When Henry Lehman was still a boy helping his dad trade cattle in a small
German town, Sassoon ben Salih had already taken over from his father as
Baghdad’s Sarraf Bashi, the Iraqi Pasha’s chief banker.
By the time Marcus Goldman had left behind his one-room shop in Philadelphia
to trade IOUs as Marcus Goldman & Co, Sassoon ben Salih’s grandson Elias
was trading in dried fruit, tea, metals, silk and spices from offices in
Bombay and Shanghai, and had a monopoly over the opium trade. And Carl Morris
Loeb was working as the manager of a St. Louis movie theater in an era when
the Sassoons had firmly established themselves as one of the wealthiest
families in the world, called “the Rothschilds of the East.”
The Sassoons were international Jewish royalty who gave the world the first
global female CEO; supported over half of Bombay’s households; reshaped the
skyline of Shanghai; and built dozens of synagogues and other Jewish
In his Global Merchants, historian Dr.
Joseph Sassoon limns the tale of this extraordinary family,
whose influence reached across three continents and changed the destinies of
nations. He joins us to discuss their reach, from Baghdad to London; their
ownership of Britain’s leading newspapers; their alliance with the Rothschild
family; and their place in global Jewish history.
Dr. Joseph Sassoon is Professor of History and Politics at Georgetown
University, a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and a
Trustee of the Bodleian Library. A specialist in modern Middle Eastern
history, he was born in Baghdad and left with his family only after the
hanging of Jews in the city in 1969.
An outlier among the German Jewish immigrants of New York, the Morgenthau
patriarch, Lazarus, didn’t escape poverty for vague dreams of riches in the
New World. He arrived intent on rebuilding the fortune he’d made — and lost —
manufacturing cigars and cigar boxes in Germany when the US banned the export
of tobacco during the Civil War.
Part entrepreneur, part confidence man, he failed miserably — his last
attempt, shut down by the police: a townhouse dressed up as a wedding hall
for orphans for whom he ostensibly solicited dowries.
The next generations of Morgenthaus not only made money but history — and the
story of how and what they did is the basis of Andrew
Meier’s extraordinary new volume, Morgenthau,
tracing the journey of three generations following Lazarus: the
accomplishment of son Henry, who amassed the family fortune by becoming one
of New York’s real estate barons before being appointed US ambassador to the
Ottoman Empire; his son Henry, confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US
treasury secretary and dogged antagonist of those intent on keeping Jewish
refugees from American shores during World War II; and Robert, the
longest-serving district attorney in the history of the state of New York.
Meier joins us to discuss the Morgenthau dynasty, from Lazarus’s relationship
to Temple Emanu-El, to Henry’s hesitation to accept the “Jewish”
ambassadorship to the Ottoman Empire and to Robert’s prosecution of John
Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman; the Preppy Killer, Robert Chambers; and
rapper Tupac Shakur. In what has been called “his finest hour,” he acted to
vindicate the five men convicted of attacking the Central Park Jogger.
Journalist Andrew Meier is the author of three previous books and a regular
contributor to national and international publications. A commentator on the
BBC, CNN and NPR, he has reported for PBS television documentaries and
codirected the Netflix documentary Our Godfather.
At the age of 15, Edmond J. Safra was sent by his father to Milan to buy
gold. When he was just 24, he founded the Trade Development Bank in Geneva
and swiftly quintupled its assets. And by the time he turned 25, he’d established
Republic National Bank of New York, which in less than a decade held the
third-largest share of branch operations in the New York metropolitan area,
right behind Citigroup and Chase Manhattan.
Yet even as he became the greatest banker of his generation, with an empire
reaching across Europe, the US, Brazil, the Far East and Israel, Safra never
gave up his Lebanese citizenship, ownership of the bank his father founded in
Beirut in 1920 or his commitment to the Jewish community.
In his new book, A Banker’s Journey, Daniel
Gross explores the quintessential Sephardic story of an
extremely private man who never cut himself off from his roots, donned
tefillin daily, encouraged employees at all his banks to accept requests from
Jewish institutions and championed Sephardic communities across the world. The
Temple Emanu-El Streicker Cultural Center is proud to welcome Gross to
discuss the often-ignored dynasty Edmond Safra was part of, how he navigated
his commitment to Israel even as he did business in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
and the mark he left on the world Jewish community.
A writer covering finance, economics and business history, Daniel Gross has
reported from more than thirty countries for The New Republic,
Bloomberg News, Slate and Newsweek.
The great-grandson of Jews from Aleppo and Damascus, he is the bestselling
author of eight books.