The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Warburg

From economic to political participation

Two brothers, Moses Marcus Warburg and Gerson Warburg, founded the M.M. Warburg & Co. banking company in 1798. The banking tradition was cultivated in the next generations. Moses’ grandsons thrived on two continents. Max Mortiz Warburg ran the Warburg Bank, located in Hamburg. He was actively involved in the Hamburg Jewish community and engaged in a variety of philanthropic ventures. Like Simon and the Rathenaus, Max was an advisor to the Kaiser, but later concluded there was no place for a Jewish banker in German politics. His brother, Fritz M. Warburg, who lived during the WWII in Sweden during WWII, organized Kinderstransport in 1938 and 1939. Abraham H. Warburg became a famous art historian and founder of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (Library for Cultural Studies), a private library, later named the Warburg Institute, London. His brothers, Felix M. and Paul M. Warburg spent their careers predominantly in the United States. Felix became was a banker at Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Paul was appointed a member of the Federal Reserve Board in New York City in 1914. He became a driving force behind the establishment of an American centralized American bank, which proved essential to economic stability in the volatile interwar economy and in lowering capital costs for companies.

Paul Moritz Warburg with Graf Kuno von Westarp (German conservative politician from German National People’s Party, 1928. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-06206 / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

German delegation for Versailles negotiation. Among the participants Carl Melchior from M. M. Warburg & Co, January 1919. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R01213 / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Paul Moritz Warburg on federal reserve system. 1930. Public domain.

1933 and beyond: From full-rights citizens to refugees and victims

After 1933, as many Jews tried to emigrate from Germany, selling their businesses and taking their assets out of the country became was extremely difficult. The Nazis made it a complex logistical and legal task to find a potential buyer and to settle on a price in a market that had been flooded with businesses for sale. Max Warburg understood how important it was for business owners to sell their firms at a decent price and use the proceeds to emigrate. The Warburg bank played a central role in helping Jews transfer and liquidate their businesses, and then emigrate to the Americas and Palestine. Max Warburg did his utmost to facilitate this process, remaining in Germany until the very last minute to help however he could.

Max Warburg, 1905. Public domain.

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