The Lusitania

Contributed by Joan Meijer, granddaughter of Franz Hirschland, Oct. 15, 2010

In late April 1915 Franz Hirschland (Papa) was having lunch with a business associate. The paper was folded back either to an advertisement for the sailing of the Lusitania or an article warning that the Lusitania was carrying arms for the British war effort and therefore fair game for German U-Boats. Those warnings were appearing more and more often in the American press.

The two began to converse about the Lusitania and the yellow journalism surrounding the reporting on Germany in particular. During the conversation the associate said, “I have a friend who is shipping picric acid (an explosive somewhat like TNT) on the Lusitania.” Papa said that the conversation just glossed over the sentence.

Two weeks later, on May 7th, the Lusitania sank within sight of land off the shores of the Old Head of Kindsdale, Ireland, In 18 minutes 1,198 of the 1959 people aboard died.  America exploded with anger and headed for war (though it took them some time to get there).

The first person Papas called was the man who had told him about the picric acid. “Who did you say was shipping picric acid on the Lusitania?” Papa asked. “You never heard that from me,” his associate said.

The second person Papa called was the German Ambassador Barron von Papen. Papa’s father, Isaac (Krupp’s Banker), had been decorated by the Kaiser and personally knew the Ambassador.

“This information has come to my attention and if you don’t intend to be at war with America next week I would suggest you look into it,” Papa said.

Von Papen called President Wilson who sent the Secret Service to investigate. In a warehouse, containing crates that had not been loaded onto the Lusitania, they found a stack of crates marked “Iron Filings” that were filled with picric acid. And that was why the sinking of the Lusitania was not used as an excuse to enter World War I.

The Lusitania, 1907, from Wikipedia

I, Joan, have read almost every book about the sinking of the Lusitania. In each of them is reference to a certain “Jewish contingent” that had intervened in using the Lusitania as a reason for going to war with Germany. That “Jewish contingent” was Franz Herbert Hirschland.

Franz’s Ancestors
  1. Salomon Herz Hirschland (one of the three original brothers)
  2. Simon Hirschland
  3. Isaac Hirschland
  4. Franz Hirschland

Years later at a cocktail party Papa was introduced to a Captain Rose — the man who had actually commanded the submarine that had sunk the Lusitania. Rose told him that in those days torpedoes were hugely ineffective. They way they were generally used was to get the ship to stop or slow down and then the sub would surface and shoot at it with deck guns. “Imagine our surprise when we hit the boat and it sank.”


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