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We support projects in agriculture, education and tourism since 1891.

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ICA's History

About the Baron

Baron Maurice De Hirsch (1831-1896)

Maurice de Hirsch was a German financier who, as founder of the Jewish Colonization Association, was the first Jewish philanthropist to envisage large-scale resettlement of the oppressed Jews of Russia. Descended from a distinguished family of Jewish court bankers, he moved among European nobility and was an intimate of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and of the Austrian Archduke Rudolph. After a traditional Jewish upbringing and schooling in Brussels, Maurice joined the banking firm of Bischoffsheim and Goldschmidt in that city. In 1855, he married Clara, daughter of Senator Jonathan Bischoffsheim, head of the firm. She was to share his charitable inclinations and to encourage and support him in his many philanthropic activities.

Apart from banking, he pursued business interests, notably the Oriental Railway scheme linking Constantinople to Europe. The railway project and pioneering enterprises in the sugar, copper and other industries, brought him a very considerable fortune.

“My son I have lost, but not my heir; humanity is my heir"  he remarked in 1887 on the untimely death of his only son Lucien. After that tragedy, he devoted his energy and fortune mainly to his immense philanthropic work.

Even before, Baron de Hirsch had become acquainted with the plight of Oriental Jewry. This prompted his gift to the Alliance Israelite Universelle, of 1 million francs (£ 40,000) for the establishment of schools In the Near East.

He provided additional sums for the establishment of trade schools and eventually consolidated his donations to the Alliance in a foundation yielding a very substantial annual income. Among his other contributions to Jewish and non-Jewish causes were the Baron de Hirsch Stiftung for educational and welfare work in Galicia and Bukovina (1888), the Baron de Hirsch Fund in New York for assisting and settling immigrants in the United States (1891), the Baron de Hirsch Institute in Montreal to provide similar services in Canada, and the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the main object of which was to facilitate the mass emigration of Jews from Russia and their rehabilitation in agricultural colonies In South America. The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1929 refers to the Association as "probably the greatest charitable trust in the world." ICA was formed in 1891 after the Czarist government had refused Hirsch's offer of 50 million francs (2 m. pounds sterling) to alleviate the miserable conditions of the Russian Jews by establishing a modern educational system for them.

Hirsch was contemptuous of traditional charity with its emphasis on the distribution of alms as a means of bringing relief. He was convinced that he could secure the future of the Russian Jews by providing them with the opportunity to become self-­reliant through productive work. He wrote in 1891, "I shall try to make for them a new home in different lands, where as free farmers on their own soil they can make themselves useful to those countries." He devoted the last five years of his life to the affairs of the Jewish Colonization Association and the complex negotiations concerning the realization of its spectacular plans. In the words of Herzl on hearing of the death of Baron de Hirsch In 1896, "Among the rich Jews, he was the only one ready to do something big for the poor." His gifts in his lifetime and by will entitle him to be considered among the greatest Jewish philanthropists, perhaps the greatest of all time.