Biography of Jacob Schiff

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Jacob Schiff (1847 - 1920)


During the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, American Jewish achievements as they are widely praised today did not yet exist. Our physicians, scientists, writers and Nobel laureates were young children then and were either immigrants themselves or had been born to those who had arrived recently.

Therefore, prominent Jews were not the Einsteins, Bellows or Chagalls, but those who had money and knew how to project themselves into prominence by financial means. One of those who was a master at giving himself a “leadership” position in the Jewish community was Jacob Schiff.

Schiff was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The Main is a river in the west of that country, flowing into the Rhine. There is also a Frankfurt an der Oder. The Oder is in east Germany at the Polish border.

Frankfurt a.M. had a Jewish community dating back to at least the 12th century, when Jews came there from Trier and other early Roman settlements. It ought to be understood that the Jewish communities of Southern Germany preceded all other Germans by at least seven hundred years, since the Germanic invasion of Western Europe from Siberia did not take place until the ninth century.

Schiff was the descendent of a rabbinical family who had been in Frankfurt since 1370. Like all Jews, he spent his youth in the Frankfurt ghetto, living with his family in the “Judengasse”, or Jew alley, slum.

At age 18, Schiff left Germany and moved to New York. There were then no immigration laws in this country, so that anyone could come at any time. Schiff at once located a job in banking with the German Jewish investment bankers Kuhn and Loeb. Having married the boss's daughter, he became head of the Kuhn & Loeb banking firm and soon an exceptionally rich man. This permitted him to intervene in the Russo-Japanese war of 1901-1905, when he extended several loans to Japan which may well have contributed to Japan’s victory over Russia. There can be little doubt that Schiff wanted Russia to lose the war against Japan, as Russia was at that time the most insidious and destructive enemy of the Jewish people (still the case).

Schiff has been credited with establishing Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Jewish division of the New York Public Library. His non-Jewish philanthropies (Greek philo or lover and anthropus man) included the American Red Cross and the Tuskegee Institute, an all Afro-American college whose graduates are today among the foremost anti-Jewish hate mongers in this country.

Because Schiff gave so much money to charities and political causes he did not earn the gratitude of the recipients. Instead, he was accused of being interested in ruling the word and was identified with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery concocted by Russian priests and widely disseminated by Henry Ford and other wealthy haters.

Despite his interest in promoting Jewish causes Schiff was opposed to Zionism because he feared that Zionism would lead to the accusation of “double loyalty” and create the impression that Jews were not Americans. This fear is largely ignored by the present day Jewish community, although the haters have no trouble making that accusation every day. Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) makes such accusations on the floor of the House of Representatives.

In a book written by the Episcopalian author Stephen Birmingham and called Our Crowd, you can read a great deal more about Schiff and other German Jewish bankers and businessmen. This book reveals that German Jews founded the American financial community, set up most large banking and investment houses and were responsible for our entire department store industry.

While one cannot honestly view the mere possession of money as an achievement equivalent to military heroism, authorship of books, creation of music and art or scientific successes, Schiff deserves to be remembered as an example of Jewish attainments in America by those born to poverty and persecution.

May his memory be a blessing.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) &  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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