Harold Hirsch was a well-known attorney, who was active in various philanthropic organizations throughout the Atlanta area. He was born October 19, 1881 to Henry and Rosalie Hirsch in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1901 and received his law degree from the same institution in 1904. Hirsch soon became one of Atlanta's most prominent lawyers, helping Coca-Cola to tradmark its signature logo and bottle design in a number of copyright infringement cases. He was also involved in the creation of the law school at Emory University, becoming one of the founding members of the faculty.
Hirsch was very involved in philanthropic endeavors, particularly those that pertained to the Jewish community. He was a member of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (i.e., The Temple), the Federation of Jewish Charities, the United Jewish Charities, and the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith. It was through these charitible activities that Hirsch became concern about the plight of Germany's Jewish population.
Once Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hirsch was immediately inundated with reports and pleas from Rabbi Jonah B. Wise, the National Chairman for The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee concerning the dire need for fund-raising efforts and sponsorships that would aid European Jews. In February of 1933 in a letter from Wise to Hirsch, the former wrote to the latter about the stark misery of the Jewish populations in Europe:
It is commonplace to see children in the schools faint from hunger both in Warsaw and in the provinces. It is a commonplace that the Jews of Poland and other lands in Eastern and Central Europe have no one to turn to in any crisis except their American brethren. They do not, like the native populations abroad or any of our citizens here, receive some measure of help and support from governmental and private philanthropic efforts of national or communal relief. Their right to engage in any type of employment is being narrowed constantly with unconcealed discrimination. Thousands of Jewish homes are without food or heat, in an atmosphere haunted by disturbance and riot.
On February 6 Hirsch responded by saying:
I have your letter of the third in regard conditions in Europe. I am heartily in sympathy with the situation and regret that there seems nothing that can be done in the South at the present time. I think it will be a mistake to attempt a campaign here until conditions improve. I shall keep this constantly in mind, however, and will communicate with you when it would seem feasible to go into such a campaign.
Hirsch did not spell out the conditions to which he was referring in this letter. In later documents, it is ascertained that he is concerned both about the economic hardship that a boycott would place on the local population as well as the unwelcome visibility that such a campaign would bring to the German Jewish community. Therefore, Hirsch regarded any fundraising campaign as futile, at this early juncture.
Wise, however remained steadfast and implored again in a March 27, telegram stating, “It is our conviction we shall be called upon for important sums in Germany to meet distress.”
Hirsch replied immediately on the 28th with:
I have your telegram of the twenty-seventh, and I, of course, deplore the situation in Germany. I shall be glad to cooperate to the best of my ability in raising the funds should it be necessary to do so. I can not, however, promise any active campaign, for conditions in the South are such that to attempt to raise funds would be practically fruitless.
Hirsch was then pressed further from Louis Lipsky, head of the American Palestine Campaign, to enact a campaign that would not only help Jews in Germany but would enable them to start new lives in Palestine. In his April 26, 1933 letter to Hirsch, Lipsky wrote:
“I have written to you and to your associates in the past, asking that you inaugurate a fund-raising effort for the Jewish Agency for Palestine. I cannot believe that the Jews of Atlanta are so unmoved by the present situation in Europe that they will refuse to make an effort to participate in a solution of their problem.
Hirsch again replied:
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of the twenty-sixth in regard the situation in Nazi Germany. It is not that the Jews of Atlanta are unmoved by the present situation in Europe, and they are not refusing to make an effort to participate in a solution of the problem. We are just as sympathetic in Atlanta as Jews are elsewhere, but we know the situation here and how fruitless it would be to attempt to raise funds.
In May 1933, Wise wrote to Hirsch again, and implored action once again from Mr. Hirsch:
I have just returned from Germany and, as you can well understand, have been so shaken by what I have seen that I find the greatest difficulty in describing the situation lucidly. Unless you have seen and talked with those men and women who suddenly find themselves outlawed and degraded by a government and society which they have helped to build up and sustain and which had thought was representative of the highest civilization, you cannot understand their sense of humiliation and frightful injustice...
What these urgent letters do not tell us, was what finally moved him to act. In a letter that sent to twelve of his closest friends in Atlanta, Hirsch wrote:
I am herewith enclosing copy of letter received from Dr. Jonah B. Wise of New York. The letter speaks for itself. It describes a situation far worse than death, and bespeaks to you that which will demand of you sacrifices in order to aid. I am sending a copy of this letter to twelve men, asking that they meet with me in order to discuss the situation and form a plan by which this community can be of service. I am asking you gentlemen to meet with me on next Tuesday afternoon, May23, at my office, at three o’clock. I trust you will be present.
This letter illustrates that Hirsch could no longer ignore the pleas arriving weekly from New York. The meeting of Hirsch's twelve associates resulted in a press release announcing that Atlanta Jews were organizing to send financial assistance to the needy. The formal name for the fledging group would be The Atlanta Committee for German-Jewish Relief. Harold Hirsch was to be chairman of this organization.
Hirsch's efforts did not receive widespread support. Economic hardship still pervaded the community and the first campaign raised only $2,500. Although Hirsch was disappointed, he became even more determined to raise money to aid European Jews. In a November 10th 1933 letter from Jonah B.Wise to Hirsch he encouraged him to continue to campaign and wrote: “The Situation that you mention of those who are in sympathy with the work but have not the means to contribute, in contrast with others whose sense of social responsibility in behalf of our less fortunate brethren has not been fully awakened is, of course, a common one throughout the country.” Hirsch’s involvement, his affluence, and the respect he commanded in the general community helped to inspire both individuals and organizations to become involved