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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
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Before The Deluge: The Jews Of The U.S. (Part Four)


The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from “Die Juden In Der Welt [The Jews in the World]” by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.


The Jews Of The U.S.

(Part Four)

The Federation of Jewish Labor by the end of the 1920s consisted of some 125,000 members, of whom 60 percent were employed in the confections industry. After 1929 there was a further rise in the level of Jewish participation in workers’ unions. There were 134,020 Jewish members of the fifty largest trade unions, 34.1 percent of the total number of organized workers, which roughly reflected the level of the Jews in the population of greater New York. In the remaining centers of the garment industry, in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Rochester, almost all the owners were Jews and the workers they employed were mainly Jewish.

As a result of restrictions on immigration and the dissemination of Jews throughout the land who were born in America and had become working professionals or were employed in trade, offices, or free professions, the number of Jews in the clothing industry steadily diminished. Jews became watchmakers, goldsmiths, glassblowers, plumbers, shoemakers, butchers, and bakers.

From the beginning of the 19th century there was an effort to settle Jews in rural areas. In the 1880s a group of Russian Jews established colonies in Louisiana, Kansas, and the Dakota territory; however, these enterprises achieved no lasting success. But in 1891, the Baron DeHirsch Fund established the Woodbine Colony in New Jersey and it enjoyed great popularity with the general Jewish public. This colony continues to the present day. Other settlements have since dissolved over the course of time.

It is estimated that there are about 60,000 independent Jewish farmers in the United States. The Jewish Agricultural Society was founded around 1900, and is active in about 40 states of the Union, furnishing loans to about 12,000 farmers.

The accomplishments of Jews in industry date back to the 18th century. For example, the cultivation of indigo in Georgia was carried out by a Jew. In the middle of the 18th century Meyer Hart founded a furniture and household industry in Philadelphia and until the end of the 19th century the Hart Brothers firm controlled the biggest furniture factory in Chicago. In California and Alaska Jewish firms carried out the development of the seal tusk industry. The clothing industry was brought to great heights by Jewish entrepreneurs.

In 1885 the majority of the coat factories was in Jewish hands. Jews took a leading role in piano construction as well as the corset and umbrella industries and in the manufacture of porcelain and glass. They had a growing share of the diamond, jewelry, and watch industries, as well as in the manufacture of hats and other products made from leather or animal skin. Jewish construction companies took over entire subsections of New York City, Chicago and other cities.

Of particular note was the rise of Louis J. Horowitz, an immigrant from Poland who started out as an ordinary employee and rose to become the director of the biggest construction company in America.

From Russia came the building engineer Leon Moiseyev, who built the Manhattan Bridge. Jewish immigrants from Holland were active in the development of the metals industry. The metals refining industry can thank its foundation to the Levinsohns and the Guggenheimers. And the railroad network owes its expansion to the banking houses Kuhn, Loeb & Co. and Speyer and Co.

At the top of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. stood the philanthropist Jacob Schiff, who was born in Frankfurt. The leadership of the Felix Warburg House was known to Jewish relief organizations and to the leading personalities in Palestine. The Speyer & Co. firm and the Seligmann Brothers House arose during the American Civil War. Also well known were Lazard Freres and Hallgarten & Co., also of German origin.

Jews played an important role in public financing, particularly during the Revolutionary War. Robert Morris has been named the financier of the American Revolution, but also instrumental was the banker Haym Salomon. Paul Warburg participated in the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. Eugen Meyer and B. M. Baruch were advisers at the Economic Summit Conference at the Peace Conference in Paris [Translator’s note: after World War I] and served as advisers to President Wilson. Henry Morgenthau Jr. is the secretary of the treasury for President Franklin Roosevelt.

About the Author: Ezra James Nollet is a retired U.S. government chemist living in Poland where he is officer of the local synagogue in Legnica. Before the Deluge appears the last week of each month.

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