Tag Archives: Titanic

Jews of the Week: Edward and Philip Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is Part 3. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Sir Edward Sassoon (1856-1912), the son of Albert Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He studied at the University of London, and served in the British Army, rising to the rank of major. Edward diligently continued the communal and philanthropic work of his father. In 1899 he was elected to the British House of Commons. One of the most famous bills he proposed was a law to make wireless telegraphs mandatory on all passenger ships. However, the bill was struck down over budget issues—until 1912, when the Titanic sank. By 1914, an international treaty made it mandatory for all passenger ships to have telegraphs. Sir Edward was a close friend of Arthur Balfour, famous for his 1917 Balfour Declaration that paved the way for establishing the State of Israel. Edward married Aline Caroline de Rothschild, granddaughter of (former Jew of the Week) Jacob “James” Rothschild.

Their first child was Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon (1888-1939). He studied at the prestigious Eton College, and then at Oxford—one of just 25 Jewish students at the time. Following this, he joined the British Army and had the rank of second lieutenant. He followed his father into Parliament in 1912. When World War I broke out, Sir Philip was sent to mainland Europe and was the private secretary of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for “distinguished service” in the war. Returning to Parliament after the war, Sir Philip made it his personal mission to bring civilian air travel to England and the world. Airplanes were still little-known by the public, and considered far too dangerous. Sir Philip bought his own airplane in 1919 to promote air travel to the masses. In 1931, he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Air. He also served as England’s First Commissioner of Works, and chaired London’s famous National Gallery. Philip owned Trent Park in the north of London, and built a mansion there where he liked to host his many friends. Interestingly, during World War II the British used Trent Park as a luxury prison for high-ranking German POWs, on whom they carefully spied and extracted critical information, which was instrumental for winning the war.

Words of the Week

The main superiority of man over animals is in his power of speech. But if we speak vanity and folly, we are no better than animals.
Rabbi Moshe Leib Erblich of Sassov (1745-1807), the Sassover Rebbe

Jews of the Week: the Guggenheims

Meyer Guggenheim, with (top to bottom) Daniel, Solomon, Simon, and Benjamin

Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) was born in Switzerland to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish family. At 19, he set out on his own and journeyed to the United States. After working in various shops in Philadelphia, Guggenheim opened up his own company, importing Swiss embroidery. Business went well, and he soon searched for new opportunities. In 1881, Guggenheim invested $5000 in two Colorado silver mines, and quickly realized their incredible potential. He sold all his other ventures and put all of his money into mining and smelting. With the help of his seven sons, Guggenheim quickly expanded across the US. By 1901, the family controlled the largest metal-processing plants in the US, and also owned mines in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and the Congo. In 1922, various disputes led to the Guggenheims being kicked out of their largest company by its own board. Soon, they sold off all of their mines. The family would invest elsewhere, and the fortune vacillated over the decades. In 1999, it ceased to be a strictly family affair with the opening of Guggenheim Partners. Today, the firm has 2300 employees, and controls $260 billion in assets worldwide (including the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, purchased for a record $2.15 billion in cash).

After the elder Guggenheim’s passing, his son Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930) took over the business. By 1918, he raised the family fortune to as much as $300 million, making them among the wealthiest people in the world, as well as among the most generous philanthropists. Daniel’s son was a World War I pilot, inspiring Daniel to invest considerably in aviation technology. To this day, the most prestigious prize in aeronautics is the Daniel Guggenheim Medal. Another son, Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949), was a patron of the arts and an avid collector. He established New York’s world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Meanwhile, Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) served as a US senator. He established a fund in honour of his deceased son that has granted over 15,000 scholarships to date, totalling over $250 million! His $80,000 donation (equivalent to $2.5 million today) to a Colorado school was, at the time, the largest private grant ever made to a state institution. Benjamin Guggenheim (1865-1912) worked for the family business out of Paris, and in 1912 boarded the Titanic to head back home. When the iceberg hit, he was offered a place among the first women being evacuated, but rejected, saying “No woman shall remain unsaved because I was a coward.” One survivor reported that “after having helped the rescue of women and children, [he] got dressed, a rose at his buttonhole, to die.” His body was never recovered.

Words of the Week

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
– Plato

Jews of the Week: Straus and Bloomingdale

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s 

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman Bloomingdale (1841-1905) and Joseph Bloomingdale (1842-1904) were the sons of German-Jewish immigrants who settled in New York. Their father Benjamin started a small clothing shop, and it was here that Lyman and Joseph sold their first hoop skirts for ladies. In 1872, the brothers opened their own store. Business boomed, and in 1886, the company expanded and opened its current world-famous Bloomingdale’s location. Over the next century, Bloomingdale’s went on to open dozens of stores across America, and become one of the most recognizable department store brands in the world. In 1930, Bloomingdale’s joined together with another department store giant – Macy’s. Macy’s began in 1858 as a small dry goods store. Thirty years later, a pair of Jewish brothers (who originally only supplied Macy’s with tableware) became partners in the business, and the shop’s fortunes boomed.

Isidor Straus

The brothers were Isidor Straus (1845-1912) and Nathan Straus (1848-1931), who were also German-Jewish immigrants like the Bloomingdales. Eventually, the two became the sole owners of Macy’s, and turned the company into an internationally-recognized brand, which now has 850 locations. The elder Isidor served as a US Congressmen and was a noted philanthropist and social activist. Tragically, he and his wife were aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. Despite his wealth and status, which immediately guaranteed him a seat on a lifeboat, Isidor refused so that all women and children could be saved first. He and his wife did not survive. His brother Nathan was also supposed to cruise the Titanic, but instead decided to take a trip to Israel. This decision saved his life, and Nathan saw this is a divine message.

Nathan Straus

Nathan Straus dedicated the rest of his life to support the Jewish state, going on to donate two thirds of his wealth for the cause. His money opened up countless schools, health clinics and public kitchens in Israel. The modern city of Netanya is named after him. Meanwhile, Nathan also did a great deal at home. He opened a pasteurized milk institute that gave out free milk to children, and is credited with significantly reducing the incidence of milk-borne diseases. During the recession of 1893, he gave away coal and meat for free, opened lodgings for 64,000 people, and provided 50,000 meals for a penny each. In the recession of 1914-15 he provided over one million such penny meals, and during World War I, sold his private yacht in order to feed orphans. His personal motto was: “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov