Jacobus Kann

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Jacobus Kann
Born(1872-07-12)12 July 1872
Died4 October 1944(1944-10-04) (aged 72)
OccupationBanker, Diplomat (in 1923-27)
Known forPolitical Zionism
Adriana Anna Polak Daniels (Undated.)

Jacobus Henricus Kann (The Hague, 12 July 1872 - Theresienstadt, 7 October 1944) was a Dutch Jewish banker and partner of the Lissa & Kann banking house.[1][circular reference] He was among the main leaders of the early Zionist Movement

Life and work[edit]

The origin of the Kann family was from Frankfurt, where they are known to have been among the leaders of the Jewish community since the 16th Century. In 1755 Lazarus Kann moved to the Hague after marrying the daughter of Tobias Boaz, a leading member of the Dutch Jewish community. His son Hirshel Kann established in 1800 a banking and commercial partnership with Moshe Lissa, who was originally from the town of Lissa (now Leszno) on the German-Polish border. The firm of Lissa & Kann started operations in January 1806, in the then French-ruled Netherlands, and soon established its position as one of the largest banks in Holland. For three generations it was the bank of the Dutch Royal Family.

Jacobus Kann was the son of Maurice Kann and Johanna Hijmans. After the death of his father in 1891, Kann - just 19 years old - succeeded him as partner and manager of the family's bank, the fourth generation of the Kann Family to hold that position.

Theodor Herzl's book Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews) made a big impression on Kann, who until then was not at all involved in Jewish public life. In 1897 he participated as an observer in the First Zionist Congress in Basel. In the aftermath, he embarked on intensive efforts to promote the Zionist cause in the Netherlands, including some efforts to get the Dutch government to support Zionism (which did not meet with a great success). Far more successful was an April 1899 mass Zionist rally in Amsterdam, to which Kann invited Max Nordau as the keynote speaker. The success of the rally led to the founding, in May of the same year, of the Dutch Zionist Association (NZB), of which Kann was the leader as well as its representative at the Zionist General Council (then known as "Greater Actions Committee").

Kann's most important contribution to early Zionism was as a co-founder of the Jewish Colonial Trust - where he had a key role, being the only professional banker among the Zionist leaders. Despite his earlier hesitation about the financial effectiveness of the bank, he embarked on it with great energy - which was also the beginning of his long-term partnership and friendship with David Wolffsohn, who headed the bank. Work in the Jewish Colonial Trust soon involved Kann in a conflict with Herzl. While fully sharing the idea that the bank should promote the aims of Zionism - i.e. financing Jewish settlement projects - Kann insisted that in order to do that effectively the bank must first establish itself as a completely credible financial institute, and that in general the Zionist Movement must not undertake any ambitious venture without careful planning and the checking of economic feasibility. Kann resisted Herzl's pressure to start banking operations when 200,000 British Pounds were collected, and insisted on waiting until the full target sum of 250,000 was obtained. Later, Kann greatly resented Herzl's continuing interference with the bank's operations and Herzl's habit of bypassing Kann and giving direct instructions to bank employees. This led to Kann tendering his resignation in May 1900, and his relations with Herzl remained tense for the rest of the Zionist founder's life - though Kann resumed his involvement with the bank at the end of 1901.

After Herzl's death in 1904, Kann officially resumed his position in the Jewish Colonial Trust. At the Seventh Zionist Congress (1905) he was elected to the Executive of the World Zionist Organization (known then as the "Smaller Actions Committee"), which at the Eighth Zionist Congress (1907) was reduced to three members, Kann, Wolffsohn, and Otto Warburg[disambiguation needed]. He had very cordial and close relations with David Wolffsohn, who replaced Herzl as the Zionist leader - being Wolffsohn's personal friend and strongly supporting Wolffsohn in the often uphill struggle to prove himself a worthy successor to the charismatic Herzl. Hundreds of letters exchanged between Kann and Wolfson are preserved at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, testifying to the close and affectionate relations between them.[2].

Kann was described as an uncompromising authoritarian, easily angered by opposition. Descended from an aristocratic Jewish family and a member of the Dutch elite, he disliked the "overly democratic" character of the Zionist Movement and particularly the prolonged heckling and shouting matches which often characterized debates at the Zionist Congresses. He was a delegate to several Congresses but rarely spoke in them. Kann enthusiastically supported Herzl's concept of "Political Zionism", which put the emphasis on gaining international acceptance for the aims of Zionism, as opposed to "Practical" Zionism which emphasized the creation of settlement facts on the ground in Palestine/Eretz Yisrael. Still, many of the lands purchased in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund were registered in Kann's name, including lands on which the new city of Tel Aviv was built.

In 1907 Kann made a personal visit to the country on which Zionist aims were focused, publishing his impressions of the visit in his book Ereẓ Israel (Dutch, 1908; German, 1909; French, 1910), which included a demand for a Jewish autonomous home rule in Ereẓ Israel. His voicing aloud this demand aroused strong criticism from Vladimir Jabotinsky who at the time headed of the Zionist press in Istanbul;, Jabotinsky asserted that Kann's statement had damaged the cause of Zionism in the Ottoman capital. When Wolffsohn backed Kann against Jabotinsky, it caused Jabotinsky to resign and leave Istanbul.

Kann took part in the struggles of Wolffsohn with rivals in the Zionist Movment and in often stormy confrontations during the Tenth and Eleventh Zionist Congresses, especially on the crucial issue of the Zionist Movement's attitude to the Young Turk revolution - regarding which Kann along with Wolffsohn supported a tough and assertive Zionist stance. When the opposition to Wolffsohn was victorious at the Tenth Congress (1911), Kann also resigned, but he continued to manage the financial institutions (the Jewish Colonial Trust and the Anglo-Palestine Bank).

After Wolffsohn's death in 1914, Kann was involved in organizing Wolffsohn's personal archive and commissioning an official biography of him - which encountered considerable difficulties due to Wolffsohn's rivals in the Zionist Movement trying to suppress parts of the biography.

During the First World War Kann made use of his position as a citizen of a neutral state to facilitate the continuation of Zionist activities, and moved the offices of the Jewish National Fund to the Hague. From 1911, Kann remained in the Zionist opposition, and did not participate in the Zionist Congresses after World War I. He did rmain a lifelong Political Zionist, especially at the international level, and in later times was often critical of Chaim Weitzman's leadership of the Zionist Movement. He remained a director of the Jewish Colonial Trust until the late 1920's.

In the 1920's Kann moved to Mandatory Palestine.In 1923 he was appointed as the Dutch Honorary Consul in Jerusalem. He reckoned his four years in Palestine as among the happiest of his life, but his wife's severe illness forced him to resign his consular position and return to the Netherlands. Having been among the first to warn of the rise of Arab Nationalism and its threat to Zionist aspirations, Kann returned to Palestine after the 1929 Palestine Riots, stayed there for some time and published a pamphlet in English (1930), sharply critical of the British authorities' policies and also critical of the actions of the Zionist Executive in economic matters and in Arab-Jewish relations.

He returned to the Netherlands in 1931, but continued working on different projects in Palestine, among them the establishment of the Jewish National and University Library (now National Library of Israel) on Mt. Scopus, for which he used the resources of the Wolffsohn Fund.

Aside from his Zionist activity, Kann was friends with Jan Ligthart and founder of the Haagsche Schoolvereeniging on Nassaulaan, where Ligthart became a commissioner. The HSV later produced the Nederlandsch Lyceum, where Rommert Casimir became the first head. The formula of a joint substructure that was realized there was innovative, with a later choice for a higher school or gymnasium.

Following the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, Jews were deprived of positions in the economic life of the country, and also Jacobus Kann was dismissed from his lifelong position at the Lissa & Kann Bank. Later on, when Dutch Jews were rounded up by the Nazi occupiers, Kann and his wife (Adriana Anna Polak Daniels) were first among several hundred "privileged" Dutch Jews kept at Barneveld Castle. However, later they were taken from there to Westerbork transit camp and finally to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Bohemia. Kann was reported to have helped other inmates and try to keep up their spirits among the terrible deprivations at Theresienstadt.

Kann died at Theresienstadt in October 1944. His wife survived until the very end of Nazi rule but died on 28 April 1945 - possibly among more than 1,500 Theresienstadt prisoners who died of a typhoid outbreak around the time of liberation.

Three of their five children also perished - Johan Kann (also a banker) and the younger Jacobus (Jaap) Kann were caught in the general Nazi hunt for Jews and killed; Muaritz Kann, a journalist, was active in the Dutch Resistance and was caught by the occupiers and executed as such. Some of Jacobus Kann's grandchildren by all these sons survived to live in the United States, Israeland the post war Netherlands. Two os his children survived - Edward Kann, an engineer who emigrated to the US and his only daughter, Alice Itzkovitz-Kann, who in 1926 married and moved to Haifa in Mandatory Palestine; her children took part in the 1948 war.

A square in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood of Jerusalem is called for Jacobus Kann.\

When Israeli President Shimon Peres visited the Netherlands in 2013 and met with King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima, Peres' speech included an extensive reference to Jacobus Kann, to whom Peres attributed the foundation of Israeli-Dutch friendship.

External links[edit]


  • N. Sokolow, History of Zionism, 2 (1919), index
  • A. Boehm, Die Zionistische Bewegung, 1 (1935), index
  • T. Herzl, Complete Diaries, ed. and tr. by R. Patai (1960), index
  • J. Simon, in: Haaretz (March 11, 1945)
  • Joan Comay, Who´s Who in Jewish History after the Period of the Old Testament, London, Routledge, 17/08/1995, p. 213
  • Geoffrey Wigoder (Ed.), New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, Tome 2, London et Toronto, Madison : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994, p. 787
  • M.H. Gans, Memorboek. Platenatlas van het leven der joden in Nederland van de middeleeuwen tot 1940 (6e bijgewerkte druk; Baarn 1988) 611-612


  1. ^ nl:Jacobus Kann
  2. ^ Morderchai Eliav's biography of Wolffsohn - "David Wolffsohn, The Man and His Times - The Zionist Movement 1905-1914", published in 1977 jointly by Tel Aviv University and the World Zionist Organization - covers extensively also the life and work of Jacobus Kann, Wolffsohn's friend and associate.