THE MORGENTHAUS by Henry Morgenthau


A Family History
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 A fourth-generation Morgenthau pens a lively and engaging biography of his family of high achievers, overlaid with a fresh view of changing Jewish acculturation during the past two American centuries. The first Morgenthau of record, Moses, was required to take a family name when the Jews of Bavaria were granted citizenship in 1813. Waiting in line at city hall in the predawn, he looked at the damp ground and decided to call himself Morgen Tau (``morning dew'' in German). His son, Lazarus, after an apprenticeship as a tailor, rose from poverty by selling cravats, and to wealth by manufacturing fine cigars. His entrepreneurship carried into making nicotine-free cigars, candy from pine needles, tongue scrapers, and gum-label machines. A multimillionaire, he emigrated to Brooklyn with his ten children and plunged into an extraordinary network of German Jewish families--Strausses, Sulzbergers, Guggenheims, Schlesingers. His son, Henry, retired from a successful business career at age 50 to enter public life. Woodrow Wilson appointed him ambassador to Turkey, a position considered a crucial Jewish outpost since Palestine was then under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. From letters and family stories, the author assembles a gripping and tragic account of the 1915 Armenian massacre; Henry's grandfather attempted to get the US government to intervene and offered personally to donate $1 million to the Turkish government to fund an Armenian exodus, all to no avail. (The author's cousin, Barbara Tuchman, drew upon family memories of this period in writing The Guns of August.) Thirty years later, during WW II, the author's father, Henry, Jr.--FDR's secretary of the treasury--presented a scathing report to the President on the ``Acquiescence of the Government to the Murder of the Jews'' with equal lack of effect. Personal history that opens to a larger cultural and political account of the 20th century: fluent and passionately humane. (Thirty-two pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-89919-976-3
Page count: 436pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1991


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