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Hellmuth von Gerlach on Leading Antisemites and their Agitation (1880s)

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Naturally, studying the Jewish question finally made me want to get to know some Jews myself. My acquaintance with Charles L. Hallgarten in Frankfurt am Main was of great importance to me. Hallgarten had made a great fortune as a banker in New York and had become an American citizen. Still in the prime of his life, he returned to his hometown of Frankfurt, because for him earning money was not an end in itself but only a means to an end. He intended to dedicate the second half of his life solely to making his wealth available for humanitarian purposes.

After Hallgarten’s death, an acquaintance told me that the tax authorities in Frankfurt had been very surprised to find an estate of only eight million instead of the expected 80 million. I would not have been surprised by this at all, considering that Hallgarten had once told me: “Every father should take care of his children to the extent that he can. If he is rich, he should leave them enough so that they can lead a carefree life. He does them an injustice, however, if he secures for them an abundance that seduces them into living like drones. Our social order permits the unlimited accumulation of millions. Our ethics ought to command us to channel the surplus money, which derives from the community after all, back into the community. Therefore, I have resolved to leave one million to each of my children. Whatever I own beyond that, I intend to spend during my lifetime on causes that strike me as the most humane.”

Thus he spoke. Thus he acted. He opened his palm wide for all philanthropic objectives of an interdenominational nature. He even donated large sums to strikes if he felt the workers were right.

I was present myself at some of his negotiations. He was immensely generous; but he never gave any money before having informed himself thoroughly about the basis of the business. If someone came to solicit money, even for the best causes, but had nothing more than general plans and phrases, he turned him away. If another person showed up with an accurate profitability evaluation and estimate, he examined it in detail; if the matter seemed to make sense to him, he pulled out his checkbook and said: “Your calculation appears to be correct. According to this, you are 30,000 marks short. Here you go.”

Of course, numerous associations and institutions would have loved to have such a man as their chairman. In order to meet such requests with a justified “no,” he deliberately did not re-acquire citizenship in the German Reich. I had always heard that the Jews pushed themselves to the fore. Hallgarten pushed himself into the background.

At the same time as Hallgarten, another Frankfurt Jew, Mr. Merton, appeared on the scene with gigantic foundations for charitable purposes. Had any of our heavy industrialists with their dozens of millions, had any of our magnates with their tens of thousands of hectares of land ever turned any portion of their abundance into any substantial foundation for the benefit of the general public? My delusions about idealism as an Aryan monopoly and materialism as a Semitic stigma melted away like snow in the sun. As late as 1892, at the Tivoli Party Congress of the Conservatives, I had cheered the speaker who had shouted into the hall, “Better ten Ahlwardts than one Liberal!” A few years later, I was certain of one thing: Better ten Jews than one antisemite!

Source: Hellmuth von Gerlach, Von rechts nach links [From Right to Left], edited by Emil Ludwig. Zürich: Europa-Verlag, 1937, Chapters 15 and 16, pp. 102-18.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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