An outlier among the German Jewish immigrants to New York, the Morgenthau patriarch, Lazarus, didn’t escape poverty for vague dreams of riches in the New World: He arrived intent on rebuilding the fortune he’d made – and lost – manufacturing cigars and cigar boxes in Germany when the U.S. banned the export of tobacco during the Civil War.
Part entrepreneur, part confidence man, he failed miserably – his last attempt a townhouse dressed up a wedding hall for orphans for whom he ostensibly solicited dowries shut down by the police.
But the next generations of Morgenthaus not only made money but history – and the story of how and what they did is the basis of Andrew Meier’s extraordinary new volume, Morgenthau, tracing the journey of three generations behind Lazarus: the accomplishment of son Henry, who amassed the family fortune by become one of New York’s real estate barons before being appointed U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire; of his son Henry, confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, U.S. Treasury Secretary and dogged antagonist of those intent on keeping Jewish refugees from American shores during World War II; and of Robert Morgenthau, the longest-serving district attorney in the history of the State of New York.
Meier joins us to discuss the Morgenthau dynasty, from Lazarus’ relationship to Temple Emanu-El, to Henry’s hesitation to accept the “Jewish” ambassadorship to the Ottoman Empire and Robert Morgenthau’s prosecution of John Lennon’s killer, Robert Chambers and Tupac Shakur, as well as his vindication of the five men convicted of murdering the Central Park Jogger.
Journalist Andrew Meier is the author of three previous books and a regular contributor to national and international publications. A commentator on the BBC, CNN, and NPR, he has reported for PBS television documentaries and co-directed the Netflix documentary, Our Godfather.