für die russischen Juden headed by Jewish businessmen Hermann Gumpertz (1851-1938) and Gustav Gabriel Cohen (1830–1906) also cooperated with Laskar and Wormser. Chief Rabbi Markus M. Hirsch (1833–1909), banker Paul Moritz Warburg, attorney Hermann Samson (dates unknown), and the editor of the Israelitisches Familienblatt [Israelite Family Paper] and Zionist Moses Deutschländer were all members of Hamburg’s Aid Organization Hilfsverein chapter.
The report stresses the extremely good relations between the Aid Organization Hilfsverein and the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, Great Lodge of Germany U.O.B.B. Großloge Deutschland, 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 (1851–1931), was a close confidant of Paul Nathan’s and was appointed a member of the Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein executive committee upon its founding; Nathan and Simon joined the lodge in exchange. The Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein 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 Aid Organization Hilfsverein. “Good relations with German shipping companies” enabled the Aid Organization Hilfsverein to save 135,000 Mark in 1907 (p. 109).
The report also illustrates the close cooperation between the Aid Organization 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 Aid Organization Hilfsverein carried out in Palestine, Nathan remained convinced that the United States were irreplaceable as the destination for emigrants, however (p. 104).
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 Aid Organization’s Hilfsverein Hamburg chapter within the Europe-wide network of Jewish aid organizations.
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David Hamann, Dr. des., born 1981, received his doctorate from the FU Berlin in 2021 with the thesis "Ein Ticket von Brody über Berlin nach New York. Die praktische Solidarität deutscher Juden für osteuropäische jüdische TransmigrantInnen im Krisenjahr 1881/82." Since 2010 he has been running the company Recherche-Dienste (www.recherche-dienste.de) in Berlin as a freelance historian.
David Hamann, From Hamburg out into the World—Jewish Emigration and the 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> [April 01, 2023].