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Max M Warburg

WARBURG, MAX M. (1867–1946), German banker. His family, the *Warburgs, had been successful in private banking for more than a generation. After studying business in Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, Warburg worked in his family's M.M. Warburg Bank in Hamburg. He became one of the leading personalities in late Imperial Germany concerning international industrial banking. Interested in the welfare of the Reich, he concentrated on colonial affairs. From 1903 he was a member of the Hamburg parliament. In the same year he became one of the rare Jews who could directly contact German Emperor Wilhelm II. Though he followed the path of acculturation, Warburg was a member of the Jewish community in Hamburg. Compared to his elder brother, the famous art historian Aby *Warburg, who agreed with his younger brother to forgo leading the family bank – though always receiving enough money to buy books for his library – Max M. Warburg developed a more uncomplicated and direct relation towards his own Jewishness. During World War I Warburg was – together with Albert *Ballin – one of the main promoters and founders of the "Reichseinkauf" (later "Zentraleinkaufsgesellschaft"), a state-owned central organization to buy food for Germany in foreign countries during the war years. Later, Warburg was attacked by antisemites for this activity. Together with his brother Felix M. Warburg, who was a successful banker in the U.S., Max M. Warburg organized financial aid for Jews in Eastern Europe. As the war led to increasing antisemitism, Warburg started to ask officials to protect Jews against discrimination. During the war Warburg came to be one of the leading figures to advise German politicians, diplomats, and the military in financial matters. In October 1918 he was appointed a financial advisor to the chancellor (Reichskanzler) Prinz Max von Baden. In 1919, Warburg served the German delegates during the negotiations on the Versailles peace treaty as an economic specialist. Warburg preferred to keep a low profile. When Walther *Rathenau asked him in early 1922 to join the cabinet (Reichsregierung) as minister of finance he refused, saying that two Jewish ministers would be too much for Germany. After the assassination of Rathenau the murderers planned also to kill Warburg. In 1924 he was appointed a member of the board (Generalrat) of the Reichsbank. The Warburg Bank was still one of the most important banking companies in Germany. From the late 1920s on Warburg intensified his interest in Zionism.

From World War I on, his brothers Felix M. and Paul M. Warburg opened the doors to the leading financial circles in North America for their brother. This was – again – especially helpful, when Germany urgently needed fresh capital during the world economic crisis between 1930 and 1932. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Warburg Bank came under increasing pressure. Max M. Warburg focused on helping Jewish emigrants to get their money out of Germany via the Palaestina-Treuhand GmbH. After the Warburg Bank was closed by the National Socialists, Warburg himself immigrated in 1938 to New York, where he died.


M.M. Warburg, Aus meinen Erinnerungen (1952, edited by Eric M. Warburg); E. Rosenbaum et al., Das Bankhaus M.M. Warburg & Co. 1798 bis 1938 (1976); R. Chernow, The Warburgs (1993).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.