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Bloch, Jan

(1836–1902), financier and economist. Born in Radom, Jan (Ivan) Bloch converted to Protestantism in 1851 and to Roman Catholicism in 1856. He began his career in Warsaw as a financier in the banking firm of Szymon Toeplitz. Between 1856 and 1864, Bloch lived in Saint Petersburg where he helped to establish the Warsaw–Petersburg railway; this project set the base for his substantial fortune.

After Bloch returned to Warsaw, he became adviser to Ludwik Kronenberg, whose niece he had married in 1862. He soon clashed with Kronenberg over railway contracts, a conflict that became extremely bitter. Victorious in the contest, Bloch came to be dubbed the “King of Railways.” He owned a private bank, was one of the founders of Handlowy Bank, and had interests in sugar production and timber. He held many economic posts in the Kingdom of Poland and was a member of the Council of the Bank of Poland, chair of the Association of Merchants, and president of the Stock Exchange Committee. In 1883 he was ennobled and purchased the Łęczno estate near Warsaw.

Bloch was also interested in the scholarly discipline of economics. He created a special statistical bureau in which he employed (among others) Y. L. Peretz. In 1878, Bloch published a five-volume study in Russian on the influence of railways on the economic development of Russia, and in 1882 he issued a monograph on Russian finances. His best-known work is his seven-volume study on the nature of future wars, Budushchaia vayna v tekhnicheskom, ekonomicheskom ipoliticheskom otnosheniakh (The Future of War in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations), which he published in 1898. In these texts he argued that a future armed conflict would have disastrous consequences for all participants. Its publication was a factor that led to the convening of the first Peace Congress in The Hague in 1899.

Not withstanding his conversion, Bloch remained interested in Jewish affairs and supported Jewish philanthropic activities in Warsaw, Radom, and Saint Petersburg. In 1886, he helped to initiate a memorandum prepared by the Warsaw Stock Exchange that argued (successfully) against extending the punitive anti-Jewish laws of May 1882 to the Kingdom of Poland. At the same time, the paper’s stress on the large role Jews played in the economic life of the kingdom provoked antisemitic responses in the Polish press. This did not stop Bloch from publishing his conclusions in a five-volume study in 1891, in which he also argued cogently against the Russian government’s policies toward Jews. Bloch in some sense regarded himself as a Jew until his death. At the same time, his children married members of the Polish aristocracy and did not retain links to the organized Jewish community.

Suggested Reading

Ryszard Kołodziejczyk, Jan Bloch. 1836–1902: Szkic do portretu ‘Króla polskich kolei’ (Warsaw, 1983); Peter Van den Dungen, The Making of Peace: Jean de Bloch and the First Hague Peace Conference (Los Angeles, 1983).