Kohler, Max J. (Max James), 1871-1934

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Max James Kohler (1871-1934)

Judge Irving Lehman wrote of Max Kohler: "The general public can never know the full value of Mr. Kohler's work. He never sought or desired wide recognition. He did seek the satisfaction of work well done. He did value the respect and even admiration of his friends and fellow-workers. These he received and these were the only reward he desired." 1 In this paragraph written in memoriam to Kohler, Judge Lehman summed up Kohler's life, particularly in regards to Kohler's invaluable, and largely unsung, work on the rights of immigrants in the United States, his activism on behalf of the Jewish people, and his meticulously researched history of Jews and Judaism in America.

Max James Kohler was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 22, 1871. His father, Reform Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler (1843-1926), was the head of the Beth-El Congregation in Detroit, having arrived in the United States after graduating from the University of Leipzig in 1868. In 1869, Kaufmann married Johanna Einhorn, the third daughter of Reform Rabbi David Einhorn (another daughter married Rabbi Emil Hirsch). Kaufmann and Johanna had four children: Max, Lili, Rose, and Edgar. In 1873, Kohler's family moved from Detroit to Chicago, where Kaufmann briefly led Chicago's Reform Congregation Beth-El.

Rabbi Einhorn (1809-1879), on coming to the United States in 1855, became the leader of the Reform Movement in America, eventually leading the Reform Congregation Beth-El in New York (Beth-El merged with Congregation Emanu-El in the 1920s). Kaufmann Kohler had been reared in an Orthodox family, but broke with that branch of Judaism in 1867. When Rabbi Einhorn retired from Beth-El in 1879, Kaufmann moved to New York to take his place, while Rabbi Hirsch filled his position in Chicago. Taking up Einhorn's mantle, Kaufmann (along with Isaac M. Wise) spearheaded the radical Pittsburgh Platform (1885), the formulation of principles melding the U.S. and German wings of Reform Judaism. Both Einhorn and Kohler were prolific writers and outspoken in the defense, propagation, and codification of Reform Judaism. Among the friends and associates surrounding the Kohler family were the Straus, Seligman, and Isaacs families of New York, Mortimer Schiff, Cyrus Adler, Louis Marshall, Simon Wolf, and H. Pereira Mendes. 2

With this legacy of prominent and learned rabbis, leaders, statesmen, and historians as relatives and mentors, Max Kohler developed a deep interest in the laws of Judaism, American and international justice for the Jew and non-Jew alike, literature, history, and scholarship. During his lifetime, he had enough careers for three or four men including: immigration lawyer, community worker, historian, publicist, writer, and honorary doctor of Hebrew Law. He was a prolific writer on immigration law, international treaties and the rights of minorities, a literary and academic critic, editor, and publisher. He served on numerous committees and civic organizations including the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Baron de Hirsch Fund, the Board of Delegates on Civil Rights, the Judeans, the Committee for the 250 th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States, and numerous other organizations and committees.

Kohler graduated from the City College of New York with a B.S. in Political Science in 1891, moving on to Columbia College to obtain an M.A. and LL.B. in 1893. After graduation, he became a District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, leaving that position in 1898 when he became a partner in the firm Lewinson, Kohler, and Schattman. It was while a partner at this firm that he began taking gratis cases (for 25 years he never accepted payment for any immigration suit he undertook) concerning immigrants of a variety of ethnicities including Jewish, Chinese, Hindi, and Armenian backgrounds. It was Kohler's conviction that the United States was founded as a 'haven of refuge' for the oppressed of all countries, and he fought hard against registration for aliens, the establishment of literacy tests, the establishment of insanity as a legal ground for deportation, international treaties that limited alien intake, and corruption in the Department of Labor's Bureau of Immigration at Ellis Island. Many of the briefs he wrote during his lifetime and his contribution to the body of writings on immigration in the United States are considered classics in law and are cited extensively in immigration circles. In addition, the historical research involved in his briefs and writings contributed much to the field of history. 3

Kohler took time from his busy life to marry Miss Winifred Lichtenauer, daughter of banker Joseph Lichtenauer, on November 6, 1906. Winifred was in her own right an author and historian, but little remains of her contributions. When she died on December 21, 1922, Kohler, deeply grieved, hurriedly abandoned the home he had made with her and moved back into his family home with his parents and siblings. Much of his correspondence prior to 1922 was discarded.

Ever the workaholic, Kohler died on July 24, 1934. Colleagues and family had urged him to slow down, but Kohler, having been asked by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to work on the Ellis Island investigation of 1933-1934, combined with his sense of dread and foreboding to what was occurring in Germany at the time, was propelled to work even harder on behalf of immigrants and Jews. He suffered a mild heart attack in mid-July of 1934, and his sister Lili convinced him to rest by taking a vacation. A week later, while vacationing in Long Lake, NY, he suffered a fatal bout of angina pectoris, and died.

Due to the voluminous nature of his works, the following are brief sketches of Max Kohler's major activities.

Historian, Writer, Editor, Reviewer, and Publicist

Kaufmann and Max Kohler attended the first meeting of the newly organized American Jewish Historical Society in 1892. Max went on to become Secretary of the organization from 1900-1910 and was Vice-President at his death. He worked closely with Cyrus Adler and the AJHS' curator, Leon Huhner, on meeting and donation arrangements, publications, and writings on Jewish history.

According to Nathan M. Kaganoff's article "AJHS at 90: Reflections on the History of the Oldest Ethnic Historical Society in America," toward the end of the 19th century, Jews were coming under considerable attack regarding their legitimacy as American citizens, particularly in light of increasing numbers of Eastern European and Russian Jews emigrating to America. Established Jews were becoming increasingly alarmed at the anti-Semitic nature of the press regarding these immigrants, and embarrassed by the "noisy speech" and "unclean and unsophisticated" lives of the new immigrants. By establishing a historical record of the contributions of Jews to America from the inception of the country and prior, Jews believed they could counter the opinions of an increasing number of critics regarding them. German-American Jews in particular began to write on the contributions of Jews in the United States.

One of the results of Jews' increasing interest in their role and contribution to American history was the creation of the American Jewish Historical Society. The AJHS held its first meeting on June 6, 1892, and by December had produced 16 papers tracing "firsts" as pertaining to the contributions of the Jewish people in America. Kohler wholeheartedly took up this mantle and wrote articles on Jewish activity in the States, particularly on Colonial and pre-Civil War history, though some of the items he published focused on European and Caribbean history. Among his articles in the AJHS Publications series were: "Beginnings of New York Jewish History," "The Jews of Newport," "Dr. Rodrigo Lopez: Queen Elizabeth's Jewish Physician," "Judah P. Benjamin, Statesmen and Jurist," and "Civil States of the Jewish in Colonial New York." He also wrote historical pieces on the activities of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, a book called Rebecca Franks: An American Belle of Last Century, and edited Charles P. Daly's work The Settlement of the Jews in North America . Kohler also contributed historical research to any number of books and papers written by historians in the United States and England. At times, these authors did not attribute Kohler's contribution to their work, a sore point with Kohler. At Kohler's death, he bequeathed to the American Jewish Historical Society his papers, as well as his extensive Judaica library. 4

In addition to writing his own articles and contributing research, Kohler reviewed works by others in publications such as the Jewish Messenger, the New York Jewish Tribune, the Jewish Daily Bulletin, and the American Hebrew . He reviewed major works including Oscar Straus' Origin of Representative Government in the United States ; Cyrus Adler's Trial of Gabriel de Granada, Lucien Wolf's Notes on the Diplomatic History of the Jewish Question, John Bassett Moore's International Law and Some Current Illusions, and Oscar Janowski's The Jews and the Minority Treaties at the Peace Conference .

God in Freedom by Luigi Luzzatti

God in Freedom, originally published in Italian by Luigi Luzzatti (Prime Minister of Italy and Professor of Public Law at the University of Rome) under the title of La Libertà de Coscienza e di Scienza (Liberty of Conscience and of Science) in 1909, was edited by Kohler and published in the United States in an expanded version in 1930. Along with additional material published by Luzzati in an updated Italian version in 1926, Kohler's English-language version added a preface, a biography of Luzzatti by Dr. Dora Askowith, and several American supplemental chapters. The work itself was a tome dedicated to the idea and merits of religious liberty as espoused through Eastern and Western religious and secular thought. Ultimately, the book upheld the worth of religion in the lives of humans, but stressed that all peoples should be free to live religious or secular lives as they choose without harm by the state. As a Jew, Luzzatti defended the right of Jews throughout the world to live in freedom among different peoples while practicing their faith and maintaining loyalty to the state, though he considered himself a Theist who followed no specific religious path. 5

The English version was issued as a "commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the first constitutional establishment of religious liberty," the creation of the Declaration of Independence. For this reason, Kohler added chapters regarding the establishment of the Bill of Rights, the struggle of the Jews, the abrogation of the United States’ 1832 treaty with Russia due to that country's religious intolerance of Jews, and the issue of the protection of minorities as stated in the Peace Treaty of 1919. William Howard Taft agreed to the publication of his speech entitled "The Progressive World Struggle of the Jews for Civil Equality." 6 The text also included a speech by Judge Irving Lehman presented before the Judeans in 1927 entitled "The One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary of the Constitutional Establishment of Religious Freedom." 7

Louis Marshall had originally agreed to write entries on the abrogation of treaties between the U.S. and Russia, but died in 1929 prior to publication. It was left to Kohler to write on this subject instead, in a section entitled "The Abrogation of the Treaty of 1832 Between the United States and Russia and the International Protection of Religious Minorities." Kohler also included addresses by Marshall on "Russia and the American Passport," given before the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1911, as well as Marshall's address before the Judeans on January 27, 1926 on the "World Court and the Protection of Racial and Religious Minorities." In addition to the Preface, Kohler contributed and reprinted his paper given before the AJHS in 1926 entitled "The Fathers of the Republic and Constitutional Establishment of Religious Liberty." 8 A history of the proceedings on behalf of the Jewish delegations at the Peace Conference is also included, written by Kohler.

Though the book was not critically acclaimed upon its publication in the States, it was hailed as a bold statement on the concept of the separation of Church and State.

Baron and Baroness de Hirsch and the Baron de Hirsch Fund

As a result of Kohler's work and contacts, he was asked to become a Trustee and Honorary Secretary of the Baron de Hirsch Fund in 1905, eventually chairing the committee on immigrant aid. Railroad magnet and banker Baron Maurice de Hirsch and his wife, Baroness Clara de Hirsch, initiated the De Hirsch Fund after their only child, Lucien, died in 1887. De Hirsch funded a variety of educational, agricultural, and immigration projects geared towards the betterment of Jews in Europe and the Middle East, particularly Russian Jews. The Baron also developed the Jewish Colonization Association, which systematically helped large numbers of Russian Jews immigrate to Brazil and Argentina. In the United States, he organized the Woodbine Colony of New Jersey, and the Baroness established the Clara de Hirsch Home for Girls. He and his wife donated funds in excess of $100,000,000.

Kohler's work on the Baron de Hirsch Fund in turn led him to work with the Board of Delegates of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Judeans, the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Conference on Immigration Policy, and the National Council on Naturalization and Citizenship. His work with these organizations revolved primarily around immigration and alien rights, and with the de Hirsch Fund, establishing educational standards and immigration policy for the Fund.

In 1910, Kohler endeavored to publish a history of the Baron and the de Hirsch Fund. He undertook this project from Oscar Straus, who had earlier attempted to write a biography of de Hirsch. To this end, Straus gave many personal letters and documents to Kohler from the de Hirsches and their family, as well as personal correspondence between Straus and the de Hirsches. In addition, Gustave Held in Paris loaned other documents to Kohler, upon the promise of their return. Held had once sought to publish a book in Europe on the Baron, but the project, like Straus’, fell through, primarily due to lack of funding. Held was a European relative of Kohler’s as well as the funds administrator of the Baron’s Jewish Colonization Association shortly before the Baron’s death.

Kohler’s book project fell into trouble as he began to look into the Baron's life, especially his financial life, more closely. One correspondent in particular urged him to drop the entire project, saying that the philanthropic accomplishments of the Baron were the only ones that mattered; his private affairs were just that, private. 9 Kohler wanted to delve into the Baron's dealings with the Ottoman Empire over the building of the Oriental Railway in the 1870s. The Empire had awarded the Baron the government concession to build the railway, but eventually the Empire sued the Baron, accusing him of providing inadequate funds to the government generated by the project through sugar and copper sales. The court decision came down in favor of the Baron in 1887. There were also rumors that he had offered considerable bribes to various persons and agencies in order to build the railway; Kohler wanted to get to the bottom of these rumors.

From Gustave Held, Kohler received the trial decision and a letter from one of the judges presiding over the case, both of which cleared the Baron of any wrongdoing. (Straus wrote to Kohler that the Judge's "letter and decisions disposes of the abuse unjustly heaped upon him [the Baron] growing out of jealousy mixed with prejudice.") It was Kohler's closer investigation of the Baron's financial life that was causing a stir, though Kohler by no means was focusing solely on the Baron's financial life. When Kohler sent his book proposal to the Jewish Publication Society, the Society turned him down. Ultimately, it took a letter from Oscar Straus, as well as Straus’ sitting in on a meeting with the Publication Society, to reverse their decision and accept his proposal for a biography of both the Baron and Baroness de Hirsch, not to exceed 70,000 words and allowing Kohler to “write the book in any way you deem best.” The project, however, did not culminate in a book publication, but Kohler did publish several papers and articles on the Baron and the Baron de Hirsch Fund. 10

Alfred Dreyfus and Haym Salomon

In 1930, Kohler helped 'shed new light' on the case of the French Jewish officer, Col. Alfred Dreyfus, convicted by a closed military-tribunal on treason charges of providing military documents to the Germans. Dreyfus was imprisoned on the Devil's Island penal colony in 1895, where he stayed until 1900. Dreyfus was convicted on insubstantial proof, and was primarily the target of an anti-Semitic intelligence officer investigating the case. During the five years of his imprisonment, his case was gaining heat in the French press as his supporters, including a new intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Marie Georges Picquart, the author Émile Zola, and the "Dreyfusards," as Dreyfus' supporters called themselves, brought the case to the attention of the public, while his detractors in the press stirred up the tempest of anti-Semitism in their writings. Eventually, the French military was forced to retry Dreyfus when an intelligence officer who had been forging documents against Dreyfus committed suicide. The Dreyfusards were shocked when the verdict of guilty with extenuating circumstances was handed down in late 1899, sentencing Dreyfus to 10 years in prison. The army would not back down on its verdict, and the French President, Émile Loubet, stepped in and offered a pardon to Dreyfus, who reluctantly accepted. Though free, Dreyfus continued to protest his innocence, and was cleared in a civil court in July 1906, going on to fight for France in World War I. 11

In 1930, Kohler obtained transcripts of newly-published documents from the German archives entitled "Die Grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette, 1871-1914," while at the same time a Dr. Bruno Weil was delivering lectures based on the private archives of Count Münster, the German ambassador at Paris during the Dreyfus trial. According to journalist Walter Littlefield, these two publications persuaded the 71-year-old Dreyfus to appear before French officials and demand that French archives regarding his case be opened. Though the government refused, these two documents, along with books on the subject by Jacques Kayser (The Dreyfus Affair) and the work edited by Bernhard Schwertfeger (The Truth about Dreyfus: From the Schwartzkoppen Papers), helped to establish the events that occurred between French and German officials, and the details of how Dreyfus became the scapegoat in French political and military intrigue. 12

In 1931, Kohler went in a different direction with his research, in an attempt to add new information to the historical record of American Jewish history. He had been asked to serve on a committee to investigate the historical record of Haym Salomon, long thought to have funded the American Revolutionary War. According to Judge Abram I. Elkus, Kohler “first supported the claims of [the] Salomons [committee], but with later research, issued a pamphlet casting doubt on this claim.” 13 Indeed, Kohler had initially supported the Monument Committee of the Federation of Polish Jews in America (Salomon being of Polish descent), who wanted to erect a monument in New York City to the Revolutionary Patriot. The Monument Committee consisted of historians, politicians, and supporters of the Salomon monument, including Senator Nathan Straus of New York. The Monument Committee asked Kohler, along with Leon Huhner and Albert Friedenberg of the AJHS, to look closely into background material concerning Salomon, with a mind to providing incontrovertible facts as to the deeds of Salomon to the Municipal Art Commission, the New York City commission responsible for approving public monuments and art.

Traditionally, the American Jewish Historical Society had enthusiastically written about Salomon in their Publications series, as had Kohler in his work on Rebecca Franks, sister to Salomon's wife, Rachel. 14 In 1926, Samuel Oppenheim, the recording secretary of the AJHS as well as respected historical writer and researcher, was asked by Kohler's committee to investigate the matter. Oppenheim uncovered evidence that led him to believe that Salomon was not responsible for providing funds to the fledgling American government, particularly in light of documents found at Philadelphia's Register of Wills. This information proved that Salomon could not have loaned the government money because when he died suddenly at the age of 45 in 1785, his estate was insolvent and securities he held were owed to a variety of persons; when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1778, he had been penniless, therefore, unless he had somehow made a fortune in less than ten years as a merchant, it was Oppenheim's conclusion that though Salomon may have been a money-broker, he was never a money-lender to the government. Ever the meticulous researcher of facts, Kohler himself took Oppenheim’s research and came to the conclusion that Salomon was, like many Jews of his time, a patriot for the cause of freedom in the young states, but at the time of the Revolution, had no money to lend to the war effort. 15

Kohler published his and Oppenheim’s findings in a brochure entitled “Haym Salomon, The Patriot Broker of the Revolution, An Open Letter by Max Kohler” on February 26, 1931, after repeatedly warning Benjamin Winter and Z. Tygel of the Federation of Polish Jews, that if they persisted in their course of action as to the statue with the new information on Salomon provided to them by Kohler's committee, he would have no choice but to lay the facts before the public. Oppenheim (who fell ill and died in 1928 shortly after giving Kohler his documentation) had wanted to keep the matter confidential, as did Kohler, but Winter and Tygel continued to lobby the Commission for the monument, though it had been turned down in 1930 for a site at Madison Square. Winter and Tygel responded to Kohler's brochure with extreme vitriol, calling Kohler, of all things, “anti-Semitic” and reluctant to give any credit to Polish Jews due to Kohler’s German-Jewish ancestry. 16

Kohler responded on April 6, 1931 in the Jewish Daily Bulletin, refuting Winter and Tygel’s statements as to his anti-Semitism and stating his support of Polish Jews by pointing out that his immigration activities had helped thousands of Jewish Poles enter the United States, as well as his pamphlet printed in defense of Polish Jews against Burton Hendrick’s anti-Polish remarks, reprinted by the Anti-Defamation League in 1921. Kohler also accused the Federation of deliberately ignoring the new information uncovered concerning Salomon, along with letters from deceased Louis Marshall opposing any monuments to Salomon. Kohler continued by briefly reiterating his findings, based on fraudulent documents having been presented to Congress by Salomon's son, asking for repayment from the U.S. of monies owed to Salomon from the War (which was shown by the discovery of the Register of Wills document as not being owed to Salomon). In addition, Salomon’s personal letter-book showed it was only in 1782 that he had enough money to send to his indigent parents in Poland, because prior to that year, he had no funds. Salomon did raise $200,000 for the war effort, but Kohler claimed that this amount was raised just before the War officially ended in October 1781, and that this sum was a small amount compared to the millions of dollars needed to fund the war. 17

The furor over Kohler’s findings catapulted him into a spotlight in which he was not necessarily comfortable. It was his conviction, however, that Jewish history should be accurately documented for the benefit of the American people that led him to publish his findings. The Philadelphia Jewish Times wrote in an editorial: “There is little doubt that... Kohler was well aware that his statement on Salomon would raise a tempest... Yet Kohler felt that his findings had to be made public, regardless of personal inconvenience. Thus, whatever one may think of the intrinsic merits of the Salomon controversy, one must admire the courage and fearlessness of Max Kohler.” 18

Ultimately, the statute to Haym Salomon was never erected in New York, but a monument to Salomon was erected in Chicago in 1941, depicting Salomon and Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance to the new Republic, flanking a statute of George Washington. 19

Immigration, Treaties, Ellis Island, and German Jewry

The core of Max Kohler's working life centered on the law, particularly immigration law. He worked gratis on the large number of cases he took on behalf of an assortment of nationalities seeking to immigrate to the United States. He felt that the United States was founded as an asylum for the unfortunate of the world, and insisted on a lenient immigration policy. He also took up cases challenging the government's right to deny entry on the basis of insanity and disease, but did believe that once an immigrant was allowed to live in America, that he or she should be determined to become an American through education and hard work.

Through his work on immigration, he became a student of international treaties in regards to the protection of minorities and the rights of aliens to asylum in the U.S. He carefully studied and wrote on the Minority Provisions of the Peace Treaty of 1919 as to the factions of Jewish delegates and their fight for a Zionist/non-Zionist policy regarding the Jewish Question, particularly as this conference was the first in which Jews themselves would lay out a worldwide policy regarding their own emancipation. Kohler also fought for and wrote on the 1912 abrogation of the 1832 U.S.-Russia treaty because of Russia's denying of Jews with American passports entry into Russia as well as the attempted abrogation of U.S.-China treaties as to the legality of the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, and wrote numerous pamphlets and articles on international treaties and the rights of Jews and minorities in international law. 20

Kohler was twice asked to investigate or hear cases concerning Ellis Island, in 1909 and 1933. Amid allegations of illegal deportations at Ellis Island and counter-allegations from the Department concerning Jewish immigration societies and individuals, Kohler was asked to aid the Hebrew Sheltering Aid Society (HIAS) in defending cases of deportation by the Department's Board of Special Inquiry at Ellis Island. In 1909, HIAS conducted interviews with immigrants who claimed to have been unlawfully deported at Ellis Island, or after entry to the United States, been forced to deliver monetary deposits to customs officials. HIAS maintained records of interviews in 1909 to 1910, and Kohler offered his law services in deposing and defending those claiming unfair deportation.

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the first female Cabinet Member, Frances Perkins, as Secretary of Labor, a position she served in despite steep opposition, until 1945. Perkins had a background in child labor laws, sweatshops laws (she served on the committee formed after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911), labor mediation, and was an industrial commissioner under both Governors Smith and Roosevelt of New York. Roosevelt appointed her Labor Secretary of New York prior to his election as President. Secretary Perkins swept into national office, determined to revive an entrenched Labor Department and ordering a cleanup of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, then under the auspices of the Labor Department after the split of Labor and Commerce in 1913. The Bureau had developed a reputation for dereliction of duty, bribe-taking, illegal and overzealous deportations, and corruption, particularly at Ellis Island. To most historical accounts, the use of Ellis Island ends in 1924, when the Island stopped functioning as a point of entry into the United States. From 1924 until the start of World War II (when it served as a prison for enemy fighters), the Island was used as a way station for detained immigrants awaiting deportation.

Perkins set up committees to investigate corruption charges at Ellis Island, sending Kohler a telegram on August 7, 1933 informing him that she proposed to "… have examination of personnel by boards including representatives to guard against favoritism or influence entering into decisions as to retention or dismissal …" Kohler agreed to be on the Committee on Ellis Island Law Committee (one of seven committees), and spent the next six weeks traveling to the Island, interviewing detainees, and gathering information for the final report of the Commission. (Fellow members of the commission included Harold Fields, Cecelia Razovsky, Mrs. Alexander Kohut, Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson, Mrs. Vincent Astor, Roger W. Straus, and Marian Schisby.) Through focusing on Ellis Island as the core of the immigration service in the U.S., it was determined that what was true for Ellis Island was true for the entire immigration system, and the Committee was told that its report would be of national application, though the first and foremost objective was the rehabilitation of Ellis Island, and the reputation of the United States as a fair arbiter of immigration policy. 21

The report was presented to Secretary Perkins in early 1934, and Kohler turned his attention to events occurring in Europe under Hitler's regime. He began work in 1933 with the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, and began lobbying Congress in support of German Jews seeking asylum in the United States. He wrote reviews of the influence of the United States in situations where minorities were oppressed, hoping that Congress would use it as a basis to counter the actions of the Third Reich and allow more Jewish immigrants into the U.S. He published several articles addressing the plight of Jews in Germany, and seldom rested between January and July of 1934. The strenuous pace of his life, writings, and studies finally took its toll on July 24, 1934.

In the case of German Jews, Kohler's death was unfortunate. With his background in lobbying Congress, writing, and his knowledge of the law, he might have made some difference in the attitude of the American government toward the on-rushing plight of Jews in Europe. Condolences sent to his family were heartfelt and heartbroken, and in 1936, a compilation of his writings on immigration law were published under the title Immigration and Aliens in the United States; studies of American Immigration laws and the legal status of aliens in the United States. 22

  • May 22, 1871: Born in Detroit, Michigan to Dr. Kaufmann Kohler and Johanna Einhorn, daughter of Dr. David Einhorn
  • 1890: B.S. from the City College of New York; Class President
  • 1891: M.A. in Political Science from Columbia Law School
  • 1892: Awarded Toppan Prize in Constitutional Law at Columbia
  • Attended the initial meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society with his father
  • 1893: Awarded Civil Service Reform Prize for the essay "History and Progress of Civil Service Reform"
  • LL. B. from Columbia Law School; Admitted to the Bar Association of New York
  • Edited Charles P. Daly's Settlement of the Jews in North America
  • 1894 - 1898 : District Attorney, Southern District of New York; Appointed by U.S. Attorney Wallace McFarland
  • 1894: Authored Rebecca Franks: An American Jewish Belle of Last Century
  • Council member of the American Jewish Historical Society
  • 1896: Contributed chapter "Jews and Judaism in America" in Halliday and Gregory's The Church in America and Its Baptism of Fire
  • 1898 - 1899 : Appointed Special United States District Attorney as a Democrat under a Republican administration
  • 1898: Became a partner in the law firm of Lewinson, Kohler and Schattman
  • 1900 - 1910 : Secretary of the American Jewish Historical Society, later became Vice-President
  • 1900: Traveled to Europe
  • 1902: Admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Argued the case of U.S. v. Lee Yen Tai before Justice Harlan of the Supreme Court
  • 1905: Honorary Secretary, National Committee for the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States
  • 1906 - 1934 : Trustee and Honorary Secretary, Baron de Hirsch Fund
  • Member of the Judeans; served as Secretary from 1907-1923; later became Vice-President
  • November 6, 1906: Married Winifred Lichtenauer, daughter of banker Joseph M. Lichtenauer
  • 1909 - 1925 : Member of the Board of Delegates on Civil Rights of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • 1910: Successfully argued the case of the Galveston Immigrants Information Bureau allowing immigrants bound for Galveston, Texas to go by steamer directly to that city, bypassing large Atlantic ports
  • 1911 - 1934 : Member of the American Jewish Committee
  • 1911: Wrote against literacy tests for immigrants in Injustice of the Literacy Test for Aliens
  • 1916 - 1934 : Member of the Committee on Legislation of New York County Lawyers Association
  • 1916: Published, with Simon Wolf, Jewish Disabilities in the Balkan States
  • 1917: Served as Government Attorney before the local draft board of New York City
  • Published "Jewish Rights at International Congresses in the American Jewish Year Book, 1917-18
  • 1918: Wrote Jewish Rights at the Congresses of Vienna and Aix-la-Chapelle
  • December 21, 1922: Winifred dies of pneumonia
  • 1922: Moved household to family home with parents, brother Edgar, and sisters Lili and Rose
  • 1924: Wrote Registration of Aliens - A Dangerous Project
  • 1925: Bestowed Honorary Doctor of Hebrew Law from the Hebrew Union College
  • 1926: Editor of the "America" Department of the Popular Jewish Encyclopedia
  • 1927: Elected a Corresponding Member of the Jewish Historical Society of England
  • 1929 - 1931 : Edited and produced additional chapters for the English-language version of Italian ex-Prime Minister Luigi Luzzatti's God in Freedom
  • 1929: Wrote Some "New Light on the Dreyfus Case," expounding on new evidence found within German archives signaling the innocence of French officer Alfred Dreyfus
  • 1931: Spoke out against the erection of a statute to Haym Salomon based on his research that there was inadequate proof that Salomon was a financier of the American Revolutionary War
  • 1933 - 1934 : Served on the Commission on Ellis Island and Immigration Relief; Appt. by the U.S. Secretary of State Frances Perkins, first female Cabinet member
  • Wrote The United States and German Jewish Persecutions: Precedents for Popular and Governmental Action, a review of the influence of the United States on behalf of persecuted minorities in Europe and its implications for use in reversing German policy; published in the Congressional Record
  • July 24, 1934: Died of a heart attack (angina pectoris) while on vacation in Long Lake, NY. Had suffered from a previous attack earlier in July
  • 1936: Compilation of his writings on immigration published as Immigration and Aliens in the United States; studies of American Immigration laws and the legal status of aliens in the United States. Foreword by the Honorable Irving Lehman.


American Bar Association - Committee on Federal Legislation American Historical Association American Society of International Law Citizens Union Columbia Academy of Political Science Economic Association Good Government Club New York City Bar Association-Committee on Legislation New York County Lawyers Association Phi Beta Kappa

Footnotes 1. Irving Lehman, "Max J. Kohler," American Jewish Yearbook 37 (1935): 21-25. 2. "Kaufmann Kohler." Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC; "Einhorn, David." Jewish Encyclopedia, v. V. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903; "Pittsburgh Platform". Encyclopedia Judaica, v. 13. (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1971) 570-571. 3. Memorial speech, unknown author, [1934], Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 1/Folder 5, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 4. Nathan M. Kaganoff; "AJHS at 90: Reflections on the History of the Oldest Ethnic Historical Society in America," American Jewish History LXXI (June 1982), 468-469; Arthur Hertzberg, Jews in America. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 166; Biographical Data, Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 1/Folder 5, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 5. Luigi Luzzati, God in Freedom, ed. Max Kohler. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1930), xiii-xvi. 6. Taft's speech was given before the National Geographic Society (1917) and reprinted in the magazine, 1919. The edited copy of the speech can be found in Box 6, Folder 5. 7. Luigi Luzzati, God in Freedom, ed. Max Kohler. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1930), xiii-xvi. 8. ibid. 9. [Cy? Montefiore?] to Kohler, Various dates, Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 8/Folder 18, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 10. Straus to Kohler; 10/14/19; Jewish Publication Society to Kohler, 11/3/19. Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 8/Folder 8, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 11. "Alfred Dreyfus." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRc. 12. Walter Littlefield, "New Dreyfus Facts from Germany." New York Times, September 21, 1930. Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 23/Folder 2, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. See Box 5, Folders 11 and 12 for Kohler pamphlet "Some New Light on the Dreyfus Case" and Dr. Weil's lecture, plus correspondence regarding the case. See also Box 1, Folder 19 for correspondence between Kohler and journalist Walter Littlefield. 13. Memorial to Max J. Kohler, by Judge Abram I. Elkus, B’nai B’rith National Jewish Monthly, v. 48, no. 11, 1934. Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 23/Folder 1, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 14. Max Kohler, "Haym Salomon, The Patriot Broker of the Revolution: His Real Achievements and their Exaggeration: An Open Letter to Congressman Celler," 1931, p. 8. Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 16/Folder 3, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 15. Correspondence, Various, 1929. Haym Salomon Collection, P-41, Box 2/No folder #, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY; "Report of Samuel Oppenheim," 1926. Haym Salomon Collection, P-41, Box 1/No folder #, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. Photostat copies of the Register of Wills documents may also be found in Box 1, no folder #. 16. Tygel to Kohler, December 26, 1929. Haym Salomon Collection, P-41, Box 1/No folder #, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. In 1931, Tygel and Winter also responded in print after Kohler published his findings, but the archivist was unable to find the article in Kohler's Haym Salomon Scrapbooks. 17. "Max J. Kohler Issues Reply to Haym Salomon Monument Committee's Attack on Him," Jewish Daily Bulletin, April 6, 1931. Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 23/Folder 3, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 18. "Courageous Even Though Unpopular," Philadelphia Jewish Tribune, undated, Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 24/Folder 6, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 19. Dr. Samuel Rezneck, "Haym Salomon's Role in the American Revolution," undated Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 16/Folder 11, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 20. See the American Supplemental Chapters in God in Freedom for additional material on the history of the Peace Conference, AJHS Reference Library, as well as Scrapbooks 1-6 of the Max Kohler Papers. 21. Committee on Ellis Island opening meeting remarks, undated and Telegram from Perkins to Kohler, undated, Papers of Max Kohler, P-7, Box 13/Folder 2, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 22. See the AJHS library collection for a copy of the compiled work on immigrants by Kohler, as well as Scrapbooks 1-6 of the Max Kohler Papers.

From the guide to the Max James Kohler Papers, 1765-1963 (bulk 1888-1935), (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Abraham Aaron Roback papers, 1909-1965. Houghton Library
creatorOf Max James Kohler Papers, 1765-1963 (bulk 1888-1935) American Jewish Historical Society
creatorOf Adler, Cyrus, 1863-1940. American Jewish Historical Exhibition records [electronic resource], 1888-1905 1901-1902. Université d’Ottawa, University of Ottawa
creatorOf Kohler, Max J. (Max James), 1871-1934. Correspondence with Henry Charles Lea, 1908. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Kohler, Max J. (James), 1871-1934. [Collection of pamphlets and articles chiefly on Jewish immigration to the United States]. Stanford university libraries
referencedIn Samuel Oppenheim Papers, undated, 1614-1938 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn American Jewish Historical Exhibition, records, undated, 1888-1889, 1900-1905 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Philip Cowen Papers, undated, 1873-1935 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Records of the Industrial Removal Office, undated, 1899-1922 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Jewish Immigrant Information Bureau (Galveston, Tex.). Galveston Immigration Plan Records, undated, 1901-1920 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Haym Salomon collection, undated, 1777-1982 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Warburg, Felix M. (Felix Moritz), 1871-1937. Papers, 1895-1937. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Papers of Cecilia Razovsky, undated, 1913-1971 American Jewish Historical Society at the Center for Jewish History
referencedIn Cyrus Adler Papers, undated, 1883-1937 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Baron de Hirsch Fund Records, undated, 1819-1991 (bulk 1882-1935) American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIi, 1897 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adler, Cyrus, 1863-1940 person
associatedWith American Civil Liberties Union corporateBody
associatedWith American Jewish Committee corporateBody
associatedWith American Jewish Historical Exhibition corporateBody
associatedWith American Jewish Historical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith American, Sadie person
associatedWith Arbib-Costa, Alfonso, 1869- person
associatedWith Askowith, Dora, 1884-1958 person
associatedWith Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School of Woodbine, NJ corporateBody
associatedWith Baron de Hirsch Fund corporateBody
associatedWith Baron de Hirsch Fund (1891 - Present) person
associatedWith Belmont, August, 1813-1890 person
associatedWith B'nai B'rith corporateBody
associatedWith Board of Delegates of American Israelites corporateBody
associatedWith Board of Delegates on Civil Rights corporateBody
associatedWith Butler, Benjamin F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1818-1893 person
associatedWith Cardozo, Benjamin N. (Benjamin Nathan), 1870-1938 person
associatedWith Cecilia Razovsky person
associatedWith Coolidge, Mary Roberts, 1860-1945 person
associatedWith Cowen, Philip, 1853-1943 person
associatedWith Davis, N. Darnell (Nicholas Darnell), 1846-1915 person
associatedWith De Cordova, Phineas, 1819-1903 person
associatedWith Dodd, William Edward, 1869-1940 person
associatedWith Dreyfus, Alfred, 1859-1935 person
associatedWith Dropsie, Moses A. (Moses Aaron), 1821-1905 person
associatedWith Duschinsky, circa (Charles), 1878-1944 person
associatedWith Einhorn, David, 1809-1879 person
associatedWith Elkus, Abram I., 1867-1947 person
associatedWith Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars corporateBody
associatedWith Foreign Language Information Service (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Franks, David (Salisbury), 1720-1794 person
associatedWith Franks, Rebecca person
associatedWith Friedenberg, Albert M. (Albert Marx), 1881-1942 person
associatedWith Friedenwald, Herbert, 1870-1944 person
associatedWith Gottheil, Richard J. H. (Richard James Horatio), 1862-1936 person
associatedWith Hartogensis, Benjamin Henry, 1865-1939 person
associatedWith Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America corporateBody
associatedWith Hirsch, Moritz, Freiherr auf Gereuth, 1831-1896 person
associatedWith Hollander, Jacob Harry, 1871-1940 person
associatedWith Hühner, Leon, 1871-1957 person
associatedWith Industrial Removal Office corporateBody
associatedWith Industrial Removal Office (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Isaacs, Myer S. (Myer Samuel), 1841-1904 person
associatedWith Jacobs, Joseph, 1854-1916 person
associatedWith Jewish Colonization Association corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Immigrant Information Bureau (Galveston, Tex.) person
associatedWith Judah, G. F. (George Fortunatus) person
associatedWith Kohler family family
associatedWith Kohler, Kaufmann, 1843-1926 person
associatedWith Kohut, George Alexander, 1874-1933 person
associatedWith La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947 person
associatedWith Littlefield, Walter, 1867-1948 person
associatedWith Loeb, Isidore, 1839-1892 person
associatedWith Loeb, Louis, 1866-1909 person
associatedWith Luzzati, Luigi, 1841- person
associatedWith Mack, Julian W. (Julian William), 1866-1943 person
associatedWith Marshall, Louis, 1856-1929 person
associatedWith Mendes, H. Pereira (Henry Pereira), 1852-1937 person
associatedWith Miller, David Hunter, 1875- person
associatedWith Moore, John Bassett, 1860-1947 person
associatedWith Morgenthau, Henry, 1856-1946 person
associatedWith National Conference of Christians and Jews corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference of Jews and Christians (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Council of Jewish Women corporateBody
associatedWith National Council on Naturalization and Citizenship (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Ochs, Adolph S. (Adolph Simon), 1858-1935 person
associatedWith Oppenheim, Samuel, 1857-1928 person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965 person
associatedWith Proskauer, Joseph M. (Joseph Meyer), 1877-1971 person
associatedWith Razovsky, Cecilia, b. 1886 person
correspondedWith Roback, A. A. (Abraham Aaron), 1890-1965 person
associatedWith Roth, Cecil, 1899-1970 person
associatedWith Salomon, Haym, 1740-1785 person
associatedWith Schiff, Jacob H. (Jacob Henry), 1847-1920 person
associatedWith Schiff, Mortimer L. person
associatedWith Seligman family
associatedWith Seligman, Jesse, 1827-1894 person
associatedWith Smith, Alfred Emanuel, 1873-1944 person
associatedWith Solomon, Hannah G. (Hannah Greenebaum), 1858-1942 person
associatedWith Straus Family family
associatedWith Straus, Isidor, 1845-1912 person
associatedWith Straus, Oscar S. (Oscar Solomon), 1850-1926 person
associatedWith Sulzberger, Mayer, 1843-1923 person
associatedWith Szold, Henrietta, 1860-1945 person
associatedWith Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930 person
associatedWith Tarshish, Allan, 1907-1982 person
associatedWith Temperley, Harold William Vazeille, 1879-1939 person
associatedWith Union of American Hebrew Congregations corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Bureau of Immigration corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Bureau of Labor corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Bureau of Naturalization corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Congress. House corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of State corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Immigration and Naturalization Service corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Supreme Court corporateBody
associatedWith Wald, Lillian D., 1867-1940 person
correspondedWith Warburg, Felix M. (Felix Moritz), 1871-1937. person
associatedWith Webster, Charles K. (Charles Kingsley), Sir, 1886-1961 person
associatedWith White, Arnold, 1848-1925 person
associatedWith Wickersham, George W. (George Woodward), 1858-1936 person
associatedWith Wise, Stephen Samuel, 1874-1949 person
associatedWith Woldman, Albert A. (Albert Alexander), 1897-1971 person
associatedWith Wolf, Lucien, 1857-1930 person
associatedWith Wolf, Simon, 1836-1923 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New York (N.Y.)
Chinese Americans
Diplomatic protection
Ellis Island Immigration Station (N.Y. and N.J.)
Emigration and immigration
Emigration and immigration law
Emigration & immigration,Chinese. United States 1880
Galveston (Tex.)
Jews, German
Immigration consultants Legal status, laws, etc
Immigration issues in the United States
Jamaica Civilization
Jamaica History
Jews Legal status, laws, etc
Jews Persecutions
Jews, Russian
Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920)
Persecution. Germany
Persecution. Poland
Persecution. Romania
Persecution. Russia
Political persecution
Port of Galveston
Ports of entry
Repeal of legislation
Supreme Court justices
United States History Revolution, 1775-1783


Birth 1871

Death 1934


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SNAC ID: 55644842