The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I (Hardcover)

The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I By Steven Ujifusa Cover Image

The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I (Hardcover)


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A propulsive human drama that chronicles the mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe to America in the early years of the twentieth century, and the men who made it possible.

Over thirty years, from 1890 to 1921, 2.5 million Jews, fleeing discrimination and violence in their homelands of Eastern Europe, arrived in the United States. Many sailed on steamships from Hamburg.

This mass exodus was facilitated by three businessmen whose involvement in the Jewish-American narrative has been largely forgotten: Jacob Schiff, the managing partner of the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb & Company, who used his immense wealth to help Jews to leave Europe; Albert Ballin, managing director of the Hamburg-American Line, who created a transportation network of trains and steamships to carry them across continents and an ocean; and J. P. Morgan, mastermind of the International Mercantile Marine (I.M.M.) trust, who tried to monopolize the lucrative steamship business. Though their goals were often contradictory, together they made possible a migration that spared millions from persecution. Descendants of these immigrants included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Estée Lauder, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Fanny Brice, Lauren Bacall, the Marx Brothers, David Sarnoff, Al Jolson, Sam Goldwyn, Ben Shahn, Hank Greenberg, Moses Annenberg, and many more—including Ujifusa’s great grandparents. That is their legacy.

Moving from the shtetls of Russia and the ports of Hamburg to the mansions of New York’s Upper East Side and the picket lines outside of the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, The Last Ships from Hamburg is a history that unfolds on both an intimate and epic scale. Meticulously researched, masterfully told, Ujifusa’s story offers original insight into the American experience, connecting banking, shipping, politics, immigration, nativism, and war—and delivers crucial insight into the burgeoning refugee crisis of our own time.

Steven Ujifusa is the author of A Man and His Ship and Barons of the Sea. He received his AB in history from Harvard University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, and has given presentations across the country and on the high seas. He is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence from the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Literary Award. He lives with his wife, a pediatric emergency room physician, and two sons, in Philadelphia.

Product Details ISBN: 9780062971876
ISBN-10: 0062971875
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: November 21st, 2023
Pages: 384
Language: English

“As the marine historian Steven Ujifusa persuasively argues in his absorbing The Last Ships From Hamburg, [this] story is a David-and-Goliath tale of the industrial age.” — The Wall Street Journal

“A captivating group portrait of three 'titans' of industry who facilitated the steamship routes by which around 2 million Jewish refugees, fleeing pogroms and discrimination, immigrated from Europe to America between 1890 and 1921 . . . . Ujifusa ties this intricate business history into a broader economic and diplomatic context and relates the experiences of regular people who made the crossings, including the families who perished aboard the Titanic. This innovative account provides a complex new perspective on the turn of the 20th century.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A capable history that explains much about modern American demographics.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Well-researched . . . . [A] meticulous investigation of turbulent days, as chronicled in The Last Ships from Hamburg, illuminates for the reader that once free of the fetters of European anti-Semitism, all things were possible.”
The Times of Israel

“With impeccable research, masterful prose, and deep feeling, Steven Ujifusa tells the incredible story of one of the greatest human exoduses in history, of the 1.5 million Jews who escaped Czarist Russia, and the three people who helped make that possible. He gives readers a front-row seat along the way, to the boardrooms of German shipping companies, third-class hulls of ships crossing the Atlantic, to tenements on the Lower East Side. This is a page-turning history on a grand scale, with an intimate touch.” — Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire and The Lion’s Gate

“Every once in a while a great story meets the writer who was meant to tell it, and readers can rejoice. The Last Ships from Hamburg tells an epic tale, and Steven Ujifusa brings a novelist’s ear and a detective’s eye for detail. It’s a story of struggle, of survival, and of the resilience of the human spirit—the past brought to life with lessons for today.” — Kermit Roosevelt III, author of The Nation that Never Was 

"Steven Ujifusa’s thoroughly researched and well-told story is a revelation. Intimate portraits of J.P. Morgan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and several others who figured in the great transatlantic migration culminate in the startling story of its main character, Albert Ballin -- the little-known giant (though barely five feet tall) who was responsible for bringing more immigrants to the U.S. than any other person in the nation’s history." — Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call