Albert Ballin

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Albert Ballin (1857-1918) was a Jewish German businessman who became director of the HAPAG company and invented the concept of the cruise ship.

"Any fool can know. The point is to understand." - A. Einstein.

Albert was the son of the owner of a travel company, Samuel Joseph Ballin[1.158], and his wife, Amalia Meyer[1.159]; he was a descendant of Yehuda Loeb Halperin Hildersheim[1.160]. Since our family is related to the Ballin name as well as to Halperin, and all from the same region around northern Germany and southern Denmark, it becomes apparent that Albert Ballin was one of or distant relatives: Frummet Ballin[1.148], who lived in the XVI century, was my 11th great grandmother.

Moreover, the Ballin name appears directly related to surnames such as Oppenheimer, Worms, Bacharach, Goldschmidt, Schoenberg and Warburg. All these names are part of our family tree[1], and Gottheil describes how the Ballin name appears associated to the Belmonte family (see Dom Iago de Sampayo y Belmonte) in the XVII and XVIII centuries in Altona, near Hamburg[24.40]. Among these Jewish families, knowing each other for centuries always meant having familiar links.

From the Ballin side of the family I remember that when my brothers and I were kids, our parents were still in touch with Ben and Moritz; they had changed their surname to Ball by then, and both lived in Los Angeles, USA, and we went a couple of times to visit them. Moritz had a very nice house, with deer on his backyard; he was one of the neighbors of Frank Sinatra, and in the same block

I once counted eight Rolls Royces parked one after another. The first one, presumably Sinatra's, but I am not sure, was painted in a dark brown color that made it particularly horrible.

We were stopping at the Beverly Hills Hotel then, and being driven a Cadillac, so we were always with the Rolls and the Royces around; they almost seemed like common cars.

Ben was still laughing at the time about a story of the family that involved two Skowronek kids, an ink pot, a mirror and a father that sent both of them away from Warsaw, one to Belgium and another to the USA, because they didn't want to do their homework properly. Also, he said that while they were young in Warsaw, everybody was after my grandmother because of her big blue eyes.

After my grandfather passed away, both Ballin brothers as well as a sister they had who lived in Paris invited my grandmother to go to live to the USA and France. Neither had children but they had an apartment in Paris. If I remember right, it was really close to the Place de la Concorde and was a big place, so they said that grandmother would have plenty for herself, but she preferred to stay in Argentina and only once, as we were preparing a trip to Switzerland, she expressed a desire to go abroad.

When he took over his father's business upon his death, Albert Ballin[1.157] developed a system to significantly reduce costs on return trips. That called the attention of the HAPAG company executives, who hired him. Ballin then turned HAPAG arguably into the most important shipping company in the world[143].

Despite that Jews faced discrimination and were mistrusted by many, Ballin also befriended the Kaiser.

In the later years of the nineteenth century he found a way to use transatlantic passenger ships that lay idle during the winter due to a lack of passengers willing to cross the oceans during the cold season. He decided to use those ships to take first class passengers on pleasure voyages to the Mediterranean and other temperate regions.

The concept became an instant success and soon Ballin came up with another idea: To construct a ship especially designed for the pleasure trips that were so popular. So, the S.S. Prinzessin Victoria Luise was created that was the first cruise ship in the world (see S.S. Prinzessin Victoria Luise.)

Ballin saw himself as a citizen of the world; despite that he was German, his position and job made him understand that the inevitable conflict in Europe would spell disaster for his company, so he sought to negotiate privately between the German and British government in order to avoid a war.

Despite his efforts, WWI started, and by the end, HAPAG had lost several of his ships; Ballin realized that any peace agreements would mean that the remaining ships would be lost as it happened. So, he committed suicide.

Indeed, the HAPAG company suffered very heavy losses during WWI and after the conflict due to the abusive nature of the war reparations extracted by the allies from Germany, but the company managed to survive and thrive again. After WWII the company also lost almost all its capital but managed to recover again.

In 1923 the line launched the S.S. Albert Ballin, named so to commemorate its former general director; in 1935 the Nazis ordered the company to change the name of the Ship to Hansa. On March 6, 1945, it hit a mine as it evacuated Germans from Gdansk and sunk. The wreck of the ship was raised by the Soviets. Then the ship was renamed Sovetsky Souz, operating after 1955 in the Vladivostok area. In 1980 it was renamed Tobolsk, and only a year after the Albert Ballin was finally scrapped.

The M.S. St. Louis, the ship that under the command of Capt. Gustav Schroeder took more than 900 German Jews from Hamburg and attempted to find asylum for them in the U.S. And Cuba belonged also to the HAPAG line.

The name of Albert Ballin was rehabilitated in Germany after WWII; a stamp commemorating 100 years of his birth was issued by the Bundespost in 1957, and the Ballindamm in Hamburg was also named in his memory.

Albert Ballin, director of HAPAG.
Albert Ballin, director of HAPAG, from Wikipedia, public domain[142].

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