Tag Archives: Pacifist

Jew of the Week: Lina Morgenstern

The Woman Who Transformed Germany – and the World

Lina Bauer (1830-1909) was born to a wealthy, religious German-Jewish family in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). Her parents were noted social justice activists and philanthropists. Among other things, her father built an apartment building to provide housing for destitute workers, while her mother and aunts sought to save women from brothels and give them a proper education. Lina was raised with these important values. At just 18 years of age, amidst the wars of 1848, she established the Penny Society for Poor Pupils to raise money for shoes, clothes, and books for needy children. The organization would continue to operate for the next eighty years, providing countless children with basic necessities. Lina received an extensive education in music, literature, history, and science, and was so passionate about her studies that her mother wanted to take her out of school. Undeterred, Lina continued to study in secret at night. Meanwhile, she fell in love with a poor Polish Jew and married him in 1854 despite her parents’ wishes. The couple moved to Berlin and Lina (now Morgenstern) started to write to help pay the bills. Morgenstern was heavily influenced by the German thinker Friedrich Fröbel, famous for his concept of a “kindergarten” where small children can learn, play, and grow healthy and happy. Fröbel’s preschools did not go very far, and were even suppressed by the Prussian authorities. It wasn’t until Morgenstern co-founded the Berlin Women’s Association for the Advancement of Fröbelian Kindergartens that the idea took off. She chaired the organization for five years, during which time she established eight kindergartens, and a training academy for kindergarten educators. Fröbel’s other students established the first kindergartens in America, and the institution was soon adopted around the world. Morgenstern ultimately left her post to start a new charity: the Volksküche, or “people’s kitchen”. This organization distributed healthy meals to the poor, inspiring the thousands of soup kitchens that operate around the world today. Morgenstern herself opened up ten such kitchens, each serving as many as 2500 people per day! Morgenstern also published a number of important works on feminism, education, health, and child care. Her Das Paradies der Kindheit (“The Paradise of Childhood”) was the kindergarten textbook used globally for decades, and went through seven editions in her lifetime alone. Meanwhile, her Illustrated Universal Cooking Book – a result of all those years working in soup kitchens – was so popular that the Nazis did not include it in their Jewish book-burning list. Among the other organizations that Morgenstern founded are the School for Further Education of Young Ladies, the Berlin Housewives’ Association, the International Congress of Women, and the Berlin Society for Child Protection. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, she started a group for the care of soldiers, assisting some 60,000 troops. Morgenstern had become so popular and beloved that the German emperor and empress, Wilhelm and Augusta, visited her and became her patrons. Morgenstern was awarded the Victoria Medal, the Service Cross, and the War Medal. Despite all this, she was a central target for anti-Semites, and their attacks ultimately forced her into bankruptcy and illness. The Empress sent her to San Remo to recover, but it was not enough. Morgenstern left the public sphere and spent her last years writing. Among her final works is a collection of 250 biographies of inspiring women. In those last years she also directed the German Peace Society, advocating for pacifism, arms reduction, and peaceful coexistence. Disbanded by the Nazis, the organization was reformed in 1945, and continues to operate to this day. Morgenstern quietly passed away in 1909, and is buried in Berlin’s Jewish cemetery.

The Secret History of the Star of David

Words of the Week

I only have one real man in my cabinet.
– David Ben-Gurion on Golda Meir

Jew of the Week: Albert Ballin

The Inventor of Cruises

Commemorative Stamp of Albert Ballin

Commemorative Stamp of Albert Ballin

Albert Ballin (1857-1918) was born in Hamburg, Germany to a lower-middle class family. At 17, Ballin’s father died so the young man took over his father’s work at an emigration agency. By 22, he owned the agency, and at 29 he was the director of HAPAG, a ship liner providing service from Hamburg to New York. Ballin transformed the company into the world’s largest sea company with 175 ships. He revolutionized the business, focusing on providing customer service and a comfortable voyage. By using return voyages to deliver goods, Ballin was able to cut the price of a Transatlantic trip by nearly 40%. This work made it possible for myriads of Jews to escape Eastern Europe before, and during, the World Wars, saving countless lives. He would often sail on his own ships and ask the customers how their voyage could be improved. To make sea travel even better, Ballin constructed a massive neighbourhood on an island near Hamburg’s port (later called BallinCity) where voyagers could relax, shop, pray, and receive health inspections and travel documents. Ballin pioneered the production of ever larger and more luxurious ships. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the invention of the cruise ship. When Transatlantic voyages were perilous in the winter, Ballin had an idea to use his idle ships in other ways, outfitting them for “pleasure cruises”, where the voyage was not only a means to get somewhere, but the destination itself. Many scoffed at the idea (some said Ballin totally lost his mind), but the first such voyage, a 57-day Mediterranean adventure in 1891, was a huge success and sparked the cruise ship industry. Ballin became the German Emperor’s ship operator, and was nicknamed the “Kaiser’s Jew”, though his religion cost him many great opportunities. The Kaiser once admitted that Ballin would have been made Chancellor if he weren’t a Jew. A gentle and kind man, Ballin also donated anonymously to a great many causes, and strove to make peace between the European powers. Unable to prevent World War I, he was labelled as a “pacifist traitor” of Germany, and at 61, overdosed on sleeping pills. His home in Hamburg is now the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.


Words of the Week

Why is the Torah called “fire”? Just as fire receives no impurities, so too the words of Torah.
– Talmud, Berachot 22a