Otto Jaffe

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Otto Jaffe
Sir Otto Jaffe.jpg
Portrait by John Haynes-Williams
Lord Mayor of Belfast
In office
Preceded by Sir Anderson Peeler
Succeeded by Sir Robert McConnell
In office
Preceded by Sir Daniel Dixon
Succeeded by Sir Daniel Dixon
High Sheriff of Belfast
In office
Preceded by Sir James Henderson
Succeeded by Samuel Lawther
Member of Belfast City Council
In office
Personal details
Born (1846-08-13)13 August 1846
Hamburg, Germany
Died 29 April 1929(1929-04-29) (aged 82)
London, England
Nationality British
Political party Irish Unionist Party
Spouse(s) Paula Hertz
Children Arthur
Profession Businessman

Sir Otto Jaffe, JP (13 August 1846 - 29 April 1929) was a German-born Jewish businessman, who was twice elected Lord Mayor of Belfast.


In 1852, his parents, Daniel Joseph and Frederiké brought their family of four boys and five girls from Hamburg to Belfast. Daniel Jaffe along with his older sons, Martin, John and Alfred, set up a business exporting linen. See separate article on Daniel Joseph Jaffé for Martin's younger son. Otto was educated at Mr Tate’s school in Holywood, County Down, and later in Hamburg and Switzerland.[citation needed]


Otto Jaffe married Paula Hertz from Braunschweig on 8 March 1879.[1] They had two sons, Arthur and William.


From 1867–77 he lived and worked in New York. In 1877, his brothers retired, so he returned to Belfast to head the family business, "The Jaffe Brothers" at Bedford Street. He built it up to become the largest linen exporter in Ireland. He was a member of the Belfast Harbour Commission. In 1894, he successfully agitated for the reporting and destruction of derelicts in the North Atlantic Ocean.[citation needed]

He was a Justice of the Peace, a governor of the Royal Hospital, a member of the Irish Technical Education Board and a member of the Senate of Queen's College, which later became Queen's University of Belfast. He was the German consul in Belfast. He was an active member of the committee which got the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established there. In 1910 he erected the Jaffe Spinning Mill on the Newtownards Road, also known as Strand Spinning. This provided work for 350 people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expanded to make munitions.[2] He was lavishly charitable[3] and contributed to Queen's College.[4]


Otto Jaffe took a keen interest in the Jewish community of Belfast. He was life-president of the Belfast Hebrew Congregation, which worshipped at the Great Victoria Street synagogue. His father established it on 7 July 1871. Between 1871 and 1903 this congregation increased from fifty-five to over a thousand. He paid most of the £4,000 cost of building the synagogue in Annesley Street. He opened it, in 1904, wearing his mayoral regalia. Three years later with his wife, Paula, they set up the 'Jaffe School for the Jewish Children of Belfast' on the Cliftonville Road.[citation needed]


In 1888 Otto Jaffe had been naturalised as a British citizen and denaturalised as a German citizen. He was a member of the Irish Unionist Party. He represented St Anne's Ward for the Belfast Corporation in 1894 and was elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1899. As mayor, he launched an appeal for the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Boer War. £10,000 was raised. In March 1900, he was knighted by Lord Cadogan. In 1901 he was High Sheriff of Belfast, and in 1904 he was again elected Lord Mayor.

The outbreak of war saw anti-German sentiment and when the Lusitania passenger liner was torpedoed by a German submarine of the coast of Cork on 7 May 1915 which resulted in the death of 1,000 people, anti-German feeling in Britain and Ireland rose to breaking point. Even though he was loyal to the Crown, and his eldest son Arthur and his nephew were serving in the British Army, Sir Otto was accused of being a German spy.[5] In a letter to the Northern Whig newspaper in May 1915, Sir Otto stated:

"how anyone who has any knowledge of me and my life would think that I could approve of the horrible and detestable actions of which she (Germany) has been guilty is almost beyond my comprehension.

He also described himself as being "overwhelmed with pain and sorrow".

After twenty-five years of service, he resigned his post on as Alderman of Windsor Ward for Belfast City Council in June 1916 when he was almost 70 years of age and took up residence in London, where he died in April 1929.[6] Lady Jaffe was too ill to attend his funeral, and she died a few months later, in August 1929


On 21 January 1874, Otto's father, Daniel Joseph Jaffe died in Nice. Martin Jaffe (Otto's elder brother) secured a plot in the City Cemetery, which became the Jewish Cemetery. Daniel Jaffe was the first Jew to be interred there. The Jaffe monument was erected. This monument and the headstones have been vandalised.[7] Recently,[when?] Belfast City Council resolved to erect a sculpture representing Sir Otto Jaffe at Carlisle Circus.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Belfast Newsletter, 11 March 1879
  2. ^ CityMatters Nov-Dec 2009
  3. ^ Queen's University Belfast: Sir Otto Jaffe
  4. ^ Manuscripts Catalogue - Document Details
  5. ^ The Churchill Papers: A catalogue
  6. ^ Keogh, Dermot (1998). Jews in Twentieth-century Ireland. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-85918-150-8. 
  7. ^ Irish Gravestone Inscriptions, Tracing your Irish Ancestors: Introduction


  • 1991, Art Byrne and Sean McMahon, Great Northerners, Poolbeg Press, ISBN 1-85371-106-3
Civic offices
Preceded by
James Henderson
Lord Mayor of Belfast
1899 - 1900
Succeeded by
R. J. McConnell
Preceded by
James Henderson
High Sheriff of Belfast
1901 – 1902
Succeeded by
Samuel Lawther
Preceded by
Daniel Dixon
Lord Mayor of Belfast
1904 - 1905
Succeeded by
Daniel Dixon