Named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2023.
Finalist for the Athenaeum of Philadelphia's 2023 Literary Award.
A propulsive human drama that chronicles the mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe to America in the early years of the twentieth century, and the men who made it possible.
Over thirty years, from 1890 to 1921, 2.5 million Jews, fleeing discrimination and violence in their homelands of Eastern Europe, arrived in the United States. Many sailed on steamships from Hamburg.
This mass exodus was facilitated by three businessmen whose involvement in the Jewish-American narrative has been largely forgotten: Jacob Schiff, the managing partner of the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb & Company, who used his immense wealth to help Jews to leave Europe; Albert Ballin, managing director of the Hamburg-American Line, who created a transportation network of trains and steamships to carry them across continents and an ocean; and J. P. Morgan, mastermind of the International Mercantile Marine (I.M.M.) trust, who tried to monopolize the lucrative steamship business. Though their goals were often contradictory, together they made possible a migration that spared millions from persecution. Descendants of these immigrants included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Estée Lauder, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Fanny Brice, Lauren Bacall, the Marx Brothers, David Sarnoff, Al Jolson, Sam Goldwyn, Ben Shahn, Hank Greenberg, Felix Frankfurter, Moses Annenberg, and many more—including Ujifusa’s great grandparents. That is their legacy.
Moving from the shtetls of Russia and the ports of Hamburg to the mansions of New York’s Upper East Side and the picket lines outside of the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, THE LAST SHIPS FROM HAMBURG is a history that unfolds on both an intimate and epic scale. Meticulously researched, masterfully told, Ujifusa’s story offers original insight into the American experience, connecting banking, shipping, politics, immigration, nativism, and war—and delivers crucial insight into the burgeoning refugee crisis of our own time.
PRAISE FOR THE LAST SHIPS FROM HAMBURG
"Ujifusa’s thoroughly researched and beautifully written history ends tragically with the outbreak of World War I and the suspension of steamship service across the Atlantic."
"Ballin’s role in conveying millions of immigrants from one continent to another deserves recognition beyond the annals of trans-Atlantic commerce, as the marine historian Steven Ujifusa persuasively argues in his absorbing The Last Ships From Hamburg...a David-and-Goliath tale of the industrial age."
“With impeccable research, masterful prose, and deep feeling, Steven Ujifusa tells the incredible story of one of the greatest human exoduses in history, of the 1.5 million Jews who escaped Czarist Russia, and the three people who helped make that possible. He gives readers a front-row seat along the way, to the boardrooms of German shipping companies, third-class hulls of ships crossing the Atlantic, to tenements on the Lower East Side. This is a page-turning history on a grand scale, with an intimate touch.”
“Every once in a while a great story meets the writer who was meant to tell it, and readers can rejoice. The Last Ships from Hamburg tells an epic tale, and Steven Ujifusa brings a novelist’s ear and a detective’s eye for detail. It’s a story of struggle, of survival, and of the resilience of the human spirit—the past brought to life with lessons for today.”
— Kermit Roosevelt III, author of The Nation that Never Was
“A captivating group portrait of three 'titans' of industry who facilitated the steamship routes by which around 2 million Jewish refugees, fleeing pogroms and discrimination, immigrated from Europe to America between 1890 and 1921 . . . . Ujifusa ties this intricate business history into a broader economic and diplomatic context and relates the experiences of regular people who made the crossings, including the families who perished aboard the Titanic. This innovative account provides a complex new perspective on the turn of the 20th century.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Steven Ujifusa’s thoroughly researched and well-told story is a revelation. Intimate portraits of J.P. Morgan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and several others who figured in the great transatlantic migration culminate in the startling story of its main character, Albert Ballin -- the little-known giant (though barely five feet tall) who was responsible for bringing more immigrants to the U.S. than any other person in the nation’s history."
— Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call
"A fascinating and thought-provoking book about one of the most consequential human migrations in world history. Not only does Ujifusa illuminate the drama and the physical and financial mechanics of the mass exodus of Jews and other immigrants from central and eastern Europe to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but he also brilliantly shows how the rising tide of ignorant racism transformed America from a welcoming nation to one that callously turned its back on human suffering. The parallels between then and now, especially the spike in anti-semitism and fear of the 'other,' should worry everyone. It is up to all Americans to make sure we don't repeat the shameful mistakes of the past. THE LAST SHIPS FROM HAMBURG will help achieve that goal."
— Eric Jay Dolin, author of Rebels at Sea and Black Flags, Blue Waters