OTTO WARBURG - A biographical note

In 1908 they founded, at Warburg’s initiative, the “Chevrat Hachsharat Hayishuv” whose aim was to gather funds for the promotion of economic development projects undertaken by the Zionist movement. One of its first aims was to found an agrarian bank which would enable settlers to undertake their first steps in this new venture.
The founding of Degania, the first communal settlement in Israel, and Kineret, were of its first initiatives, though for lack of funds since the Agrarian Bank did not yet exist, Warburg decided to bear the initial costs and to purchase the land, despite Usishkin’s opposition to the “premature” project. His next initiative was the settlement of small-holders in Migdal on the western shore of Lake Kineret north of Tiberias. The land had been bought initially by a German Catholic group, seeking to find the grave of Maria Magdalene and build a monastery in its vicinity. However, malaria and other hardships soon drove the Germans away and in March 1909 the land was purchased by the agronomist, Joseph Treidel, on behalf of The Eretz Israel Office for the settlement of Jewish immigrants. In October of that year the “Tabu Kushans” of the newly purchased settlements were handed to Otto Warburg in whose name as owner they were registered.8 The Tiberias Land and Plantations Co. was founded by Warburg, Tshlenov and Kermintzki and was registered in Germany in 1911; its main role was to locate prospective investors and settlers in this new colony.
Migdal Company was also founded at the time by Warburg both in order to locate prospective settlers already in Palestine and help them in their initial steps. Work in Migdal started already in 1910, primarily with banana plantations and cotton growing. Among its early employees were immigrants of the Second Aliya such as Berel Kazenelson, Eliezer Shochat, Zalman Rubashov (later Shazar, third President of Israel) and many others who later became notable Labour leaders. But Migdal did not do too well in its early years since crops were rather poor and World War I interfered with future plans. Several of the East European founders lost their lives during the Great War (and the subsequent Revolution in Russia) and others lost their fortune. Hence Warburg had to cover the deficits. He enlisted the help of some British investors, most notable Lord Melchet one of the leading Gentile Zionists, who purchased 200 dunams on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and built his famous “Villa Melchet” on that plot. However, to cover its losses Migdal required additional funds and after the War it was decided to found a new company: “Migdal Bayit Vegan” and to parcel the land into smaller plots of 0.8-1 dunam which could be sold in order to balance the budget. Migdal thus became a model for a Garden City and lured many new settlers to its vicinity. It was during those years that Warburg’s prestige increased amongst his fellow Zionists, especially those from Eastern Europe, since they realized that he, unlike the other Western Jews, was an initiator of practical projects on a large scale and who was willing to risk his own funds for the projects he initiated and in which he believed.

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